On the wire: Chandra Greer visits Loop

[Chandra Greer] Loop is a small paper goods and textiles company owned by Philadelphian Elissa Barbieri. The collection is based on Elissa’s meticulous, starkly-lush paintings and pen and ink drawings and includes a fascinating, years-in-the-making collaborative series with her mother. Intrigued by her rare, abstract sensibility we talked to Elissa about whether keeping it real also means keeping it small.

Elissa and her most important creative collaboration

Stationery suite fashioned out of Loop wrapping paper by Felt & Wire’s own Alyson Kuhn

You’re unique in our On the Wire series as you’re not a newbie — you’ve actually been around for a while, yet your company remains a precious little jewel. How much of that is attributable to your purposely keeping it small and how much to the fact Loop is definitely not a mainstream stationery proposition?
I wish I knew! This is such a difficult thing to analyze. I think much of it has to do with what I choose to put in the market; I often wonder if I had a broader product offering, would more stores take a chance on me? Conversely, if I did have birthday cards, thank you cards, holiday cards, would our indie appeal remain intact? It’s a difficult balance from a marketing perspective. From a personal perspective, I’d rather have a smaller following and create works that resonate with me than produce things based on what the market tells me I should produce. Is that crazy?!

Loop’s ultra-sophisticated gift wrap (printed on Mohawk Via 100% PCW). Making an impact.

Probably, but who cares? The world needs more people who remain true to their vision despite commercial pressures not to. Are there ways to expand the line while maintaining artistic integrity?
I have thought particularly about exploring letterpress or adding a prêt-a-porter wedding suite people could customize on their own. Now that I am a new mom, the idea of creating products for a specific audience or for a more traditional purpose is more appealing — it’s inspiring me to conceive of a line for babies, kids and families. In the end though, anything I add to Loop will have to come from personal experience. I started university as an English major before I switched to Architecture and I’ll always remember the advice of my creative writing professors: “Write what you know.”  This is true for all art, for all work in fact.

Stunning journals featuring whisper-beautiful detail from Elissa’s paintings

You’ve told me when you exhibited at the National Stationery Show several buyers told you they personally loved your work but believed their customers wouldn’t “get it.”  What are your thoughts on buying from the head and not the heart?
Buyers truly are in a difficult position. Especially in this economy, I think the responsibility to their bottom line is more in the forefront of their minds. This often impinges on their ability to creatively curate their store’s repertoire. I am sure there is a mix that could blend the two — enough risk to make the shelves sing and enough sure-to-sell stock that makes the machine chug on. 

Loop is a fine art stationery line whose black and white, pattern-driven aesthetic is different and unexpected. I think buyers should look at this as a great way to provide contrast and interplay among their traditional favorites. It’s like a well-designed room having a few pieces to tickle the eye and pull the ensemble together.

Array of note card designs. Loop’s abstract patterning stands out in the industry.

We carry Loop because we love it and, fortuitously, our customers do, too, so both are possible. Do you find your line does better in a certain type of store or outlet?
Loop does well in museum stores, gift and clothing boutiques and garden/home furnishing stores, venues that have an artistic and/or style focus. We also do well in paper stores that carry a wide range of our patterns; when they’re displayed together, they have a better chance of making an impact.

Coffee bean-inspired “Sumatra,” printed on FSC-certified paper

How important is the paper you use?
The paper on which we print is something I will not compromise on. It has to be the most eco-conscious paper available on the market, even if it’s twice as expensive! Otherwise, I’m not interested. A huge part of starting Loop for me was to find ways to create demand for eco materials so suppliers’ options continue to get better and less expensive. In my view this is the only future for our economy — in the paper industry and beyond.

Note cards featuring Doodlespark drawings, the result of years of mother/daughter collaboration

Tell us about Doodlespark. What a great story that is.
My mother had her second baby when she was 40, 12 years after I was born, so I started college when my brother started kindergarten. I would return home from boarding school and later college, and one way we reconnected as mother, daughter and sibling was to sit around the table and draw while we talked. We started exchanging drawings in a circle, creating collaborative works that opened conversations and cemented togetherness.

After I left home, my mother and I continued this exchange through the mail, each of us adding and changing multiple drawings at a time, making notes on the back as to what we were thinking and feeling at the moment. It fostered a great friendship and provided a creative playground for us as artists. We never intended for our drawings to be shown publicly, but when I started Loop I threw in some of the colorful drawings as a counterpoint to my black and white patterns. The synergy was instantaneous. Sharing the story of Doodlespark’s creation has been an incredible experience; when talking with buyers, it literally stops some people in their tracks. I’ve also received some amazing e-mails from people around the world who have found us online and wanted to thank me for introducing this idea to them and their family.

“Stroll” wrapping paper. We’d like to stroll around wearing this as a robe.

As your work is so sophisticated and pattern-driven, are there opportunities like blowing out the small amount of work you currently do in prints and textiles? Personally, I would love a set of “Em” sheets, maybe some Doodlespark tableware. No pressure.
Yes, yes and yes! I think Loop’s growth would be better served by exploring different mediums rather than tinkering with our existing paper goods line, so this is a very apt question. My dream is to expand our offerings of eco-conscious textiles — currently sold by the yard and printed on demand — by developing wallpaper as well as home furnishings. Doodlespark has just been licensed to produce a line of textiles which will debut later this year, and I keep saying this is the year to get a collection of fine art prints together. Pressure me, please!

Doodlespark “Cultivate” card, soon to be transformed into gorgeous fabric

Where would you like to be in five years?
This is an evolving vision. If you asked me two years ago, before my son was born, I’d have had a very different answer, one that was all business, growth and expansion. It’s different now that I am a mother. Being a parent is the most creative and demanding work I have ever done, but its rewards are hard to turn into salable products [laughs]. In five years, I’d like Loop to have experimented with some of the mediums discussed above in ways that bring it to the next level — a natural evolution of the brand, the art.

Until then we’ll be dreaming of writing notes on Loop stationery, drinking coffee from our “Sumatra” patterned cup as we lounge about in our “Cultivate” caftan.

Loop products are available at Felt & Wire Shop, Greer Chicago and Supermarket.

On the wire is a series of monthly conversations with up-and-coming stationery designers that, while tiny in size, are titanic in talent. Our interviews are hosted by Chandra Greer, the owner of Greer (@GREERChicago), an independent stationery shop and website with a longstanding commitment to seeking out and supporting independent designers.

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Comments (7)

  1. Posted by Susy on 04.2.12 at 1:44 pm

    Oh, this was a great read. For years now, I’ve been a fan of Elisa’s work. It takes courage to do such focused work in a world overwhelmed by “cute.” I have always admired how committed she is to her style and to her aesthetic.

    It’s really great to see her recognized here, for that. Kudos F&W and Chandra! : )

    And Elisa, I can’t wait to see what you do next.

  2. Posted by Susy on 04.2.12 at 1:45 pm

    Ah! DYAC! – Elissa. Sorry – it’s spelled wrong in my comment. : )

  3. Posted by DAVE BROWN on 04.3.12 at 2:41 am

    THAT’S MY SIS! I’M PROUD OF YOU FOR MAKING LOOP SO UNIQUE! YOU ROCK!!!

  4. Posted by elissa on 04.3.12 at 11:33 am

    Chandra, thank you so much for your grace in presenting my work so thoughtfully. It was a joy speaking with you for this article.

    Susy, the admiration flows back in your direction, talented lady. I am cheering your biz on as well.

    David, thanks, brother xx

  5. Posted by Laura on 04.3.12 at 9:32 pm

    Elissa’s work was part of the inspiration behind Feltandwireshop.com. Her work is so beautiful and so particular. I wanted to help her and others like her find a larger audience. Thanks for the great piece, Chandra!

  6. Posted by Chandra Greer on 04.4.12 at 9:57 am

    Very glad you all appreciate how remarkable Elissa is. Laura, you and I are kindred spirits. And, as always, thank you to Felt & Wire for allowing us to showcase these amazing, dedicated designers.

  7. Posted by Brendan Golubjatnikov on 04.17.12 at 12:12 am

    I have grown up knowing Elissa’s family. After reading this piece, I understand and respect her work at a whole new level. The art, the business, and the ecological philosophy are fantastic and inspiring. I hope to share this wonderful work/products with others that are close to me!

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