The founding vision for Paper & Tea, when we first developed the brand back in 2011, was to present discerning customers a curated modern revival of two staples of refinement: select leaf teas and artisanally printed paper goods. To establish the label, P & T focused mainly on tea and tea accessories while limiting the paper aspect to a selection of existing products. A decade later, having successfully grown to sixteen retail stores across Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the time had finally come to delve into the production of a signature print line. Founder Jens de Gruyter chose from his personal archive several collections of vintage art reproductions to feature for the launch phase. My challenge was now to elevate these works through the medium of press and paper by leveraging artisanal techniques and modern technologies that showcase the venerable craft of high-fidelity lithography.
Twelve Kimonos
Original Artwork
The first collection was a series of twelve Japanese kimono woodblock prints from the early Showa Era (1926–1930). The inks applied in the originals included a vibrant red, opaque white and metallic gold, none of which would be reproducible with standard four-color printing. Initially, I wanted to eliminate the four-color process and re-interpret the works in match colors, as might have been done in mid-century bookplate printing. The decision was made to remain faithful to the original color however, so I devised a strategy involving two press passes, the first on a 6-color UV offset press laying down opaque white and CMYK inks, the second on a conventional 4-color offset press adding a match red, either of two metallics and a neutral pastel. The neutral ink replaced the background tone of the originals to impart a cleaner look. Meticulous color masking was needed to create the added ink separations, initially done by our pre-press experts which I then refined painstakingly by hand. The result was a vibrancy unachievable through standard four-color printing. Printed on Fedrigoni Old Mill 190 g/sm paper, this was a boxed set worthy of a premium price point.
8-color Lithographs
Full Set > Click for larger view
Collections Product Range
These first two collections would be reproduced in a product range that included B6 folded cards, 6.5 x 9.5cm note cards with matching envelopes and 24 x 34cm posters. We would also produce 4-color screenprinted 50 x 68cm posters in a limited edition.
Screenprint Separations
Jakuchū Gafu
Original Artwork
The second collection is a curated selection of circular floral woodblock prints of the Japanese artist Itō Jakuchū taken from the Jakuchū gafu (Album of Jakuchū) and reproduced in the Meiji era of the 1890s. A common approach to high-fidelity printing was employed here as with the Twelve Kimonos, using common inks and paper in order to print them both on the same press run.
6-color Lithographs
Full Set > Click for larger view
Press Test
Our press strategy being somewhat experimental, a full 10-color press test was conducted to identify any unforseen problems or opportunities for improvement. The artwork was reproduced at sizes from small posters to notecards. Among other things, the test run confirmed that the metallic inks perform better on uncoated paper when first underprinted on the UV press with solid black ink.
Paper and Presentation Boxes
Each twelve-card boxed set would be packaged along with custom envelopes in a special presentation box fabricated from 600g/sm Gmund Les Naturals, a French-milled paperboard pulped from recovered paper fibers. The cover features a single ink-brush motif embossed in black matt foil. In keeping with our dedication to local industry, all of the premium stock specified for the paper line would be sourced from the century-old Gmund paper mill in Tegernsee, Germany. All papers are FSC certified and bleach-free.
With the core business of tea in mind, a special edition stapled box would be produced from 600 g/sm Gmund Bio-Cycle Chlorophyll, a paperboard pulped from reclaimed leaf fibers. This uniquely environmental paper is milled at the Gmund mill in Tegersee, Germany.
Earnst Heackel Collection
Monochrome Quadtones
A third collection presents three original ink renderings from the prolific zoological illustrator Earnst Haeckel. These monochrome works are characterized by deep blacks and subtle greys washes. To achieve the highest tonal fidelity, we chose to reproduce these as quadtones comprised of four inks: a match black, a blue shade, a light grey and a very light neutral pastel. The blue shade would reinterpret the works by adding a noticeable tonal hue. The pastel would replace the aged paper tone that we removed in pre-press. This allowed us to reproduce very light tone without any halftone screen, giving the highest impression of continuous tone artwork.
Further Explorations
The Paper & Tea print line will encompass a full range of offerings: expressions (cards), posters, journals and notebooks, planners and organizers, gifting, stationery and writing accessories and a small publishing label. We mapped out the categories and began explorations to establish the qualities that will tie them to the brand and distinguish them in an already crowded market. Exceptional production values and artisanal methods were a central value, but a pronounced orientation to the curatorial lifestyle, to tea culture, 20th-century publishing and the visual arts would also be bedrock anchors for the creative inspiration of the P & T in-house studio.
Following a decade of steady but modest growth, Paper & Tea has entered into a period of rapid expansion in Europe. For now, the focus has shifted back to new store openings and the core business of tea, once again sidelining development of the bespoke paper line. With the foundations laid and key partners recruited, the hope is to soon resume work with the added resources of a larger enterprise.