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Made in Chicago: The Paper Peony

By Jess D'Amico in Arts & Entertainment on May 8, 2008 7:00PM

2008_05_MICPeony.jpgWith the usual hustle and bustle of city life, sometimes it's so nice to just enjoy simpler times and places. That's why we love Jennifer Larkin, the owner of JKL Creations and The Paper Peony. We're suckers for well-done letterpress items, and Jennifer's have a sweet, clean design.

While it's a little late to order anything for Mother's Day (you do remember it's this Sunday right?), we wish we'd seen these cards early enough to get some.

Jennifer grew up in Chicagoland, and lived in the city with her husband until they were expecting when "like many yuppies, we domesticated ourselves and bought a cool old farm house in Downers Grove."

We asked Jennifer some questions and she told us stories about, mostly, her mom. Aww.

Chicagoist: How do you make your art stand out from everything else out there?

Jennifer: I don’t really try to. When I purposely tried to make it stand out, it didn’t work for me. I like printing things I like and sometimes that means other people’s ideas are similar to mine. For me it comes down to quality and authenticity.

C: Where do you want to go with your art? Where do you see yourself in five years?

J: I hope to grow my studio, add a larger press and a wholesale line. In five years, I’d like to be teaching my son (who just turned three) the creative, thoughtful and totally cool art of letterpress. Could you just see a 3rd grader turning in a social studies report letterpress? Oh, that makes me chuckle.

C: How did you start making stuff?

J: With inspiration from my mom. Growing up, she was always painting something or wrapping a present so beautifully it was a gift unto itself. Everything she does is so thoughtfully put together or made, I like to think that commitment and appreciation of handmade things rubbed off on me. One of my first jobs was working at a popular stationery store on the North Shore where I foil stamped my first note card set – it was for my mom.

C: Why is the sky blue?

J: Because it matches my son’s eyes, of course.

C: What does your process look like?

J: I get inspired by so many things. I love the simplicity of a watering can, crisp printed cherries or layering vintage bird sketches in calming color combinations. I love hand-cranking each piece I produce and inspecting it closely as I pull it off the press. I think the best and final part about the process is writing a note to the receiver as I carefully package it up to be mailed. Always with the hope they’ll be back in the future for another little letterpress treasure.

C: What's the best thing about The Paper Peony?

J: I try to connect with my customers. Currently, my buyers are Etsy buyers. If someone doesn’t like the envelopes I’ve paired with a card, they can e-mail me before I ship it and ask for a different color. And, for those repeat customers, I’ll remember it. When they order next time, they’ll get what I know they like, not necessarily what I think is best for that particular card. I think being open and adaptable is the best thing about any business.

C: Tell us a secret. . .

J: I fancy myself a farmer of sorts. I grew 10 ft tomatoes plants last year and have a grow light in my basement. My husband and I explained the light to our neighbors in advance to negate the neighborhood police paying us a visit. It has been tons of fun in our old farm house and I think that “farm girl” certainly comes out in a lot of my work with vintage imagery, veggies and flowers.

C: What's the Chicago art scene look like for you?

J: If I squint, I can see it through the houses out here in the suburbs. I hope to participate in local art and craft shows this summer. I’ll continue to be involved with my letterpress connections and fellow printers. One never know where opportunity lies.

C: Where do you see that culture going?

J: I believe the art of letterpress is here to stay this time around although I hope no one ever tries to manufacture brand new presses. It just wouldn’t be the same.

C: Any advice for beginners wanting to sell their stuff?

J: Be patient, do what you love and did I mention be patient? If you really believe what you make is special, “they will come”. Or at least someone will.

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