INTERVIEW: Laura + Tom of Jolly Edition

jolly edition

Jolly Edition is a illustration studio and stationery emporium founded by Laura Shema and Tom Hart. After getting married in 2011 the creative couple launched their business, flitting between the UK and US and eventually settling in Baltimore to occupy a beautiful world of watercolour, print and paper, taking their excellent creations to the next level.

2015 is a big year for Laura and Tom, having relaunched Jolly Edition and upped their game, they’re focussing not just on bespoke wedding stationery, but on quality illustration and design as a whole. I caught up with them to find out more about running a creative family business, designing and creating beautiful stationery and, the perks of international collaboration.

Tell us a little about what Jolly Edition does…

Jolly Edition is an illustration and stationery company. We’ve been in business for three years but things got a lot more interesting a year ago when we we introduced more illustrators. At the time there was a huge demand for making interesting, intimate wedding stationery and we couldn’t handle the demand with Laura as the sole illustrator. Our aim is to offer better quality and more meaningful products created by professional illustrators than any other stationery vendor.

We’ve also worked hard to make our work affordable so that no one needs to break the bank to commission our work. We offer consistent work to our illustrators, with thorough preparation and a streamlined, properly managed process which allows them to enjoy projects, and prevents them from worrying about compromising their ideas to pay their bills. We’re proudly based in Baltimore, a fun city with hidden gems everywhere, and a ton of interesting and talented people around.

What was the inspiration behind Jolly Edition and how did you start the company?

Tom, an Englishman, started his career as a graphic and web designer working for big and small companies in the UK whereas I (Laura), spent most of my life preparing to be a traditional painter. I even spent some time in New York working in Jeff Koons’ studio before meeting Tom.

We’re an international couple. After we married we had to figure out a way to be with each other and to make money so we combined our skills. Tom’s design expertise and my art and design-related knowledge and skills jigsawed nicely. We still design and illustrate but we’ve also taken on administrative and big-picture roles for JE. It’s a job in itself but we’re really liking being small business owners as much as we enjoy the creative side of the company.


What does a typical day at HQ look like?

We start our day with Shakeology (it’s great, try it) and a coffee whilst having our morning meeting. We use Asana to keep track of our projects, each has dozens of tasks, and decide what to prioritize on any given day, week or month. We try to sift the ‘big picture’ ideals from the small details, things can get messy so we like to get those straight in our minds.

Tom is usually writing emails, making sales calls, getting things print-ready or setting up the framework for new projects. My day is spent either illustrating and designing my own projects, or taking care of proactive tasks like website updates, packaging, managing our Instagram feed, or coming up with new directions to pursue.

What’s it like working in Baltimore? Can you tell us about your studio space?

We love our studio space, it’s a large open room with three big windows. We like our desks clean and tidy before we mess them up with work; I can’t think clearly with a messy desk. We need to clean our apartment at the moment, it’s been distracting me all day. We’re in a quiet family community that neighbours the art college MICA, where I studied. We also live a few doors down from the Underwood’s home in House of Cards, and we’re surrounded by creatives, artists, and designers. There are a ton of design-oriented, hidden spots in Baltimore, from bursts of raw creativity to examples of sophisticated, high-end design, they’re found in clusters throughout the city. We’ve enjoyed our time here and we intend to get more deeply involved with the design and business landscape.

Baltimore’s one problem is a lack of concentration. We need to unify the interesting small businesses which are here and push harder to draw attention to those concentrations. When people visit Baltimore they find their way to the inner harbour, we need to point them away from the chain restaurants you’ll find along the waterfront and into the more interesting, creative parts of the city. The best quote about Baltimore is probably this one from John Waters:

“My favourite characters are people who think they’re normal but they’re not. I live in Baltimore, and it’s full of people like that. I’ve also lived in New York, which is full of people who think they’re crazy, but they’re completely normal. I get my best material in Baltimore – you get dialogue that you just couldn’t imagine. I asked this guy in a bar what he did for a living and he said he traded deer meat for crack. I never realised that job even existed.”

Tell us about some of the creatives you work with and commission…

Geez, if we had the freedom to just keep writing we could turn that question into a book. They’re all so successful and interesting in their own ways. Emma Block probably creates the most romantic imagery with the most efficiency we’ve ever seen. Elizabeth Graeber is an illustration seismograph, she has pens for fingers and they’re gonna draw on something. If I ever saw her without her art supplies I’d be worried.

Katie Harnett has the capacity of foresight, seeing each project in her voice in a way which speaks to her clients. Katie Wilson’s illustrations automatically make me smile, they’re so sweet and sincere, I’d like to live in a world she created. Livi Gosling is one of our newest illustrators, she is our map master with an inexhaustible enthusiasm that makes her lovely to work with. They’re all great. We’re now working on some new directions with them which might become staples of our work in the future.


What’s the best thing about working with your clients to create unique items?

We love our clients’ enthusiasm and trust in our interpretation of their hopes for their day. There’s nothing like receiving the printed stationery and seeing it all come together. It’s always great to hear from past clients when they’re kind enough to share their wedding photos and feedback with us, and getting perspective on how their wedding plans materialised. My favourite part of our everyday is actually seeing the progress of our illustrators. We know that they’re brilliant and that their work will exemplify the specific qualities of the clients’ celebration plans.

Seeing projects develop day-by-day in their unique styles really is the biggest thrill for us; we’re bringing two groups together who would otherwise never have found each other. As one of our recent clients put it, “I feel like you shaped my wedding. Thank you for building the vision that I didn’t have.” When our clients really get what we do and trust us, that’s the sweet spot. Great things can happen.

You had a bit of a relaunch this year, tell us about that…

We rebranded this year after wondering, ‘does the brand we created three years ago still represent what we are and what we want to be?’ We wanted a friendlier angle that resonates with families, rather than limiting ourselves to weddings. Our new direction is definitely bouncier and happier than our old brand suggested, and we’re really happy with it. Part of the rebrand was also to introduce products, prints and cards that people could buy for everyday living. A lot of our friends are having babies this year and it became obvious that creating products for families and kids was the next logical step for us. We want our work to appeal to past clients so that we can enjoy working with them again too. We have some fiercely loyal clients whose lives are moving towards kids and bigger families and we’d like to grow with them, and to be there for them.

What are some of your greatest influences?

Mary Blair is where it all started for me. Helen Rice and Josh Nissenboim of Fuzzco blow us away with their work and their insight. Brad Woodard is so prolific, he must definitely be a secret army of clones but we admire all of him(s) and his/their lovely work and sparkling personality/personalities.

jolly edition

Why do you think creativity is important?

It stretches out those muscles that I need exercised in order to focus. I’m not sure why it’s so important for people to have a creative outlet but regardless of this, it’ll come out somehow. When I was a kid my parents would sit me in front of the TV and I would be so bored that I would use just about anything around me to create hideous, useless things; it’s not all nice drawings. I tried to make a vintage skull cap from a wedge I cut from a football (disaster), I made dollhouses out of shoe boxes, a Christmas tree out of a down-turned tomato cage and construction paper (I’m a little embarrassed to say that last one was only 7 years ago). Creativity is the itch, not the scratch.

Could you tell us about one of your favourite projects?

One of my recent favorites was Lucy and Bryn, they were having this fantastical Welsh woodland wedding in their incredible backyard. Lucy had impeccable taste and a lot of ideas to work with and she trusted me to imagine and to take risks. We’re so proud of the result. I knew Lucy really got what we do so my enthusiasm never wavered, and I could trust her to believe in my ideas. Projects where the client trusts you are always the trophy projects, they’re the ones we’re most proud of and which attract the most attention.

Do you have any business advice for budding creative entrepreneurs?

Have a support system. If Tom and I weren’t working together, neither of us would be doing this. Also lose your ego. Talk with everyone you can and be sure that you’re doing something you love, that you would still be doing if you weren’t being paid. Then be sure you’re getting paid for it

Any news that you’d like to share?

We’re so excited for our new kids products from Natalie Adkins, Ana Petrak and Lydia Nichols. They’re so spectacular, we love them so much and can’t wait to share more news about them on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest this spring. Obviously we’ll be sharing updates on our bright and exciting new website and little blog too. Hop over, have a browse, and let us know if you like what you see.


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Words: Emily Beeson | @boogiemargaret