About a year ago, I left the city and the international art world behind and moved to a small town north of San Francisco. And I panicked, just a little, about how I would maintain a cultural life amongst the redwoods. After a month or so, I began to find artists, writers and designers who had also found a way here too: Leila Sheilds, Nathan Lynch, Anne Lamott, and Shem Klein, amongst these. This became home.
One of these new connections was Parallel Print Shop, whose work I came across at The Garage, but then stumbled on again through Wild Soul – they worked with founder Ben Crosky on their printed materials. I talked with owners Monika and Nathan Rose at length, we went our separate ways as life and work got in the way, then we came back together for this conversation.
Joe’s Daughter: I thought maybe we could start with your vision for the print shop...
Monika and Nathan: Our goal as a print shop is to produce high quality, handcrafted print work with an emphasis on sustainability & ecology & delight.
Our shared goal as humans is to add value to the world, support our earth & communities, and ultimately take part in creating all the happiness that we can collectively imagine.
Joe’s Daughter: Could you talk to your approach and the idea of sending out positivity into the world? How is this embedded into the studio, and how does it shape the work you do?
Monika: When we set out to start Parallel it came from the position of wanting to spend our days with each other, doing what we love, while building a scaled down lifestyle that revolves around living consciously, responsibly, and in joy, with no regret. Having this positive outlook naturally affects who is attracted to us and how people relate with us, and it sculpts the work we do everyday.
Nathan: There also seems to be a certain amount of inherent optimism in any creative individual who starts a business and believes that what they have to offer will be successful. There is this unique level of personal responsibility as well - you have the power to make it whatever you want, it's your own vision, and for us that meant considering what our basic priorities were as people and community members, not just as business owners.
Monika: I suppose a key element for Parallel is treating each project and each client how we would wish to be treated. That reciprocation is embedded in our approach to our work ethic, our communications, and even our designs.
It can be difficult to distinguish how we live our lives and how we try to live our lives better - there is no hard line between the two sets of habits. We have made a habit of taking each project as a chance to push forward the work in progress that is us.
When people perceive that they have little or no control they can feel helpless, or worse pessimistic. We see every moment as a choice - a choice of action, a choice of perception, a choice of attitude. We are generally glass-half-full people, and the glass is full of tasty organic local yumminess.
Nathan: Despite the inevitable challenges, we feel grateful each day to be able to show up and do what we do. I think our attitude makes all the difference in creating that reality.
Joe’s Daughter: You have a retail line, which incorporates an experimental and artistic slant, and includes The Notions. What are the different levels on which The Notions operate: how did they come about, where are the phrases from, how can people use them, and how do you make them aware of the openness and intentionality of the project?
Nathan: The Notions were born from a paper offcut of the phrase "thank you" that we found atop our recycle bin. The little thing struck a chord with both of us as kind of powerful in its own way, as just this tiny slice of paper full of thanks. We stuck it on the desk for a few days and then took it home and it lived on the windowsill by the kitchen sink. It was charming and inspirational, and every time we saw it we smiled and remember to be thankful. The next thing we knew we were coming up with a whole collection of little sentiments to print and share.
Monika: The Notions are our way of outwardly sharing what inspires us to keep ticking. The phrases are all positive notations of what we actually say or feel or think or do. We stick with notions that have a potency to them, that are a way of approaching the day, and have a broad spectrum of resonance. They are our way of planting seeds of joy, happiness, optimism, and love, and nudging the consciousness of the universe forward, closer to its full potential.
We’ve had more than a handful of people say that they have one of each Notion, so they can pick one as a daily affirmation. We are visual people, when we look at what we want to feel and experience, instead of just saying it or thinking it, that information is taken into our being completely differently and very deeply. People don’t have to be aware of The Notion’s intention to feel the impact.
Nathan: Part of the fun of The Notions is to see how people use them. Since they are fairly petite, they aren't necessarily something you would write on or mail like a typical card, so people find ways to share and enjoy them: placed on a pillow for a sweetheart, stuck on a car dashboard, hidden in a lunchbox, mounted and framed, taped to a vanity mirror, leaned against a computer, etc. They really lend themselves to a more interactive approach, and people relate in the ways that excite them. As far as what people do with them, the list is endless, the potential is endless.
Monika: We are continually delighted by people’s response to our notions.
Joe’s Daughter: Your kickstarter project was A Thousand Thank Yous, part fundraising, part discreet project. What were the ideas behind this?
Monika: Nate and I get asked quite often, “what makes you two work?” After many years our answer has gotten easier: it’s communication, humor, and gratitude. Of course we have highs and lows, and days of confusion or struggle, but we make it through and beyond because of those three factors.
We wanted to find a way to move our business forward and share those values at the same time. Of the three factors, gratitude seemed the most universal in its approach. People have different senses of humor and ways to communicate, but saying thanks or thank you is the same around the world. Since we work with paper, the A Thousand Thank Yous card line was born.
Nathan: We developed A Thousand Thank Yous with the goal of creating a variety of designs that make it easy for people to have a habit of being thankful.
Monika: The design is simple, the cost is low, the medium is beautiful, and the message is heartfelt.
Nathan: Exactly, and the whole fundraising process of Kickstarter was a great way for us to share our dreams and get our friends, family, and the rest of the world excited about what we were up to. It was an extremely rewarding experience on many levels. The project being successfully funded was the icing on the cake. We’ve continued producing the A Thousand Thank Yous line to share with our customers as a supplement to our other retail and custom work. We love how much impact something so simple can have.
Joe’s Daughter: You also have a very active client side to the studio: how do you work as a design studio with the same ideas of being socially, environmentally and personally responsible?
Monika: At a basic level we run our shop like we run our home. We take our footprint seriously. We source eco-conscious materials, and continually look for better sources. We look critically at the companies that we purchase materials from. We use non-chemical based cleaners. We give the scraps as many lives as possible before they hit the recycle bin. We use minimal packaging on our products and shipping. All of this adds up to practices and products that we can stand fully behind.
Nathan: Our choices, and the integrity of those choices, have a direct translation to the types of clients and projects that find us. We are a two-person shop and put ourselves into every project. This creates a reflection of ourselves in everything we do, and that tends to attract the type of work we can be excited about and stand behind effortlessly.
Joe’s Daughter: Lets talk about whimsy. And positivity. What do both these approaches mean to you? Where do they originate? How do you deal with the cynicism that is sometimes our cultural, or personal, conditioning around these ideas and own this position with confidence?
Nathan: I think of whimsy as being open to interpretations that are a bit unexpected, sometimes a bit impulsive - a willingness to let intuition guide us as a relevant part of the process. Traditionally speaking, printing can be a very technical, focused discipline, more about accurately executing someone else’s idea. It's not always seen as an experimental platform itself. Particularly with our handmade notebooks, we let the process dictate much of the design, and use the press as a tool to play with ideas and print from unconventional materials like window screen or masking tape. It’s an organic process that allows us to produce something unique and new every time.
Monika: I agree with Nathan completely. I see whimsy as enjoyment and a light-heartedness that allows our truth and intuition to guide us.
Nathan: Positivity has become a theme in our work primarily because our own experience has shown it to be effective in life. I don’t think it is coming from a place of being naive or privileged, or being new-agey or anything so specific. It really is simply that we have found our lives are better when we are grateful, and good things happen when we are positive. We all get discouraged and depressed and things happen in life, and sometimes a bit of sarcasm can be cathartic. But in the end, we have always just been happier and more successful when we focus on what is working and have the confidence that good things will come our way.
Monika: It is interesting to think about where anything originates, and how far back does one go? I tend to naturally lean in the direction of optimism. It is a habit that was formed through experiences. At this point in my life being positive is no longer a thought process, it’s lifestyle, it’s the energy inside of me. I don’t give cynicism or pessimism any room to grow. I shower it with optimism and I move forward.
Every moment is a choice, and I choose to be filled with gratitude and joy.
Joe’s Daughter: You work with letterpress: what is the importance of the handcrafted and tangible in your work. Why have you chosen this as the medium for your practice?
Monika: I remember coming home from long hours behind a computer and a desk full of architectural drawing sets under fluorescent lights, and just being completely burnt out - so exhausted that I never made time to work on my own creative outlets. I remember Nathan touting that he had never had a desk job, and how he couldn’t even imagine it for himself. He loves being able to see how the process and machines work from beginning to end, and the richness of having something tangible to show for a day of work. I was craving a more handcrafted way of life that was more reflective of the experience I knew we both wanted.
Nathan: The characteristics of finished letterpress print work are very tactile, and can be very revealing of the printing process, rather than glossy and complex like other commercial printing. I think that is something people connect to immediately. A letterpress card can be a very physical and compelling little object, and people respond to that. It’s not something you can deliver in a text or an email or even a picture, it's a real thing.
Monika: Really it just found us, or well it found me anyway. My first gift from Nathan was a smattering of little letter pressed love note scraps that we still find as little surprises in our home and office. They are lovely little reminders of where we were and where we are now.
Letterpress printmaking allows me to share my passion for making the world a better place just on a different visual scale than an entire building. Printmaking is versatile. It has a long history to draw from and so much room for experimentation and community. It is a medium that allows precision at the same time as artistic vision.
Nathan: We both come from a background of makers. Artist parents on both sides, plus a multitude of odd jobs in our past that prepared us for just about any goal.
I landed on letterpress when I was studying all types of printmaking in art school. It’s a craft and an art at the same time, appealing to both sides of my brain. Something about the equipment and the tools and the type was, and still is, very appealing to me. It's a great way for me to make a living and still get my hands dirty every day.
Joe’s Daughter: You recently, with a group of other makers, opened The Garage. Could you talk about the importance of community, and maybe this community where we’ve all found ourselves?
Monika: I’m not sure that many people realize what a broad term “Community” can be. For me it is similar to the word “Family” - I think of family not as a thing or a lineage, but as a feeling. There are plenty of people who are technically our blood relatives, that I have never nor will I ever meet, or that I don’t really care to spend time with any more than a neighbor. Then there are people that I have met once, had an amazing connection with, and may never see again, but they are family to me. Community can be something that is layers upon layers or it can be a passing moment, either way it is about teamwork and supporting the greater good.
Nathan: The Garage became a part of our community when a couple of fellow crafters in town put in a proposal to convert a local abandoned, mid-20th-century service station into a retail co-op. We were asked to join in the early planning stages and it has been a wild ride. The Garage embodies both community and family - the pleasant and the rough components. We as artists, makers, and finders have an affordable fun outlet to share our wares and collaborate, while the broader community gets to enjoy a livelier town.
Monika: It is interesting to see what evolves and what degrades and what just plain stays the same. Fairfax is, as any town is, one of a kind. The people, the shops, the eateries, the events, all mixed together to make the hodge-podge that we call our local community.
Joe’s Daughter: And finally, we ask everyone we talk to for their influences? What they look to, what shapes their understanding, what they go back to again and again. What are yours?
Monika and Nathan:
www: This American Life, WBEZ