In the localized community of printmaking, Lars Love Letters has a unique distinction that's caught on in the community. --- Rather than create their cards, stationary and prints on fresh sheets of paper, the small DIY custom printmakers use recycled paper for all of their creations. The repurposing of daily junk mail has for years provided the business with an ample supply of materials to keep their costs down, and the unique designs and strangely colored sheets have attracted many craft-loving consumers to buy their stock in bulk.
Today, we chat with the founder of Lars Love Letters, Brady Lars Burrows, about starting up his business and the process behind creating these works, thoughts on the local craft scene and a few other topics.
Brady Lars Burrows
Gavin: Hey, Brady. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Brady: My name is Brady Lars Burrows and I go by Lars or Brady. I'm a native of Utah and grew up in the Ogden area. I do graphic -esign work, printmaking, papermaking and photo editing. I started Lars Love Letters last year and have been developing a line of cards, posters and all sorts of paper products.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in printmaking and design, and what were some early influences?
Brady: I started in design at a young age, in MS Paint. I started designing pixel by pixel and got hooked. I wish I still had some of those early files, but they are long gone, lost in the world of '90s computer viruses. In high school, I had an art teacher who was very cool and set me loose in Illustrator and Photoshop and gave me class time to teach myself. Printmaking always had an appeal to me as a wonderful fusion of design and art, of the technical and the creative.
Gavin: Did you take any college prior to starting your professional career or are you more self-taught?
Brady: I went to some technical school for multimedia and 3-D animation. It was self-paced, out-of-the-book learning and I decided I could do just as well on my own. That decision really set the pace for my DIY style of work.
Gavin: What was it like for you founding Lars Rushton Designs back in 2006, and what made you decide to found your own design business rather than go the freelancer route?
Brady: Lars Rushton Designs was the name that my friend -- Rushton -- and I -- Lars -- used on our collaborative media projects, largely video at first. As time went on, it became a one-man show. I decided to get a business license so I could use that name professionally, until recently. It was largely a freelance gig; I just wanted a name to use for it. I now do my design work under my own name.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start doing a side business involving paper goods?
Brady: I always loved the idea of doing cards; they seemed like a great way of playing with words and illustrations. But I really wanted to do something that felt unique, and I also hesitated to create new potential paper waste. So, when I stumbled into the idea of making my own paper from junk mail it felt perfect.
Gavin: What was it like for you to put the business together, and where did the name Lars Love Letters come from?
Brady: Starting Lars Love Letters has been a lot of fun. My day jobs have largely been graphic design and photo editing, which I really enjoy, but it's really nice to physically make something instead of rearranging pixels on a screen. Also, it's fun for a change to design for myself and let people enjoy whatever appeals to them. I chose the name Lars Love Letters because it fits everything so well. It has my favorite part of my name in it, Lars. And love letters are just the sweetest things, the sort of things we should be using the postal system for rather than junk mail. It really encompasses my concept of repurposing junk mail and adding a positive value to what was just garbage before.
Gavin: What made you specifically decide to work with recycled paper to create the cards, and what's the process like to put the paper together from the previously used scraps?
Brady: We try to be as eco-friendly as we can, and I was frustrated by the constant piles junk mail that I couldn't seem to stop. So somewhere along the way, I'm really not sure where, this idea of repurposing it came along. So, I started saving it and researching ways to make paper. Currently, I have a fairly simple technique using an old Vitamix blender, some frames, deckles I made, a simple homemade press, lots and lots of junk mall, and water. I have plans for building new, improved equipment, as well. The fun part is trying new methods, equipment and materials, then seeing what works best.
Gavin: What's it like for you to come up with your designs for the cards, from initial concept to final product?
Brady: Coming up with new card ideas is always fun. I begin brainstorming ideas, I just write everything down and pick my favorites and develop them until I'm happy. Next, I start coming up with concepts. When I'm lucky, something jumps to my mind right away and I run with it; if not, then I work on it for a while. One of my first card concepts was my "I think you are (kind of) amazing" card. That was one of those cards that as soon as I wrote the idea down, I pictured a little scrappy dog with a cape. It seemed perfectly kind of amazing to me, and is a popular card now. Sometimes I have a great idea for a card that I have to sit on until I work out a good design for it, sometimes it never works out. Once the design is set, I burn a screen, run some test prints and go for it. My wife is always a great help in the process. I always talk my way through the whole process with her and her input is always invaluable.
Gavin: Do you tend to play around with the designs before you finish or stick to what you've made?
Brady: I play around with the designs a lot; luckily. I usually am preparing for one event or another so I have to stop at some point. At the same time, some designs seem to just work and I never feel the need to revisit them. Sometimes I even redesign cards I've already done before reprinting if I feel like they aren't quite there. It's important to me to not get too rigid a structure. A few years back, I ran a roughly drawn Web comic that was a single frame of me talking to myself in the bathroom,;after 67 weeks, I ran out of ideas in that tiny structure and I grew out of that voice. So, I like to keep things flexible, and play around.
Gavin: How was it for you breaking out into the local craft scene with your cards, and what did you think of the public reaction to them?
Brady: I got my first designs together and applied to Craft Lake City last year. It was pretty exciting to be accepted. It was my first event and such a great place to start. Everyone was very nice and excited about my process and designs. There's nothing more flattering then listening to people read my cards to themselves and laugh a little bit, and show their friends. I started this so I could make things I enjoy and it's great to see others enjoy them, as well.
Gavin: In addition to cards, you've branched out into items such as buttons, stationary and even custom invitations. What inspired you to expand your products and how have people taken to them?
Brady: I started with cards because they were so practical and yet fun, nothing you have to take too serious. I also keep a selection of posters I'm always working on and improving. Before Lars Love Letters, I did quite a lot with wedding invitations, and I'm working on some samples with my new papers to keep that going. I've had great reactions, with people even approaching me and asking for custom orders, bulk orders and even just ordering my paper for their own letterpress work.
Gavin: You've also got most of your products online through Etsy. How has business been outside of Utah, and how much a difference is there between online shoppers and those who see you in person?
Brady: My orders online have been pretty good; online sales can take awhile to build but sometimes you get a little boost. My Father's Day card sold so well, I had to reprint three times in two weeks, partly thanks to mention and link from an HGTV blog post. I think the biggest challenge online for me is convey the feel and quality of the paper; it's something a little different and hard to experience with a photo.
Gavin: What are your plans for LLL, and are you looking to expand into any other areas in the future?
Brady: My plans are to keep expanding my lines, improving my designs and quality until they take over the world -- or at least until I'm content, whichever comes first. I've been working on a line of art papers, collages I make out of the wet paper pulp before I dry it. Q Clothing was nice enough to ask me to hang my art and bring cards in where I debuted them. I've been continuing to work on that concept, and I'd like to go even farther with my art projects, as well as the craftier side of things.
Gavin: Going local, what are your thoughts on the Utah art scene, both good and bad?
Brady: I feel like I'm still fairly new to the scene, but I've been really happy with how well it's gone. I'd love to enter more print and art shows; there's just so much out there, sometimes it's hard to know where to start and where to hear about everything from. I don't feel like it's too closed off or anything, and almost everyone I meet is always willing to help and share what they know. The local festivals are great, and most of them are very reasonable to participate in; others less so. I do worry that as crafting gets more popular here it may lose a lot of its accessibility for new crafters, and I think that should be kept in check. For me, crafting and art is about the DIY spirit and independence and expression, and I'm glad so many venues are still so supportive of that.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make things more prominent?
Brady: There are already so many good things happening for local art. There's a lot of great businesses that promote and hang local art. Art Walk is such a great event. It would be nice if some of the other festivals had a greater focus on local art.
Gavin: What do you think of festivals like Craft Lake City, Beehive Bazaar and Craft Sabbath as a whole and the work they do to promote the scene and artists?
Brady: The local craft festivals are so great. I don't know if I could be doing this work without them offering such great venues and promoting so well. In fact, I'd prefer going to local craft shows than other arts festivals; I think the art is more affordable and is more my style. Online-traffic building can be slow, but going to a good event gets thousands of eyes on your work right away so you don't get too discouraged and quit before you even get started.
Gavin: What can we expect from both yourself and Lars Love Letters over the rest of the year?
Brady: This is the first year anniversary of LLL's debut, so to celebrate I've been redesigning some cards and designing some brand-new ones. So there will be lots of new cards, posters and other new products. I'm working on a line of Utah postcards that will be printed on local wild-collected natural-fiber papers. I'll be at Craft Lake City, and few other summer festivals to be determined still. As for me, I'm likely to continue growing my hair and beard and cutting them off again, to keep everyone on their toes.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Brady: The Awful Truth's new album Birthright is bring released on Aug. 4 at Urban Lounge. I think everyone should check it out; it's beautiful music by a great person.
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