Designer Talks: Ma & Grandy

A series of interviews with the designers and makers behind the brands featured and coveted at COMPENDIUM DESIGN STORE.
 
Natala Stuetz of Ma & Grandy
— Brisbane, Australia —
Words by James Peachey.
 
Freshly minted boutique brand Ma & Grandy (Natala) produces a range of charming cards, prints and homewares from her house in Brisbane, Australia. On the eve of the launch of her latest range featuring glorious hand rendered gold foil typography next to her signature vibrant yet vintage colour palette, Natala spoke with us about starting out, doing what you love and balancing creative pursuits with the need for business nous. 
 
So tell me about yourself and your work?
Sure, I have been doing this for over a year now. I started last March (2013) and probably spent two years on the logo, which is terrible! (laughs).  My background is graphic design, went to uni, which was fun and dabbled in children's fashion for a couple of years with a company in Brisbane. Then did all the corporate stuff, where you know, you work with the same colour and the same font everyday.
 
Bit of rearranging rather than design?
Yeah, absolutely. I have always wanted to do something with my own style and I guess for two years I was sort of working out what that was. It all started when I visited my family down in Canberra. Before Grandy passed away last year, I went there for a holiday and was sorting through all of his photos. I came across this beautiful image of him with Ma, my grandmother, and I knew I had to do something with it. I'm a bit of a sentimental person.
 
Is that the one with your logo on top of it on your website?
Yeah, that's it. In the original photograph you can see their faces, but I don't like to use their faces in the branding side of things. He's got a cigarette in his mouth, his arm is linked with hers and she has her mouth open in shock. I found out that he apparently just realised he had lost his entire months wage - his pay packet - and he was checking if it was in his pocket, and it wasn't there, so she's like 'WHAT !' and at that moment they took the photo. Grandy said to me, 'We first met at a local church hall dance, she had spent all day making a dress for the night, and proceeded to be late. Her hair was still wet and she rocks up at this hall and I saw her from across the way, and I thought that was the girl for me’. (laughs) It was really cute, so it was just a beautiful story and I'm a total romantic at heart.
 
 
Do the words on your prints and cards relate back to Ma and Grandy? How do you come up with them?
I think a lot of it refers to films I have seen from way back when. I was brought up on The Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, Thoroughly Modern Millie and I think it’s the style of language in those films that I love.
 
That's really cool!
I guess with my friends, I have said ' how art thou?' instead of 'how are you?' or 'you wonderful thing you' but yeah, I think I just love musicals and love old movies. They always come out with pretty cool lines. So that's probably where I get my inspiration from.
 
Well the cards look amazing, i really like them..
Oh thank you..
 
Do you hand draw them, scan them in, play with them and then make them into cards..?
Yes that's it.. I have a big sketchbook and love sharpie pens way too much, so I just draw. Sometimes it will come straight away and I won't have to manipulate it on screen too much. Everything is hand drawn and then I scan them in and play with the colours and fix the placement if I need.
 

A sample of Natala's amazing card range.
 
I saw you are doing stuff with the 'Big Hearted Business ' that Clare Bowditch does in Melbourne. How have you found the journey of the love of graphic design, your brand with and then turning it into a business. How have you adjusted to that?
That's a good question, I haven't!
 
I have heard people say..  I love drawing and I love doing this or I love doing that, but at the end of the day it needs to be a business..
That's exactly right.. I say to myself, 'Oh I actually have to make something out of this.' I have found more often than not that I'm spending 80% of my time doing admin jobs, which have nothing to do with design and that's the nature of the business, it's not all going to be about creating and designing. It’s a hard one, I'm not a money person at all. I find it really hard to look at a product and say ‘okay is it going to be profitable or not?’…Instead, I start off by saying, ‘would I buy it?’ and then ask a few other people if they would buy it. Along the way it's been a bit hard because I'm not naturally gifted in the clerical business side of things. That's why I think 'oh someone else can do that'. I’ve found delegating is the best thing that's worked for me, knowing that if I spend two days trying to figure out something - I'm better off paying an expert to figure it out for me. That’s a better use of my time in order to tackle the bigger things that I feel are important for my business, like the designing, the marketing and where I want to see the brand go. Big hearted business was great for that, Clare Bowditch really understands the right brain of the artist in terms of – we're not typically business savvy – but we just do it for the love of it and hope we make some money from it. They challenged me to be smarter in terms of focusing on one product and doing it really well, and not trying to produce 10 different products and be average at all of them.
 
 
What's the most challenging part of making the business side and the creative side work?
ooooo... umm the most challenging...?
 
This interview?
(Laughs) Yes! That's right, I've never done this before so I'm really sorry. That's a hard one, It's almost like the feeling you get when you know.. Nobody is telling you to do this or that. It's all your motivation; you can let the ball drop at any time because it's your business. Whereas, if you were in another company and you had somebody telling you what to do every day, you wouldn't be dropping the ball. So I guess it's that motivation - how are you going to improve and make a living from this. Making strategic steps towards where you want to be in a year’s time. I think it's in my nature to go along, create and have fun doing it and slowly build the business. But if I'm not looking at it strategically in the next year.. That's the challenge for me - thinking long term, how do I want Ma and Grandy to look and how big I want it to go.
 
 
Have you defined that success goal?
Have I defined it? Well it's funny, some days success to me is someone sending me an email to say how much they really appreciated my instagram post because it made them happy. That's success for me because I'm not just doing it for the sake of doing it, I'm bringing joy to somebody. I guess it's the little things for me, but they also don’t entirely define success either. It's just a little side note. I don't know. (laughs)
 
I get what you mean, were you at Finders Keepers markets recently?
Yeah, I was, a couple of weeks ago.
 
How was that?
It was really great. It was fantastic being in a room full of designers and hearing their stories and about how they started. Some of them weren't doing it full-time to begin with, so it was encouraging to meet other designers who have been in the industry much longer than I have.
 
 
A collaboration with 'Each To Own'. 
 
What would be a tip you'd give to someone that's wanting to start out their own little thing?
Find your style, your passion and stick to it.
 
Just do your own thing?
Yeah do your own thing, and I think for me it was a combination of Ma and Grandy’s story, my love of colour, hand drawn typography and somehow that all worked together. Find that sweet spot and stick to it. Also, don't be afraid to share your ideas and get help from other people because I could never do it on my own.
 
Do you work out of home?
Yeah, I have a studio at home and I work as a freelance designer as well. I work for a creative agency a couple of days a week and then a few other corporate clients. It's a nice balance. Previous to starting Ma and Grandy I had been doing full time work for 10 years. It doesn't give you enough time to do the things you need to do - in order to start your business and be sane at the same time.
 
Natala spoke with James in July, 2014.
 
View the Ma & Grandy range here.
Follow Natala on Instagram here.