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wintern podcasts: screech owl design

by Grace Bonney


this past week i got to sit down in jacqueline and george schmidt’s gorgeous greenpoint home to talk about their stationery line, screech owl design. we talked about inspiration, influences, design process, and touched on the start up of their company. it’s a great listen for those interested in knowing what happens behind the scenes of a up and coming stationery company. for those of you interested in a quick read, i’ve written out highlights from the interview below, but you can listen to the full podcast by clicking “play” below. thanks jacqueline and george! -despina papadeas

click here for the rest of the interview…

screech owl design interview with jacqueline and george schmidt

design*sponge: can you introduce yourself and the role you play in screech owl?

jacqueline schmidt: sure, i’m jacqueline schmidt and i am the founder of screech owl and i basically design all the cards and the whole aesthetic of the business and sort of the whole direction that we take. my husband helps me to execute that and do some more of the administrative stuff.

d*s: what is your design background?

js: i have a masters and bachelors in fine arts, but my original background wasn’t drawing but mostly collage and sculpture. and i did a minor in modern dance, so, for eight years i was a modern dancer and then doing the arts always at the same time. and then when i went for my masters i was mostly focusing on the healing arts and using art as a means and a vehicle to deeper self-expression.

d*s: can you tell me a little bit about how screech owl began?

js: sure, in 2006 we started selling handmade goods but we weren’t selling to the masses, but mostly fairs. it’s hard because i don’t know if the business started in 2006 or 2007 and so, today [12/08/08] is actually our one year anniversary, december 8th last year at the bust craft fair is when we actually came out to the world! so, yeah, we were making handmade goods and there was more demand so we were trying to figure out maybe we should take this to another level. and then my grandmother died, and that was a difficult period for me. and my mother had read me a card that was in her house that i had written to my grandmother. and it was this gorgeous, gorgeous card.. like, i couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of my mouth. and she said afterwards, “do you realize that grandma actually heard these words spoken?”, because you know your days go by and you don’t remember what you say and you say so many things, and it’s like, i was able to mirror back exactly a point in time these words my grandmother had seen. so all of a sudden i started thinking about the greeting card thing more seriously. we made a couple of samples and sent them around, and gave them out as christmas gifts and it sort of took a mind of it’s own. i got a tax id and all of a sudden we had a name. and by my summer house there is this family of screech owls that i’m very connected to. and they sit together, they’re a little family and at dusk they do a little dance, and they sit on this telephone wire. and they’re really powerful! and we take out our binoculars and stare at them for a while. and there are moments where they look you in the eye and your heart starts pounding and racing and it’s like, so intense!

d*s: you were talking about transitioning from craft fairs to selling in stores, can you talk about how you marketed yourself?

js: well the first fair since the tax id, let’s call that the moment we were really on paper, we got one or two stores from the samples and then people started seeing stuff and calling us. and that sort of became this domino effect.. and lucky events keep happening. and really this has been such a great lesson for us, in general, we put our work on the walls for people and stuff.. there is something about taking a risk and putting it out there, you have no idea if you’re going to tank or do well or how long it’s going to last, but there is something about that little risk of let’s just do it, and it sort of worked, and i don’t know why! we’ve had recent press, which was really exciting you know, in these different places. and all these places have called us so we feel really grateful!

d*s: do you doodle? or do sketches?

js: you know what, i’m super compulsive, for better or for worse, and i’m like one of those people who throw out my doodles if they’re not perfect. i like clean lines, i like white space, even though i fill things up a lot, it has to have some sort of pattern, or something that repeats, or situated in some sort of composition where there’s enough space. so, i don’t know, i don’t doodle very much. i sort of.. it’s weird, i’ll have a dream or idea and i’ll go to the paper and do that exact idea i don’t dream through what most people do, through sketching, i just know.

d*s: is your process all hand drawn? and hand colored?

js: yes, hand drawn, hand colored. it’s really important to me to keep that one aspect. you know, i never went to school for heavy computer arts, or anything. i’m trying to stay away from things that are too manufactured. not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just that, for me, i like the idea that if something is going to be repeated, meaning like we’re mass producing or we’re making stuff. i hand silkscreen most of our stuff, but let’s say the things that are offset [printed], we obviously have to hand them over, and so, the fact that it has to go through a machine- it might as well be still hand drawn instead of going from machine to machine to machine.

d*s: so going over some of your images, you have a lot of nature themes, lots of animals paired with more industrial-type furniture. do you have a stockpile of images in your head? so you can sit down and say, ok i want a duck with a typewriter sitting on a rug, is that how it works for you?

js: pretty much! if i’m out – like i saw a lamp recently and i’m like, ugh that’s totally going in a drawing, and if i do well this year i’m going to buy it too, you know! yeah, i get hung up on ideas and i have a good memory, and i remember images and ideas, and pretty much just put them down on paper. and then i get neurotic and i work on them until they work. and i just sit with them and say i’m going to get this lamp perfectly the way i want it. but i love the idea of who came first the animal or the furniture. it’s kind of the chicken and the egg theory, ya know! they were here first, and then we came along. and it’s like we’re here, and now they’re outside, and so i love the idea of bridging the two worlds and imagining a world where a bird could be perched on your chair and that a cat could be sitting on your dining room table. i just love the idea of animals’ kind of taking over our world instead of us taking over theirs.

d*s: what are your influences apart from nature? or is that the driving force?

js: yes, yes, animals all day long!

d*s: are there any designers or artists you draw inspiration from?

js: yeah, there are. richard diebenkorn is perhaps one of my favorite artists, his color palette is just remarkable, and it soothes me to no end. i like that he doesn’t have a literal narrative but i totally see one, there’s something there. martin pruyear is remarkable… i really like alex katz too, i love his simplicity and his lines and he evokes… this field of ideas and personality that comes out. he’s using so little and yet he says so much.
gs: oh yeah, gosh, where to begin? for me: alex katz, neil rausch, i really inspired by modern architecture, all the obvious people, the eames, all the case study houses, better homes and gardens. more modern design, like furniture people, like bddw, i love bddw.

d*s: and the future of screech owl? what’s happening, what’s going on?!

gs: we’re planning a new line of cards for the spring. and we have some t-shirts coming soon.
js: along with handmade goods that will continue to always be available at fairs and the like and artist prints. but for screech owl, we’re going to say for the spring there will be a new line of cards and some other stationery goods and a couple of tokens and objects!

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