Jennifer Parsons is the creative force behind Tiny Pine Press, a boutique letterpress design studio based in Los Angeles. She prizes handmade elements and gorgeous papers. Her exquisite craftwomanship has earned her a discerning clientele over the last four years and she routinely prints for celebrities, including Mariska Hargitay, Jerry Ryan, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Katherine Heigl, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Joely Fisher, and Will Oldham … just to name a few. Her work appears regularly in magazines. Today, she’s taking a little time to chat with us about her letterpress practice.
How did you get started in letterpress?
“Well, really it started because a friend of mine got engaged on her birthday. On that day, I gave her a ‘sewn’ birthday card, with a painting and some stitching on paper. She called me that day and thanked me for the birthday card and said, ‘Will you do my wedding invitations?’ I said yes, but I didn’t know what it meant. So I did research. I became a real paper detective – I found all these sources, learned all I could. Her invitations were actually off-set printing because I didn’t know about letterpress then. After that, I got a job at Soolip where I learned about designing for letterpress and type-setting. Then I got more interested in doing it on my own, so I took a secret letterpress class. It was secret because it was at nighttime. My friend Joel Larson taught me letterpress basics in Donna Columby’s garage. When I learned enough to get started, I bought my own Chandler & Price press and started Tiny Pine.”
Tiny Pine Press is such sweet name. Where did that come from?
“There are two stories. The romantic part of the story and why I’m attached to pines is that I’m from Sugar Grove, V.A., and when I was in the 4H Club, they’d give you free pines to plant in your yard. So my dad and I planted the little trees all around our yard. The second part of the story is that when I was working in the belt buckle factory, someone gave me a little circle belt buckle. She said it was the perfect belt buckle for me. It’s vintage, probably from the 60s, and all it has on it is a tiny pine and a sunset in the background. I decided that was me, so I named the company Tiny Pine.”
Your Chandler & Price Press has a pretty great name, too: Verdie. Where did that come from?
“Verdie has personality. She’s named after my great-aunt who I never met who received lots of postcards from sailors. She lived in a port city and had lots of boyfriends. She was really independent, never married, worked at GE. I like her name. It reminds me of a bird and the color green, even though Verdie [the press] is gray. She’s my friend. She helps me get things done around here. I don’t think of her as an employee, though. She’s a partner.”
Do all letterpressers name their presses?
“No. But I think some people name their presses because they spend so much time with them. They have arms, faces.”
What do you wish you could tell brides about their stationery?
“A lot of times I really wish I could tell everybody that what they want is something timeless. They want to have a piece of paper they could hold in their hands, that their family could look at it in a hundred years and say, “That was their wedding invitation!” Stationery that’s elegant, simple, beautiful. There are some people who get that, of course. I wish I could tell them they don’t want something that’s current and cutesy. Not fashion-based. Not all the complicated stuff you get in the mail nowadays. You want something that you’re going to be proud of when you’re 80. When you get married, you’re not thinking about [just] now, you’re thinking about the future. That’s why brides and grooms hire photographers and all that, for the present and the future. You have to think about that.”
Why do you think stationery is an important visual / design aspect of the wedding?
“I think it really sets the tone. The save-the-date and wedding invite tells everybody way ahead of time what to expect. I really believe that it should be coming from not just the bride. There should be a masculine twist, at least a little bit. A lot of times men get lost in weddings … and that’s sad. The stationery can also tell us if the wedding is going to be playful or formal. It’s pretty much the only clue (unless you know the couple really well).
“The guests shouldn’t be surprised when they receive the invitation, they should think, ‘oh, that makes sense.’ I’m doing an invite for a wedding in Jackson hole, Wyoming – you think of Jackson Hole as a wintery place. This is a wedding in summer. I would never put a fall leaf on an invite. That sets the opposite tone.
One of my goals as an invitation designer and just in life is to be a really good ’emotional translator’ — understanding people quickly and translating it to a piece of paper. So I think being sensitive to [a client] is really important. That’s why they hire people—they don’t know how to do it themselves, so they pick people who can.
Also the invite is a memory.”
How green is letterpress?
“Well, it’s pretty green. It’s not ultra green, but you can be really pretty green.”
What do you do to make it as green as possible?
“I print with soy ink, which is as green as ink can be. I saw a tv show, I think it was Ugly Betty, and they were talking about not liking soy inks because they rub off. But it’s not true. Soy ink sticks really well. It dries fastest. That’s one of the reasons people don’t like it (but I like it). There aren’t as many VOCs (fume things).
“I mix really small amounts of ink. I can do a whole job with maybe a tablespoon or two of ink. I keep and reuse ink if possible. So I was pretty upset to see it put down on a tv show.
“I do use wood-backed magnesium plates. So there’s some wood. But I can’t really get around it right now.
“I also don’t print a lot of overage. A lot of times with offset printing, they use so much extra paper that there’s a lot of waste. I actually only print about 15% over, and most of those are samples for me. The process is slow and I hand-feed and hand-print. I see everything and I’m watching it so I don’t make lots of mistakes. If I do make a mistake, I catch it right away. I save scraps and use them as make-ready. I use scraps for crafty projects, too. In the end, I really don’t throw a lot away.”
What trends would you like to see happen in wedding stationery?
“I think that it’s getting more organic. I’d like to see it keep going that way. I think it already is. People want more natural stuff. That’s my style.”
Jennifer Parsons ♥s:
- Printing photos on paper and making it look good
- Photoshop skills
- Scotch quick-dry adhesive glue
- Epson printers
- I don’t have to say I heart my little letterpress because everybody already knows I do.
- Lori D (and the ability to illustrate like Lori D).
- Dirty Byrd Paper, which is hand made by my friend Jocelyn Todd.
- Fabriano paper because it’s Italian and hand-torn.
- Vintage stamps