Felt & Wire begins the new year with the first in a series of monthly conversations with up and coming stationery designers that, while tiny in size, are titanic in talent. Our interviews will be hosted by the insightful Chandra Greer, owner of Greer, an independent stationery shop and website with a longstanding commitment to seeking out and supporting independent designers. First-up are John Gurtin and Katie Wilson, the charming, clever and whip-smart duo that is Dude and Chick of St. Paul, Minn. Of their work, Chandra says, “I love the ironic juxtaposition of DNC’s perfect, letterpress-printed craftsmanship with their wacky sensibility. We like wacky, especially when it’s pressed into nice paper.”
[Chandra] If you weren’t designing greeting cards how would you be occupying yourselves?
[Katie] John would probably make a full time career out of scouring antique stores for cool stuff. I would indulge my inner nerd and go back to school for a degree in Library Science.
A lot of smaller greeting card designers have gigs on the side. Is Dude and Chick your full-time job?
After a couple of years of all-nighters and lots of elbow grease, we triumphantly punched the clock for the last time in June of this year. Now we bask in the glory of full-time bliss at Dude and Chick.
I’m assuming Dude is your husband. What’s it like to work day to day with your man?
We get this question quite a bit! Actually, though John and I are besties forever, we’re just friends. John lives with his wife Molly, their son Jack (he was born in June and is just amazing) and dog MacGuire. I live with my boyfriend Scott. It is interesting to spend so much one-on-one time with someone who isn’t a significant other — I think we’ve both learned a lot about communication and the value of unplugging from the DNC matrix once in a while. Fortunately, our friendship is made of the stuff that can survive the cutthroat world of greeting cards.
What led you to start Dude and Chick?
We met at a local printshop in Minneapolis, where John printed and I worked as an intern. We bonded over a love of greeting cards and Project Runway. Scribbles and goofing off became actual card ideas, and Dude and Chick was born.
Your sensibility is original and quirky. Where do you get your ideas?
Lots and lots of napkins and notebooks. Whenever we think something is funny we write it down and revisit it later. This leads to some good concepts and a lot of confusion. Many times we’re left the morning after a long night of work wondering why we thought “fart cloud cheetos” was super hilarious. We still have a scribbled drawing of that one floating around somewhere.
Do you ever worry an idea is too out there, or are you impervious to potential doom?
Honestly, one of the best things about working for ourselves is that we are the only people we have to answer to. I can’t tell you how freeing it is to make a card with a greaser centaur on it just because it cracks us up every time we look at it. Trust me — there are many ideas that we nix because they’re way over the line, but we also decided a long time ago that if we both really wanted to make a card, we’d put it out there. It’s worth it to us if even one person gets the joke.
Do you design to specific occasions or do you come up with ideas and then figure out where they fit?
It’s always been pretty apparent that we come up with much better ideas when we follow the fun. For the most part we just design cards that we like and hope they fit somewhere useful. This leads to a lot of “all-occasion” designs but we think multitasking cards are the future.
As a small company, how do you get a retailer’s attention? How do you decide what stores or websites you want to target?
Fortunately, we’ve had a lot of shops find us through Etsy or word of mouth. Dude and Chick sells to a lot of fantastic small stores, and it seems like they all go to the same bar every night to swap tips on the coolest lines. I also keep an ongoing list of awesome-looking shops I come across via city guides, blogs, the Yellow Pages and my own exploration. And I e-mail buyers regularly [which is how Greer discovered Dude and Chick].
Do you divide and conquer, e.g. one writes the copy, the other illustrates or prints, etc., or is it a free for all?
In the beginning, we stuck to our obvious strengths — John is a designer and printer by trade, I’m an illustrator. As we worked together, though, we both began to pitch in on various parts of every card and now each design is a full collaboration from start to finish.
John and I are very, very different in many ways, and I think that’s the secret to our aesthetic, which we like to think is different from what’s out there. John’s into minimalist perfectionism, and I tend towards excess and whimsy, but we have the same taste level — we just get to it in different ways. He reigns me in, and I loosen him up. That balance is crucial and especially helps us make awesome cards that appeal to dudes and ladies alike.
You’re a pretty buttoned-up little outfit. How do you achieve that left-brain/right-brain balance?
Ha, do we seem buttoned up? If Dude and Chick were a shirt, we’d be the top half of a leisure suit with lots of chest hair showing.
Where would you like to be in five years?
In five years, we would be thrilled to still be working together, creating cards that make us laugh. Preferably, we would also have a soda fountain installed at DNC headquarters. Fingers crossed.
Katie and John, we look forward to hoisting a big frosty glass with you someday soon. Find the complete Dude and Chick line on their Etsy site.
Chandra, we welcome you as a regular contributor to Felt & Wire. We appreciate your unique perspective on the stationery world, applaud the way you nurture new talent, and, we can’t wait for a personal tour of your shop in Chicago (located at 1657 North Wells St. in Chicago, as well as online.)