Eva Hamden is designer, illustrator, and sole proprietor of Fat Bunny Press, a San Francisco-based letterpress company specializing in “super cute” greeting cards. She started making greeting cards five years ago when a mixture of homesickness and curiosity led her into a stationary store, and the shop owner connected her with an apprenticeship. This past winter, Eva’s cards made it onto the shelves at Urban Outfitters.
I joined Eva at her Oakland studio a few weeks ago to watch her create a custom baby shower invitation from start to finish. In the process, she shared her thoughts on being accountable to oneself, what to do when the path you are on ends abruptly, and the value of imperfection.
When Eva Hamden moved to LA in 2008, her dream was to become an actress. The economy, however, had just tanked. Finding herself in a new place, with little sense for her next step, and isolated from family and friends, she sought solace in visiting stationary stores. “We used to go to this store called Sugar Paper – which now has a huge line of greeting cards –and I used to look at their cards and buy things and send them to my family back home. It was sort of the one thing that held me together when we moved out here. And that’s where I first learned about letterpress printing.”
Shortly after moving to San Francisco in 2009, Eva spotted some cards in a shop window on Union Street that piqued her interest. The store owner informed her that the cards had been made locally, in Oakland, and that their printers took apprentices. Eva applied, and was accepted. After 8 months of working as an apprentice, she shifted to working for the company as a printer full-time and printing her own work on the side. Fat Bunny Press was born.
Eva emphasizes that in the beginning, she knew little about greeting cards. “I didn’t know you need agents. I didn’t know you had to cut paper down to size. I didn’t even know that people made things like this anymore. And that they sold them. So that was basically how I got started. Out of curiosity.”
At first, Eva made cards as they came into her head. She explains, “it wasn’t really from a design perspective. I didn’t really think about color palette, or what I would really like.”
The result: She gradually realized that her heart wasn’t in her designs. “I was making things that I thought people wanted me to make, instead of making them for myself. The designs were very small. It was almost like I was not sure of myself. I had all these really intricate designs – I didn’t really let them explode off the page. I kept them really tiny, and it sort of said that I wasn’t very confident in what I was doing.”
She took an online branding class and spent several months thinking about her brand, identity, and style. Her new line of cards, slated to roll out in early 2015, are, according to Eva, a more accurate representation of her self. Specifically, they portray a rarely found combination of intelligence and beauty. “The industry is very feminine. And my cards tend to be smart. My whole life I felt like you can’t be both smart and pretty. You have to be one or the other. You have to be nerdy, but then you can’t be feminine. The combination of those two things is where I’m trying to get to now.”
Along the way, Eva says one of her biggest challenges has been perfectionism. “I censor myself so much. Given everything out in the media – don’t post anything unless it’s pretty! You get more likes on your instagram if you have something perfectly curated! So when I’m working on a card, I take it so seriously. Everything has to be perfect and neat and a lot of times it’s the imperfections that sort of make things unique and interesting.”
She adds, “so I have a piece of paper stuck on my board, and I just wrote ‘keep it simple.’ Stick to the idea that you liked, and don’t over think things. Because I think that’s how women are in general – we over think a lot of things. We’re trying to be the best and be perfect.”
She points out that another challenge for women in general – that she has also faced – is giving credit where it is due. “I read this article in the Atlantic about the confidence gap between men and women, and when women fail, they blame themselves. When men fail, they blame everybody else. Women attribute a lot of their success to luck. Because, that’s what we’re supposed to say: ‘Well I just got really lucky.’ No. You worked fucking hard. Sorry. I know you worked really hard. I mean, there’s a small percentage of people who do really well and they did just get lucky. They won the lottery, basically. But a lot of women that do well work really hard. And I feel like, it’s hard to give that kind of credit.”
Lastly, Eva has struggled with navigating being pulled in multiple directions. “That’s the problem with being a woman – you don’t just make money. You have to be supportive of your partner. You want to have kids. It’s not so clear-cut. I’m scared about having kids, having to decide those things. Because it changes your priorities a lot. I think I – as with most people –kind of panic at long-term commitment. Do I know if I want to have greeting cards for the rest of my life? I don’t know. But I know that’s what I’m doing now. The idea of this being the only career I can have the rest of my life, is terrifying to me. Because there are so many things I like and I like to do.”
As a result, Eva has often had to chart her own course, which has brought challenges of its own. “Being the youngest of 5 girls, I was following the path. And then all of a sudden the path ran out when I graduated from college. I was like, ‘Wait! There’s no one to follow anymore! I need to make up my own path now.’ That’s really the struggle. And being accountable to yourself. It’s taken me a long time to trust myself more. I’m really good at following directions and listening to people. I have to be better at listening to myself, and seeing myself as an authority.”
Her advice for advancing in the absence of a clear path? First, follow your joy. “I think you just go towards things that make you feel happy. When I stopped working for the studio and I pursued Fat Bunny full time, I came to decisions very quickly. It was within a day that I was like, I need a really big change. And within a day I had told my boss that I was going to pursue Fat Bunny.”
Second, develop a method. “You do as best you can a little bit at a time and then it gets easier and then you have a method. It’s a way of sort of putting out a couple little twigs to get you out just a little bit further.”
Third, make peace with uncertainty, disappointment, and fear. “You have to put up with some disappointments and some things you don’t like. My parents want me to be happy and safe all the time. And you can’t really do that if you’re going to pursue anything. You have to be disappointed. You have to be scared. I’m a little bit scared about my new work. But I just feel like it’s more honest and it’s more myself than I’ve allowed myself to be.”
Lastly, trust yourself. “I’m a very firm believer in gut. Always have been. That’s how I feel with my cards, partnering with people, making creative decisions. Your instincts are there for a reason. So if you don’t trust someone that you’re working with, or something doesn’t feel right, you feel that way for a reason. You should listen to it.”
Thank you so much Eva, for sharing your insight and your work. I can’t wait to check out your new designs, and to follow where your path leads you next!