"I’m really good at getting fired,” Liz Maute Cooke laughs as she and a helper furiously package greeting cards, trying to fulfill orders before a much-needed vacation. She occasionally swats away a cat if one jumps on the dining room table, which today is doubling as an assembly line.
Being her own boss at Lionheart Prints, the graphic design studio known for cheeky hand-lettered greeting cards, can be challenging, but for Cooke it’s the only job for her.
“I’m very independent and very focused and directed with my work, but I need to be in control of it,” she says. “It’s been rare where I’ve had job opportunities that have been truly a fit.”
Before going full-time with her own company, Cooke had a series of jobs that paved the way for her current career. In January 2013 she got what she thought was her “dream job” at a stationery shop (“I even made it Facebook official,” she says). However, her boss failed to tell her that she had only been hired as holiday help. Cooke was disappointed, but that experience gave her the push to start selling her own designs. She produced a handful of Valentine’s Day themed cards, and brought them to local stores for them to try selling.
That was the beginning of Lionheart Prints, but when an opportunity for a somewhat cushy corporate job came her way, she thought it might provide some comfort as she started her business. But the company, soon realizing that maybe her heart wasn’t in the job (it wasn’t), eventually
let her go.
The severance was good timing: right around this time, she was fulfilling her first order for a huge client, retail giant Urban Outfitters, and capitalizing on the success of her “Yeaux Leaux” design. That design, taking the slang du jour “YOLO” (“you only live once”) and translating it through Cajun parlance, was the perfect recipe for viral success. It’s not uncommon to see bachelorettes parading around the French Quarter in “Yeaux Leaux” tank tops and go-cups.
“Yeaux Leaux,” a simple hand-lettered script surrounded by white space, summarizes Cooke’s style, which she calls “exuberant minimalist.” “I’m interested in making words look the way that they feel,” she says. “I like space to let it breathe.”
Designs are funny, sometimes cynical sentiments – like one card that says “I Don’t Know Where I’d be Without You,” with “Probably Jail” written in pale yellow lettering in the background, like a self-deprecating punchline – for the Tinder and Instagram age (one card says “I’d Double Tap That”). Cooke says she likes to “reown basic phrases” like “Literally Can’t Even” in some designs. It’s no surprise that many of Cooke’s ideas, written on Post-It notes that cover her home studio’s walls, come from birthday wishes she’s written on her friends’ Facebook walls. “If I feel that way about you, someone else is going to feel that way about someone in their life,” she says.
While her cards seem simple, Cooke loves special printing techniques like foil stamping, which gives hand-lettered phrases an iridescent quality. She outsources this job to a local company (she is able to use local companies for all the production aspects she doesn’t handle) that uses foil recycled from old Carnival invitations. Cooke initially opted for that foil to help cut down on waste, but she has found the New Orleans touch to be a big selling point among national vendors. “This fuchsia-rainbow foil,” she says, showing me a card, “it’s 12-year-old foil from an Endymion invitation. It’s rad.”
Another one-of-a-kind technique she employs for some of her cards is use of a Gocco printer. The Gocco, a slightly dangerous to use, out-of-production Japanese screen-printing system, imparts a marbled look on cards, with no two cards alike. “It’s this crazy thing that I do, and I’ve been saying every year when I have this printing push, ‘why do I do this again?’,” she says. “And the other part of me is like, ‘because you do hard things! And it’s cool!’”
Next on the horizon for Lionheart is a series of mugs with messages that are “funny, empowering or a little bit of both,” designing holiday cards (“You know, because it’s June,” Cooke deadpans) and – most critical – vacation. Even though Cooke sorely needs a break, she realizes she finally found her dream job. For real this time.
“Every time someone buys one of these cards, it’s going to go to someone else and make them smile,” she says. “I make a living by spreading joy. That’s pretty fucking cool.”