By Tracy Murrin and Quyn Duong, November 2015
Don't you wish we could all spend half a year in Italy studying what we love and come back knowing exactly what we want to do the rest of our lives? Yeah, well, in the meantime we'll be living vicariously through Alex Labriola, a triple threat graphic designer, illustrator, and printmaker, who did exactly that. So naturally when creating her newest venture, Al Stampa - a boutique letterpress service specialized in custom branding plus wedding and event invitations, Alex attributed the name to her time spent in Italy, and having Italian family roots doesn't hurt either. Al stampa means to print. This simple phrase represents where she's been and where she's going. We visited Alex at the design studio in her Park Slope apartment where we were greeted by her sweet feline Lou. Read through to learn about her challenges and how she gets out a creative rut - tips we could always use!
What lead you to printmaking?
I enrolled in art classes outside of regular school hours when I was in 7th grade and continued with the same teacher until I went off to college. She taught me everything about who I am as an artist and helped me put together a portfolio for college. I was drawing live models in sad clown outfits at the age of 15 and was inspired every second I was in her house drawing.
On one occasion I arrived and she had just purchased a new press for intaglio printmaking, which involves a copper plate that is etched with tools and/or acid baths, inked up and rolled through the press with a sheet of paper to create an image. I was immediately enthralled and enticed by this medium because I loved the loss of control as you mark up a plate, and wait to see how it comes out on the other side. I went on to college at Skidmore to study it alongside painting, moved to Italy for six months and studied it some more, and finally did my senior show making 3 - 18" x 24" etchings of portraits of women who had inspired me throughout my college years: my sister, my friend Betsy, and my host mother from Italy, Laura.
I learned letterpress about seven years ago when I took a course at The Arm and have not stopped since! I hope to buy a press in a few years when we settle into a house outside of the city, but until then I love working at The Arm with the printmaking community that it has built.
What do you struggle with in your career?
I'd say the hardest part is balance. Being able to showcase your brand and your aesthetic through client work that may not be your style. It’s a challenge and a great one at that, but it is important to keep the work in line with the brand I’m building, while also producing different and exciting work with each piece.
How do you get out of a creative rut?
My creative ruts usually have more to do with the pressure I put on myself. I have two solutions when I'm in a rut or in my own head too much. I either need to take a walk to get fresh air and my blood flowing, or I need to just push through by doing something completely separate from my project. If I just forget about it and exercise my brain with something else, I can get back into the rhythm of problem solving and trying new techniques.
What brightens your day no matter what is going on?
I'd have to say my home, my husband, and kitty. A phone call from my family always does the trick. I am surrounded by such positive people at this stage of my life. I get most of my happiness from those relationships and bouncing ideas and struggles off of them. There’s also nothing like sitting down with a good book; It’s a great way to devote some time to myself.
What does your most productive day look like? I have a full time job, so I focus my Al Stampa efforts on being productive either before or after work. My favorite days are weekend because I can devote all of my time to an Al Stampa project. I usually roll out of bed as early as I can without waking my husband up and start with a cup of coffee. My kitty follows me around the apartment when I get up. It's my favorite alone time with her. The day is full of music, a lot of sketching and scanning my work, and taking a walk in the park midday with my husband to get away from the computer.
If you were to create a mood board that described your style and what inspires you - what would be on it?
My board would consist of a lot of spaces, which tend to inspire me the most. Interior rooms that combine antique embellishments in contemporary ways: large windows, antique molding, tall ceilings. Old movies, photography with movement, dancers twirling making watercolor-like streaks across the photo. I love the colors of the Grand Canyon and Scotland in the colder months.. the cool blues and deep greens and terra cottas. I would have lots of illustration - there are so many wonderful illustrators out there that make my heart skip a beat like Oliver Jeffers, Catia Chien, Josh Cochran, Blanca Gomez, etc.
Do you have any role models for your work?
Martha Armitage inspires me with the type of work she produces, how she produces it, and everything about her home, her studio, and her life history. I love people who stick to techniques that produce beautiful work, even if it’s not the easiest or most time effective medium. If I could get one afternoon with her and work in her shop, I would be a happy camper.
Walk us through your process when you meet a new client for the first time.
The initial pre-design steps are actually my favorite. I usually ask my clients to start a secret board with me on Pinterest and tell them to start pinning anything that they feel symbolizes styles they like, color palettes they gravitate to, or anything that tells me more about the couple and the event they are planning. A lot of people think their wedding doesn't have a "theme" per say but when I have them pin things that call out to their special day, it becomes evident that there is a theme in terms of style, aesthetic, color and the feeling they want to invoke - classic, romantic, sophisticated, modern etc. That shows me so much more about the couple and the event than anything we initially chat about.
Once we sort out certain details, including the quoting process, I can begin the design process in earnest. I usually give my clients a few designs in the first round, before making a few adjustments and settling on a final design.
What's next for Al Stampa?
I am gearing up for a new year full of new wedding clients. I eventually want to offer stock wedding suites on my website so that I can leave people feeling like they are still getting a special service but at a lower price point. I also want to collaborate with more small businesses to help enhance their product or service with letterpress or other branding needs.