Editor’s note: In preparation for International Women’s Day, we’re taking a trip to a few lady-owned studios around NYC to chat with them about their life and their work.
Working out of her charming and bright studio in East Harlem, Christina Chun is the one-woman show behind the stationary business, Forage Paper Co. It’s hard not to feel a sense of happy-calm in her home studio where her trusty canine studio assistant, Ici, lounges in the sun all afternoon. Christina is continually inspired by the ways in which we express ourselves, and believes physical articulations of our feelings on pen and paper is something worth preserving, especially in the age of digital communication. She collects ideas everywhere she goes, turning the small things we may dismiss as mundane aspects of everyday life and turns them into whimsical designs for her next batch of cards. There’s something tangibly personal in each and every card she sends out to small stores around the country, with each one carefully (some might say painstakingly!) painted with a tiny brush, down to the minute details.
We got a chance to visit Christina in her studio and chat about how she got into the stationary business from being an illustrator for larger companies, and what it’s like to be a small business owner. Read on below!
Photography by Lindsey Swedick
Please tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I started Forage Paper Co. back in 2015 in Oakland, California. I experienced many firsts in the Bay Area as I started my own stationery line: hosting pop-up shops, participating in craft shows, setting up our online shop, and meeting my amazing stockists and incredible customers. In 2017, my husband and I decided to leave the comforts of California and relocate to New York.
As the sole designer, I get to express my creativity without encumbrance. The result of my work is a blend of colorful and whimsical designs meant to capture the eye. I strive to design art on a medium that reminds people of how we used to celebrate and communicate with each other, when all we needed were a friend, a paper, and a pen.
What is your background in art and how did you decide to take the leap and start your own stationery business?
After completing my degree in Illustration, I began working as a freelance illustrator for publications like the New York Times and companies like Paperless Post. I even illustrated two children’s books.
Between work, I started to create my own stationery and putting it out to the world. To my surprise, retailers started placing orders. They even began re-ordering! Soon after, I realized that merging my talent for illustration and my passion for stationery was the perfect marriage. I pictured formalizing my dream into a stationery business in the then-distant future. Although it took awhile to translate my vision into reality, I became totally committed.
Where do you seek inspiration for each of your designs?
I forage for inspiration everywhere I go. I find it on my walks to Central Park and the changing of the seasons. I see it on textiles in the storefronts in Manhattan and the classic architecture in Brooklyn. I find it flipping through lifestyle magazines and my travels around the globe. I record my findings through notes and sketches in my idea journal. It’s from this amorphous collection of inspiration that I churn out ideas for my cards. Ideas for some of my best selling cards came from simple walks around my city.
Tell us about your studio space.
I currently work out of our bedroom-turned-studio. It is a comfortable space supplemented by natural light. My studio is separated into three distinct spaces: one for painting and office work, the other for order fulfillment and collaging, and lastly a comfortable couch for my German Shepherd, Ici, to nap on throughout the day. In the corner of the studio, I keep my inventory of greeting cards and paper products. The space can get a little chaotic when we are preparing for events and big shipments, but for right now, it’s the perfect space for me to work, play, and design.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I’m definitely a morning person, so by 6:30 A.M., I have a hot cup of black coffee in hand ready to work. I begin with satisfying the immediate needs of the business: answering emails and fulfilling orders. The next portion of my day is dedicated to project management. This is when I plan for upcoming product releases and prepare for upcoming holiday seasons.
At 9:00 A.M., it’s time to hit the gym. Lately, I’ve been into pilates and boxing.
By noon, I eat a salad or leftovers from the night before and ice cream for a healthy balance of nutrition before I jump into the design phase of my day. This is when I will sketch several ideas on pencil before committing the most promising ideas with paint. After painting my designs, I will scan and edit my cards on my computer.
At 4:00 P.M., I eat a Korean snack; I’m a sucker for grabbing a variety whenever I visit Koreatown. This is when I begin working on my marketing strategy. I’m either creating a newsletter for my vendors or subscribers, or I’m curating content for a post on social media. I also contact vendors about shipments and orders. Lastly, I’ll also stay in touch with my printers and sales representatives.
By evening, my husband and I are eating dinner I’ve prepared. To reward my German Shepherd studio mate, we’ll go for a nice jog to Central Park where we like to play fetch.
What, in your experience, have been the biggest challenges and rewards in starting your own business?
As a business owner, there are a myriad of unexpected trials that I just had to learn and figure out. Sometimes, I found myself making every mistake possible. Yet these mistakes served to strengthen my resolve and sharpen my acumen. I’m learning that my failures don’t define me, but they are certainly helping me to grow beyond expectation. In hindsight, failure has taught me to build resilience and a mission-driven mentality.
In our day, traditional physical products like stationery stand in sharp contrast to our digitally saturated context. One of the reasons why I started Forage Paper Co. was to help people connect to one another the good ol’ fashioned way. What I find so satisfying is when I see a person smile from ear to ear, as they pick up my product with the intention of sharing that joy through pen on paper.
What is it like being a maker in America right now?
As an Asian-American woman, it is absolutely thrilling to be a maker in America because I truly feel free to explore and release my creativity as I please. I can pursue my love for illustration and its endless forms and also go on to merge illustration and stationery to build my own brand. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my privilege to run the stationery business that I always dreamed of, which wonderfully enables people to connect with their loved ones all over the world.
What do you love most about being a maker in NYC?
I love how vibrant and culturally enriching New York City is. To get my creative juices flowing, all I need is a simple walk through different boroughs and neighborhoods because its energy will inspire me. As a maker, inspiration is my nutrition, and NYC truly has an endless supply.
Top 5 places you need to visit in the city?
I love the Conservatory Garden. It’s the only formal garden in Central Park. It’s especially nice during the warmer months when all of the flowers are in bloom.
Union Square Farmer’s Market is one of my favorite go-to farmers markets for seasonal vegetables, fruits and flowers.
Okay, that was more like ten places!