Spotlight on Jill Ruzicka: Owner of Hello Paper Co.

Not too many people know this about me, but I have a slight obsession with stationary. I have a collection of cards and I become giddy over the thought of surprising a friend with a card from the collection. As we've all seen by now there are many boutique businesses that specialise in stationary. Some are made by passionate artisans and some are made my people trying to make a quick buck simply by slapping a random celebrity on a card and adding a quick pun. I obviously choose to support the passionate artisans (yes, I am aware of how pretentious this may sound haha). 

During the summer I went to the renegade craft fair and this is where I discovered Hello Paper Co. I bought a birthday card for my sister and I remembered being very happy about the purchase when I found out the company was local. Eventually I reached out to the owner Jill Ruzicka because I became obsessed with her work. As usual, I was thrilled when Ruzicka agreed to take part in an interview. It truly means a lot to me when a busy business owner takes time out of their day to share their thoughts with me. I am very excited to share this interview and the work of an extremely talented woman whose passion can definitely be seen in her work. 

What sparked your interest in letterpress?

I’ve always been drawn to beautifully made ephemera like cards and posters. While I was attending WashU I was introduced to their book studio and letterpress equipment, and it quickly became my favorite place on campus.

Are you self taught? 

Not exactly… I majored in Communication Design in college (a mix of graphic design and illustration), and took as many letterpress classes as I could. I graduated in ’09, and since then I’ve continued to learn so much about letterpress printing and paper. A lot of that new knowledge came from trying different techniques and taking on new projects, but I also found some wonderful print shops and communities that have been very supportive. The Arm in Brooklyn and Spudnik Press in Chicago are terrific resources to know about if you’re interested in letterpress or printmaking.

What inspires you? 

Children’s books, textiles with bold patterns, and plants. I’m slightly obsessed with house plants, and a lot of my work features floral patterns, cacti, or ferns.

Is there a theme to your work? 

There’s definitely a consistent style and voice to my work. I try to make the designs simple and classic, but also a little whimsical, punny, or edgy. I like the juxtaposition of a high-end product with a design or message that isn’t too serious. I also work in a minimal color palette of black and white, with some hints of color and metallic elements.

Has your design style changed over time? 

It has evolved over time. I’ve always been drawn to bold and simple graphics, but now my style has a bigger emphasis on hand-made elements. I draw all my designs by hand before turning them into plates for letterpress printing. And I love the subtle inconsistencies you get from printing by hand using vintage equipment.

What is the most challenging part of being a designer? 

Balancing design work with running a business. Designing is the fun part, but other areas like accounting and marketing are just as important.

What is your favorite aspect of running your business? 

I enjoy the variety of work to be done and how different my day-to-day activities are. Some days are spent designing and illustrating in my studio, some are spent on press at my letterpress shop, and other times I’m running around the city buying materials or shipping orders.

I noticed there is a focus on your products being environmentally friendly, is being environmentally conscious another passion of yours? 

Definitely. It’s important to me that my paper products are tree-free, so I use 100% cotton paper. And I try to be environmentally conscious in the rest of my life too—eating a vegetarian diet and biking, walking, or taking public transportation whenever possible.

What is your artistic process? 

I start off by making lists. I have lists everywhere with ideas of things to draw or make. Once an idea is on my list awhile and I think it’s really a good one, I start sketching what it should look like. Then I use tracing paper and a felt tip pen to draw a more polished version, and scan it into my computer where I clean it up a bit. After that, I turn my digital files into polymer plates, and letterpress print them using a vintage Vandercook press.

How do you stay motivated when you experience a creative rut? 

I try not to force it if the creative juices aren’t flowing, so I’ll switch gears and take a break from design work. Sometimes a monotonous task like folding cards or stuffing envelopes can be a relaxing change of pace. Or I’ll completely get away for a bit and go somewhere beautiful like Humboldt Park or Garfield Park Conservatory.

Where do you see your business going? 

I’d like to expand my line of letterpress cards and paper products while remaining a small company. I love designing and making my product, so as the business grows I’ll probably start outsourcing more of the marketing and sales so I can focus on the creative side of things.

Do you have any other creative outlets? 

I dabble in photography, and I play the piano and have been learning the ukulele.

Any last words?

Starting a business or going out on your own can be daunting, but I think it’s totally worth it. If you’re debating making your creative passion a full-time career I encourage you to go for it. If you’re not ready to quit your day job, start by taking small steps to help you reach your goal