If you're on my site, chances are you love stationery. If so, holy moly - you need to meet the amazingly sweet souls behind Snailbox!
SNAILBOX is an independent greeting card subscription that seeks to breathe fresh air into the world of mass produced greeting cards. Subscribers across the U.S. love how our monthly mailings help them stay stocked with unique greeting cards so they are never caught unprepared.
The story of Snailbox begins when Amanda and Zach decided to tackle a problem they’d been wrestling for years: How to stay prepared for important, card-worthy occasions. I believe I was one of their first stationery slingers way back in 2015. I'm so happy to be part of their July box! Just in time for my birthday. The summer is miiiiine!
The July box is here!
SUMMER MUSIC FEST SEASON: SNAILBOX EDITION
This month we selected colorful, summery, block-printed greetings by FOREIGNSPELL, the magical world of artist Niki Baker where all designs are inspired by music lyrics! Do you recognize the lyrics of Lionel Ritchie, The Beatles, 2 Unlimited, and Marvin Gaye? The Marvin Gaye Forever stamp was, of course, the perfect complement. Let the ‘Prince of Soul’ sing your envelopes through the mail! As a unique treat this month, in place of envelope seals, we included a fun mindfulness activity to create your own portrait of a music icon through the magic of Paint-by-Sticker. We can’t wait to see your finished masterpieces!
Artist Spotlight: Foreignspell
In 2006, Niki Baker decided to experiment with visually expressing the experience of listening to music. Three small paintings inspired by song lyrics became the foundation for Foreignspell. Now a full line of stationery, clothing and accessories, Niki creates every block-printed design by hand while juggling a plethora of other interests including creative growth coaching, animals, whistling, and literal juggling.
Tell us about the birth of Foreignspell!
Listening to music has always been a super visual and colorful experience for me. In 2006, as an art student in Seattle and Nantes, France, I put what was going on in my head to canvas as a triptych inspired by song lyrics. I got that fluttery feeling intuition gifts you when you're on the right track and started collecting hundreds of song lyrics. After a while, I noticed many of the lyrics worked perfectly as a way to encourage conversation – love notes, enthusiastic greetings, jokes, compliments. There's truly a song for any sentiment! Since 2012, I've been carving stamps inspired by music and pressing them to various surfaces. Foreignspell is a dream project that’s been years in the making!
Did you always want to be an artist, even in childhood?
Yes! In kindergarten I made my first piece of mass-produced stationery when my dad brought home a copy machine. The letterhead was printed on pastel pink, purple and blue paper with a border of accidentally abstract puppies and kittens. Probably my finest work.
What is your favorite medium to create with? Describe your process.
Block printing is my number one favorite medium. Carving is when I feel that famed flow state the most. The whole process usually starts when I’ve got a song lyric stuck in my head or hear a song that conjures up strong imagery. Once I've got the earworm, I can’t shake it until it's out on paper. After I sketch out an illustration by hand, I use tracing paper to transfer the design onto a blank rubber stamp, and then get to carving. Once the design is carved out, I ink the stamp with lots of color and press it onto paper. In 2018, I started scanning the finished print and playing with it on the computer, adding more colors and finessing the image. Now I send the final image off to local artisans for printing and manufacturing.
We love that your designs are inspired by music. Has music always been a big part of your life?
Pretty sure my parents inadvertently programmed me to make art inspired by music. Growing up, my mom’s home was never silent – she made sure our lives had a constant soundtrack. Some of my earliest memories are of dancing around the living room with her and our cats to Van Morrison songs. My dad is an incredible singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. To this day he likes to drive me around San Francisco, pointing out all the different venues he’s played at. Maybe if I weren’t so afraid of the stage, I’d be a musician too! I did choir and theater until college, where my stage fright started creeping in. I only had the nerve to do one singing performance in those four years. After college I did a quick stint in an LCD Soundsystem cover band, but now I leave the music to the professionals. Foreignspell is my way of paying homage to and being part of the music world in some small way.
What's your solution for combating “creative block” and maintaining productivity?
Luckily for my business, productivity is compulsive for me. It's built into the way my anxiety manifests and soothes itself. My problem is combating the creative flurry more than having creative block. I've got a trillion ideas that all want out at once, but I just don't have the time or resources for each of them. Listening to the pushiest one is generally how I triage. Or I sit down and give a page of brainstorming to each idea then choose whichever is nearly fully-formed.
What does a typical day at your studio look like? How do you manage your time?
After a luxuriously long cuddle session with my cat Gracie, I officially wake up with a cup of tea and some computer and phone time – invoicing, answering emails, making lists, posting to Insta and TikTok. I'll also take the morning to package orders as it's surprisingly meditative and very entertaining because Gracie always attempts to enter the box. Custom commissions can be super time and energy consuming. Customers also prefer a quick turnaround, so I start my official work day with those. Sometimes they take me the entire rest of the day.
If I don't have custom work or finish early enough, I edit my 200+ block-printed designs and turn them into patterns for my new apparel offerings, enamel camping mugs, phone cases & more. I haven't had time to make a brand new design in SO long. This current process is really fun, but I'm excited to delve into my song lyric collection again soon.
For some self care action, I do yoga. If I've got an errand to run, I'll do it on foot to take a long walk through the city (two birds!) I'll also take breaks whenever Gracie throws herself on my lap or shoulder. I use lunch hours to participate in SURJ Bay Area Action Hours & Vote Save America's Adopt A State effort! My incredibly talented friends at Frosi & Bair built me a brand new website that went live earlier this year. I'm absolutely in love with it. I try to spend at least an hour each day injecting SEO, editing product listings, creating blog posts, etc. There have been times where I get sucked in and spend the entire day tinkering.
I've promised myself to build in a few hours a week to work on professional development. The San Francisco Public Library offers free courses on Lynda. Most recently, I completed a path on creating art in Illustrator. I've also been entering the realm of watercolor. That's been so fun and a nice challenge to my control freak tendencies. The water does whatever the heck it wants!
Then my husband gets home and forces me to stop for the day so we can go for a walk, eat delicious food and binge watch some TV.
What do you enjoy doing in your “free time?”
Hiking! We listen to amazing music on the journey and pick a delicious treat to eat in the area. Nature is truly the most wonderful part of life. I also LOVE video games. I treated playing The Last of Us 2 like it was my job over the last couple weeks. What a masterpiece!
What are the biggest challenges you have faced to get to where you are now?
Oh man. Battling impostor syndrome for so much of my career, ordering too many supplies or products in bulk to "save money," not having enough space in my tiny studio (aka: apartment), living in a stupidly expensive city, buying large first orders from new vendors without getting specific samples first, trusting clients when my intuition told me they'd be trouble, investing loads of time & resources into barely attended craft fairs, letting fear dictate important decisions that required bravery to ensure success. I could go on… There are endless challenges in being a small business owner, BUT I wouldn't go back and do anything differently. Operating Foreignspell has taught me countless life lessons. I know I'm a better person in general because of it all.
How does the culture of your city contribute to the development of your independent business?
Oof. I have a complicated relationship with San Francisco. I am furious with and inspired by it in equal measure. When I'm in a mood, I'd claim it has contributed nothing to me, but I know that's not fair. I'm mostly grateful for this beautiful, messed up place. I recently did a month-long pop up selling stationery and holding art workshops for the kids in Bernal Heights. Everyone was so awesome and enthusiastic! Experiences like that make me fall back in love with SF when I'm feeling angsty about it. Taking a walk through the murals in the Mission helps too!
We hear you are working on becoming a creative growth coach. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Because I won't be hand-pressing each item one-by-one anymore and I'm almost done editing all my designs, Foreignspell will be a nearly self-sufficient ecosystem. That'll open up time to pursue a dream that's been bubbling under the surface for a long time now: creative growth coaching! As a creative growth coach, I use creative problem solving and various art forms to help people attain goals, cultivate resilience, fight creative block, reduce anxiety and feel more inspired in their lives. I'm making sure all of my endeavors have a common thread of bringing joy to people!
Shop Niki’s line of stationery, clothing and accessories at www.foreignspell.com
Follow her on Instagram at @foreignspell