The saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” By the time Katie Rotio began planning for her wedding, she was enjoying success as a custom wedding stationery designer for her business Katherine Elizabeth Events.
Katie’s wedding was set to take place in Massachusetts in November – not an ideal situation for a bride-to-be who desires local fresh flowers to decorate for her special day. Instead of giving up on her floral fantasies, Katie took matters into her own hands, literally, and taught herself the art of making paper flowers. She spent night after night making roses and calla lilies to create her entire wedding décor – one bridal bouquet, eight bridesmaids bouquets, 21 boutonnieres, and over 171 single flowers for the centerpieces! Needless to say, her guests were stunned by the whole presentation.
It didn’t take long for Katie’s paper flowers to earn a bevy of admirers. Inspired and encouraged, she decided to sell them at Katherine Elizabeth Events for more brides to enjoy.
Bride & Blossom’s foundation was built on an entrepreneurial spirit guided by women. For this reason, we are excited to announce our new blog series Women Paving the Aisle, which recognizes other women in the wedding industry who are raising the bar through their leadership and innovation. First up is Katie, and we couldn’t wait to talk to her and learn more about her experience as a designer, artist, and entrepreneur.
Can you tell us about your background? When did your interest in paper as a form of creative expression begin?
I’ve always been a creative person and an avid do-it-yourself-er. My mother is an artist and raised my sister and me on creative activities; from drawing and painting on vacation, to inventing, to making our own Halloween costumes and Christmas cards; we were always working with our hands and the right side of our brains. When my cousin was getting married 7 years ago, I offered to try to do her wedding invitations; I thought it would help with the budget, but I also was eager to try my hand at something so challenging and fancy. Plus, she wanted something unique, and that was hard to find without breaking the bank in 2010.
You wear many hats and started out as a stationery designer. How did you know that taking the leap from making invitations for friends and family on the side to becoming a full-time stationery designer was the right thing for you?
After that first invitation suite, I was hooked. A few more friends asked me to help them, and over time I found I was building a decent portfolio. Those same friends were constantly urging me to start an Etsy shop, and after enough cajoling I finally went for it. Etsy made it easy to start, with almost no up-front cost, so I built my shop in a weekend and kept working my full-time job. It wasn’t until I moved across the country and had trouble finding the right full-time job that I started considering making this a real business instead of a side hustle. I took the first step by quitting my 50 hr/week job and taking a position managing a paper store for 20 hr/ week, and a year later I had grown the business enough to fully work for myself.
We love the bespoke philosophy behind Katherine Elizabeth Events. On your website, you say, “We’ll start from scratch and create a theme for your event stationery that speaks to who you are and what you want your day to be.” Can you describe the process of working with a couple to design their invitation suite while expressing their personality, style, and loving bond?
I start with a simple questionnaire; I ask for the couple’s favorite activities together, their lifestyle, and how they met. Then I get the details on their wedding: Why they chose their venue, how they want their wedding to feel, colors and décor inspiration, and I ask them to share a Pinterest board if they have one. From there, I go to work on three “First Looks”, which are essentially three (usually very different) first drafts. I ask the couple to give me feedback on what they like and don’t like from each one and we start to hone in on their unique design. For custom designs, I always offer unlimited edits, because I think when people are limited in the number of changes they can request it puts them under a lot of unneeded pressure. Some people just don’t have an instinct for design, and they need to see something to believe it’s not going to look good, even if I tell them that’s what I think. Once the graphic elements of the suite are approved, I provide three physical proofs with three different versions of packaging, and encourage the couple to “mix and match” to create their finished product. That’s my favorite part!
Most recently you added paper artist to your resume and opened up a second part to your business where you make beautiful flower bouquets and arrangements out of paper. The idea stems from your actual experience making all the floral décor for your wedding. We can’t even imagine the time and work the project required of you! Can you tell us about those six months you spent making flower after flower? What did you learn? How did you know this was something you wanted to share with others?
Phew. Yeah, it was a lot. I think about it now, and I look at my wedding bouquet on my dresser, and I sort of wish I had the experience I have now when I did my own wedding. (Although I wouldn’t be doing this if I hadn’t started with that massive feat!) It used to take me about 10 minutes per rose, and I’d sit down next to my fiancé every night on the couch and curl and glue until I met my nightly goal. It was a lot, but the fact that it was for my own wedding kept me going. I started with my own bouquet, but then after making 500 roses for the rest of the wedding I was much more skilled so I actually redid my bouquet with my newfound techniques. Our wedding guests’ reactions are the real reason I thought I might be able to sell them. Our caterer came up to me on the dance floor and told me people wanted to take the flowers home, and it made me so happy!
Wedding flowers are one of the most personal and important decisions a couple makes for their wedding. Do you offer them any advice in terms of style, color, and mood? How does it feel knowing that your art carries such symbolic meaning to two people who are about to start their lives together?
Most of my advice centers around color. What’s so cool about paper flowers is that we’re not limited to what is naturally or seasonally grown. If you want a navy-blue peony in October, we can do that! But with unlimited options also comes a lot of decision making, and I find myself suggesting complementary color combinations more than anything. I like to use a few “rare” or “unnatural” colors mixed with enough realistic lifelike colors that the bouquet looks both real and unique.
The best part about paper flowers is that they last forever, which is my favorite part. I have had so many clients send me photos of their wedding bouquets in a vase in their living room, or on their bedside table, and it warms my heart to know they get to look at them every day and think of the best day of their lives.
We love seeing new types of paper flowers pop up on your Instagram! It’s amazing how life-like they are and how you capture all of those small nuances. Can you tell us a bit about your process of adding new paper blooms to your repertoire?
I start by looking at lots of photographs, and sometimes visiting the florist and buying live blooms if I’m stuck on the flower structure. Then I try to breakdown how the flower grows and blooms in nature and I design the petals to mimic the natural construction. I use Adobe Illustrator to create and tweak the shapes and then I import them into the Silhouette software, which is my cutting tool. The last step is to make sure the design is as efficient as it can be, which is the most important part in keeping my business successful. I can’t produce flowers that take 30 minutes to make and charge a realistic price for a bouquet full of them, so we’re always tweaking the designs to be both as realistic and efficient as possible.
What are some of your favorite ways to incorporate paper flowers into wedding décor outside of bouquets, boutonnieres and centerpieces?
Put them everywhere! Haha, no. I love the idea of using them as a part of a gift or favor for your wedding party or guests. The beauty of paper bridesmaid bouquets, for example, is that they last forever. You can pair them with a vase and your girls can take them home. If they live far away you can offer to ship them (they’re lightweight, so super cheap to ship!). We’ve also done oversize flowers which can be used as a backdrop or we also love them hung as a sort of art piece from the ceiling, over the dance floor or cocktail hour space.
You also make paper flower replicas of bouquets that can be cherished as a wedding keepsake for years to come. Can you describe the process behind making these stunning works of art?
The first guy who ordered one of these gets all the credit. It was NOT my idea, it was a real life, living, breathing, husband (with a very lucky wife!). How awesome is that?? He wanted to give his wife a replica of her bridal bouquet for their first (paper) anniversary. BRILLIANT. So, I’ve run with it, and it’s become a huge part of my business. I basically just ask for photos (everyone has high def photos from their wedding photographer which makes it easy!) and then I match it as best I can. It’s super fun and challenging and such a beautiful surprise for these lucky ladies who get one.
Your talent as a paper flower artist has not gone unnoticed. Earlier this year, you made paper roses that were used in display for Tory Burch’s new fragrance Love Relentlessly at Macy’s in Herald Square! Can you tell us a little more about this project?
This was so fun (and a bit crazy!) Estee Lauder found me on Google and asked for about 2,000 roses for 2 displays for the Love Relentlessly launch at Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s in New York City. I was beyond excited to get this contract, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it was an insane amount of work as they wanted it installed in 2 weeks. We lost a little sleep, but I got goosebumps walking into the Fragrance floor at Herald Square and seeing our work on display. #worthit.
Can you tell us about the third iteration of your stationery and paper flower business @paperflowerkit?
In 2018 we’ll be launching our sister company Paper Flower Kit (www.paperflowerkit.com), which will offer complete kits for making paper flowers and full bouquets at home. The website will feature an ordering process that feels like a grownup coloring book, where you can choose the colors for each flower in your bouquet as if you’re filling in a page of a coloring book. With more than 80 colors to choose from for every flower, the possibilities are endless and we encourage our customers to let their creativity blossom. Once you’ve designed your bouquet, we’ll ship a box with the pre-cut petals in the colors you’ve chosen, along with our signature thick green stems and access to video tutorials for each flower and bouquet assembly. We can’t wait to see what our customers will create!
If you could collaborate with any person or brand, who would it be?
Thinking ahead, I’d love to work with someone like Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co. to create Paper Flower Kit products that coordinate with her beautiful work and color scope. I’ve always been an admirer of her artwork, and she’s a constant inspiration to me as a business owner.
What do you do to stay creatively inspired?
I find inspiration everywhere, but honestly the most important thing for me is to be able to step away from the “work” and take breaks here and there for R&R and to explore the world and other art forms (dance, painting, sculpture) so that I can come back newly refreshed and reinvigorated. It’s easy to burn out as a business owner who is making money from her art. It sounds like a dream come true, which it is most of the time, but it’s also hard, intense work. It’s important to take breaks so it stays fun and the inspiration keeps coming.
Do you have any advice for our aspiring artist-entrepreneur readers?
See above! Also, don’t wait to start a business until the time is “right”. Find a weekend and build a simple website and order some business cards. Start telling people this is “what you do.” Don’t downplay it as a hobby or something you’re “trying” to do. Just do it and be proud that you’re putting yourself out there, even if it takes a while to get moving. Bring cards with you everywhere you go and take photos of all of your work so you have something for people to look at. If you start the word of mouth, it will eventually spread.