[Alyson Kuhn] Kelly McMahon is the designer-printer-binder of May Day Studio’s self-described “quirky paper goods.” She holds a graduate degree in Creative Writing from California College of the Arts in San Francisco and observes, “What I’m really good at is sitting still and thinking a lot.” She is also really good at making books. At the National Stationery Show in 2010, McMahon swooned when her albums and brag books were selected by Cursive, the mostly-stationery boutique at ABC Carpet & Home in New York City.
Brag Book in Ochre Zigzag: Cover letterpress-printed in two colors on Mohawk Via Warm White 100# Text
Cursive’s philosophy aligns beautifully with McMahon’s. A bit of theirs: “We love paper and we love people who love paper and we know that people who love paper appreciate all things of beauty….” And a corresponding bit of hers: “My books are as uniquely my style as I can possibly make them. The covers are patterns that I design, that I letterpress print right here, on papers that I select … and finally I hand-sew the books.”
Brag Book in Crimson Leaves: Blank interior pages are Mohawk Via White White 80# Cover
Was 2010 your first time exhibiting at the National Stationery Show?
Yes, it was. I shared the Ladies of Letterpress group booth to get my feet wet. I received great feedback, so this year I’m doing a small booth on my own. I’m creating my own tiny world to live in for three and a half days. [Booth #1955]
Who from ABC Carpet & Home noticed your books?
MK Wong, the manager and blogger for Cursive, came around the second day of the show. She was friendly, and we had a great conversation. I am a big blog reader, and everywhere I look, ABC pops up on design blogs in every other post. It’s a cohesive, curated collection. Anyway, MK mentioned that the owner of Cursive would be walking the show the next day and might come by and say hi.
The next day, a nattily dressed man walked right up to my display in the Ladies of Letterpress booth and introduced himself as Michael Schultz, the co-owner of Cursive. He asked me a few questions, which I answered, and then he placed a big order on the spot for the boutique: several patterns of brag books and two sizes of albums. I was a bit overwhelmed even before he said, “And let’s duplicate this order for the second store.” [Cursive has a shop in Lexington Passage in Grand Central Terminal.] I shook his hand, we exchanged cards, he walked out. I went and sat down, hugging my clipboard! His order almost filled up my entire form. This came out of the blue — I hadn’t done any networking or had anything available ahead of time for people to see.
Brag Book in Eggplant Leaves: Letterpress-printed endpapers complement the cover
What sorts of things did MK and Michael ask you?
Questions about my work, from start to finish. They were very interested in the design aspect, as well as in my process and execution. My books are designed to feel good in your hand and to be the optimal size for whatever their use is. I have specific reasons for every aspect, and both MK and Michael responded to that. I was very flattered and completely flustered by their attention to detail.
And what about actually producing the order for Cursive?
They requested a ship date of four weeks after the show, just after Father’s Day. I made the date, but the last three days were pretty intense. It was my first large order, and I had no idea of the scale of time or intensity of labor. Since then, I have improved 125% in terms of time management and my production capabilities. I’ve learned that there are some steps you can move, like cutting all the thread and ribbons at one time. Editions of six are good; 18 is too many — you get lost in the steps.
Tall Album in Ochre Zigzag, with six signatures of Mohawk Via Warm White 80# Cover; dimensions: 7-in. w x 10-in. h x 1.5-in. d; holds 144 photos
Are you devoted to Mohawk Via Warm White?
I do use Mohawk Via a lot — the texture is really nice, and it offers a good range of whites. For my business, I like to use papers with recycled content when I can. I do still spec Mohawk Superfine for high-end book-arts projects. While I was in grad school, I was an intern for a couple of years at the San Francisco Center for the Book, and that’s where I started printing on Superfine.
Kelly McMahon blogs about every aspect of May Day Studio, from white ink to deep teal book cloth. She regularly checks out what’s happening at Ink & Peat and Clementine, both May Day Studio stockists. She also frequently visits Oh So Beautiful Paper and Poppytalk.