The PapaLlama Story

PapaLlama. A novel.

My first love was sewing. I was a self proclaimed fabric hoarder. An artist first and always, with an attention span of a goldfish, who couldn't get enough of business courses in college and ended up with a business degree.

Inspired by a friend's over excessive use of the phrase, "awesome sauce" I dug up a piece of linoleum from my craft basket and my mom's old wood carving tools from the 70's and made my first print. I started selling them at the shop I was working at and that was how PapaLlama came to be.

I first started using linoleum because I loved the imperfections it left behind. Those imperfections gave the images movement and showed that there was a human being behind it. Since then, I've moved more towards brush and ink, hand lettering, and sketches but you still won't find spic and span, perfectly edited, minimalist, uptight, beige designs here!  No matter the medium, I want to celebrate imperfections and taking moments from a busy day to take a break and laugh.

At first, I was printing them by hand. One by one, using a wooden spoon or my palm as a brayer.  There must be a better way. I didn't know anything about printmaking really so I did some research and got a little table top press (which I named Little Mom/ Little Mama). It was horrible. Knowing nothing, I had gotten the wrong size for what I was trying to print so I would ink them by hand and use the press for the pressure. But it was better than what I was doing before! I was cranking out cards on my kitchen table despite my inefficient use of the press and no surface was safe from becoming a drying rack. There must be a better way. So, there's this thing called a C&P Platen press and there's one for sale...and it's broken and missing parts and is from 1910 and weighs almost 2, I got it. I signed up for classes at San Francisco Center for the Book to figure out how to use it, and taught myself how to restore this little beast of a machine (Big Mama).  I learned a lot from her and she's still working hard to this day. From there, bad-ass printer babe, Annemarie from Ladybones taught me how to print on the Heidelberg windmill. We called the press "Heidi" and talk about an upgrade! This press was from the late 70's and fast as hell!

In December of 2013 I opened up shop which served as HQ for PapaLlama along with a retail side with my studio mate, James Tucker, called The Aesthetic Union. Located in the Heath Ceramics building in San Francisco, the shop showcased the machines, process, and all the things I love about the art of correspondence.  I had Letter Writing Saturdays every week where people could come write and send a letter, no strings attached.

After 3 years at the San Francisco location, both mine and my studio mate's businesses were on a steady growth, so it was time for me to find some more space and a change of scenery. In September 2016 I moved to a new spot in Berkeley! My new neighbors are now a documentary film maker, archers, and robot makers. I got a "new" press, a 1948 windmill named "Babs", who's set in her ways, but works like a charm. I still live in San Francisco, but now I get the best of both worlds, and exploring my new surroundings has been a blast.

No matter where my press lives, or how my designs change and evolve, the foundation remains the same. From start to finish, it's designed with these (Risa holds up her hands), and printed on antique machines that would slap you in the face if they were asked "Is there an app for this?" The line is expanding to include USA screenprinted totes, pouches, and other fun things like our letterpressed Dating Deck and Parking Critique set, a good laugh no longer just has to be done with a card. :p

I never could have imagined I would become a print maker, let alone be able to build a business from it. But, a funny thing happens when you follow your heart, it takes you on a journey your mind could never have mapped out for you. And the adventure continues!

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear about your follow-your-heart business adventures as well!