Posts Categorized: Artist Features

Trust Your Crazy Ideas: Danielle Ameling + Iron Leaf Press

TrustCrazyIdeasCover

Trust Your Crazy Ideas print by Danielle Ameling, of Iron Leaf Press

By Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Fall 2013 Inspire(d)

Ossian, Iowa, native Danielle Ameling trusted her crazy idea and started her letterpress and design business, Iron Leaf Press. Turns out, it’s a winner.

Everybody knows we love a good entrepreneur around here. Starting a business is… dare we say… inspiring!

It’s damn hard too.

The first step is, obviously, a really great idea. The next? A really great plan.

So to help build a fire under everyone’s collective bums, many cities and states are hosting business plan contests. To enter, you submit your great idea, all laid out and ready to go in a plan that says “I could start this tomorrow”. Winnings range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars to more abstract – but equally helpful – booty like free rent and business consulting.

IronLeafPress_danielleSuch was the case for Ossian native Danielle Ameling (pictured at right – photo by Michael Wagler). Her business, Iron Leaf Press, won free rent for two years – plus support services and a utility stipend – through the 2013 Project Bright Idea Business Plan Contest.

Project Bright Idea was created by a group of volunteers partnering with Lisbon-based Moon Eye Ventures. It was created to encourage regional entrepreneurs to take the leap and get their plans on paper, with a goal of luring new startups to fill in vacant downtown buildings in Mount Vernon and Lisbon.

Iron Leaf Press, a custom design and letterpress studio – in business since 2011 (although Danielle started printmaking in 2007) – has now set up shop in the grand prize: a completely renovated, 1,000-square-foot historical building in downtown Lisbon, Iowa. Danielle has moved in her three presses – the Nolan proof press, a Kelsey 6”x10” tabletop platen press, and a Chandler and Price 10”x15” platen press – and has been busy making all sorts of cool stuff from invitations to posters to packaging to business cards. The only real printing stipulation: It should be flat. In addition, Iron Leaf Press provides graphic design and branding services. It’s a business that’s been a long time in the making for Danielle.

Ink

Above photo by Studio eM Photography

After graduating from South Winn High School in 2005 and from Grand View University in Des Moines summa cum laude with a degree in graphic design in 2009, Danielle worked at Main Street Iowa, then as a graphic designer at Cedar Rapids-based RuffaloCODY. But she had other ideas in the works. Really great ideas. (Remember: That’s the first step.)

“I’ve always been crafting, painting, and drawing since I was a kid,” she writes. “I really enjoyed drawing lettering in particular and that eventually led me to graphic design.” Which eventually led her to printmaking which then led her to letterpress and finally to Iron Leaf Press.

We caught up with Danielle via email this summer (2013). In between runs on the press and helping run her boyfriend’s fiancée’s farmers market beignet stand, Sweet Dee’s (for which she developed the branding), she managed to share some of what’s inspiring her now and some strategies for starting a new business and entering a business plan contest yourself.

Interested in doing just that? Check out the listings at the end of the article for some business plan contests in the tri-state area.

Q&A with Danielle Ameling, founder of Iron Leaf Press

What’s inspiring you right now?
Everything and anything really. I particularly enjoy vintage typography and illustrations, especially vintage packaging. I usually get inspired by my surroundings and friends. At one point I decided I was going to host a show called “Fun with Paper” (a la Sheldon Cooper) after trying to describe the difference between text and cover weight paper to a group of friends (paper nerd!). A lot of the greeting cards come about from off the cuff comments in these discussions. (ed. note: one of her cards reads: “sh*t happens when you party naked”.)

I also am a member of both the Ladies of Letterpress and the Amalgamated Printer’s Association. Both groups have some amazing printers and I continually am inspired by the work that they put together.

View More: http://jenmadigan.pass.us/ironleafpress

Photo by Jen Madigan Photography

Why letterpress?
Letterpress, for me, is a way to be creative not only in the design, but in the production. I like being able to work with clients on special projects – those that have a very personal impact. I also really enjoy the challenges of working through production. Using antique printing presses can create their own challenges, but I like being able to have that control over the end product.

I create the majority of my greeting cards using hand-set type, which is a challenge in itself. Each letter is a separate piece of metal or wood type and must be locked in place or the type will be “pied,” meaning the type will fall and have to be re-set. It really makes me appreciate how much skill and craftsmanship went into printing in the past.

Beyond all of that, the machinery related to the printing field (especially those in the late 19th century) are amazing feats of engineering and technology. It’s amazing to know that I can produce these items with this antique machinery, and currently all of my equipment runs on NO electricity (other than my computer). Everything is human powered.

shithappens

Photo by Jen Madigan Photography

You’re kind of a jack-of-all trades, design-wise. What else do you do? (Or should we ask what DON’T you do?!)
🙂 I do work on a lot of different projects. The main projects I focus on are commercial and social stationery including invitations, notecards, business cards, packaging, posters, and greeting cards. I also do logos and branding. I can print on most things, as long as they are flat, so there are many options out there – I’ve even printed on boxes and gift bags before.

In addition to the custom and commercial work I do, I have a line of greeting cards and paper goods that I sell online, at art/craft shows, and in select retailers.

I have some experience doing email and web design (I take care of those for Iron Leaf Press) but that’s really the only design area that I don’t do a ton of work in –I’ve always been more of a print designer.

Out of all that, what’s your favorite?
I think my favorite projects are the ones where I get a chance to really connect with the recipient. Hearing the story on how a couple met for a wedding invite or how someone is looking for a gift to celebrate a promotion, etc. – the stories behind the pieces are always fun for me.

Tell us about the business plan contest process.
I had participated in the Dream Big, Grow Here regional contest back in the fall (run by University of Northern Iowa’s MyEntre.Net). I didn’t end up winning, but that helped propel me forward into pursuing Iron Leaf Press more full time. I had been on the lookout for a larger studio space to add some larger equipment and heard about Project Bright Idea in Lisbon. Each applicant had to provide a detailed business plan (prior to winning this space, everything was in a small room in my second-floor apartment). The committee met and reviewed the applicants (I wasn’t privy to this part of the process so I’m not sure all of what happened behind the scenes). Eventually Moon Eye Ventures wanted to meet with me and discuss my business plan and goals. I met with them a few additional times and they ended up choosing me for this space.

View More: http://jenmadigan.pass.us/ironleafpress

Photo by Jen Madigan Photography

Advice to others who want to start their own business? How about others who want to enter a business plan contest?
Keep your chin up and keep moving forward. Throughout this process I kept asking myself if I was crazy – especially once I bought my largest press that weighs in at over 1500 lbs – but I bought it anyway. If you believe in your business and it is a passion, you will find ways to make it work.

Also be sure to surround yourself with people that love and support you with your crazy ideas. My family and boyfriend and friends have been extremely supportive and that makes a huge difference. Meeting with other business owners is a great resource as well. They know the type of things you are working through and often have ways to help you grow.

Specifically with business plan contests, plan your business like you are going to win. Make your plan show exactly how you are going to use the winnings and how it fits into your overall goals. Be confidant, but humble. For someone to “buy into” your business, they are just as much buying into your personality and demeanor.

————————————

Aryn Henning Nichols is also a paper and print nerd. Wouldn’t it be fun to print Inspire(d) all old-school? Okay, maybe just one. Okay, maybe just one cover. Oh wait! No need; it’s already done. You can buy those at ironleafpress.com! Seriously, folks: trust your crazy ideas!

P.S. Danielle says the Printer’s Hall in Mt Pleasant, Iowa, is worth a visit for any print inclined folks. “It has some amazing printing equipment, including a machine that lines paper – that’s all it does (in the past it would do mostly ledgers) but it looks similar to a giant weaving loom.” The old Ossian Bee printing press is also there, as well as the lock up for the last front page it printed for the Bee. “It runs off a steam engine and is a wild machine.”

———————————————————
Got a Great Idea? Make a Plan. And WIN!
——————————————————–

Dream Big, Grow Here / NE Iowa Business Network
Deadline: Current contest deadline has passed, but stay tuned and start planning for the next round!
www.dreambiggrowhere.com
This is a grant contest is open only to Iowans.  Dreamers compete online for votes for a shot to win a $5,000 regional grant, and then become eligible to further compete for a chance to win a $10,000 grand prize to be announced at EntreFEST 2015.

Wisconsin Govenor’s Business Plan Contest
Deadline: 2015 deadline has passed, but stay tuned and start planning for the next round!
www.govsbizplancontest.com
The mission of the Governor’s Business Plan Contest is to encourage entrepreneurs in the creation, startup and early-growth stages of high-tech businesses in Wisconsin. Finalists will share in more than $100,000 in seed capital and in-kind services. Since its inception in 2004, nearly 2,300 entries have been received and about $1.5 million in cash and services have been awarded.

The John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers Iowa Business Plan Competition
Deadline: June 20, 2015
www.iowabusinessplancompetition.com
The plan must be an original idea for a business in operation for four years or less or have not yet reached cash flow positive financial status. The principal business operations of the business must be located in Iowa. One Grand Prize Winner will receive $25,000 and, in addition, recognition of their work on the website for the competition. ($15,000 for Second Prize and $10,000 for Third Prize.)

The Minnesota Cup
Deadline: May 8, 2015
mncup.org
Since 2005, the Minnesota Cup has attracted over 7,000 entries and is now the largest new venture competition in the country. This program is for Minnesota’s entrepreneurs, inventors and small business people. It is for those individuals or early stage businesses that are pursuing their dreams and working on their breakthrough business idea. Prizes range from $5,000 to $40,000.

Artist Bonnie Solberg: Rosemaling

RedBowl

By Aryn Henning Nichols

Originally published in the Spring 2012 Inspire(d) Magazine

Hundreds of years ago, to get through long, cold winters, Norwegians took paint to wood, forming intricate flowers and patterns in what is now known as rosemaling. Often, it would be the men in the house creating these detailed pieces of art.

BonnieSolbergToday, though, there are “a lot of gray-haired ladies in my rosemaling classes,” Spring Grove rosemaler Bonnie Solberg says with a laugh.

But Bonnie herself exudes youthful enthusiasm, her eyes shining as she shares stories of her favorite hobby, rosemaling. She is sweet and welcoming. An elementary ed teacher retired seven years, she lives with her husband in the house they built just blocks from the school. There is rosemaling art everywhere. Bowls, plates, coasters, tiny beautiful boxes – evidence of what Bonnie admits: she has a hard time parting with any rosemaling she creates.

“I gave away a bowl as a gift one year and I often think, ‘That was a nice bowl. I wouldn’t mind having that back!’” she says. “I work on them and then get really attached.”

Bonnie first started rosemaling in January of 1991. She and fellow Spring Grove rosemaler Berthana Wirth decided it would be fun to take a community education class in town. It wasn’t long before the teacher saw their potential and suggested they take a class at Decorah’s Vesterheim Museum. Vesterhiem hosts a variety of classes in the Norwegian arts, and Bonnie has since become a regular in its classrooms. But the first day of Bonnie and Berthana’s first class was another story.

“We were so nervous. We walked in and there were just two seats left. And everyone looked like they knew exactly what they were doing. We were so green at it!” Bonnie says with a laugh. “I have my first piece from that class hanging in my basement. I cringe when I look at it!”

The fact that she can proudly display her present-day pieces in her living room is, she feels, a testament to the art. “If I can do it, anyone can.”

Box

Really, that Bonnie was ever “green” at rosemaling is totally unrecognizable today. Her pieces are exquisite, and she seems to move effortlessly from one rosemaling style to another – at least among the styles she enjoys doing.

That’s right: rosemaling is not just rosemaling. The art originated in the 1750s in Norway with different regions developing their own style. The styles Bonnie enjoys are Os and Rogaland – old and “American” style – and Telemark. There’s also Hallingdal, Valdres, Gudbrandsdal, and Vest Adger.

What makes a great rosemaling pattern is good stroke work, thin lines, teardrops, cross hatching, and a nice, balanced color. Norwegians brought rosemaling with them when they emigrated to the United States in the 1800s, but it didn’t become popular again in the US until the 1930s. Artist Per Lysne, born in Laerdal, Sogn, learned rosemaling from his father, Anders Olsen, and when he immigrated to Stoughton, Wisconsin, with his wife in 1907, he built a business around rosemaling and taught just a small handful of students the Norwegian art. It was Lysne who made the smorgasbord plate a regular rosemaling object!

While, as Bonnie says, her rosemaling classes are often filled with a slightly older generation, she believes – like knitting and sewing – that there will be a popularity surge again. “I think there are always going to be artists interested in carrying on the tradition.” Folks interested in this folk art can usually find several of the styles being offered through classes at Vesterheim.

RedBowlSide

And no matter the style, the methods are usually the same. You start with a pattern that fits on your wooden piece, sketch it out, plan your colors, and go from there. Bonnie generally finishes a piece in about a week.

“I plan to start something during a week I know I’m not busy,” she says. “I hate to remix colors – usually I just can’t get it right even if I try – so I know I have to work pretty much constantly on whatever I start.”

And even after all these years and many, many pieces, she has a hard time choosing one to call “best.” “Whichever one I’m doing right now is the one that’s my favorite!”

The only problem, it seems, it finding the space to put the next finished project.

“It’s a great hobby. I have fun at it – you have to have fun!” she says with another one of her lovely laughs. “And once you start, you can’t stop. It’s like popcorn!”

—————-

Aryn Henning Nichols was charmed by Bonnie Solberg, and is intrigued by rosemaling. She’d like to take a contemporary stab at it with some grays and yellows…but doesn’t know if it’s allowed!

Brian Andreas: Love and Magic (Or Something Like It)

FallingIntoPlace
By Aryn Henning Nichols • Images courtesy StoryPeople

There’s magic in that cup of coffee (tea, beer, water) you’re drinking. Also in that stack of papers sitting right next to you. Definitely outside that window. Here’s a little (big) secret: There’s magic in everything.

“Finding magic is simple if you just let go of all the things. Just stop,” says Brian Andreas, artist/writer/magician behind the internationally known art and publishing company, StoryPeople. “People forget the world is magical, so we need to be reminded. To remember. To enjoy the moment.”

SLM coverThere is definitely magic to be found at the StoryPeople studio in downtown Decorah. Bright walls plus busy doers and makers create a scene filled with energy. Brian stands in orange pants and a tee shirt behind stacks upon stacks of the latest – his twelfth – StoryPeople book, Something Like Magic. He’s in town from Santa Barbara signing copies – 2,500, to be exact – to be shipped out to the lucky folks who pre-ordered before the October release date. Also on the visit’s agenda: Plan “all the things” with the StoryPeople crew. Everyone munches on raw cacao beans and dark chocolate as they happily tack “Yay! Actual signed copy – Woo-hoo” stickers on the books and wrap them up.

Brian takes a break when his hand stops working –“It just started moving by itself!” – and sits down to chat over a cup of tea.

“The past few years I’ve really started rethinking life and identity. What does love want from me? What lights me up? This carries through in the work I do. It’s all about enjoying the moment. I want to tell everyone about it. It’s the legacy of our future. It’s a big f-ing deal!” he says, throwing his hands up in the air between sips of Earl Grey.

This exploration is prevalent in Something Like Magic. It’s the first StoryPeople book that doesn’t follow a he said/she said point of view. Instead, it’s an I/you.

“The divine in you/the divine in me. Love with a capital L.” And love, as Brian says: “It’s the most important thing.”

He continues, obviously passionate about his mission.

BrianAndreas“How do I tell the world how much everyone’s loved?” he asks. “It is so simple. Love is the most important thing.”

It was this phrase “sometimes you just need to remember the most important thing” – uttered to him on a garden bench outside a party – that “cracked open,” as Brian says, his consciousness. It was like a secret he just forgot for a bit – and he’s not the only one.

“These are secrets because a lot of us know them and along the way, a lot of us forgot. That’s exactly why I call them secrets,” Brian writes in the Something Like Magic introduction. “Each one is something like magic, because all it takes is a moment of remembering them and suddenly the whole world sparkles again. The funny thing is it never stopped sparkling. We just stopped seeing it, because it was too simple and we were convinced it must be something different. We let ourselves be convinced the most important thing was something different than the love and magic that’s been here all along.”

Love and magic are, of course, no strangers to the whimsical StoryPeople tales. Since its inception in 1993, the stories and drawings have pondered, prodded, and delighted in life. Readers can find them adorning everything from wood sculptures to colorful prints to coffee mugs and more. They’ve also been collected in a series of books for adults and children, and have twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Brian Andreas’ own story, like most people’s, has taken him on a zig-zagging journey. From Iowa City, Iowa – where he was born in 1956 – to Chicago to Luther College in Decorah – where he met his now former wife, Ellen Rockne, – to California – where he and Ellen founded StoryPeople – back to Decorah and finally back to California.

“Life isn’t this linear path, even though when you look back, you can see, ‘Oh yeah, that led to that, and so on,’” he says. “When you’re dancing your way across a stream, you pick up the rocks that aren’t wet.”

While Brian currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, StoryPeople has kept its heart (and headquarters) in Downtown Decorah since 1994. Brian travels between the two states frequently to keep up on business, family, and friends.

The company technically began while Brian, Ellen, and their two boys, Gabe and Matthew, were living in Berkley, California in the early 90s. But Brian’s stories started long before then – in college, he wrote lots of letters, and each contained a quote from his own fictional character, “John O’Keefe Beefheart.” Nudged by Ellen to put some of that into his artwork, Brian made his first StoryPeople piece: A 4×4 block, covered in layers and layers of gesso, hand-stamped with a story. Well….a little story, anyway.

“My stories are really, really short. They have to be! Hand-stamping those letters takes a long time,” he says with a laugh. This new style of work took off, and soon, so did the family – back to Iowa.

KindridSpirits“We were in Berkeley, and got a call from a friend. ‘Get down and away from the windows. There’s an armed man outside.’ We got down and pretended we were playing a game with the boys,” he says. “Later, we found out they were robbing the bank a block away, and we thought, ‘Oh good. No big deal.’ Then we thought, ‘What? No big deal?!’ Three weeks later we were on our way to Decorah.”

At that time, StoryPeople was at a massive growth point, expanding quickly from 50 galleries nationwide to more than 200. But Brian knew they could produce this art from anywhere…as long as they were willing to take the leap.

“It was either Decorah or Sonoma. But we had family in Iowa. And I’d experienced Berkeley studio assistants,” Brian says with yet another laugh. “Working with people from Iowa sounded a lot more appealing.”

Getting things off the ground in rural Iowa was definitely not without its trials, though.

“I wouldn’t say any of it was hard – it was all interesting,” Brian says. “I don’t whine about something that doesn’t exist. Creatives forget – you can create it! If you don’t want to make it, quit whining about it.”

A self-professed “practical Virgo” to a T, he knew if there was something he needed, he could make it happen.

“I came to town and said, ‘Where’s your [Internet] gateway?’ I asked if I could use Luther’s, but they said no. So I walked into our office and said, ‘We’re gonna have to start an ISP (internet service provider).’”

So they did. Brian launch the Salamander ISP shortly after they arrived in Decorah. And when they couldn’t find the right printing options in town, they opened their own print shop, CopyLand (which still exists under different ownership on Water Street in Downtown Decorah).

“Once you’ve invented yourself, that ‘not possible’ doesn’t exist,” he says.

In addition to inventing himself (and businesses), inventing moments is a favorite.

“I have this thing where I invent past memories with people – we did it at a conference I spoke at recently. We start off telling a story – remember that day we all went to that lake in the mountains? The sky was so blue… – and one person continues on until it feels like we’ve all had this shared experience, even though it wasn’t real. The mind can’t discern between real and fantasy,” he says. “It’s so fun!”

This willingness to play, to make-believe, to always find the love and magic in the world – it’s what keeps StoryPeople so popular. Followers world-wide find little pieces of their lives in the hundreds of artworks produced.

“The stories really do sneak in there – one that didn’t made sense to someone one day might crack open for them another day,” Brian says. “There are lots of people out there starry-eyed from StoryPeople stories.”

Brian hopes – no, believes – that this positive energy indicates a change coming.

“I’m excited about this time in the world – there’s this this new consciousness that’s emerging. I feel like there is a cracking-open process happening all over. Ah!” he says, holding his hands out one more time. “I love living in this world! It’s such a wonderful place to be.”

——————————

ArynRoxie_MasksAryn Henning Nichols has long thought Brian Andreas was inspiring – meeting him solidified that notion; he was so much fun to chat with! She especially enjoys the idea that things are shifting in the world – positivity will reign! Let’s keep that moving forward, friends!

Connecting Stories:
Brian has literally written thousands of stories – on various napkins, scraps of envelopes, and in the pages of his journals. You can see many of his current stories almost instantly on instagram: instagram.com/brianandreas (“It’s a blast!” Brian says of Instagram). You can also follow StoryPeople at facebook.com/storypeoplebybrianandreas and at twitter.com/storypeople.

The number of stories that have been made into prints is roughly 300, with hundreds more offered through products (cards, apparel, wooden sculptures, ornaments, calendars, etc).

They have galleries in the U.S. and U.K., and fulfill orders worldwide. Learn more at storypeople.com.