Cocktails with Calluna: Stationery 101 w/ Knapp Design Co!


Friday, February 16

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Happy Friday! We’re so excited to welcome you back to another installment of Cocktails with Calluna! This blog series highlights some of the brilliant creatives in the industry that we get the immense pleasure of working with! This month – we caught up with Cara Jo Knapp, the owner and creative director of Knapp Design Co.

Tell us a little more about yourself and your business? 

I’ve been an artist since I was allowed to hold a crayon. I grew up in Michigan, and I don’t think I spent much time outside of the art room in school, so obsessed with art, that I went to university for fine arts. I started my career as an artist in an un-glamorous way… as a web designer for a newspaper. In a huge plot twist – that actually inspired me to do what I’m doing today. I went on a tour of the newspaper printing press, and that’s when I fell in love with paper and printing as a job. Sure, I’d done some printmaking here and there in school, but seeing massive printing presses turning digital images into tangible items was life-changing. It just took me 15 years to finally decide to pursue stationery. I remember going to a letterpress studio in Detroit in 2007 and saying, “I’m going to do this one day. I’m going to own a printing press and make beautifully textured prints.” 15 years later, here we are!

After being in web development for 15 years and working with literal dev-bros, I started doing calligraphy on the side, and that led to me creating my own wedding invitations. Something clicked when I made those invitations. It was like my love for design, typography, drawing, painting, and tactile design all came together in one little package.

I do think that my 15 years in web development has helped me in my business because I have a pretty hefty background in digital marketing, web development, e-commerce, user experience, and analytics. I think I use a lot of my user experience design background when designing invites because I try to make sure that everything from the invitation to the day of experience is cohesive and clear for the guests. I like to minimize pain points for guests and try to answer their questions before they have them. Sure, they’re pretty, but they’re also quite functional!

What is your favorite part of stationery design? 

For me, it’s the problem-solving. How will we make a booklet that has a wood cover, unfolds to 14 inches, but can still go in the mail? That kind of problem-solving gives me life. Figuring out a way to incorporate leather and silk ribbon to make things both masculine and feminine without it clashing is always a fun challenge.

I love that every project is new and has a different design direction. I never get bored when it comes to creating for my clients because each is genuinely different, and that’s so exciting for me. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for a client, and I have to get my phone out and type it into my notes. I’m obsessed with each of my clients in a totally normal, healthy way.

If I HAD to pick a favorite thing, it would be combining non-paper with paper. Velvet/leather/wood – but with paper. Finding a way to make them work together like they are intentionally connected, not just because it’s “trendy.”

What trends are you seeing right now that you love? 

The most significant trend I’m paying attention to is the intentionality people are starting to have with their weddings. The people they invite and the experiences they create for them. It’s no longer about having everyone under the sun at the wedding and impressing them; it’s more about how important each person is to the couple and that their presence on this important day is intentional.

Also, a lot of color and unique shapes, which I’m here for. I love color, and it’s even more fun when it’s in a neat shape!

Where do you get inspiration?

Honestly, my clients. A lot of designers try to stay on trend or fit into a box that’s perfectly Instagrammable, but my true inspiration is my clients. Their story, their lives together, and their favorite things (no matter how silly) are the things that inspire me the most. Sometimes I’ll talk to a client, and then I’ll be going for a walk and stop and say something like, “don’t these trees make you think of Emily and Ari?” or I’ll be in a store and see a textile or accessory that reminds me of a client. Recently, I created an invitation for a client, and I made custom bolo ties that held their ribbon in place; it was perfect because they had bolo ties at each place setting for the guests. A great way to “tie” it all together.


How far in advance do you recommend sending out save the dates?

I’m not going to give you a specific formula that’s going to be a one-and-done answer. I think it truly depends on your situation. I have clients send them out 1.5 years in advance, all the way to 6 months in advance. My starting point is that if your wedding is considered a “destination wedding,” meaning more than 50% are traveling, give your guests about 10-12 months of notice. This is especially helpful if you have a significant portion of guests who are international so they can plan for passports and visas. Even more important if your wedding IS international! I know way too many people who have paid for expedited passport renewals!

If you’re having a “local” wedding, most people travel by car, give them about 8-10 months. This gives them time to make hotel arrangements or any other plans they might need.

A lot of these timelines depend on your hotel blocks, and sometimes, you don’t know that information in a timely manner. It’s okay to send out a save the date when you’re ready and not have to rush it or answer a ton of questions from all your guests.

How far in advance do you recommend sending out invitations? 

Again, loaded question! This really does depend on the RSVP date. I know a lot of people tell you “6-8 weeks or 8-10 weeks,” but really, it’s all about that RSVP date. If your RSVP date is 2 months before your wedding, sending your invites out 10 weeks before isn’t going to do much.

I always like to work backward from that RSVP date and ensure you and all your vendors have enough time to plan. Give your guests about 3-4 weeks to RSVP if they’re doing it by mail and 2-3 if they’re doing it online. Account for about 1-2 weeks for mailing the invites to your guests and about 1-2 weeks for them to “process” them.

You don’t want to send them too soon; sadly, they might forget about it. I know I’m personally guilty of this. I once got a wedding invitation 8 months in advance, and I honestly did not know what to do with that!

A good rule of thumb is about 6-8 weeks before your RSVP date. Working with your planner to decide on that is crucial. I, as an invitation designer, might not know everything that’s going into the decisions of your other vendors, so I like to coordinate with the planner on this timeline, instead of giving you a cookie-cutter answer.

What’s your best advice for couples when starting the stationery design process? How do you help them narrow down their vision?

A few things! Knowing what you don’t like and why. This is so important to me, and I will always ask my clients to send me things they don’t like. It makes the design process so much easier for me because I know what to avoid.

How do you want your guests to feel when they open your invitations? Are they going to a fancy gala? Or are they going to a cowboy-themed weekend? Do they need to pack cocktail dress or beach clothes? Are they going to be immersed in a weekend, or are they just showing up for a day and then leaving?

A big one is understanding that stationery design is extremely hands-on. We do everything in-house, letterpress printing, foil printing, embossing, mounting velvet/leather/wood to things, die cutting, and all those super fancy things you see… we do all of that in our studio. Which takes time, and costs money, and we have a lot of very specialized equipment, a lot of which is not cheap or easy to find.

Unpopular opinion: assembling your invites yourself won’t actually save you time. We have a lot of tools and tricks and have assembled tens of thousands of invitations and can do it faster than you think. When you assemble yourself, we can’t ensure the quality of each invite and that they have the correct pieces in them.

What’s the best advice you’d tell your younger self? 

Sometimes, the tone of an email is not how they actually speak in real life.

Make time for your friends no matter what; work can wait.

If your mother asks you to hang out – hang out with her.

If your husband asks to go on a walk – go on the walk.

Mountain Dew is not a form of hydration.

Don’t ever let anyone make you feel ‘less than’ for being an artist.


Give us a glimpse into life outside of work?

I’m obsessed with three things—my husband, Keith, and my two cats, Biscuit and Peter. I enjoy knitting, and sometimes I make beaded earrings. I have a photography degree, so I enjoy getting outside (not as much as I used to) and taking photographs. I love taking close-up photos of small details that go unnoticed by people or interesting textures and how light makes them change. I have an insane vintage camera collection that, if you ever come over, I will talk your ear off about.

I’m a HUGE sap when it comes to movies and will always cry and clap whenever someone on-screen gets engaged or kisses for the first time, even if I’ve seen the movie 100 times (I’m looking at you, Love Actually).

I love Taylor Swift and EDM and will dance my face off to either at any time.

What is your favorite cocktail or what are you drinking tonight?! 

My favorite drink is the Aviation cocktail but with Woody Creek’s purple gin and Golden Moon’s Crème de violette. It’s so purple and so pretty. I love looking at it, and also drinking it!

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