A Paper Prints & Printsess
By Melissa Mendonca
Wild Ink Press In Chico
It’s a particular joy to get the mail on days when, amongst the bills and junk and catalogs, a card emerges. Bonus if you’re arriving home from a long day of work to find it. Double bonus if it’s hand addressed with a beautiful stamp.
Triple bonus if the card that emerges from the envelope was created on a 100-year-old letterpress and designed by Rebekah Tennis of Wild Ink Press in Chico.
Rebekah and husband Matt, a rice farmer, have embarked on a journey to bring back the form and beauty of letterpress stationery in their backyard studio. Rebekah is the design guru who comes up with the images and sayings. Matt has taught himself to operate five distinct letterpress machines, the first of which did jobs by treadle until he converted it to motor.
From Rebekah’s initial design to the moment Matt pulls paper from the press and the end product is packaged for sale, every step of production occurs in the Tennis home and studio. On any given day, Rebekah could be inside her home office hand-drawing new designs or refining them on her Mac while Matt is out in the studio blasting Beethoven’s Ninth and expertly guiding paper through the presses to assure her visions come alive in true color, impression and quality. On the best days they are together in the studio while their three young boys cavort outside, kept eye on through an open door.
“There’s a fine line between really fine craftsmanship and fine art,” says Matt. “We stand as close to that line as possible.”
Their place on that line has been noticed, with Wild Ink Press products being picked up by Paper Source and Papyrus, two national outlets that take in orders of 8,000 or more, all of which run through the old letterpress machines one page at a time. Their products are found in 120 boutique stores and are sold online direct through their website and Etsy stores.
Always clever, often cheeky, Rebekah’s designs cover a wide range of styles. “I feel like I’m always going to do art to be appropriate to the piece,” she says. In the Three Things Series, which won Best New Product: Paper Style at the 2012 National Stationery Show, she showcases multiples such as “Cheese. Whiskey. You. Things that Age Well.”
The Backhanded Condiments line brings similar chuckles, with expressions such as “You’re the Tater Tots to My Hot Dish.” Her 2011 Louie Award winning design, “You’re one Hot Mama,” was Mother’s Day card of the year and combined the edgy sentiment with the design of a very traditional cross stitch sampler.
Yet also in the Wild Ink Press repertoire is a sublime series called My Sons, which pays tribute to the countries of origin of Matt and Rebekah’s three children, Cameron, Lance and Kip, born in Pakistan and Korea. The couple traveled to both countries in the adoption process and Rebekah took photographs of the ornate walls, tiles, lattice work and pottery she came across. Details from these have been converted into designs on everyday note cards that the couple sell to support orphan care in both countries.
Rebekah keeps a blog on the Wild Ink Press website which chronicles not only how she and Matt have built their business, but also how they’ve created their family and renovated their home. “I really appreciate the concept of the Renaissance person,” she says. “I don’t feel I’m fully expressed in just letterpress or paper and cards. I like to enjoy life and share it with people.”
A blog entry on her home renovations once caught the attention of the producers of the Nate Berkus show and she was flown to Los Angeles to participate on a show segment. There was nothing, however, like the blog entry she did of a Halloween costume for Cameron in which he was a toy soldier. That one entry drew between 20,000 and 30,000 visitors a day for a while, jarring the couple in the recognition of the impact one story could have on the internet.
Established in 2009, Wild Ink Press is coming into its own at a rate consistent with the couple’s goals as parents. Having made it through the exhaustive learning curve of teaching themselves to operate and maintain the letterpress machines while developing a client base and completing their adoptions, they are happy to continue focusing on what can be done at home for the business while they keep the pre-school aged boys close.
While they continue to challenge themselves with new designs and letterpress techniques, they’ve also let go of a particular card that Matt dubbed “The Marriage Destroyer.” Designed with multiple colors and detailed impressions, “It took every ounce of our ability,” he says.
“We did a lot better this year balancing things,” Rebekah says with a smile. That, it seems, is what will leave the most lasting impression.