December 27, 2013 •
Like most designers, Patricia Mumau, illustrator/calligrapher, Fawnsberg, is inspired by her surroundings. But her surroundings differ from those of most: she lives with her parents and sister Rachel on a New York state hobby farm on the ridge of Lake Ontario, replete with an animal menagerie and fruit orchards, vineyards and berry patches. The RISD graduate’s work is also colored by favorite childhood books and illustrations, words and, of course, the art of correspondence. Stationery Trends interviewed Mumau to learn more about her pastoral life and sweetly rustic line.
INFORMING & INSPIRING
ST: Growing up, what were some of your favorite children’s books and illustrators?
PM: I was first introduced to E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” when I was six, and it’s still holding strong at No. 1. I loved all illustration by Tomie DePaola, especially “Strega Nona.” Imagine trying to eat all of those noodles! Chris VanAllsburg was entrancing. “Mog the Forgetful Cat” by Judith Kerr was the first book that ever made me cry.
ST: The name Fawnsberg comes from stories you’d tell your niece about two mice, Rose and William Fawnsberg, hence the kissing mice in the logo. Can you share more about their wee world?
PM: Well, he’s a chap and she’s a lady. They live in a small stone cottage by the sea and do a lot of eating — strawberries swimming in cream, meat pie, pastries and lots and lots of tea. Their lifestyle has an European countryside flair. It’s all English gardens, walnut woodwork and a variety patterns smashed together with a doily on top. William is a naturalist and his work has a way of making its way into mine. Oh, and they have a huge family. My niece Lydia was always insisting on more baby mice.
ST: Fawnsberg is a family affair, with you handling the designing and Rachel managing the business side. How did this arrangement arise?
PM: I began the studio in fall of 2009, and Rachel joined me a couple months later, in January 2010. While I really enjoyed the art side, when it came to the business stuff I was severely lacking.
The first day Rachel was in the studio with me she (asked to see my) project list. I opened my email inbox, pointed (to one) and said, “That one looks kind of urgent.”
She slapped her forehead and has been keeping us in order since.
ST: Obviously your work is colored by the hobby farm. Do you find your work changes seasonally with the farming calendar?
PM: Oh, it’s all seasons; change is always in front of our eyes. Everyday is a little bit newer and different than the day before, and yet every day is anticipating the rhythms we remember. And yes, it is always inspiring me to try different things.
The fruit harvest this season was one of the best the region has seen in years, a record harvest for our local apple orchards. In August I was out picking blackberries almost every afternoon and couldn’t keep up! The refrain of “bounty” has been in my ears for months. When it came time to begin 2014 spring pieces, I knew I wanted some of the pieces to reflect “bounty” — detailed, heavy, variety-laden, over-abundant artwork. I think of the Flower Flotsam notecard in particular.
ST: Writing sheets can be difficult for snail mail correspondents to find. Do you use them yourself?
PM: It’s exactly because they are hard to find that Rachel and I decided create them ourselves. In fact, in Fawnsberg’s first year writing sheets were the only paper we carried. We believe that there is something very magical that happens when you sit down and write a letter. These days I mostly write old college friends. Distance makes them great candidates.
PRESENT & FUTURE
ST: Do you personally collect anything? If so, what?
PM: Do books count? Because I have tons of those, and somehow more keep collecting on my nightstand.
ST: Can you describe a typical day?
PM: As a general principle, most important thing first, hardest thing second.
Typically, mornings I am writing calligraphy or customizing graphics for address stamps. Noon is lunch with Mom and Rachel, and I usually practice the piano a little. Afternoons I could be doing a variety of things — finishing up a morning project, sketching, packing orders, painting, making website updates or vision casting.
ST: What is your favorite aspect of running your business?
PM: Freedom. If I have an idea I want to try, I can choose to make it happen. If I want to sketch at the local coffee shop, I just might. If I want to take a long weekend, it’s an option.
ST: What advice would you give to new stationery or gift designers looking for success in our field?
PM: Don’t make what you think the market is looking for; make what you are looking for. Chances are, of the billions of people in the world, some of them will agree with you. And make sure you can answer for the ‘why’, not just the ’what’ of what you do.
ST: Where would you like Fawnsberg to be in five years? Are there any product categories you dream of expanding into?
PM: It’s my hope that in five years Fawnsberg will still be in a small way inspiring people to live and share their lives thoughtfully. I’ve wanted to try wrapping paper since day one. It’s still my elusive “I’ll-get-there.” Prints are also on my radar.
ST: What other stationery or gift designers or companies do you admire?
PM: I think the world of the 1canoe2 girls. Maybe I’m wooed by their small town farmy charm, or just partial because they work out of a barn too, but I’ve had the chance to meet them over the years and love their aura of togetherness. I tip my hat off to Rifle as well who forged a mainstream place for painted cards in the contemporary scene. Oh, and I can’t forget Red Cap Cards. Their vision of what a card could be inspired me to try out my illustration on a folded note.
ST: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Stationery Trends readers?
PM: Let’s remember why we love paper. Sometimes conversation should be gourmet, like a fabulous cheese.
Patricia at a Glance
Q. If you could travel through time and space and land anywhere you desire, where and when would it be?
A. Eternity future. I can’t wait to see the day when everything is new and right and true and stays that way.
Q. How would you define your signature style?
A. There is always this tension between a quiet politeness and an energy that is just bursting to surface — kind of like a child who wants so much to be good and sit still, and yet the wiggles keep coming out. I like how you can see this in our Leanne Tulips notecard.
Q. What is new in your paper offerings for 2014?
A. This spring we have Mother’s and Father’s Day cards. I’m very excited about that, as I love my Mother and Father.
Q. What one design or product is a bestseller?
A. Our Simple Stamp address stamp continues to be our bestseller, probably because more than just decoration, the graphic in a small simple way says something about love.
Q. Which piece or pieces in your current line do you feel reflects the overall direction of your line?
A. I like to leave room for writers to fill in their own thoughts and try not to say a whole lot with bold messages. It’s nice when the artwork can set the tone and fall to the background. Because of that, decorative pieces and blank notes tend to be dominant in our line. Our writing sheet collection speaks strongly to that aesthetic.
Q. Do you have a personal favorite from your current offerings?
A. I use our Berry Picking writing sheets as my personal stationery.
Q. What other designers, music and movies inspire you?
A. Oh my gosh, music is poetry for my ears and food for my spirit! It’s music that taught me what art is (how’s that for inspiration?) I like it all.
Q. If you couldn’t do this, what would you do instead?
A. I’d find some lousy job and practice really hard at drawing in my free time so I could make pictures for a living.
— By Sarah Schwartz, editor