When I visited Seattle earlier this summer, I dragged my host-friend to visit Constellation & Co. with me on my very first day in town. It was so much fun to see where the magic happens of a company I’ve long admired — a gorgeous letterpress that reminded me of long nights in the design school basement, drawers on drawers of wooden and lead type and a sweet, singing parakeet.
Owner and boss lady Sara McNally is the creative mind behind Constellation & Co.’s letterpress stationery line. I was so excited that she agreed to tell her story on Feast + West. Actually, her story reminds me very much of my own. If you like letterpress stationery or are considering running a creative business, I recommend reading this one. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do. // susannah
1. Sara, how would you describe Constellation & Co.?
Constellation & Co. is a letterpress stationery company and retail gift shop. We make hand printed typographic greeting cards that range from sincere to sarcastic, but are all very honest. We have storefront studio space and retail stationery/gift shop that supports other small businesses, artists, and makers. I also teach letterpress workshops, am an aspiring writer, and a full time mom. I’m always looking ahead to dream up what we can make or do next. I’d love to continue to build Constellation & Co. as a lifestyle business, sharing encouraging words and beautiful products that bring people together.
2. What were you doing before Constellation & Co.? What inspired you to change paths?
I started Constellation & Co. about 6 months after graduating from art school. I majored in graphic design and graduated in 2009, the middle of the recession. I briefly held a job with an ad agency that was quickly killing my soul. I quit, and found a local printer who would let me apprentice to learn the craft of letterpress printing. I took off running from there. I rented a studio space, bought a press, started designing stationery, and kept putting one foot in front of the other.
3. When ideas are scarce, where do you turn for creative inspiration?
I’m an “external processor.” My ideas don’t form until I’ve been able to talk through them or write them out. I love conversation, and I’m not afraid to talk things through out loud by myself if I’m in a pinch. I’m lost without a good notebook and pen. I like to take walks, take in beautiful scenery, and spend time with my family and friends. My relationships really fuel what I write about and create. I also love reading books, and have at least a few going at a time. I try to avoid looking at other people’s work when I’m stuck, because I don’t want to soak up what I see and then put out work that’s not original.
Click through to read the rest of the Q&A with Sara McNally of Constellation & Co.!
4. Describe your workspace.
I love our storefront print shop and retail space. It’s filled with natural light and has calming soft blue walls and light wood floors and furniture. It’s a cozy, inspiring space. Up a spiral staircase is our loft space, for storage, fulfillment and my desk. If I’m totally honest, my desk is a cluttered disaster. I end up carrying the vital things around in a giant purse. Since becoming a mom, I have to be ultra flexible about where I work. I work from home often, on my couch or the floor while baby plays. I respond to e-mails anywhere and everywhere when I get a second. In a perfect world, I’d have an Instagrammable workspace ready all the time for dreamy concentration. But at this point, if the work gets done and my family is happy, that’s enough.
5. What have been your biggest successes and challenges for Constellation & Co.?
My decision to stop taking custom wedding invitation work in late 2013 and focus completely on wholesale stationery was a huge crossroads. Seeing that gamble pay off has been a huge success for me. Getting to design what I want, and see retail shops around the country (and the world!) pick up my line has been amazing. I still do a happy dance every time a new shop places an order! I’ve learned that it’s always worth it to pursue what is most fulfilling. I put my whole self into everything I do, and if the work gives back and is fulfilling and enjoyable, my life is awesome.
6. What are your dreams for Constellation & Co.?
I want to keep growing our card line, and design awesome non-stationery items too! I get such great joy from encouraging other business ladies, I’d love to find a way to do that all the time – whether it’s through writing a book or doing speaking engagements or starting a podcast or one on one coaching – I’d love to make that happen.
7. Who do you look up to?
I look up to bad ass business ladies who are honest about their struggles and willing to share what they’re learning. I also love Johnny Cash and Abraham Lincoln.
8. Where and how do you love to spend your time off?
My favorite place to get away is the San Juan Islands here in Washington State. It’s where my husband and I honeymooned, and we’ve gone back many times. Riding the ferry feels like we’re getting far far away from real life. Being on the water is a beautiful relief.
9. What resources do you recommend to someone whose dream job is your job?
Take letterpress classes (don’t accidentally damage 100 year old equipment please!), write down all of your ideas, and just get started! Starting with a tabletop press on your dining room table is better than not starting at all. We started with a $500 rust bucket of a press in 100 square feet. That was more than enough to launch and learn and grow from there. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to start. Start learning and doing now, and you’ll be ready when opportunities arise later.
10. If you weren’t running Constellation & Co., what would be your dream job?
I think Foley Artists have the coolest job. Other than that, I’ve got a major block when thinking about this question. I really am living my dream. It’s hard to imagine doing anything else.