brittney braemer + suzy king

Brittney Braemer and Suzy King opened Handzy Shop + Studio in July of 2016. Their space functions as a retail shop and design studio—all in one tiny space on Pike Street in Covington, KY. In the shop, you'll find a thoughtful collection of greeting cards, paper goods, stationery, local art, ceramics, jewelry, gifts, and gift wrap—all created by local or independent designers, makers, and artists. In their studio, tucked in the back of the shop, they do branding, graphic design, and custom wedding stationery.

Brittney and Suzy met on their first day of their sophomore year at University of Cincinnati’s DAAP Program; they both previously went to private art schools for their first year and then transferred. They hit it off because they had similar backgrounds; and then they were put into a group project together and clicked immediately and have been friends ever since.  They had a lot of people tell them the usual adages: “don’t go into business with your best friend” and “it’ll ruin your friendship”. They thought about it and figured, “nah, we’re good!”. And here we are.

Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?

Brittney: About nine months.

F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?

Brittney: All we knew was: shop in the front, studio in the back. We knew we wouldn’t be able to afford a shop associate and so we had to be able to run the shop and work in the studio at the same time. We didn’t have a layout in mind and we rearrange a lot. We are still figuring out what works best and we hold a lot of events in here, so things move around for those as well. We finally just got these drawers [for under our desk], which was HUGE because we basically live here. The desk for a while was just covered with personal crap.

Suzy: We also just have a lot of supplies. We used to have a lot more stuff up here, but we finally began to utilize our basement storage and so that cleared up a lot of the junk up here.

Brittney: Also, I think a lot of times people assume graphic designers just use their computer and that’s it. But we do a lot by hand and use a lot of materials: we do hand lettering, and use a lot of watercolors, we do all print work. That requires a lot of supplies. We aren’t just “pixel-pushin’”.

F-D: Has the location of the studio influenced your output in any way? Or have you been working on any local collaborations?

Brittney: We had a tiny little Covington map that we made for Renaissance Covington over the winter holiday. And again, we carry a lot of local makers, designers, and artists. A lot of Cincinnati stuff. I think we just try to stay true to our vision and when we shop for the shop we ask: is this Handzy? Can you find this anywhere else. .  . or not very many other places?

Suzy: [We ask if] it's upbeat?

Brittney: Yea, that’s kind of one of our markers, I think.

F-D: Yea, that was kind of my follow up question: ‘what is Handzy’? What’s the shop aesthetic versus the design brand aesthetic.

Brittney: I think we have a clean design style, but that is fun. Pops of color. No faux vintage. . . sunny, colorful, happy, clean.

Suzy: We also like a lot of funny or witty stuff. We have a lot of comical cards.

Brittney: We don’t really have anything that is inappropriate either. I mean, we love the occasional curse word. But we try to be a classy and fun place. You know what I mean?. . . I think my favorite thing is when people come in and say “this place is so cute!” It’s my favorite thing to hear.

Suzy: We strive for cute.

Brittney: Yea. We strive for cute!

F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself in the studio and shop?

Brittney: We come in and for whatever reason we don’t really talk for the first half hour. We usually both have things that we need to get done. And then somehow we always come back together and kind of figure out the day.

Suzy: We are good about separating home from work. And so we don’t start working until we are physically here.

F-D: What time do you usually arrive?

Suzy: Between 9 and 10 in the winter, because it’s cold and grey and awful.

Brittney: But as soon as the sun starts coming up [earlier], we’ll come in around 8. We also have a trainer now, so that’s getting us up earlier. So after we figure out what we are going to do with the day, we split up tasks. I’ll usually take our Instagram shot for the day first thing.

Suzy: I’ll usually answer emails while she is doing that.

Brittney: And then we dive in. We don’t really chat a lot.

Suzy: We also naturally kind of divide our tasks based on it being a print or digital piece. I tend to do most of the digital stuff, outside of any watercolor or anything. Brittney tends to work on print work.

Brittney: We close at 6, but we alternate who closes so that both of us don’t have to stay until 6 everyday.

Suzy: And we’ll get up and move stuff around, and play for a minute when we need a break.

Brittney: Yea, a lot of people seem to be under the impression that we just play and do fun stuff all day. But I mean, we work hard, all day. Everyday pretty much. I won’t lie to them, this is a hard job. We do client work all day; and we have to. The client work pays us, the shop doesn’t. The shop pays for any new stuff or small investments we may make. But it's would never be enough. But I think that we are getting to a point where we can hire someone this year. So that’s exciting.

F-D: How would you describe Handzy’s subject matter, aesthetic, or stylistic preferences?

Brittney: We do have a very simple and clean design. But we listen to our clients and their customers and we design what is appropriate for them. In regard to our stationary design; [we use] a lot of fun and color, and a lot of clean white. A lot of watercolor-- Suzy does all of our watercolor. It’s usually her watercolors paired with my lettering. She’ll usually paint stuff, and then I’ll scan it all in and kind of make it into a card.

Suzy: We also do invitations! When we make those it’s kind of a mix between our client work and our Handzy brand.

F-D: What mediums do you work with?

Suzy: Watercolor, Prismacolor, cut paper sometimes. . .

Brittney: We are trying this year to get into digital illustration. People think a lot of times that we do everything digitally and I’m all, “no. . . . we can’t do that. . . “ So we are trying this year. It just feels really disconnected from our hand and it loses something that makes our stuff ours. But we are print designers primarily, so. . . lots of paper.

F-D: Can you tell us about your design process and how it has evolved?

Brittney: So, we both went to DAAP, which is a very strategic school, I think. They’re approach is, "we are going to teach you your technical skills and a strategy" and send you off. So when we meet with clients, we ask them “who are you”? “What’s your vision?’ “Who are your customers?” Then we put together a custom quote for them. We used to start with logos, we’d make several [options] in black and white, we’d present them, the client would choose and then we’d start selecting colors, and we’d build a package that way. Now what we do is present the client with multiple designed worlds. It’s a little more refined. We want to show them an overall snapshot as to what their brand could be. We give them three options. Once they select a ‘world’ we refine and work on it from there. One thing we don’t do is make just logos. We have a lot of potential clients approach us with the hopes that we’ll just make a logo and then hand it off to them. We won’t do that: we create brands. We can’t have individuals altering logos after we put in all of the work making it. We have to maintain our brand. And at the end of the day, the work that we do is valuable and it’s strategic and it’s a package and we deserve to get paid appropriately. We just can’t do less than that. We used to say yes to everything; and we are finally at a place where we don’t have to which is awesome. But still, there are times when we’re like, “shit. . . we could really use that money”. . .

Suzy: Yea, we have done some not fun projects for not nearly enough money.

Brittney: But you don’t know until you do it. We have learned a lot of lessons.

F-D: What is your biggest challenge as a shop owner and designer?

Brittney: I’d say that keeping shop hours is our biggest issue. I’d say one of the biggest perks of having your own business is that you get to make your hours-- not to confuse that with having free time, there’s none of that-- but you get to decide when you're going to work. We lose that a little because we can’t leave. Everything else about the shop I love.

Suzy: Yea, not to say that we really feel trapped. We absolutely love it here. But it’d be nice to be able to maybe, go to lunch, or something.

Brittney: Another challenge is sourcing. I’d say that’s our biggest challenge. We wanted to make notebooks, and all I could make was this little planner. And we’re like. . . how do I get these made????

Suzy: So Brittney made this little notebook about critique called CritCode and it’s filled with little workbooks and it’s packaged really cute.

Brittney: But we don’t know where to get it made!

Suzy: And it would be expensive even to just get it prototyped. I’ve reached out to several people around town about where to go to get this done. . . and like, I don’t know where to get this done! And then we have to like, go out and meet with them, and a lot of logistical problems arise. So we have a lot of projects that we really want to do, just on the back burner.

F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all?

Suzy: I don’t think so. . . I mean, we’re happy!

Brittney: Yea, does that count?!

Suzy: I think that in a way, Brittney and I are similar in that we aren’t afraid to take risks. It’s always a matter of just playing it by ear and switching it up. I think that’s been really awesome for our business.

Brittney: We’ve had a lot of people ask us for advice, or ask us “how we knew we were ready” and we’re all. . . What? Just do it! Just go for it! There’s never a perfect time or place.

Suzy: We just show up everyday and try to get something done. And you know what? Sometimes we don’t get anything done! But that’s ok, because we will just show up the next day.

F-D: What influences outside the visual arts or design inspire and impact your approach to making work?

Brittney: Nature.

Suzy: Yea, travel. Going outside.

Brittney: Yea. . . neither of which we can really do right now.

Suzy: Yea, we’re broke right now.

Brittney: But it’s ok because in five years we are going to be millionaires. That’s our goal.

Suzy: It’s not even a goal, because we just know it will be.

Brittney: Yes, and now we just need to say it enough for it to come to fruition.

Suzy: We are planning on a work trip to Miami next January.

Brittney: I’d also say books. I gave myself a goal this year to read 100 books and so I’ve been reading up a storm.

F-D: What are you reading right now?

Brittney: I just finished You’re a Badass by Jen Sincero, and now I’m reading Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, which is about being success conscious versus failure conscious. I’m trying to switch back and forth between fiction and self help books. I’m already six books in, so I’m already ahead of schedule.

Suzy: I’m also reading a bunch this year, but my goal is 12 books. So one a month.

F-D: What does having a physical space to make your designs in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?

Brittney: I mean, we’ve always had a physical space. This is definitely an upgrade from our last one. So just having a little more control over the space we are in is helpful.

Suzy: Or just being able to work when it’s dark out.

Brittney: Yea at the old space we only had the one light, so when it got dark out we had to dip for the day. But I mean, just having space to stretch out is great.

Suzy: And having the shop is very fulfilling for us. It’s our opportunity to kind of play and relax amongst our hectic days We are starting to switch gears; at first we were really focused on making the shop space really cute and now we are starting to focus on our studio. We have a calendar now!

Brittney: And we are having our Maker of the Month for March (Matthew McDole) do a mural back here. Also, we have to remember that Pinterest isn’t real life. We are doing the best with what we have, and you know what, it’s pretty darn cute!

F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?

Suzy: Our new biggest mission is hosting workshops. We can’t have a ton of people in here, we can only hold about ten people, but it’s a fun way to get new people into the space.  It’s fun to have new faces and to see people come back repeatedly.

Brittney: Also, another one of our goals for this year is to create more wedding invitations. They're like client work, but more fun, to be honest. We are also working on re-branding Donna’s Gourmet Cookies, so that’s pretty sweet. And we might get some free cookies out of it. Oh my gosh! How fun would a Handzy cookie be? Like. . . just the little Handzy hand?

Suzy: Ugh! So cute!

Brittney: Maybe for our one year anniversary! But really, we are just focusing on getting our three big focuses (branding, stationary, and invitations) stronger.

F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture?

Brittney: No. . . I was actually just thinking about that the other day. Sometimes I feel guilty for not being up on the latest design ‘know’ or like. .  . when people ask who my favorite graphic designer is; I’m like, I don’t know?. . . My husband?? I mean, I know that that’s bad. But it’s not something that we prioritize. We are constantly learning. But I’m also ok with that because I don’t want to be constantly comparing myself to the next new thing or other designers. I think we’re confident in what we do and what we do for our clients. So honestly, no.

F-D: Which other designers might your work be in conversation with, this could also apply to other businesses or artists or really anything. Or the answer can be no, which is also fine.

Suzy: It's interesting, I have read in Gratuitous Type [a magazine about typography]  an article about shop studios. That's a thing that is starting to pop up everywhere: designers with shops, and so I feel like we are in conversation with those people.

Brittney: I think that trend comes from a lack of something that was happening in the design lexicon. We are at this place in the world where we are not all working a 9-5, and maybe freelancing from our basement isn’t enough and opening a storefront is just a natural step for designers.

F-D: It’s sort of a natural evolution that occurred after the Recession, it falls in line with that entreprenurial spirit that seems to be everywhere right now.

Suzy: And so yes, I think we’d be in conversation with them.

F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?

Brittney: No, not really. I went through a little phase where I was really worried about whether or not what we were doing was authentic. And so I’ve began repeating the line ‘just tell your story’.

Suzy: I think we are always trying to encourage each other.

Brittney: We say “you’re doing great” all the time.

Suzy: We are always helping each other. If I’m like, “I can’t do this anymore!” Brittney will be like, "don’t worry about it, I’ll do it".

F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?

Brittney: I usually say that I’m a small business owner: I own a shop and I’m also a designer. Maybe I call it a gift shop. Depends on who I’m talking to.

Suzy: Yes, sometimes if I’m reaching out to people I’ll change up my wording. If we are trying to make a new purchase with a supplier, I’ll say we are a design supply shop.

Brittney: I think I just always preface with that I’m a small business owner. Keep it vague.

F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?

Brittney: Literally everything. Again, we didn’t have children or mortages, or anything big to lose. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a risk. I mean, we opened this shop and quadrupled our spending.

Suzy: Sometimes we cut from our payroll. And sometimes it’s hard to pay rent.

Brittney: But we are building something and so it feels worth it.

F-D: Words of wisdom?… a motto, favorite quote?

Suzy: Get help when you need it.

Brittney: Delegate. Don’t waste your time learning how to do something that you don’t even want to know how to do. Accounting. Taxes. Just pay someone to do it. It’s not worth the headache. If we were to pay ourselves our hourly rate to do something and it’s not right? That’d be dumb. I don’t want to do that. And more importantly: it’s a waste of money.

Suzy: Just do stuff. Don’t get discouraged.

Brittney: Yea, like what do they say, "trouble comes in threes"? So by the time that third shitty thing happens, you can begin to know that something good has to happen soon.

Suzy: Just keep going. Don’t be afraid to email people or reach out to others.

Brittney: Also, I was gonna say, get a Score Mentor. Best thing we ever did. They partner you with a business mentor-- they’re usually retired business owners that help young entrepreneurs.

F-D: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?

Brittney: We’ll be doing the May, June, and July City Flea this summer, Crafty Supermarket on April 29th. We'll be hosting a meditation / self care / journaling workshop on April 30th, and a Woven Wall Hanging workshop on May 7th.

Suzy: We also try to have a little reception for our Maker’s of the Month. Just so they have a little moment to shine. Just check our Instagram! It's always up to date!