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Studio Visit + Interview with PapaLlama

Risa Culbertson is the creator and owner of PapaLlama, a letterpress card company; PapaLlama cards are handmade and are truly unique in terms of their witty card messages. Kehau and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Risa and where her hilarious cards are created. We were able to ask her questions and find out more about herself and her company. 

Logan Evans: When did you start PapaLlama?
Risa Culbertson: I started PapaLlama about 2 ½ years ago. The first two years of that time was spent printing from my kitchen on a little table top press.

LE: How long had you been printing before you started this company?
RC: I made my first print a few months prior to starting the company. It was all really new to me and I was just having fun. My background is in business so I actually really enjoy all of the details associated with creating a business.

LE: What made you want to start a letterpress card company?
RC: I feel that printmaking found me. I have always made things, but mostly related to sewing and fiber arts. I was inspired to make a card for a friend who excessively used “awesome sauce”. At the time I was working at a shop called Nest. The owners got a kick out of them and told me to put some out. Then they sold out, so I made more, then would sell out again. I added a few more designs and the same thing would happen. They thought I was on to something so they put me in touch with their sales rep who took my line. It got to a point where every surface of my apartment was constantly covered in cards, and needed to learn of a better way of doing this. I wanted to maintain a handmade look, show off the imperfections of linoleum, and still have them made here.  I bought an 1,800lb. press from 1910 that was totally beat up and missing parts. Why not, right? Then I started taking some printmaking classes at the San Francisco Center for the Book in Potrero (since I should learn about how to use the press I just hauled). They were so essential, not only exposing me to the world of letterpress, but the people and community I met through them. 

LE: How do you make your designs before carving them? Do you design them on the computer or do you draw them? 
RC: They all start with a freehand drawing, which then is transferred to a linoleum block, and then carved out. I rarely use the computer to design, unless I’m converting a design into a polymer plate (which I haven’t done very often).

LE: On average, how long does it usually take you to hand carve the design you are printing?
RC: It depends. I can get a lot of them done in about a half hour, the more detailed ones with a lot of wording can take an hour or so.

LE: Which cards of yours are your favorite?
RC: Hmm… They all have an individual story so it’s hard for me to pick one that I like more than another. I think my favorites are the ones that get the most reactions from people.  I love being in my shop and seeing one person getting a kick out of the, “I’m sorry you’re not a Californian” card or another shocked by the, “Congratulations on your 2nd Marriage” card, it makes me really happy. For good or bad, I like the interaction that happens between the reader and my cards.


LE: We saw you are in the process of creating wrapping paper now as well, what inspired you to expand from your stationery line? 
RC: I entertain myself pretty easily and thought it would be funny to have a birthday present wrapped in paper full of middle fingers. I don’t know why. I just do. Calendars, larger prints, and other fun stuff are in the works, in proper PapaLlama manner of course.

LE: Do you do any other types of art in your free time?
RC: Since the shop’s opening I’ve been confronted with how to nurture one’s creative side when your day job IS your creative side. I’ve been trying to balance that and have been feeling super creative lately. I’m currently in to sewing little dolls with three eyes and the sorts and sending them to friends.

LE: We also learned that you do a letter writing workshop, could you tell us more about that?
RC: Yes! Every Tuesday from 5-6 p.m. we have Letter Writing Tuesdays, where you come in, I give you what you need to write a letter and all you have to do is sit and write. I’ll even drop it at the post office for you. No strings attached. In our world of text message and email communication, we just want to dedicate a little bit of time every week to unplug and reconnect.

Thanks so much for showing us your space Risa, we had a great time! To find out more about Risa and her cards, you can visit her Instagram and her Facebook page. We carry her cards in both of our store locations so come check them out! 

- Logan

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