Cartoules Press creates Greek-inspired designs in sunny Long Beach, CA
Few things resonate more with me than “kafes prota, meta kalimera.” They playful phrase is one of many emblazoned on the designs of Cartoules Press. The design and letterpress studio, founded by Julie Karatzis in 2009, creates delightful stationery, home goods, prints, and so much more. The story goes that Julie and her husband had a hard time finding someone in the states to print high-quality wedding invites in Greek and English. Julie created these for herself and in doing so, discovered a niche for her art! Cartoules Press’ playful phrases draw from all things Greek. The Greek American designer and all around creative has a stunning process: all of Cartoules’ letterpress designs are hand printed by Julie on a century-old Chandler & Price antique press. Julie only prints on the finest papers and the combination of quality, humor, and design have made her a favorite of the Greek American community.
Julie’s work often feels like a dose of sunshine straight from her home in Long Beach, California, or your favorite Greek island. A creative through and through, we love that she preserves the letterpress tradition.
Read on for our interview with Julie to learn so much more about her background, work, and inspiration!
Tell us a bit about your background! Where did you grow up? Were you making art before you started Cartoules?
I’m a letterpress printer, graphic designer, illustrator and hand letterer – the creative and owner behind Cartoules Press. I’m based out of Long Beach, California (Southern California), and live here with my husband and our two young sons. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area (Northern California) to my father who is from Kefalonia and my Greek-American mother, who has roots in Tripoli and Siderokastro.
I’m self-taught in all the things (letterpress, graphic design, illustration), as what I studied has almost nothing with what I’m doing now! I have a BA and Masters in Communications, and worked in Public Relations doing design PR before taking Cartoules Press full time. But as a kid, I always loved to draw and make things using my hands. Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, I dabbled in ceramics, embroidery, scrapbooking, painting, sewing, knitting – you name it! My love of design and stationery started when I was very young. I would collect it and used it to write to my childhood friend in Kefalonia.
I know there’s such a demand for what you do – especially in the Greek American community, and your company began out of your own need for wedding invites! How do you think the community has evolved, and what are people wanting more of these days?
Yes, definitely there was a need for well-designed bilingual invitations and stationery nearly 10 years ago when I started – and I think it’s still relevant today. But a few years back I started creating letterpress art prints, and then more recently expanded my line to carry home good products like mugs, aprons, and tea towels, and also tote bags, tee shirts and stickers. From the prints I created, I realized that Greek Americans really wanted unique items to gift their friends and family with Greek words or imagery that brought a piece of Greece to them in their everyday lives.
I love that you work manually with a letterpress. For me, something about it calls to mind the tradition of Greek women working with looms. Tell us a bit about why you continue to work this way and what you love about the process.
There’s something special about taking an antique piece of machinery and giving it new life with modern techniques and design. For those who don’t know – letterpress a centuries-old printing process. Ink is applied to the surface of a raised image or text area (a polymer letterpress plate – like a stamp). This plate is adhered to our antique printing press using precision and detail to make sure it’s perfectly registered. We print all of our letterpress projects in-house on a century old Chandler & Price. The raised surface is then pressed against paper (which is hand fed into the press) transferring the ink and design, and leaving an impression. It feels and looks gorgeous! Letterpress is generally limited to between one and three solid colors, as each piece of paper is hand-fed and printed one at a time for each color in the design. After each color is applied to the paper, all pieces are trimmed down to their final size.
I often hand sketch a concept first, and design everything on my ipad and computer, and turn them into digital files to make the letterpress plates. I love that what starts off as something hand illustrated, gets processed through a computer, then turned into plates, which are again then hand printed and produced into the final product. Each of my designs exists in many iterations before you see the final product.
What is your favorite product (or top two) to design, and why?
Letterpress prints and mugs I think are my current favorite – because we’re able to enjoy them everyday. I love hanging art on the walls of my house, so if I’m able to bring a little bit of Greece to someone’s home décor then I feel like I’m part of their lives that way. And coffee – well what can I say. As a coffee lover, I’ve amassed a collection of various mugs throughout the years that remind me of a happy feeling or experience. I hope that as you’re enjoying that morning cup (hopefully in silence before the day gets too crazy) whatever is on that mug makes you happy too!
Your designs play off of different elements from Greek + Greek American culture. I LOVE your prints and stickers with the Greek dance costumes, for example. What elements of Greek culture do you hope to share most with the world, and why?
I try to pull from my experiences as a Greek American growing up in a Greek-speaking household. I’ve always loved languages and typography. I think the Greek alphabet is particularly beautiful, so I started playing with hand lettering and writing out words and phrases in Greek, which I then applied to stickers, prints and greeting cards. I think that even if someone can’t read Greek, they can still understand the emotion behind the piece through the illustrations and other elements. I hope that my pieces brighten your day and bring a little taste of Greece into your life.
Where do you seek inspiration for your designs?
As I mentioned I just try to pull from my personal experiences, or things that are important to me. The “Kafes Prwta” print is one of my best sellers, and I think really relatable. Obviously the #coffeefirst movement is huge, so I jumped on that and made it Greek. I love food, especially Greek food, and wanted to find a way to showcase that on my prints and tea towels. I’m working on a line of illustrations of landmarks from Kefalonia, since that’s where my family is from and where we visit every summer. If you’ve been following me on Instagram lately, I’ve been posting more illustrations of things that just remind me of Greece, and Greek traditions. Everything I produce is really personal to me, and I just hope those experiences and memories of Greece resonate with others as well. I look forward to visiting Greece every summer and take as many photos and notes as I can to bring back with me for inspiration!
Do you think it’s important for Greeks to identify with their Hellenism? Why or why not?
I think this question is very personal, and really depends on where the person’s heart lies. My parents made sure that growing up, my sister and I knew what it meant to be Greek by bringing us to church, speaking Greek at home, encouraging us to participate in Greek dance and other programs in our community, and taking us to Greece nearly every summer to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I guess this much involvement could’ve backfired, but somehow this exposure made us really proud to be Greek. As I grew up, I wanted to speak better Greek, and now even as a mother, it’s very important that my children speak Greek as well, and love Greece as their home. Both of my children have been to Greece every summer since they were babies, and even though they’re only 3 and almost 5 years old, they’re excited to go back! Having a personal relationship with my family and friends there, as well as knowing a place in Greece (for me Kefalonia) as well as I do solidifies my connection and roots to Greece. I created Cartoules Press in hopes that it might inspire people to love Greece and its culture as much as I do.