Ask the questions.


leigh standley curly girl design

I get requests.

Lots of them.

Many for my story, some for advice or where I find inspiration,….mostly for donations to University of Kansas Alumni Association…(dedicated bunch). It varies.

In a perfect world I would respond kindly to each and every one of them in a sincere, lightheartedly funny and inspiring way. I would also have a building erected on KU’s campus dedicated to the art and business education of competitive rowers (niche group, I know…), but sadly, some things remain on the bucket list.

The smarter thing to do would be to build an FAQ page on my website. But who has time for practicality?

I bring all this up because I have accomplished none of the above things, and because I stumbled upon this brilliant interview from the crew over at Amy Smyth’s cleverness brain trust Ecka & Pecka. Besides using one of the only photos ever taken of me that I truly love, I truly loved the questions they asked me a few years ago, and think they cover most of the bases. Also, for your paper junkies, there is a treasure trove of similar interviews from a who’s who of the stationery industry. Bookmark it.

Re-blogged from Ecka & Pecka’s (sadly, now defunct but nevertheless full of brilliant stuff) blog:

The girl is Leigh Standley. Yes, she has curly hair. She also happens to be creative, funny, and quite the businesswoman, too. Curly Girl Design is a wonderful maze of beautiful art, uplifting greeting cards, cute stationery, stylish accessories, and a whole lot more. It is a corner of the world wide web that you will not leave without buying something, without wanting to get to know Leigh.

So we decided to do just that.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Oh! This is the million dollar question! If I knew, I would live there. I would just put up a hammock in between two inspiration trees and sip on a sparkly beverage. I find it all over is the real answer. I dig around in the feelings between people and the little moments. I try to get to the seed of what makes them special, or what is really going on in our lives. I try to speak to the spark. Most of the time that works, though it takes awhile. There are words that take years to write and are only a couple sentences long. Once I have the words, the art follows pretty easily.

When did this love affair with witty lines and cute design start? Tell us about the time you decided to make a career out of stationery?
LS: I was a musical theater major. Well, almost. I was enrolled in a theater conservatory, when on advise from my Mom that I do something I could actually make a career out of, I bailed last minute and enrolled in art school. (The Graphic Design program at University of Kansas – I minored in theater…). So words and expression have always been important to me. As a graphic artist by training, then trade (I was an art director in advertising for a few years) I was obsessed with design. My natural inclination was to put the two together. After being laid off twice from creative departments (dot com bubble, then 9/11) I decided that to stay employed I needed to stay creative. I began making cards and post cards and prints for my friends using a collage style that had long been a hobby of mine. One thing led to another (read: that is a WHOLE other conversation) and I showed up at the National Stationery Show in 2004 with 12 greeting cards. Thus, began a career.

Why do you do what you do? What’s the most rewarding thing about your work?
LS: Well, SOMEBODY’S got to bring home the bacon! I am joking, mostly, but that is part of it. I have always been a commercial artist, so have always needed to make money for my work in that way. It has so far, provided me with a financial stability that being the lead in “Oklahoma!” off off off Broadway never would have. I feel very fortunate, and have worked very very hard for that.

At root, the reason I make the kind of work I make, is because it is my service. I beat myself up for a long time, because I couldn’t seem to find time to do the kind of volunteer work that I wanted to or  work to “make a difference” in the world (most of my family are educators, and while we are not bleeding-hearts, we are service-minded folks) in a way that seemed giving. Then someone pointed out to me that I had managed to make a living doing just that. I pretty much have one thing to give to this world, and I am working every day to make it count. Curly Girl is the embodiment of my service. (You’re welcome.)

Your messages are always upbeat. Do you turn to them when you’re having a bad day? What other things do you do to turn a bad day around?
LS: It’s pretty hard to take yourself seriously (or expect anyone else to) if you go around quoting yourself all the time. I do seem to have a pretty bright-sideish internal compass, but a lot of times it takes wine and a good vent-session with my girl friends, a walk with my husband, a snuggle with my dog Lucy or a good deal of fancy cheese. Or all of those things.

Any advice for anyone who wants to go into this business?
LS: The best answer to this question I have ever heard is: If you love making pie, don’t open a pie shop. This sounds cynical, but it, to me is one of the most important things to look at when thinking about business.

Opening a stationery business is WAAAAAAAAY more than making art and selling it. It is mostly business. So, if you love making art and writing and think that by starting a stationery company you are going to sit around all day dreaming up funny things to put on paper, you are only about 10% right. You have to do that too. I happen to love running a business, and learned that about myself along the way here. That’s lucky.

There are many ways to be a working artist, or writer, you don’t always have to start your own company to do that. That said, it is an incredible industry full of incredible people who, for the most part, taught themselves to do what they are doing and had a lot of generous support along the way. It is a very fun job, and can be very rewarding. My advice is just to be clear about what you really want to be doing with your time. If it’s not packing boxes, answering emails and invoicing for most of your days, then reconsider opening your own shop.

If you could send a greeting card to somebody famous, who would the recipient be and what would the card say?
LS: OOOOH good question! At the risk of outing myself politically, I would send a thank you note to President Obama that said: “On the days when I think my job is really hard, I think of you and I don’t feel so bad.” “Thanks for doing your best.”  I would send the same one to his wife.

Would you rather be a fly on the wall or the elephant in the room? Why?
LS: I prefer to be the camel in the tent. Only without the negative connotation. I like to think that if you let a little Curly Girl into your life, you can’t help but invite a lot more. It’s like sunshine.

If you were to write an autobiography, what would the first sentence be?
LS: “I was born a month early because I couldn’t wait to get here.”

You find yourself in a post-Apocalyptic world. You?re the only person alive. What’s the first thing you do?
LS: Quit the gym.

You find your future self getting out of a time machine. What’s the first thing you ask her?
LS: Do we ever really believe in each other?

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