Inkwell Modern Handmade Boutique & Letterpress Studio

I'm kicking off a new monthly blog series featuring local businesses I love and support! These businesses are members of I Love Local HFX, a group of independent businesses that are committed to supporting and strengthening our community here in Halifax. These local business owners offer products and services that make our city a vibrant place to shop, eat and live. One of my favorite shops in downtown Halifax is Inkwell Boutique! This shop is full of everything a creative soul will appreciate: beautiful handmade paper goods, custom printed textiles, design and lifestyle magazines and unique gifts. Most of these items are made locally! It's the perfect place to pick up a special card (just in time for Valentine's Day!) or a quirky gift to surprise a friend.

I met up with Andrea Rahal to learn about Inkwell and how she came to own a local creative business. We discovered we have a lot in common having both studied graphic design, printmaking and photography. I was curious to learn more about her decision to stay in Halifax and her experience running a business here. We decided to team up for a photo shoot!

Andrea and her partner Daniel generously invited me into the shop for special behind the scenes look at their printing presses. I can't think of a better way to spend a rainy afternoon... we chatted about design and business while Andrea and Daniel printed some Thank You cards that they sell in the shop. It's been a while since I've printed anything the "old fashioned" way and it was great to see the press in action!

Andrea is originally from St. John's, Newfoundland. Her formative years were spent in Calgary Alberta, with a short stint in Denver, Colorado in-between those locations. She has lived in Halifax for over half her life where she completed high school and attended art school. Andrea has a BFA in photography and a BDes in graphic design from NSCAD.

"I've loved letterpress for as long as I can remember and finally got a chance to learn it during the summer of 2009, in an intensive 3-week long credit course at NSCAD. I’ve had a long time love of paper goods, in particular, items that are letterpress and screenprinted. This love was enhanced by those paper goods I saw through various travels along with the posts on design blogs I follow."

"I had a vision of wanting to sell my own work and support other artists at the same time. Owning a handmade shop was a dream I had for down the road, but it happened earlier than planned as I learned more about business. Upon returning to Halifax after a vacation to South Korea to visit family (along with multiple stationery shops), I began developing a business plan for Inkwell!"

"The downtown business community of Halifax really welcomed Inkwell with open arms, as did the early Inkwell adopters! Inkwell won gold for Best New Store by readers of The Coast's Best of Survey after being open less than 6 months! The location is off the beaten path but we have a very loyal customer base. Inkwell is one of a handful of independent businesses that belong to the I Love Local HFX group. We collaborate on several local events throughout the year – in particular two large ones – Open City in Spring and City Harvest in Autumn."

"Currently the letterpress studio has 3 presses used for both work created for the Inkwell Press product line (sold in the shop), as well as custom printed work. Each print is pulled one at a time on one of our hand cranked presses."

"Letterpress is a form of relief printing that began back in the 15th century. Traditionally hand-set wood or metal type was composed backwards, one letter at a time and then locked up tightly in a form called a chase, which was then inserted into the press. The raised surface was inked and then pressed into paper creating a debossed impression."

"Most of the work we do in studio uses modern techniques that allow us to design on the computer, output it to a polymer plate and still print on the antique machinery in the traditional way."

I loved exploring Inkwell Boutique and hearing the stories behind all the little details that make a space so personal... the tiny little felted cats that match their pets at home, the Japanese beckoning cat figurines that wish you good luck in life and in business and the small pieces of wooden type sitting behind the counter. My favorite is the letter-pressed quote "The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea." I think anyone running an independent business here in the Maritimes understands this one!

Thank you to Andrea and Daniel for sharing Inkwell's story! Pop by the shop at 1658 Market Street, say hello to Andrea and check out some local artwork!