It is likely that in a box, in the basement, under the stairs, underneath another box, is a piece of mail that changed my life forever.
In this box, in the basement, under the stairs, underneath another box, is a pile of illustrations, photos and mail that I collected, and coveted, while working at my first ‘real’ job out of school. I worked for a company called SBG and we designed super big, commercial packaging and branding programs for companies like Starbucks, Nestle, Aquafresh, Nestle and Nestle! Did I mention Nestle?
Anyway, back in the day (in the late 90’s) we used to get bombarded with direct mail from illustrators and photographers who thought we had the ability to hire them for potential jobs. Being that we worked for companies like, say… Nestle, we usually weren’t able to do anything too creative, awesome or otherwise – so it was rare that we got to hire a new, fantastic illustrator for a project. But that didn’t stop the mail from coming. Every day, envelopes and postcards arrived at my desk, and it was great. For someone like me, who loves mail so much, this was a real treat!
One day, the most amazing thing happened. Amidst a pile of glossy postcards with mediocre illustrations, there was a smallish, flat glassine bag with my name on it, sewn shut with red thread. You could sort of see through the glassine material, enough to see that there was a stack of postcards with beautiful images on them, but I can’t tell you what was on the postcards because I never opened the envelope!
At this point in my life, glassine only meant one thing to me: cookie or candy bags. In fact, I learned about glassine bags thanks to my very dear friend DB, who redesigned See’s candy packaging for a class in school. She introduced me to this beautiful, milky white, semi-translucent material that was great for packaging because the wax coating on it ensured that cookies or candies wouldn’t stain it with oil, like they would a paper bag, for example.
Anyway, this glassine bag/envelope sewn shut with red thread was pretty much the most amazing thing I had seriously ever received. It was SO different from everything else. It was a quiet powerful. It was intriguing and engaging. And I couldn’t bring myself to open it. I didn’t want to disrupt the beauty of the package. I put the glassine bag on my wall and stared at it. Every day.
Lucky for the woman who sent me the bag, she was smart enough to put her name on the outside of the envelope! In all caps trade gothic (a font) she wrote her name; Leigh Wells. Who was this woman of mystery? Who was this woman of mystery who had sent me the first piece of eye-opening, thought-provoking mail I ever received?
As it turns out, Leigh Wells was an incredible illustrator. She didn’t know me, so she never knew that I pitched her illustrations to my bosses for every single project I worked on! She didn’t know that her little mail affected me that much, and that I spent months and months designing around her artwork, so that I could HOPEFULLY reciprocate the awesomeness of her mail, and hire her to do a job for me.
Cut to December 2010. Sitting at my computer, designing some fabulous wedding invitation or something – likely being sent out in some sort of bag, sewn shut with thread (hypothetically speaking) and I get an email from one of my favorite interior design stores in San Francisco. Notice anything amazing?
What? An opening for Leigh Wells? What? On Polk Street? Around the corner from where I lived for the last 10 years (before moving last year)? W H A T ? Within 90 seconds I had a babysitter lined up, and had explained to Brad that I would be MIA on December 2nd, and that he should freeze all my bank accounts for 24 hours surrounding the opening!!
I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but I was a little anxious. I was going to meet this woman who truly changed my life forever; changed my career path, affected me with her beautiful design and pictures and made me want to send mail that engaged my clients as much as hers inspired me. I showed up to the opening and saw a trio of people congratulating a lovely blonde woman – who I assumed to be Leigh. I couldn’t contain myself, and walked over to interrupt the conversation and profess my undying love to her, and her piece of mail from 1999!
Turns out, Leigh’s studio was all of 1.5 blocks from my where I used to live. Turns out, too, that she’s as lovely in person as she was in my mind! And even better than that, she told me what she was up to (still mailing out beautiful pieces every now and again) and how her art has evolved over the last 10+ years. Her work is stunningly beautiful – both her commercial design/illustrations as well as her more fine art pieces. I enjoyed seeing her work, meeting her, and totally dorking out on being her biggest fan.
Have any of you ever received a piece of mail that inspired you, or affected you positively? I’d love to hear about it!
Alright, this blog post must conclude – because I am feeling inspired just talking about my little glassine bag mail and feel a new invitation concept coming on! Thank you Leigh Wells… thank you. Some of Leigh’s work is below, but you can also check out her blog
for a complete showcase of the pieces I saw last week (and her other more recent work).
*All art published with Leigh Wells’ permisson