The written word is my first passion; doing so on pretty paper is a close second.
That’s why I have long been a fan of Cartolina, its stunning stationery (and greeting cards), and founder Fiona Richards. When word spread of Cartolina’s clever iPhone app featuring gorgeous designs as text messages, I quickly concluded I would be a Cartolina customer for life.
After following Fiona’s work and exchanging a tweet or two, I knew I wanted to know more about this creative lady and her approach to design.
Tell me a bit about yourself: where you grew up and where you call home.
I grew up in Scotland in a village north of Edinburgh called Dollar. It was a wonderful place to be a kid. We lived with my grandparents who had been in India for many years, and so our house was chock a block full of weird and wonderful memorabilia from the Raj days of India. I was a very creative kid and was quite happy to spend all of my time on the back porch drawing, painting, and sewing. I am the middle of three sisters and my younger sister and I emigrated to Canada in the early 1980s.
What sparked your interest in stationery?
The stationery business is a natural for many artists who have an entrepreneurial nature. It’s a great way to get into business for yourself. I’ve always associated art with commerce, and since an early age I’ve always made product for sale. We have a huge collection of vintage ephemera at the studio. My husband and I have been collecting old images for years and I started experimenting with digital collage a few years ago. Stationery is a great way for me to take the vintage art that I love so much, interact with it, and share it with other people.
Tell me about the origin of the name Cartolina.
When I was thinking of launching a stationery line, we just got back from Italy and the English/Italian dictionary was sitting on the coffee table. I looked up the word “card” or “postcard,” and it turned out it is Cartolina in Italian. I loved the name as soon as I saw it. I think that some people believe my name is Fiona Cartolina because that’s my user name for so many online forums and social media. I have become known as Fiona Cartolina, which I’m absolutely fine with!
How has the web/social media/blogging changed the way you do business?
We live in a very remote area of British Columbia. We are an eight-hour drive to any major city. Social media and blogging makes the world a much smaller place. I have developed many good friends on my blog and Twitter, and in fact I have hired four people for Cartolina directly from Twitter. Facebook and Twitter are a great way to reach your market on a social level and an interesting way to develop strategic partners in a casual but professional way. Living in the “back of beyond” is much easier when you have a network of friends and associates just a tweet away.
Your iPhone and iPad apps are absolutely adorable! What prompted the development of each?
The apps have been super fun and I am thrilled at their success. I still can barely believe that we have been featured in The New York Times twice now for our apps. We decided to develop the apps simply because we are hooked on our own iPhones and saw an opportunity to produce a high-tech product with vintage appeal. The success of the apps has had a lot to do with the fact that, even though we are all grateful for the advance in modern communication technology, we crave honest, beautiful, and familiar imagery to send greetings to one another. It’s just a very basic, human emotion taken to a digital format. We are in the development stage right now of another Cartolina app which we will launch in September and I’m really excited with the potential of this one. Can’t wait to let the cat out of the bag!
What has been the customer response to your work?
We have been lucky to be able to produce a unique product in the stationery world for five years now. The customer response has been amazing and we sell our cards in some beautiful stores like Harrods and Libertys in London, the British Museum, and The V & A. I try and design imagery that takes you to another world: art that is intriguing and fantastical and includes imagery for all eras and cultures. I absolutely love designing new cards and I pour my heart into every design. Each design is many hours of work; it’s a culmination of painstakingly restored, vintage art combined with my own eclectic mix of influences, experiences, and skills. Perhaps that’s what buyers recognize: honest to goodness, authentic work.
What keeps you awake at night?
I worry about the authenticity of art being produced these days; not just in the stationery business, but in other commercial creative businesses. I firmly believe that people spend way too much time looking for inspiration on the Internet. Everyone is looking at everyone else’s stuff too much. Everyone is “pinning” the same stuff. And that’s why there is so much same-y work floating around the design world. Artists should try stepping away from the computer and finding inspiration in themselves, their environment, and their experiences. It feels like everyone is swimming in the same pool of design and being inspired/influenced by all the same things. The real world is far more inspiring than the Internet.