• UO Print Shop: Cult Paper

    Cult Paper, a one-woman print outfit, operates out of a small studio space in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Armed with a pared-down monochromatic sensibility and an acerbic sense of humor, the imprint delivers stationary products that are decidedly modern with a timeless look. 
    Photos by Isabel Fuentes

    The brainchild of artist/designer Ashely Rodgers, Cult Paper began in the living room of a one-bedroom apartment that she shared with her new husband. Since then, Rodgers has moved into her own dedicated studio, a beautifully minimalist workspace that looks out over the Organ Mountains of New Mexico. The result: Cult Paper blends pop culture with Scandinavian design inspiration, bits and pieces of the American Southwest and hip hop references to make posters and cards that read like Twitter and look like Tumblr. 

    “I didn’t plan on becoming a designer; though looking back, I should have seen it coming.” Rodgers says. She first began experimenting with design and type while working as a technical writer at an engineering company. “I received a quick and dirty design education as a result,” she says. “ The more I played around with typography and design, the more I fell in love.” 

    Rodgers studied English in college hoping to one day publish novels, but it was a technical writing course that shifted her perspective. “For the first time in my writing, I was urged to take out the fluff and say in two words what was taking me twelve,” she says. And that philosophy of cutting out the fluff has migrated into her work at Cult Paper. “The modern movement in design has always been about extracting the ornamental and appreciating the beauty of the functional, a philosophy that dictates Cult Paper’s design sensibility as well as the wording.” 

    As Rodgers puts it, her design approach creates specific limitations and rules, like a haiku or knuckle tattoo. Within that framework, she experiments with language and type to create the most impactful message for a greeting card or wall hanging. “I might spend the rest of my life grooving on a design,” she says, “finding new ways to play with its constraints.” The finished work, however, looks effortless. For Rodgers, ease is the height of cool. “All the can’t-be-bothered cool belies the neurotic attention to detail that goes into each piece,” she says. 

    With all of this in mind, Cult Paper’s pieces come down to one thing: attitude. “It just so happens,” Rodgers says, “That when I try to distill ‘I am so thrilled that this has happened for you, I’m proud of all that you have accomplished, so lucky to know you and honored to celebrate this milestone with you,’ the shortest and best way to say it is ‘I’m so excited I could barf.’”

    Where do the phrases in your typographic prints come from? 
    I've always got my eyes and ears open for inspiration. Sometimes something said in conversation will trigger an idea; other times it's something I'd like to say to a friend so I put it on a card. The tomorrow it will hurt a little bit less card is an example of the latter. I like to play with pop culture too.  Song lyrics and internet memes are great jumping-off points.

    From beginning to end, can you walk us through the process of creating a new piece? 
    For a typographic piece, it's just a lot of positioning and messing with spacing and kerning. The illustrations are a bit more complicated.  Illustration doesn't come easily for me, so if I want to draw something I think about it for days, trying to visualize how the 3d image can be translated into an uncomplicated line drawing before putting sharpie to paper. Once my brain figures out how the lines should go, I have to draw it quick. The eye drawing was like that. Other times I need to take a picture of the thing and trace its lines to get an idea of how to edit the real thing down to a symbol. The mouth drawing was like that - it's a rendition of my mouth, but I've changed the proportions of the teeth to make it quirkier. Then the illustration gets scanned and heavily edited in Photoshop and Illustrator to turn a scratchy sharpie sketch into a crisp black and white vector file. Last comes placing the illustration on the page - I don't trust the centering guides within Photoshop because with a non-symmetrical drawing what looks centered and proportional to the eye isn't exactly the same as actual center. There's a lot of detail work and a lot of trusting my intuition. Total nitpicky minutiae, but I love every minute of it.  

    Your workspace is beautifully minimal. How did it come together? 
    Thank you! My husband and I built our first home about a year ago, and the studio is a part of the house. Since we've got two kids (our son is three and our daughter is six months), it's essential that I be able to work and still be a part of what's going on. My son loves to draw and has his own desk in my studio, so for most of the day it's all three of us hanging out in there. I'm a minimalist and love big white open spaces filled with light - our whole house is painted gallery white with concrete floors - and we spent a lot of time planning the studio: how to hide cords, how to create enough unobtrusive storage for supplies and product, how to build in enough standing desk space to fill orders. Polaroids of our family and friends are above the 12' desk wall and are the only pop of color in the whole room. The pictures make me happy, inspire me and remind me why I design things in the first place. It's probably my favorite room in the whole house, so I'm fortunate to get to spend most of my waking hours there!

    How has living in New Mexico affected your work? 
    I'm a native New Mexican and I think my work is strongly influenced by my roots. "Southwestern" may conjure up thoughts of kokopellis and super-saturated color, but Southwestern design is very minimal: adobe homes are all straight lines and flat roofs and our traditional method of landscaping here involves covering the parched dirt with rocks and calling it a day. New Mexico's desert landscape heavily influenced Georgia O'Keeffe and she's known as a pioneer of American modernism. So Southwestern and modernism work very well together, and for me they inform one another. Also New Mexicans have a very laidback, unassuming attitude that has shaped my sense of humor. We don't get too worked up about most things.  

    Are there any particular artists or designers who have inspired your work over the years? 
    Georgia O'Keeffe. And my ultimate design hero is Massimo Vignelli, the designer of the Stendig calendar among lots of other things. For me a big part of design is exclusion - shutting out all the millions of things I could be putting on a white blank canvas and zeroing in on the things I think are, for lots of reasons, the best. Vignelli said that all of the fonts available as a result of desktop publishing represented a form of "visual pollution threatening our culture." He would only work with a handful of fonts that he thought were best. Similarly, I can count on one hand the fonts Cult Paper will ever use. He also famously said that "if you can design one thing, you can design everything." I'm trying to remind myself of this as I revamp Cult Paper's packaging to make it more innovative and fresh. I just think Vignelli's awesome and I'm invigorated every time I read something by him and study his work.

    What’s next for you and for Cult Paper? 
    So many things! As I said, I'm revamping our packaging and it's going to be sexy. I'm also figuring out logistics on incorporating metallic foil, letterpress, and (maybe) a little bit of color. And new kiss-cut stickers and notebooks will be coming soon. It's an exciting time, and I can't wait to see how Cult Paper evolves.

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