From Law to Letterpress
A Continuing Studies course inspires Violet O’Brien to trade her legal career for creative entrepreneurship
by Adrienne Samuels Gibbs
Attorney Violet O’Brien used to spend her days negotiating deals for big aviation clients. Now? She’s running a successful business designing and selling greeting cards and stationery for nearly 100 stores, including the national retail chain Paper Source, and independent stores in Canada and Japan.
O’Brien’s business, Violet Press, which also operates on Etsy, is a bit of a departure for the attorney-turned-SAIC Continuing Studies student. In fact, if not for an Introduction to Drawing class she took at SAIC, O’Brien might not have returned to her love of drawing which, in turn, led her to letterpress. And letterpress quite literally changed her life.
Using vintage equipment is one of the perks of her new life. O’Brien, who moved from Chicago to Colorado once her new business took off two years ago, gets excited about the process of translating her drawings to polymer plates and printing them.
“It kind of spiraled out of control,” she says. O’Brien’s drawing class at SAIC with teacher Michael Barlow reminded the then-overworked attorney of her creative side. She had always drawn in high school and college but left it by the wayside to pursue other interests, such as negotiating commercial finance deals. As she coaxed her drawing muscles back to life, she spent Tuesday nights in downtown Chicago, pushing her talent and making new friends in a decidedly less stressful environment than a bank legal department. Some days have been rough, but the investment is paying off, she says.
She started making stationery as a hobby and selling it at street fairs and online. But requests for wedding invites began pouring in. She needed a bigger space and moved into a popular artists’ loft in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood—a place sturdy enough to hold a nearly one-ton printing press—and continued her work.
“I kept working as an attorney during the day and printing at night, which led to very little sleep,” says O’Brien, chuckling. “I came to a point where I thought ‘one of these has to go,’ and I decided I’m going for the one I really love.”