It gives me a lot of pleasure to share this next interview in my Creative Life series today. You may know Maria Alexandra Vettese, aka MAV, from 3191, her photographic collaboration with Stephanie Congdon Barnes, or maybe her elegant letterpress-printed cards, or perhaps from Lines & Shapes, the must-have journal she curates with Lena Corwin.
I first discovered Maria through Flickr in 2006; never one to stalk my favourites, I admired her work from afar, loving how everything that passed through her hands was infused with a love of simplicity and an appreciation of good design, two things that inform everything she does. I knew Maria would have some gems to share with us, so make yourself a mint tea (with fresh mint – my new obsession) and dive into MAV's world…
SC: Your business appears to have grown really organically, and it all seemed to start with a letterpress and a blog – what drew you to that medium of expression in the first place? Could you share a little bit about your path with us…
MAV: It's very true, Susannah, it all did start with a letterpress and a blog. I did a bit of letterpress printing in college and I really loved it. I didn't get into painting or drawing so studying graphic design I had no medium to get my hands dirty until I started working on the letterpress. I was not a master, and still am not, but I enjoyed using it as I would any other tool. The desire to print stuck with me through my twenties and then in 2005 I got my own press. As for my path … I started out after college in graphic design specifically working for a small university press art directing book covers and typesetting interiors. After that I pretty much worked for various clients/organizations doing design work as well as art direction and styling. port2port press started very organically in late 2005 when I printed one card and put it online. At that time I had a blog called port2port, with a far-away friend in another port-town, so the name port2port press came naturally. Since then I have collaborated with some incredible artists and enjoyed more and more photographic-based projects. I am now moving back into the realm of working for clients after a few years of concentrating mostly on my own personal projects. I am feeling very excited and will have a website of my personal concept and art direction work up very soon. Where my work is heading now feels like the culmination of years of working in the arts (pulling from this project or that project) and I am very much looking forward to seeing what is next. I feel very lucky.
How do you split your time between the Card Society, Lines & Shapes, 3191 and other work?
I love this question. Just the idea of the words "splitting my time" is sort of how I would have to answer it. I like to be very deliberate with my time. If I am going to work on Lines & Shapes I do it from 9-noon or at least I do the best I can to just stay in that realm. I tend to be a list-maker so I usually look at my week and my deadlines and such and make certain plans from there. Right now I am trying to give myself "summer hours" which means that I try to work from 7am-3pm. How that time is spent jumps around from project to project but somehow I usually find my flow. If I find that things are not flowing I take a walk or just step away from it all. Even five minutes can sometimes be a perfect re-set for me.
When starting a new project, how do you begin to gather your ideas/inspirations? And how do you record them – journal, online clippings, mood board?
Lately I have two methods and both start with writing things down. I have to see words before I can see images. So once I know what the words are I can search out the images both in the actual sense, by looking through tearsheets, and virtually as well, by making a folder of imagery that I have found online. This Spring I put together a cut-n-paste journal that I am really enjoying. Like lots of artists I tend to find inspiration in all sorts of mediums so I tear or note anything I see that might be the slightest bit inspiring and put it in folders for later.
3191 has grown into such a treasured project for you and Stephanie but also for your fans and supporters – what does 3191 mean to you personally? (and was it fun meeting Martha?)
Oh 3191 means so much to me. First off it is an amazing record of my life for the past few years. When I look at the A Year of Mornings book and the Evenings images (as we prepare to send that book to the printer) I see the many stories of 2007 and 2008; it's amazing! And then of course there is the fact that I have forged an incredible friendship with Stephanie. We truly did not know each other well when we started the project and I would even say now we have much to learn about each other still but it has been a very important journey for both of us. Meeting Martha Stewart was certainly an interesting part of the story. What I remember most was how incredible it was that I had not seen Stephanie in 3 years and here we were meeting in NYC not only to do a television show but to be together face to face. It was surreal. I, of course, only had to fly 45 minutes but Stephanie had to come across the country. Her dedication to the A Year of Mornings was so inspiring to me and still is! It's not easy to believe in your own work on a daily basis let alone believe enough to fly from Portland, Oregon to NYC in one day and back the next and Stephanie really brought such a calm and brave energy. I learn so much from her and I am so grateful for our collaborative projects.
Did you enjoy the publishing journey of A Year of Mornings? Have many people reached out to you and Stephanie after discovering your book?
What I enjoyed the most about publishing A Year of Mornings with Princeton Architectural Press was working with Deb Wood, the design director. Her creative energy and artistic force was so palpable and she truly believed in the project from day one. She's so talented and I felt so lucky to have her hands and eyes on the book. And I'll tell you a little secret — she is designing 3191: Evenings for us as well! We're thrilled. It's going to be a really special book beca
use Deb is on our team.
As for people reaching out, you know, I don't think we get any more queries or emails than other people do. What people seem to want to know the most is what camera we use (we both use a Nikon d50, by the way). It's always nice to hear from people who enjoy the projects. What I struggle with the most is finding time to get back to everyone!
Lines & Shapes looks like such an exciting project to be working on – how did this collaboration with Lena Corwin come about?
Lena and I met through the online community. I really respected her work and her sophisticated and simple vibe and I wanted to get to know her better. We started emailing about some sort of collaboration, we just didn't know what it would be. At first we were going to have a website where a group of artists could house their non-work work. So basically a place where artists could put projects and concepts that were not for clients or not for sale but rather just bits that they loved and felt that they wanted to share in some way. From there we thought, well why not take those ideas from artists and put them into book form? We are both very inspired by the many arts and crafts books coming out of Japan. We could never read them, of course, but the way the books felt more accessible and available for everyday inspiration really was exciting to us. So our emails continued until we nailed down Lines & Shapes and it has been changing and growing (little by little) ever since. I think one of our favorite parts of working together is traveling to each others cities for the 3-4 day work-sessions. Not only do we get to work with amazing artwork for a few days but we also get to eat together! It's truly a joy.
Could you share your choice of two letterpress designs you are especially pleased with?
This is tough. I think my favorite projects, besides The Card Society cards, are perhaps the collaborations. The seasonal print sets with Camilla Engman and Lena Corwin were just so much fun. And way back in the day (2006) I did a project for the design*sponge shop called Regal Nº1-5. These prints stay in the forefront of my mind and I really can't get number "3" out of my head.
What books/music/artists etc do you love?
For music lately I am enjoying Sigur Ros, Grizzly Bear, Camera Obscura, Phoenix and sometimes I just listen to old reggae or salsa music on Pandora. As for books, in the summer I like to read vintage authors such as Virginia Woolf or Jane Austin. And artists, currently I'm enjoying just looking at my Flickr friends everyday snapshots and taking in the ins and outs of how people live their lives, the food they eat and the things they create. A few sets of photographs you should check out are:
Le Train Fantôme
Molly | Orangette
Fine Little Day
Being self-employed can often mean you’re working 24/7 – how do you maintain a good work/life balance?
Last year was the last of my 24/7 work-life. I just got burnt out and it really took a toll on me. I would much rather do less and be a tiny bit more broke, and perhaps even less "known" or out there (such as I am), than give up my personal-life for my work-life. This year my goal was not a work one but a personal one: give more love. To reach that goal I wanted to be more available to those who are in my life every day. If I look at my week and find I don't have time to see my nephew I know I need to clear things up a bit so I may drop a project or change a timeframe so that I can make more time. It's wonderful that much of my work is flexible and I'd rather take longer on a project or change a launch date if it means I can have more time for my loved ones.
What are your professional aspirations for the next five years?
Continue to slow down and patiently enjoy seeing my work grow and change. I am not good at making long-term goals. In fact, if I have them I tend to get nervous and antsy … perhaps it's a fear of not meeting them? Not sure. So basically my goal for the next five years would be like a goal for this week! I want to eat well, give love and try to see what is around me. It's the best thing I can do for myself, my work and for those in my life.
What’s your motto?
Two have been on my mind of late —
Keep it simple.
Accept it as if you have chosen it.
You're having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?
To be honest, I would much rather have a group of people I know who are now, sadly, a part of my past such as my Grandparents, my Uncle and a dear old friend from England. But here's a list of famous people (only three are now, sadly, past) just for fun. As for why, I love a good story-teller and feel this would be a night of good food, drink and stories!
* * * * *
Thank you so much for letting us peek into your world, Maria! I don't know about the rest of you, but her mottos are singing to my heart right now. Just beautiful.
[All photgraphs by Maria Vettese]