Friday Feature: Emmie Hsu of Fomato Cards August 27, 2010 11:49

Happy Friday, everyone! This week's interview is with one of my favorite Craftland artists, Emmie Hsu of Fomato cards. OK, I really don't have favorites, I love you all equally, but I will confess to buying a lot of Fomato cards. They make me laugh out loud and are just so unique and for the right person, I know they'll bring hearty laughter. I hope you enjoy the interview and getting to know Emmie a bit better. Have a good weekend, everyone!

When did you start your business?
In 2004.  I was waitressing and daydreaming about starting “my own Sanrio” (I know, very original), and researching here and there.  Someone told me to exhibit at the National Stationery Show in NYC, so I designed 40 cards and went.  It was very exciting.  ‘04 was a decent economic time, and there were many gorgeous, intimidating, amazing stationery lines there.  My booth looked like someone had puked into a corner.  But I got some great orders from retail buyers, and that got the line up and running.

Describe your studio space for us.
I have a ginormous table and a bunch of IKEA shelves.  On the table:  a laptop, monitor, Wacom tablet, speakers, office supplies, the day’s edible distractions, USB hub, external hard drive, cables, more cables, paperwork, relatives and friends of the other cables, a printer, shipping supplies, water (very far from my laptop, since this has ended in tragedy before), and music equipment.  On the shelves are cards, envelopes, binders and more shipping and packaging supplies.

There are two spots in the store where I hear people crack up, one is when looking at last week's featured artist, Greg Stone's prints.  The other spot is in front of your cards. They are just hilarious!  Please give us a little insight into your process.  Potatoes, Nobel Prize, Samurai, Ramen, these are far from typical card themes.
Thanks for your nice compliment!  Process . . . hm . . . I have a few hundred files containing ideas/topics.  When it’s time to work, I open several files, look over what I’ve done previously, and revise.  I play with ideas and surf the web or skim books looking for interesting (and true . . . ish) facts.
It’s trial and error, and weeks of furrowing my brow and staring at my computer.  When all else fails, I down a bottle of Don Julio and start making stuff up.

There's humor in every step of your business. Is it a challenge to stay true to your sense of humor and stay professional? How do you balance that so well?
You are giving me too much credit!!  But thanks.  It’s no challenge at all, since my clients are retailers - they’re good with people, used to dealing with all types, and are easy to work with.  The consumers I sell to directly are also laid-back and friendly.

When writing copy, there’s a line I’m aware of - I don’t want to be dull, but I also want to avoid snarkiness.  This is a big issue for me, so I revisit copy at different points in time, rewriting.  It’s impossible to please everybody, so in general I don’t worry about it too much.  Also, I have everyone’s credit card on file, so they have to be nice to me.

How does living in LA influence your work and business?
I think living where there’s peace and plenty of food allows you the luxury of being light-hearted and frivolous with your work.  I wonder what sort of work I’d do if I lived in a war zone.

Regarding L.A. specifically, being here makes me hyperaware of how busy people are, and how limited their time seems to be (or is this the situation everywhere?).  Going out can involve 2-3 hours of driving/traffic, so people tend to say no more often, and filter out all but the most important people and pursuits in their lives.  You start noticing everyone’s top priorities and what gets booted out.  I do some work related to this, but I don’t publish much of it - it doesn’t translate super well to birthday cards (not for me, anyway).

Business-wise, L.A. has been great for meeting other design-business folk.  There are so many artists here and people enthusiastic about their careers; it’s rare that I meet someone who hates their job.

I also love that in any big city, you can instantly find whatever activities or enthusiasts you’re seeking.  If I felt like doing a card about [the most obscure thing you’ve ever heard of], I could drive a few miles (and it would take me 8 hours, but hey) and find experts in that field.


What do you do when you need some inspiration?
Besides crystal meth, very little.  I’ve never had a problem finding inspiration - it’s everywhere.  For me the issue is discipline.  I’m bad at making myself sit down and draw or write.  I work best after I’ve exercised, showered, eaten and then only have 45 minutes to work before I have to go somewhere.  One could take this to mean that I’m super lazy and anti-work (which . . . I might be . . .).  I like to interpret it this way:  I’m most inspired to work when it’s a privilege and not a chore.  And also when I only have to work 45 minutes a day.
Seriously, though - I love this job, but after all the business stuff is taken care of, there’s little time or energy left for creative work.  I’m working on this issue and definitely want to fix it as soon as possible.

What advice would you offer to someone who is interested in taking their crafting from hobby to business?
Read business and marketing books.  There are tons out there, but a few popular authors are Dan S. Kennedy, Seth Godin, and Jay Conrad Levinson.

Recognize that creatives start businesses because we’re enthusiastic about what we do - and we’d do it even with no money involved.  This separates us from hard-nosed business people who are 100% focused on making money.  Notice the choices you make, and ask yourself if a regular business person would make the same choices.  Sometimes it helps to think of yourself as two people - the business boss dude, and the artist you’ve hired.

How did you first become involved with Craftland?
I did Felt Club (a great craft show orchestrated by Jenny Ryan) in 2007, and went shopping during a break.  I bought a fantastic creature from Teresa Levy’s Sewing Stars booth, and we chatted a bit (after she cleaned out my wallet.  just kidding).  She e-mailed me later, suggesting that I apply to the Craftland holiday show.  I did, and I’m so glad!  I'm a huge fan of Craftland and the stellar Craftland crew.

Guilty Pleasure?
Spreadsheets!  I’m in love with spreadsheets and analyzing numerical data.  I just discovered how to use them 6 months ago (I really shouldn’t be admitting that to anyone).  I'm calling it a guilty pleasure because I love to work on them instead of doing actual work.