Who doesn’t get a little excited to find an elegantly addressed or colorfully illustrated envelope in the mail – not to mention one with an equally beautiful invitation inside?
Whether announcing a wedding, baby shower, 50th anniversary party, or just about anything else, an invitation is not only the first glimpse of an upcoming event, it’s also a piece of family history that is often cherished forever.
Caitlin Gossen is a graphic design artist who understands the experiential aspect of sending and receiving invitations and announcements. As an integral part of her process, she learns her clients’ unique styles, personalities and stories, then incorporates them into her hand-crafted invitations and stationery – making them precious keepsakes for life. As the owner of Hark Creative Co. in Lafayette, Gossen specializes in custom invitation suites for weddings, as well as other announcements for baby showers, parties and corporate events.
Although her degree is in interior design, Gossen started her career in Manhattan working as a graphic designer at a boutique design and print company, where she remained for several years. After she and her husband returned to Lafayette – where they both have roots – she opened Hark Creative in 2017 and has since been creating a lot of buzz with her memorable designs.
Today from her sun-drenched home studio, she meets and visits with clients, many of them brides-to-be and some accompanied by their fiancés. “It’s fun when the fiancé comes,” says Gossen. “Because more antidotes come out, and he’ll offer suggestions and thoughts.”
Living up to the name Hark – meaning to “listen intently”– she dives into the kind of
fact-finding that captures a couple’s relationship and style, making her invitations and announcements as unique as the couple itself. “I’ll ask them how they met, and about their hobbies, any pets, favorite things to do together, cultural traditions or memorable trips,” says the graphic designer. It’s a fun time for her and for the couple, even when she asks
the expected questions about their venue, plans for the wedding day, other vendors involved, number of guests, description of the bridal party’s attire, and the flowers.
It’s usually at this point couples begin to fully understand the stark difference between ordering an invitation (especially one as important as a wedding announcement) online versus having it custom-designed by someone like Gossen. In addition to the initial meeting, where she learns every nuance of the bride and groom and their wedding, she also offers many more paper options than online vendors (literally hundreds of choices), and she personally works with each client on even the smallest details of the printing suite, from the save-the-date announcement all the way to thank you notecards.
The invitation designer, whose own wedding was featured in Style Me Pretty magazine, describes her artistic style as “traditional with a twist” and adds, “I like to kick it up a notch by incorporating either color, texture, a pattern or in the printing method.”
With the invitation as her canvas, Gossen skillfully incorporates illustrations and elements that are sentimental and significant to couples. For example, she helped one groom pay homage to his late mother by including, in the lining of the invitation’s envelope, the image of a rose she’d painted. The meaningful image was the first thing recipients saw when they opened it. In the envelope liner of her own wedding invitation, Gossen featured part of a map of Idaho, where her family resides and where the wedding took place.
“Colored or illustrated envelope liners are trending in wedding invitations,” she says, as are wax seals and flat add-ons, like ribbons (which she loves). In colors, the designer says dusty blues are still very popular, and she predicts lavender to be the next big color in weddings.
For inspiration she finds the unexpected in the ordinary. Flipping through a sketch book, she says, “I love floral elements; or I’ll get ideas walking in antique stores or reading interior design magazines. Sometimes the architecture of a venue or the cool tile pattern of its floor speak to me. I recently incorporated the design of a unique engagement ring into a wedding invitation. Another client has a beautiful veil that has inspired me to put something relating to it in the invite.”
In creating a story from start to finish, Gossen strives for continuity, admitting, “I’m a stickler about everything flowing together; for instance, I don’t like three different type fonts.” Perhaps the only thing that gets her more excited than paper and fonts is when she talks about details. “I could get lost in details when designing; I love them so much. I just finished an announcement card for a couple who is moving, and I drew their front door down to the smallest embellishment.”
It is partly her attention to detail (including the vintage stamps she chooses to match the theme, mood or location of the wedding) that has earned her clients from California to New York and across the south. In one thank you note she received (she keeps them all) a couple wrote, “your joy and expertise helped us navigate the process.”
Growing Client Base
Gossen designs suites of stationery pieces (which can include up to 10 different components) for intimate weddings, like the ones that dominated 2020, as well as for affairs attended by hundreds. Depending on the printing method and design extras, like foil stamping or add-ons, clients can expect a turnaround time of two to three months.
As a supporter of small business owners like herself, Gossen also offers marketing and branding services. Among other collateral pieces, her logo designs have played a starring role in bringing new branding to a bakery, several artists, a jewelry store, a small construction company and a dentist, to name just a few.
Like all businesses, Hark Creative experienced massive change after March 17, 2020. “Weddings, engagement parties, baby showers and other events were cancelled,” she grimaces. “As we went from isolation to the changing restrictions for public events, my assistant Jordan and I did a lot of change-the-dates, uninvites and reinvites. In the end, it forced us to come up with verbiage that we never used in an invite: a tasteful way of uninviting guests.” She adds, “Like others in the industry, we were consoling clients every step of the way, helping them figure out what to do with the chaos thrown at them. You don’t get that kind of attention when you order online.”
Finally seeing their wedding invitation for the first time is one of those special moments couples never forget. It also happens to be Gossen’s favorite part of the job – when the announcements are printed, looking beautiful and being assembled. “There is nothing like touching and holding the paper that I created to announce a bride’s special day,” she shakes her head and smiles.