Lighthearted & Letterpressed : Mariko Iwata

Photographs by Jon Michael Moses Video by Below The Park

Miks Letterpress+ is a Washington D.C. based design studio specializing in letterpress greeting cards, custom stationery, business cards and wedding invitations. Owner and creator Mariko once had a customer describe her cards as being somewhat offensive—which is true. Though she readily admits some may be gushingly sentimental, Mariko finds creativity in balancing—from her point of view—the not-so-different worlds of humor and romance.


What is it about letterpress in particular that fascinates you?

I’m fascinated by how letterpress can take something so simple and add a luxurious quality to it. It’s a subtle touch that I think enhances the experience of holding a piece of stationery. When I print I love looking at each one and see what the impression looks like up close. That said, it’s not incredibly time efficient to do that, so I try to restrain myself. Most times I catch myself doing it and I have to tell myself to stop.


What does your typical day look like?

I’m a morning person, so I’m up typically around 7am. There are so many moving pieces to running a small business, that I find that each day is so different from the other. I try to spend at least two days a week printing and spend the other days at a small store front within the Bethesda Farm Women’s Market in Maryland. I have an indoor space there to sell my stationery as well as other handmade goods from other artists. Even with this schedule it’s hard for me to describe a typical day. I could be working on new designs, following up with leads, sourcing packaging for products or catching up with all the glamorous aspects of running a business like paperwork and accounting.


What inspires your work as a creative?

I’m inspired by everything around me, which I know can sound cheesy, but it’s true. To be more specific I get inspired by how life can be portrayed in a tv show I watch, a podcast I listen to or a conversation I have with an old friend. I think life can be funny and the different ways we experience or want to experience something inspires me.

How do you come up with ideas and designs for your products?

I always have my ears open and jot things down all the time. After I’ve gathered a number of ideas, I go through what I’ve written and choose the phrases and designs I think work the best on a card. There are certain occasions like sympathy or get well cards that don’t come to me as frequently as other happier occasions. For those I take time out to brainstorm ideas.

I get inspired by how life can be portrayed in a tv show I watch, a podcast I listen to or a conversation I have with an old friend. I think life can be funny and the different ways we experience or want to experience something inspires me.


Did you grow up in a creative household?

I did. My mother and grandmother taught Japanese flower arranging (ikebana), so there were always flowers and students around making arrangements. My grandmother also taught Japanese tea ceremony (chado). Learning the tea ceremony taught me to appreciate repetitive acts (i.e. making tea) that at first may seem ordinary or mundane, but looked at more closely, celebrate the uniqueness of each moment. This last sentiment resonates with me when I print.

What are you currently listening to?

Aside from the radio and the top 40 hits (yes, that’s me), I have a number of podcasts I listen to, to relax. Right now I’m really into all the gimlet media shows (reply all, mystery show, startup).

How do you find balance in your life/work/combination of both?

Running a small business can be incredibly time consuming. I try to compartmentalize my day and not have too much overlap between work and life. It’s hard though, when you have a long list of to do’s in your mind. I don’t know that I’ve found a balance between life and work, but I try to turn off certain evenings and relax a bit.

Any advice for readers wanting to start their own creative business?

If you’re thinking of staring your own creative business, my advice would be to do something. Even if it’s small, just start to get the ball rolling. You never know until you try.


What is your intention when you create?

My intention is to provide a personal experience when someone holds one of my cards. The blind impression in my work adds a subtle touch that a person can only see if they are up close. I want them to feel special because they can see the somewhat hidden message on the card.

Future plans?

Yes, so many. Cards, cards and more cards. Also, more generally paper paper and more paper (I’ll be expanding my custom offerings).

Thank you Mariko for this interview and studio tour. To learn more about Miks Letterpress +, visit their website or visit the studio.