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ask a designer: port2port press

i'm thrilled to post another installment of "ask a designer". this week our featured designer will be maria of port2port press. i met maria before she started port2port and have been so thrilled and impressed with the way she's built her business and managed the challenges of running a stationery company on your own. she's stayed true to her vision and has managed to create a (very) devoted group of fans that dilligently follow both her blog and card society. maria does practically everything on her own so she's a wonderful resource for those of you looking to do something similar. i'll be taking questions for maria through friday evening and then we'll have her answers on monday. so, if you'd like to ask maria a question please leave them below in the comment section (not via email, please). i'll post reminders through friday as well. [thanks to maria for taking the time to participate] you can find some additional information on maria's background below...

maria vettese launched port2port in portland, maine in january of 2006. after 8 years in design and art direction, she decided to go forward with her sort of accidental dream of being able to produce art and sell it at affordable prices using tools she was truly passionate about; tools with which she could truly get her hands dirty. in college, maria began experimenting with letterpress printing on a large vandercook press producing short-run books, broadsides and prints. She spent her early twenties working in small book publishing and spending hours working on typography. while laying out books, she gained a keen eye for simple structure and form. in her late-twenties maria further honed her eye for all that is artistic while working as an art director and stylist for various small to large-sized companies including chicago’s chocolatier vosges haut-chocolat.

a move across country in 2004 is what gave maria the final bit of momentum to start port2port press. now located on the east coast and only blocks from the ocean, she finds that most days are filled with slow moments- time to notice the beauty in everyday occurrences. she uses her own photography, the newest fashion bits, paper arts and other handmade crafters’ work as inspiration. in march of 2007 port2port press launched the photographs & prints project: 1 idea, 5 photographs, 1 letterpress print. this project includes original photography as well as signed & numbered letterpress prints. slso in 2007, maria plans to continue collaborative work with artists from all over the globe.



Anonymous lichys said...

Here's my question:
Do you do your own illustrations? if you do, what suggestion would you have for someone who would like to make stationery but can't make their own illustrations?

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Katie said...

How do you make the time to do the daily stuff (packing, mailing, printing, etc.) while still having another job?

I'm trying to start up a letterpress company in Portland (Oregon, though) but I can't find the time to actually make anything. When I get home I'm too tired...

How how how?

Katie :)

11:22 AM  
Anonymous elisabeth said...

I'd love to know if Maria feels limited by the size and mechanics of the Pilot. I suppose I could email her to ask but I get the feeling it would be useful for folks to know - they're coveted and hard to come by, which in turn is reflected in the price for one, and yet I wonder how she compares it to work on the Vandercook or other larger press. (This all in the context of knowing full well that for what Maria is printing now -- and brilliantly -- the Pilot is no doubt perfect).

11:50 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

my question: How do you stay inspired after all this time to create new and interesting designs? What inspires you?

11:51 AM  
Anonymous amy said...

i am an architect that dreams of having my own design business. I am the type that likes to make, and use my hands daily which i think would be a very satisfying lifestyle. I am still trying to define a niche however, and I wonder if you can comment on the fact that there seem to be so many paper products and pillows these days in the design world....is it hard to make a decent living with so much competition? (BTW, i find your work absolutely lovely!)

12:04 PM  
Anonymous port_fan said...

like the reader above, i would love to know if maria creates her own illustrations or sources from vintage botanicals or antique sources. (both very interesting and valid methods!)

i assume it's a combination of both, but i'd love to hear more about her process.


12:14 PM  
Anonymous Kari Johnson said...

Hi Maria!
Is there any part of the business that you expected to have trouble doing yourself, and how is it really? What, if anything, has helped? I am always thinking I would love to live on west coast, in part for the way I feel when I'm there; how did you decide to move across country? Was it a big move? And how did the move compel you to start port2port press?
I have admired your work on "Sponge" and am excited to hear that's it your own small business!

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll second Katie's question-- as a letterpress printer who has a day job-- when I have free time away from work, sometimes the last thing I want to do is roll up my sleeves and get all inky.

What is it that keeps you going on those oh-so-tired days? Any words of advice for beginning designers that need to balance their creative work with a busy day job?

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Leslie said...

I have a question about location: is it tough to promote, make and find customers (or shops) for your work living outside of a "big city" ?

How have you gone about finding shops to carry your work?


12:48 PM  
Anonymous c said...

in one of the pictures on your blog, i saw a "tube" of ink by your mixed ink. what type of ink do you use with your press and where can i find it?

also, do you use polymer or magnesium plates? which do you find to work better?

1:10 PM  
Anonymous marisa said...

Similar to Leslie's question; I am curious about how you sell your products. I am a designer aspiring to start my own business. However, I don't know what kind of sales person I will make.
What have you found out when it comes to getting your goods into shops all around. Do you do any of the large trade shows, catalogs, sales reps? Does this take alot of time away from creating?

1:14 PM  
Anonymous quelquefois said...

Hi Maria!
I'm wondering what advice you might have for somebody hoping to start up a similar business? Do you suggest buying a letterpress right off the bat? What sort of qualities do you need to succeed in the industry?


3:08 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

I love the concept of the card society. I have thought about doing something similar with the jewelry I make. Can you tell us about how you came up with the idea, the pros and cons, any other advice about it? And, if anyone has comments in general about doing a jewelry version of the card society...


3:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No questions...I just think your work is so pretty :)

3:23 PM  
Anonymous kendra said...

I was wondering if you worked with a mentor to get your business up and running or was this all of your own accord? How did you know how to handle the business & marketing things? I know that I tend to be such a right brained thinker that I have a hard time with the business aspect of things. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a mentor to guide me.

3:24 PM  
Anonymous newbie said...

I would love advice on how to get that first design job. I worked in photography and went back to school for graphic design. I find that places want 2+ years experience and find it's tough to get a foot in the door.

4:52 PM  
Blogger katrina said...

Hi Maria :)
Just a few questions, where did you go to school and what did you study there? Did you pretty much know what you wanted to do when you entered college?
Do you have any goals for how far you want to go with your business?

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Tell us about the practical basics. Do you have a day job? Does Port2Port pay the household bills? Do you have a significant other that does? You are very open with your inspiration and process, but these mysterious in-between bits where it all comes together are the things I'd like to know more about. Thank you. -Andy

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second Andy's question. Not that it is necessarily our business how you pay your bills but it would be helpful to know which end of the spectrum your advice is coming from...is port2port a hobby business - something you do in your spare time for fun and to make a little extra cash or is it your sole source of income? How many hours a week would you say you spend designing, fulfilling orders, drumming up new business, and printing. One more unrelated question: What do you use in the way of solvents for cleaning the press and how do you dispose of your rags when finished. Thanks so much in advance! I love your work and how you present yourself online.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous sherri said...

love your work. what an inspiration.

some of your work uses beautiful metallic inks. how do you get the shimmer? i have never had such luck with the rubber-based inks.

also, what would you do if your press broke and you were in the middle of a time-sensitive project? just looking for suggestions. i'm interested in tackling some larger professional jobs, but i'm afraid to take the next step with my equipment.

thank you.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you have everything looking so professional. Say for example who writes your text on your website? Do you have any other people helping you? Many thanks!

10:45 PM  
Blogger kelly said...

I am interested in finding out how you started your business. I am a baby clothes designer and am in the process of starting a small company. What is the first step? Registering my company name, becoming an LLC, trademark? Any advice in regard to the start-up process would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

who are you favorite artists? artists you admire and ones that inspire you?
what books, movies and music do you find most inspiring?

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll be visiting a friend in Portland in a couple weeks - is there a store I can find your work in?


12:42 PM  
Anonymous Lori said...

Hi, I am wondering how the plates are created, and how you achieve such fine detail.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Astrid said...

I want to ask the same thing as Andy and anonymous above. You know I have my own little business too, and the economical part of it can some times be challenging.

Do you do a lot of planning? And do you actually go through with you plans? (I'm not always so good at that...)

Other than that I just want to say a big YAY for your work.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

Like many on this list, I've started my own business in invitations. It's also my after work thing and I love doing it (more then my art directing day job!) What is the best way to get your work and brand out there? I've been approached by a retailer but I never considered that when I started a year ago. Is that a good option to look into further?

7:37 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

In your short bio listed on the blog it mentioned that you worked as an art director and stylist in Chicago. I just graduated from undergrad this May with a degree in Costume Design for theatre, but I love DesignSponge and everything on it. I'm moving to Chicago in the fall and was wondering what advice you might have for finding some sort of starting stylist/design job. I know it's all a completely different world than theatre, and I'm not sure what sorts of things to look for or where

And of course I have to say that your work is absolutely lovely. : )

8:11 AM  
Anonymous kerri said...

Yes! Along the lines of readers above, I would love to know how you create your illustrations. Are they all hand done-- if so, how are they translated into the block?

Or are they sourced from vintage images and materials?

We wouldn't want you to give away your lovely sources, but it would be great if you could offer a few pointers to fledgling designers. :)

Thank you!! I'm an immense fan of your work.

8:20 AM  

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