Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
Gelbron '95 (left) and her Carrot & Stick Press business
partner, Julie Walker.
Susie Gelbron '95
makes custom invitations and announcements using traditional art
of letterpress printing
When Susie Gelbron '95 and her friend and classmate at California
College of Arts and Crafts Julie Walker decided to go into the letterpress
business together in 2000; the only printing press they could afford
to use was the one in the barn behind their thesis adviser's house.
"It was freezing in the winter and broiling in the summer,"
Gelbron recalls. "There were raccoons in the walls. There were
jars of nails in the barn. When the raccoons started to come out
of the woodwork, we threw handfuls of nails at them."
They have come a long way from throwing nails at raccoons. Their
company, Carrot & Stick Press, and their products note
cards, place cards, custom invitations, and announcements
have been featured in high-profile magazines such as InStyle, Lucky,
Martha Stewart Weddings, Bon Appétit and were named "Best
of the Bay" in San Francisco magazine.
The traditional art of letterpress printing, which is often considered
the oldest form of printing, dates back to Johannes Gutenberg's
moveable type printing press. Though Gelbron and Walker begin their
designs on the computer, they switch back to old-fashioned methods
when it comes to the actual printing, cranking out their antique
letterpress by hand. Letters and designs are raised and inked, and
are then pressed into the paper, giving it its characteristic, impressed
The name Carrot & Stick refers to the working relationship
between Walker and Gelbron. "You tempt the horse with a carrot
and hit it with a stick," explains Gelbron. "Julie's style
is, 'We're going to meet at 6 a.m. and work until the project is
finished.' I try to make it fun, so I'll say, 'Well, let's go out
to breakfast first.' I'm the carrot." Moving the horse (their
company) along, that collaborative relationship and ethic has taken
them from a small enterprise of printing Christmas and birth announcements
out of a drafty barn to saving up enough to buy four antique presses
for their studio, based in Oakland, California.
Gelbron, who majored in art history and photography at Princeton,
received her M.F.A. in 1998 from California College of Arts and
Crafts in San Francisco. She says that taking on the role of entrepreneur,
in addition to being an artist, has been a challenge. "That
is something that I've learned on the fly. We did this the old fashioned
way. We never borrowed money," she says. "Now that I'm
getting savvy I realize that operating without debt isn't great
for a business in terms of taxes. That's the kind of stuff we didn't
know, that debt is a write-off. Taking someone out to lunch is a
And as her business grows, Gelbron says another challenge is to
continue to provide the personal attention to detail that motivated
Carrot & Stick in the first place. Gelbron and Walker do all
of the designing themselves. When they meet with clients to go over
personalized orders, such as invitations and announcements, the
partners might offer clients a glass of champagne to toast the occasion.
"People are working with us on important events, be it wedding
or birth a happy, emotionally charged time," Gelbron
says, "and they like the one-on-one."
Letterpress printing is not inexpensive. Basic invitations with
one color start at $10 for an invitation, reply card, envelope,
and outer envelope. But some clients can get very elaborate, Gelbron
says. Her company worked with a client who spent $17,000 on the
paper alone for 150 invitations.
According to Gelbron, more and more stationers are finding the
simple beauty in letterpress printing. What sets Carrot & Stick
apart, she says, is their custom attention. "Most paper or
stationery stores have binders with a lot of different offerings,"
Gelbron explains. "We don't have a binder. Clients come in
and tell us about their wedding and what they are envisioning, and
we create something for them." Everything is made to order,
and Gelbron gets the most satisfaction, she says, knowing that she's
helped create a major part of an occasion, be it a wedding, birth,
birthday party, or even the place cards for a dinner party. When
she sends out an order, "I want the stamps to be straight on
the envelopes, and the bows on the packages to be perfect so that
when the invitations arrive, it's an incredible experience. I really
want it to be a great experience from start to finish."
Kathryn Beaumont '96 is an associate editor at M.I.T. Technology