Artist Spotlight: Yeppie Paper
Yeppie Paper is a Los Angeles design studio co-founded by brother and sister team Jim Lee and Jennifer Lee Gregoire. They offer a range of greeting cards that feature Jen’s adorable hand-painted gouache illustrations. Since starting in 2014 as a small operation out of Jen’s kitchen, they have steadily grown their line, and the enthusiasm and support of their retailers and customers continues to motivate them to create “the perfect card”.
In this month’s Artist Spotlight, Jen fills us in on the origins of their unique brand name, the beauty of balancing motherhood with business ownership, and finding inspiration in everyday things like children’s book illustrations.
Tell us about the birth of Yeppie Paper! And what the heck is “Yeppie”?
About six years ago, our family was leisurely hanging out after a gigantic Thanksgiving feast. I had been secretly plotting a new business venture in my head for a few months and hadn't told anyone about it yet. Then before I knew it, I blurted out to my family, "I want to start a paper empire!!" They were a bit stunned but supportive, and my oldest brother, Jim, declared that he could join me and we could start the business together. Then he said, "It should be called Yeppie." Everyone immediately loved that idea. "Yeppie" is my nickname that our dad gave me when I was little and still calls me today. It's a South Korean term of endearment that basically translates into "cutie" or "sweetheart". We knew we wanted our greeting card line to embody those same heartfelt sentiments, so we felt the name just worked.
It’s so nice to see siblings working together!
Yes! We feel so fortunate to be able to combine our skill sets and work together, pitching ideas to each other and developing new products. My brother is the super glue holding this operation together, without whom nothing would work. Jim and I play independent roles but our unique skills create a balanced operation.
Did you always want to be an artist, even in childhood?
I always loved to draw and paint since I can remember. My mom encouraged me by taking me to after-school art classes since I was in fifth grade. Throughout middle school and high school, I always loved making art and was even voted "Most Likely to Have Artwork at the Louvre" in my senior yearbook - haha! I went on to get my Bachelors of Fine Art degree from UCLA, and every job I've had since college has been in some kind of creative field. I think I've always known that I would do something art related for the rest of my life because it just comes naturally to me. I would definitely feel like something is missing or wrong if I wasn't making art.
What is your favorite medium to create with? Describe your process.
My favorite medium to work with is gouache paint. It's an opaque watercolor that offers limitless color choices, dries quickly, is easy to layer and is pretty forgiving. In college, I used to work with oils and acrylic paints on large scale canvases and wood panels but I've definitely scaled down a lot since then.
For Yeppie, all of our cards are created the same way. First I paint a gouache illustration that is about the same size as the final greeting card size. Then I scan the artwork and do touch up and color correction on my computer using Photoshop. I get the layout ready for printing using Illustrator. Once I have all the designs in a new release ready to go, I send the files to our local printer.
Where do you find your inspiration?
For me, inspiration can strike anywhere. I'm very much inspired by nature and the animal kingdom, and I love to incorporate animals in a way that reflects some of their natural mannerisms and personality traits. I'm also inspired a lot by children's book illustrations and how they are so effective at telling the story visually on each page so that even a child who can't read yet can understand what is going on. Sometimes a song on the radio or a current podcast can suddenly make me think of a card idea as well.
Coming up with ideas is a collaborative effort with my brother, and he's actually the mastermind behind some of our best selling cards.
What's your solution for combating “creative block” and maintaining productivity?
A creative block can happen anytime and it can be really frustrating. Whenever it happens, I sometimes tell myself to just start making something – even if I'm not too thrilled about the idea – because an important thing I learned in art school is Work Makes More Work; Art Makes More Art. To me that means, just start and it will lead you somewhere. Maybe as I'm going along, another better idea will strike. Sometimes though, I just need to step away from my studio and take my dog for a walk or go for a drive. That helps refresh my mind and then I can try again later.
What does a typical day at your studio look like? How do you manage your time?
Everyday is a bit different but they all pretty much start the same. After getting my two kids ready for the day (I drop the older one at preschool and the younger one plays with our nanny), I sit down at my desk and respond to e-mails with breakfast & coffee. Some days I focus on things like updating our wholesale catalog, creating sell sheets for our sales reps, visiting our printer for press checks, taking photos for my Instagram, or maintaining images for our Etsy shop and website. Other days I spend every minute painting or editing artwork on my computer.
I work from home so that means sometimes I'll fold laundry or wrap kids' birthday presents or quickly prep dinner during my lunch breaks. It's always a balancing act! I feel incredibly lucky that I have the opportunity to have child care so when I have those precious hours to work, I really try to make the most of it and use my time as efficiently as possible, because once I pick up my daughter from school and our nanny goes home, I am totally focused on my kids until their bedtime.
What do you enjoy doing in your “free time?”
As a parent of two young kids, I honestly feel like I barely have any free time! If I'm not under hard deadlines for work, then I might get some free time after the kids go to sleep. That means I get to watch some TV with my husband, which is actually a luxury. Weekends include a lot of fun activities but they're all focused around what my kids like to do ;) Maybe I'll get real free time when I'm old enough to retire?!
What are the biggest challenges you have faced to get to where you are now?
I think finding our printer was probably one of the hardest challenges we've faced. We tried out 3 or 4 different printing companies before settling on who we work with now. Each time we tried a new printer was a big learning experience for us, especially when we shifted from digital printing to offset printing, and we definitely made mistakes along the way. It was challenging to find a printer who understood how important color, consistency, saturation, paper quality, even folds, etc. are to us, and who was willing to work with us to make sure we're happy with the final product. The most important thing to us is to make sure that someone buying our card not only likes the design on the front, but is also truly impressed with the overall quality of the paper and the printing, and is excited to give it to their loved one.
How does the culture of your city contribute to the development of your independent business?
We live in Los Angeles and we L-O-V-E our city! To say this place is a melting pot of different cultures is an understatement. There are all kinds of people who live here and there is an open mindedness about this city that I'm proud of. I'm probably biased, but I think LA contains the cream of the crop when it comes to retail! So many local shops have embraced our line, and I'm always so happy to see our cards in person on the shelves of these amazing stores.
What kind of steps do you take to grow your business?
We have just completed our third and final new release of the year – twelve brand new greeting cards – which we will debut at the NYNow tradeshow in August (find us in the Crow & Canary booth!). We develop new card designs every year, and are hoping to add some totally new products to our line in 2020, like fun gift wrap! We've just started a new partnership with a distribution group in Australia and New Zealand, so we are thrilled with the opportunity to introduce our brand to that part of the world. We also have an ongoing relationship with a licensing company in Canada, and will be looking to find more licensing opportunities in the future.
How has becoming a mother changed your life as an artist and as a business owner?
Yeppie Paper began pretty much just as my first child was born and I had to figure out very quickly how to be both a new mom and a business owner for the first time. Balancing my work life and my mom life has been difficult at times. It's hard not to feel like I'm either not doing enough for my kids or not doing enough for Yeppie. Becoming a mom has taught me how to use my time as efficiently as possible during work hours and then try to be fully present when I'm with my kids.
I've also come to realize that I couldn't do any of this without lots of help and extra support - from my husband, my nanny, my brother & business partner, and my parents. Lastly, becoming a mom has given me a sense of purpose, to work hard and achieve something that I can be proud to show my kids and say, "Hey look, Mommy made this!"