Emilie Tromp, Creator of Lief Design

Tromp sporting one of her hand-crafted aprons

Meet Emilie Tromp, creator of Lief Design, a Grand Rapids-based design company specializing in textiles, calligraphy and hand-crafted stationary. Emilie was one of the first people I met who enthusiastically claimed Grand Rapids as the ideal place for a creative business. Lief, a Dutch term of endearment meaning sweet, seems a direct reflection on its creator who is herself cheerful and disarming. Likewise, in both process and product, her work yields an unfettered freshness. The majority of Lief’s paper designs are the result of hand-carved stamps pressed onto paper paired with Tromp’s elegant script.  No laser prints or Illustrator-generated images here.

I sat down with Ms. Tromp over a wine-punctuated night of crafting. She left with a tidy sheet of stamped designs. I was left with my scraps of oh-I-wonder-what-this-might-become and Tromp’s reflections on making in Michigan.

H.A.CK.: Tell us how Lief Designs was born.

Emilie Tromp: Lief Design started after working for a wonderful stationery design company (Snow&Graham) in Chicago. There was one day specifically that I was hand sewing buttons onto cards and I LOVED it. Then, I started doing small things for friends and family like baby announcements and wedding invites. When I moved back to Grand Rapids, I started pursuing what it would look like to make it an actual business. From there, I started doing various shows and trying to get my name out in the community.

H: How would you describe your aesthetic?

ET: I would describe my aesthetic as intricately simple with strong natural influences.

H: When and why did you decide you wanted to make creating a central focus of your life?

ET: Creating has always been a thread throughout my life. When I was in college, I was going back and forth with what I wanted to do with my life and trying to figure out how I would make money doing art. For while I pursued sociology with the intent of being a social worker and teaching, but never felt fully fulfilled in either of those. After college, I got a job at a stationery design company and was reminded of my love for design, so I decided to pursue what that looked like. It was and is definitely something that I feel fulfilled in.

H: What creative aspect of Lief do you enjoy most?

ET: Calligraphy. I love type design, but specifically handwritten type. When I write the letters, it really feels as though I am painting.

H: What item or service generates the most income for Lief?

ET: Weddings definitely create the most income for Lief,  whether it be invites, save-the-dates, envelope addresses, etc.

H: What percent of your income is generated from your art? How do you supplement?

ET: I’m not exactly sure the percentage of my income is from my craft, but it’s not higher than 50%. I supplement by being a nanny, which is a great job for that because it’s very flexible. For me do art full time, I would need to have more non-custom products on the market.

H: If you could hire an assistant, what would you have them do?

ET: I would love for them to help me with aspects of production and shows.

H: Did you choose Michigan or did it choose you?

ET: Both. It’s where I grew up, so in that sense, it chose me. But throughout college and then after college, I chose to move away. About 2 years out of college, I decided that I wanted to move back to Michigan.

H: What area of the state most inspires you?

ET: I am absolutely inspired by Northern Michigan. I love GR and parts do inspire me, but I love Traverse City and Leelanau County. The natural beauty up there is very inspiring

H: Describe the biggest challenge you have found to being a creative in Michigan?

ET: The biggest challenge is finding materials. Most of my resources are ordered online, unfortunately. I would love to shop more local, but there just aren’t many places to buy good art supplies.

H: What or whom in Grand Rapids has impressed you the most with their ingenuity pertaining to business or community?

ET: My friend, Rebecca Green has impressed me a lot with her artwork and her efforts to have her art as her primary income. She is crazy talented and such a sweet woman.

H: What do you see that Grand Rapids in particular has to offer its creatives?

ET: The thing I love about Grand Rapids, in regards to it’s creatives, is the supportive community. Rarely do I feel any competition, but rather, just support and encouragement from other artists that are doing similar things. It feels as though everyone wants to help each other make it and be able to continue doing what they are doing.

submitted by tori.

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