The BIG Show

It is like Christmas, summer vacation and your birthday all rolled into one!  Yup, in a matter of mere hours the 2015 National Stationery Show in NYC will open.  We are attending in support of our amazing printer and we are pumped.  For stationery.  Uh huh.

Sure, it sounds mundane but ask yourself . . . where would we be without stationery?  How could the thoughts and words of science and literature have been captured without stationery? There is an old phrase, a verbal agreement is not worth the paper it is written on.  So yes, stationery is pretty important stuff.

Looking back, we can thank the ancient Egyptians for discovering how to use papyrus to create a surface that is more portable and permanent than clay tablets.  A winning technology, by all counts.  Fast forward a few thousand years and the Chinese put together the perfect mix of plant fibre and water to create paper.  And credit for the real kick-starter to writing technology goes to our hero Johannes Gutenberg for his printing press.  Pretty essential stuff.

But really, a trade show . . . for stationery products?  Aren’t we headed for the paperless world?  Ask the 10,000 expected attendees to this year’s show.  The event has been running in New York City for 69 years and in 2015 over 800 exhibitors are registered.  Stationery is a product that has proven its value and kept fresh with innovation even in the face of the electronic world of communication.

We are a bit spoiled and love to have choices. Not a problem.  Letterpress, embossing, engraving, and thermographic printing are just some of the stationery techniques used today.  Paper itself offers even more choices in terms of content and functionality.  Dream your wildest dreams and there is probably an equally worthy and exciting stationery product to record them on.

Mothers, BIG and small

You can run but you can’t hide from the second Sunday in May. Marketing and social pressure are locked and focused on MOTHER. Acknowledging mothers is a no-brainer and yet there is something about Mother’s Day that makes many of us squirm. Before my mom passed, I dreaded the task of finding a Mother’s Day card.  My mom did not fit the greeting card mold yet she could easily tick off many of the boxes under the demanding job description for “Mother”.

Of course, now we live in a world of choices. Some women opt out of the motherhood role. Other woman have the choice made for them. So when I think about mothers, I think about “Big M” Mothers and “small m” mothers.

Big M mothers are biological. We all started with one but beyond the moment of birth, our experiences expand uniquely in all directions. The influence, protection and love that traditionally flows from a Mother can also come from many “small m” mothers.

We expect a lot from Mothers:  produce the baby and through physical, emotional and spiritual sacrifice, nurture us to the point where we are capable of standing upright in our community.  Thankfully, Mothers are not expected to shoulder the responsibility alone.The woman who taught us to say “please” or held our hand as we first picked up a pencil could have been another woman who nurtured our upbringing.

Take some time to reach out to the teachers, neighbours, coaches, and other woman that have also contributed to your mothering. Personally written words of appreciation are a beautiful gift, any time, not just on Mother’s Day.

Yes, Mother, I can see you are flawed.  You have not hidden it.  That is your greatest gift to me. Alice Walker

Photo: Robert Flaherty. Portrait of Mother and Child, Ungava Peninsula, 1910-12.
Gelatin silver print. Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa

Font-astic, Darling!

We may not have sprung from Downton Abbey stock but still have aspirations. Personal stationery is the perfect communication device to signal your style standards.

Having settled the question of paper we move next to world of fonts or typeface. Are you a free flowing script personality or a no fuss/no muss sans serif dude or do you have classical leanings and find comfort under a serif font? The choices can be daunting but there is fun in the search for the font that captures your personality and aspirations.

Fonts are efficient communication devices.Think of classic Roman columns incised with letters that clearly communicate authority and permanence: ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME. It is no coincidence that the Trajan font is named after a Roman emperor.

Typeface, or font families, are inventions arising from the Gutenberg press. Before Gutenberg, all printed material was hand inscribed.  560 years later we enjoy exciting variety and yet each font strives for readability and visual appeal. The font is the element of personal stationery that works stealthily to portray the right impression while moving the rhythm of the reader’s eye comfortably.

Many fonts have fascinating stories behind them that may influence your choice. Simon Garfield in his book “Just My Type” delves into the lore and magic of typography and serves up entertaining history.  There is fun in selecting a font that is “you”.  Try taking the online quiz at The font you select for your personal stationery is a fingerprint of your unique style and potential.

Save a tree, write on cotton!

OK, so I am a paper snob.  I do judge words harshly if they are written on, gasp, recycled paper.  No warm glow comes from running my pen across a page made from “de-inked post consumer wood pulp”.  There, I said it.    Good paper is one of life’s small luxuries.

Basically, paper is composed of fibres that are broken down, treated, pressed and  dried in various weights.  Wood, rags or grasses are the most common fibres used.  Fine paper is typically made from varying mixtures of recycled (a ha!) cotton fibre, usually gathered from garment industry discards.  How responsible!  The higher the cotton content, the longer the paper can be expected to last.

A natural place to start when commissioning custom stationery is with paper options.  This is the very foundation for your future written words so you want to make a choice that supports your personality and coordinates perfectly with your favourite type of writing instrument.   Always try samples of paper before making a choice.  You may be surprised to find that the finish and weight of your paper is more important than colour.

Since custom stationery is often letterpressed, fine paper is the obvious choice. Since the concept of custom stationery is traditional in nature, you will likely find that trendy colours are not that appealing and instead debate the benefits between ecru and pearl white.

Making a choice of paper weight, colour, format, font and ink colour curates aspects of your personality into a fertile ground for your thoughts.   Enjoy the fun of working through the choices and the pleasure of using your custom stationery.

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth

Going Organic

What’s it gonna be: fast food or home made?  We get to make a lot of choices about how we live.  We eat from local gardens , we wear ethically manufactured clothes and drive in cars leaving tiny carbon footprints.  We make thoughtful choices about so many aspects of our lives.  We search for ways to live as close to nature as possible without discarding our amazing modern advantages.  Our lives are a balancing act.

Our communications habits flow from choices too.  Going organic means forgoing mere images of communications.  Sending someone an email or text is not too different from serving a dinner guest a photo of a plate filled with food.  Bon appetite?  Maybe not. Let your words “bite” into paper rich with the flavour of your thoughts.  Hmmm

Written communication is a sensual organic process.  It’s about content, origin and derived from living matter. Organic communication is best served on custom personal stationery: the foundation of the art of written communication.  Custom stationery is also about choices. 

An expert stationer can guide you through the fascinating details that build a suite of stationery.  The end result of your choices will represent you perfectly with pure simplicity.

Your words will not only better represent you but enhance the relationship with the person you are writing to.

In the next few posts we will explore the meanings behind the choices you make when commissioning your custom stationery.

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” Maya Angelou

Dear Me!

I’ve tried jogging through the park, long showers and even ironing to unlock my creativity but the solution I seek continues to evade me.

So now I am using a particular tool to extract all the creative juices at my disposal.  With fountain pen in hand I am writing myself a letter.  Dear me

The process of writing a letter to yourself is definitely a journey of discovery.  Like many journeys there is an element of risk  but the results can be exhilarating.  This letter is for your eyes only so take the plunge and be candid.   Your letter might reveal a forgotten talent or the answer to a long buried question.

A “Dear me” letter can provide that essential pivot in perspective.  Spin the clock ahead and write from the future to yourself now.  What do you need to say?  What do you need to hear?

The experience can be like looking through a kaleidoscope.  Something unpredictable happens when you twist the cylinder: the bits of glass and beads move from a chaotic scramble to crystal clear perfection.  Try writing a letter to yourself and see if it moves you from a frustrating problem to an “a ha” solution.

With loving regards,


Writing is not just a process of creation.  It is also a process of self discovery. Cristina Istrati

Your words on steroids!

Are your letters missing that “je ne sais quoi” that words alone are not able to deliver?  You too can write letters that will entertain and delight the recipient and be treasured forever.  What is the secret to a podium worthy  effort?  Enhance your letter writing performance with a totally legal substance called “illumination”.

If your thoughts turn to images of gold encrusted vellum scrolls or rare volumes chained to a library bench you are on the right track.  Back in the day when the written word was a precious resource, enhancing pages with lavish application of paint and art amped up the value to lofty heights.  Art and the written word, united.  This ancient technique has stood the test of time.

The practice of decorating written correspondence continues even now. Literary collections in the Smithsonian and other  archives  exhibit an exciting array of illustrated letters by the famous and infamous: Marcel Proust, Yves Saint-Laurent and Jack Kerouac all added  some spice to their letters. Not all embellishments are drawings or sketches. Some writers give us bars of music, scientific equations or drawn maps. Even multiple choice questions and puzzles can intensify the content. All these extras give the reader a look into the mind and mood of the writer

These supplements amplify the value of a hand written letter to an even more intense level. If you are lost for words, perhaps a doodle can fill the gap between your mind and the point of your pen.  So inject an additive to the next letter you send and have fun.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein

Let’s have some fun!

What better way to while away the dreary days of  a long winter than to create!  Of course you can always catch up on your written correspondence but we have a fun challenge for you.

Refinemark is looking for creative inspirations for the next Special Edition note card.  Here is your chance to share themes that reflect your passions or answer a stationery need.  So focus your creative forces and share your ideas with us.

Is it bow-ties, bonsai, or belugas?  Perhaps tap dance, fly fishing or tea?

If you also share your mailing address, we will send you one of our currently offered Special Edition cards.

Submissions close on 31 March 2015.

SEND by email or traditional mail (2168 Meadow Vale Drive, Victoria BC V9B 6J2).  Please include your mailing address to ensure you receive one of our cards.

 “I spend a lot of time upside down. It increases the blood flow to the brain, so it really helps your CREATIVITY.” – Daphne Guinness

Keeping it Real

Communication has never been so immediate and the potential for exchange of information so vast. The benefits are unassailable.  Yet there is a cost. We live in a noisy world and the tsunami of information has pushed us into a defensive mode.  We ignore the phone and delete emails without reading them.  Our choices are telling . We search for what is real.

Authenticity trumps speed and convenience every time.  What makes for authentic communication?  What is the best way to share our thoughts?

Without a doubt, hand written communication matters.  It always has and always will.  Our historical narrative  relies  on writers of letters and journals.

What record will be left from our “advanced” era?  How many of us are using programs and operating systems from ten years ago?  Is anyone going to be able to read the letter saved on a jump drive  in twenty years time?

To leave a genuine record, a legacy of our lives, we need to write.  That is authenticity.  Our accounts, written by hand, are real.  They may be rife with errors but they are real.  Consider the faded and tattered letter from a soldier to his beloved, written in a far off land under inhuman conditions.  This is an authentic record of that soldier’s experience.  It may not give an overview of the war but it will allow us to drill down into the experience of one man at one point in time.  That is authenticity.

The technology behind handwritten communication is basic: pen, ink, and paper.  Primitive and yet  these elements have the power to convert your thoughts into a visual and tactile reality.   Give some thought to the choices of those elements.  Enjoyment comes for holding just the right pen loaded with the perfect colour of ink onto a quality card or paper.   Time slows down and the end result is an unquestionably genuine a contribution to your own historical narrative. Your message, when received, contributes joyfully to the social order we rely on.

Tomorrow is “Send a Card to a Friend” day…the perfect opportunity to connect with authenticity.


Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.

Coco Chanel

Pink Ink

There is nothing like love to fire up the inner poet in us all.  When “under the influence” of this powerful force, finding the perfect way to proclaim your love is a must.  Poetry is impressive and tricky however all of us has the potential to write the perfect love letter.

Whether you are confessing a new love or reiterating long lived devotion, a hand written letter is the perfect way to put your love into action.  It fits every budget and results in a unique and priceless gift your beloved can touch, cherish and save as part of your history together.

How do you get started?  Get straight to the matter at hand and state your purpose.  Ambivalence is not very romantic.  Next recall a time you shared, perhaps a special dinner or the moment when you knew THIS IS IT. Memories are important.  Humour is helpful but always avoid sarcasm.

What do you love about this person?  Has your live changed because of your love?  This note is only for the two of you so be genuine.  There is no “grade” for this assignment.

Almost done!  Now, state your love again. Like a song, the refrain drives your message home in a way that can be rhythmical or poetic.

Now for the presentation . . .   Your intimate message deserves to be served up in an appealing way.  No matter how unpracticed it is this note must be written in your own hand.  Your final copy should be written on the best paper available or inside an exquisite card, remember your beloved will hold the letter in their hands and want to preserve it.  Pink ink?  Maybe.  That is a finishing touch for you to determine.

Too cheesy, you say?  Of course it is!  Love is one of those powerful forces that can’t be bound by standards of cool.  Love by its nature is crazy and messy.  Love is hot.

More than kisses, letters mingle souls. – John Donne