It’s time for another Paper Muse series post, highlighting fabulous and inspirational people and shops that are leaders in the stationery industry! Today, we’re profiling some great pals: Carrie Gifford and Hal Mertz of Red Cap Cards. A husband-and-wife team, this Los Angeles duo curates a variety of talented illustrators into one large collection of designs that make up Red Cap Cards. From Jon Klassen to Christian Robinson, Yelena Bryksenkova, Lesley Barnes and many, many more, Red Cap Cards stocks the hottest illustrators in the art world today. Read more about their life and business below. Thank you so much, Carrie & Hal!
Tell us a little bit about Red Cap Cards. When/how did it start, and what is your mission as a company?
We started in 2005 with a small line of handmade cards. Our initial mission was to sell cards to raise money to start a toy company. However this mission quickly changed. Life is funny that way. You can head down a path with an idea of where you are going, but sometimes that path takes you down a road you never knew existed. Lucky for us it has been an awesome road.
Carrie, you also are an illustrator and design cards yourself, as well as illustrate books and novels. Do you find that your own art work takes a back seat to work on the business?
In 2007 my personal career as an illustrator was becoming increasingly busy with projects outside Red Cap Cards, due to the fact that people had discovered my work from Red Cap Cards. It was at that moment Hal and I realized that the most valuable thing we had created was an amazing platform to share art and promote the careers of other artists that we love. At first this was a way for us to grow our business and for me to explore other opportunities outside of illustrating cards. I think as an artist, the most challenging thing to do is to A: get paid to create art and B: to feel inspired by the art you are creating. That being said, I began juggling 5 careers. One as an artist for Red Cap, one as an artist for hire, one as an art director, one as a business owner and one as a Mom. So to answer your question, no. I don’t feel like my art work takes a backseat. I think my idea of “art work” has changed. I haven’t picked up a pen and drawn in over a year, but I feel more creative than ever. There is an art to running our business and working with all of the talented artists that make up Red Cap Cards. I love these people. I love celebrating them. I love the fact that we have created a business that’s based on the art of celebration! There is no backseat in this scenario. I think I’m just doing what I was meant to do.
Your “kidboss” Arlo also “works” in the office (your home). How do you balance kids, home, life and work with your spouse?
That’s always a work in progress. We call Arlo “kidboss” because for the first two years of her life it felt like she was running the show. (She still might be.) The truth is finding balance not easy. We try to get most of our work done when she is at school, but then there are times when we just end up doing a lot of juggling. It can be rough having your kid at home while trying to get things done, but the upside is that you are always together. I love that and wouldn’t trade of the world. Arlo is also aware that Mommy and Daddy working equals fun toys and playtime for Arlo. So she’s pretty good about entertaining herself when we need to work.
What is it like working as a husband and wife team? Do you collaborate on all projects, or divide and conquer?
We divide and conquer. Hal manages all business and logistics and I handle the creative. We are also sitting five feet away from one another all day, so even though we are divided a lot of the creative decisions and business decisions are made together.
How do you choose the artists that collaborate with Red Cap Cards? Do they design cards specifically for Red Cap, or license previous works to you?
I typically choose artists that I like. That’s the simple answer, but it’s true. I also look for an artist that has a strong portfolio of work. An artist with a distinctive look and feel is always an artist that I want to work with. I also look for an artist that represents themselves as a professional. I think if you want a career as an artist you have to be able think of your career as a business. As a business owner there is nothing worse than hiring a flaky artist. The artists we work with are professionals. Becca Stadtlander and Yelena Bryksenkova are amazing examples. These two ladies will have successful careers because not only is their work beyond beautiful, but they are responsible with their business, they deliver on time or earlier and they are easy to work with. It’s a skill you have to master if you want a successful career. As far as content, it varies. Sometimes we use previous work and sometimes we use original work.
A few of your artists are award winners (Caldecott, Ezra Jack Keats award, etc). You have an eye for soaring careers–how does it feel to have artists in your little family earn such prestigious award?
Yes, the artists behind Red Cap Cards are all so talented. We‘re always excited to hear about our artists achievements. These people work so hard at what they do, it’s not surprising to that they win so many awards. I’m not sure I have much to do with their soaring careers, I think these career paths were set way before me, but it is definitely an honor to work with all of them.
Do you have any new collections, events or projects coming up that you can tell us about?
We do! We are hard at work on a new project with new artists James Gulliver Hancock and Nicholas John Frith. It’s going to be a fun one using a spot color printing process! I can’t wait to see how this one turns out. We’ve never done it before, but I love the way spot color printing looks. We are also hoping to launch a line of gift wrap this spring/summer. All fun stuff…..
Any illustrators that you would love to work with?
Oh Yeah a bunch…. We have been trying to work out a schedule with Carson Ellis yet she is a very busy gal, it’ll happen at some point. I can only imagine how beautiful her collection would be. I also love the work of Kate Pugsly, Anna Kövecses and so many more….
You also have a line of cards with Paperless Post. Has the online forum been a good way to bring art to those who wouldn’t necessarily seek out a printed card in a shop?
Yes. Paperless Post is amazing. We are very happy about our collaboration. The digital world and the paper world have proven to be two very different markets. We are stoked that our online customers can now find Red Cap Cards on the Paperless Post site. It’s been great.
What are your goals for Red Cap Cards?
We keep our goals small and manageable. So that being said, we’d like to continue making beautiful cards with amazing artists and perhaps have a little bit of fun with printing techniques and some new products this year…. And after that who knows. Whatever the universe brings us!
What do you guys like to do in your free time?
We get together with friends, swim in the pool with the kids, get crazy in the desert, drink whiskey by the sea. You know, just your typical California lifestyle.
Photos courtesy Red Cap Cards’ Instagram