From whimsical note cards to custom orders, paper goods from Frances Lab give us something to write home about. Handmade in Brooklyn by Johnna West, these screen-printed designs are made using water-based inks and eco-friendly printing methods. We caught up with the artful entrepreneur to see how she got her start, and what we can look forward to (hello home goods!).
two+seven: Give us some background: how did you get into illustration and screen printing?
Johnna West: Well, I guess my first real introduction to screen printing was in college, where I got my BFA in Printmaking. I really felt like screen printing was this great balance between a process adding it’s own personal touch, while still being able to maintain control over the finished product. I find the most satisfaction in making one of a kind products, you know, getting intimate with the details of each nuance, so screen-printing was the most natural way for me to make multiples of something and still feel like I hadn’t lost the quality and uniqueness that goes into hand-crafted items.
Illustration has been a huge part of my creative process for as long as I can remember. I find that I have as many notebooks filled with diagrams and descriptions as I do actual drawings and doodles. I’ve always felt like any process of getting something in our mind into our hand, is one of the most rewarding practices, and for me, everything starts with some form of illustration.
2+7: Where did the name “Frances Lab” come from?
JW: The company is actually named after my grandmother, Frances Beaudry. She was a phenomenal seamstress and an incredibly strong and independent woman. I have a huge affinity for the past and genealogy. I feel fortunate to have come from a family of wild cards, bold makers and shakers, and I feel like everything I do stems from the paths they, and all our ancestors have paved. I feel like it’s important for me to constantly remember what an honor it is for myself, and all other artisans and craftsmen, to be able to carry on making new paths and paving new ground for future generations. That’s what Frances Lab is really all about, and I’m so excited for things that lie ahead for the company!
2+7: What has been the hardest part about launching your business? The most rewarding?
JW: For me, the hardest part of starting and running this business is also kind of the best part: there are no right or wrongs and every decision has an alternative. It can be so easy to let yourself be paralyzed by the number of choices you have to make in a business. I constantly have to remind myself that that’s really the best part. Obviously, getting to do what you love everyday is wonderful and making something that others can get enjoyment from is unbelievably rewarding, but I think I’ve learned that a huge part of making that happen is really focusing on what the best decision for my company is, what will make me and my customers the happiest, and then following it through. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t—but either way, that makes every success and failure so much more gratifying than I ever could have imagined.
2+7: What’s the coolest (or weirdest) custom order request you’ve gotten?
JW: Weird custom orders? Hmm… I can’t say I’ve had anything that’s totally out of left-field yet. Getting requests for wedding invitations is always especially heart-warming. It never ceases to amaze me when someone wants us to help be a part of such a personal and memorable event in their lives.
2+7: Can you give us the inside scoop on your home goods collection? What can we look forward to?
JW: Ahhh, the home goods collection. Well, the first thing we have in the works is a series of pillows, prints and also some accessories that follow suit with our current one of a kind items. We also have some plans for ceramics and woven goods in the works. My mind is always all over the place with new ideas, and I love being able to tackle new projects, so we’re always open to what new opportunities await!