The universe of Fernwood Drive  - It's a happy place!

The universe of Fernwood Drive - It's a happy place!

Posted by Carolyn Mendle-Smith on 20th Jun 2018

We love selling wares from local artists and makers at FLAX. Many of our locally made products are created using materials also found in our stores. It’s fascinating to see this full circle effect. We recently sat down with one such artist Jake Savas, owner and creator of Fernwood Drive, to talk about his line of greeting cards, his favorite materials, and all things printmaking. We started by asking where the name Fernwood Drive comes from?

JS: Fernwood Drive is where I send my cards to. It’s where my mom lives. The house that I grew up in was on Fernwood Drive. This sense of what should I name a business that’s about greeting cards, [Fernwood Drive] makes a lot of sense to me. It plays into the whole message of that nostalgic, loving feeling. And I think when you read Fernwood Drive it inspires an address and you think greeting card, and you start to think of sending something. It just sounds like a nice place to me too. The whole universe that I’ve created lives on Fernwood Drive. It’s a happy place!

FLAX began carrying Fernwood Drive’s greeting cards in March of 2018. We attribute much of the success of this line of cards to the fact that they are hand carved and printed one at a time, giving them a wonderful tactile feel. These are the type of cards you want to frame and put up in your home. Jake got started in printmaking after taking a Printmaking 1 class at SF State. Though he was an Environmental Science major at the time, something clicked when he got his hands on a linoleum block and after a few printmaking classes he was hooked. We asked Jake if his process has changed much over the past 8 years that he’s been printmaking.

JS: When I first started, I just knew how to do one cut. Everything I did was just outlines because I treated it like drawing. I didn’t realize that when you’re printing, the larger areas of black or color are just as important as the part you’re taking away. I’ve since tried to show the noise that happens in printing. There’s this beautiful background texture you get in block prints that you can try to eliminate and keep clean, but I like that noise. It adds texture and a different element.

That noise is part of what makes Fernwood Drive's cards so appealing. No two are exactly alike. In a world where so many things are automated, it’s nice to see that evidence of hand crafted objects.

JS: That’s what really matters in print - trying to make these perfect, consistent things, but then also trying to put personality into them. That’s why I really like block printing.

Jake has been a loyal FLAX customer for years, so of course we wanted to talk to him about the materials he uses in his craft. He carves wood when he can get his hands on it, particularly Japanese shina wood and cherry wood, but for most of his printmaking nothing beats a block of Golden Cut Speedball Linoleum. It sits in the happy medium of being neither too crumbly or too dense to carve into. When it comes to paper, for Jake, it’s all about durability. His cards are designed to go through the mail.

JS: For the cards, I have to use rag paper. I’d love to use Japanese papers that are so beautiful, but they’re going through USPS, they have to be durable. I’ve tried to mail postcards that were BFK, and it was incredible to see chunks of them fall and rip off because the paper was so soft. You have to choose a paper that is tactile enough and strong enough.

Jake currently uses the Strathmore Printmaking Cards for his greeting cards. They are available in packs with envelopes, and leave a nice embossement when printed. But the real draw for these cards is that they come in a very specific size of 5x7, which is larger than the average greeting card.

JS: When you’re making a block print, details are very difficult. Even half an inch bigger on each side is a much easier area to carve and get good detail. And, getting a big card is more fun! There’s something about getting a big card that looks like a piece of art - you could frame one of my cards because they are prints. They’re real pieces of art!

In a world so over-saturated with machine made things, when we see something real and we can tell it’s handmade, it speaks to a deeply creative part of ourselves. That’s the beauty of block printing. You can feel that slight embossement on the paper. You can see the evidence of the block in the unique noise the comes from each print. This is something we know our customers appreciate in the unique greeting cards found in our stores. We were curious to know what it is about greeting cards specifically that appeals to Jake.

JS: The availability of greeting cards is why I went for them. I would have loved to be a printer who just showed in galleries, but it quickly became obvious that that’s not my future. I’m not going to have these large shows where I have my prints showing, but I'd Iike to get them out in the world. The best way to do that seemed to be greeting cards. On top of that, greeting cards are such a fun piece of nostalgia. Send a card to someone you love, and it really makes their day. There’s nothing that makes me happier than getting a card from somebody I know. In the same way keep print alive, let’s keep mail alive! And so, greeting cards were an obvious choice. 

Fernwood Drive’s cards mostly feature charming animals portrayed with human characteristics and mannerisms along with universal messages of love. Rather than stating specifically who the card is intended for, the cards could work equally well for a grandmother, a friend, or a lover. They speak to you on a very personal level. Finding that perfect card is about your reaction to the words and images on the card in relation to the people in your life.

JS: A lot of people ask me why I don’t have birthday, merry Christmas, or happy Hanukkah cards - it’s because I want to try to make cards that speak to you personally and make you feel good about yourself. The only real theme is that I want them to be about love. Loving somebody in some way or another. To sit down and write a card and send it off it takes a lot. That’s a labor of love. People don’t do that regularly anymore. I want the cards to reflect that. These are honest, true to the heart cards. They are all supposed to bring out a genuine emotion of joy in somebody.

The animals featured in the cards hark back to the other interest in Jake’s life, Environmental Science. While watching an animal documentary on Planet Earth, Jake will press pause and sketch out the funny expressions and things the animals are doing on the screen.

JS: They do things that are so human at a basic level. They show caring or compassion that is so pure. It’s easier to capture those emotions through an animal than through a person or a landscape. Plus, they have fun pun material!

Once the sketch is complete, it will be transferred right onto a linoleum block. Jake draws almost exclusively on newsprint. Because it’s so soft, when you use a super soft pencil like a 6B or soft Blackwing pencil, the graphite image can easily be transferred directly onto linoleum by placing it face down on the surface and rubbing the back.

JS: I use materials that make my life easier. When you mess up with newsprint, you can just tear it out and it’s no big deal. And, it’s great to print on, it soaks up ink really well without bleeding, it lays flat, it’s pretty incredible. I think newsprint is probably my favorite tool, I use so much of it!

JS: I buy the majority of my supplies at FLAX... [Gamblin Inks] Phthalo Blue is my favorite color. I use it exclusively, with a little treatment to make it darker. It’s the only color I use. With print, you have to simplify. You can choose one color with two blocks, or two colors with three blocks. Instead of having this line of cards that was all black, which doesn’t read fun to me, I have this line of cards that’s darker blue that reads almost like a black. You can read all the details that you would see in a black ink, but its not as assaulting. The messages are love, they’re supposed to be calming. The blue is a calculated choice.

Along with the greeting cards, we are excited to carry a new line of enamel pins from Fernwood Drive featuring printmaker tools of the trade! For artists, the pins can almost be worn as a badge of honor. You feel like you’re part of a club when you put one on. They are tools that artists use constantly, yet are not the first tools that come to mind when you think "art supplies". Along with the paint roller, pencil sharpener, tape measure and compass, Jake hinted that there are more pins to come. So keep an eye out for them next to our registers!

While Jake would eventually like to expand his business to include a store front with a back space for classes, along with a custom letterpress printing business, for now, he is focusing on expanding his current lines so that people can find what they are looking for. Look forward to hand stamped Fernwood Drive totes in the future, and way down the line… an instructional stamp making book!

We asked Jake if there is any advice he would give to those who would like to start making greeting cards of their own?

JS: My advice would be, start small. Try making a stamp, with either a potato print or a styrofoam print. Don’t jump into cutting wood, getting splinters, and cutting yourself when the blade slips. Those are the things that take somebody’s passion for print away. The first time you do it, you don’t think about how it will look backwards. You don’t even think you can ruin things by carving too deep. You’re not planning on all the little things, so start somewhere really easy. I say, start with some Speedball Easy Cut Blocks and get yourself an exacto knife. Draw something out. That’s all you need to start. Feel it out. If you like it, then keep doing it. If you don’t like it, keep doing it, you’ll get better at it.

If you’d like to get first hand advice from Jake, he will be teaching his very first Stamp Carving Class at our Fort Mason store location this Saturday June 23rd! Jake will be going over the basics of designing and creating rubber stamps. By the end of the class, attendees will have the knowledge and the tools to continue making their own rubber stamps at home! 

CLICK HERE to learn more and register for the class.