02 January 2012

Angeleno Series Feature :: 4/Four

Back in December (crazy 2011), I contacted Nathaniel, a fellow Angeleno (that's an LA resident) who runs super-rad card company 4/Four on Etsy.  He agreed to be guinea pig #1 for my January feature series focused on other artisans and crafters (like yours truly) based in the City of Angels in sunny So-Cal!  He put up with my crazy (and not-so-crazy) questions and I'm glad I got to know him -- he's a pretty cool dude.

"I find that the artwork that most resonates with me are those that are the most simple," said Nathaniel, who earned his BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  "I'm always impressed when someone can convey a strong message with a color and a few words."

4/Four's "Sorry about the thing with the fire..."
What intrigues me about 4/Four, other than the sheer volume of awesomeness, is that Nathaniel seems to go against the grain of what so many other Etsyans are bitching about: finding an audience.  "Most of the cards in the shop were designed with a specific person in mind, and a few are my attempts to find a card that nobody wants to buy.  I know it sounds crazy but it's true.  I never thought that 'Sorry about that thing with the fire' would ever, EVER sell, but then one day a girl ordered it with a note that said, 'I accidentally set my sister's bathmat on fire.'  Sometimes it feels like Field of Dreams: 'if you design it, they will come' (and actually buy it.)."

I also asked Nathaniel about his shop name, 4/Four, and where it came from.  "I am an up-and-coming composer for film and television and have been a musician my whole life.  I wanted a musical name, so I took the meter 4/4 and made it the shop name."

It was a bit more difficult for Nathaniel to narrow down a favorite item in his shop (which I can totally relate to).  "That's hard to answer.  'I promise not to tell anyone how we met' is up there partially because I think it's hilarious, but mostly because it was the first one that a customer told me was 'framed and prominently displayed in [their] living room.'  I was rather shocked at that since I tend to view greeting cards as a disposable item.  I never really thought people would want to FRAME one that I designed."  Good feeling, right?

Nerd love greeting card by 4/Four
"I think my actual favorite card is the super nerdy love card 'You are my singularity.' Simply speaking a singularity exists inside a black hole and is a point which swallows everything which encounters it, even light.  You, being my singularity, are so attractive to me I have no hope of escape.  When I designed 'You are my singularity' my girlfriend told me that nobody would buy it, but she underestimated just how many space/physics nerds are out there and on Etsy.  It's been consistently one of our best sellers."

I have to say that one of my favorite parts of interviewing Nathaniel was simply reading his laugh-out-loud answers (and I really did laugh out loud quite a few times when he e-mailed me the content for this interview).  When I asked Nathaniel about what we might find in his refrigerator right now, he replied, "Zuul [the demonic spirit haunting Sigourney Weaver's character in 1984's Ghostbusters].  It's been a problem for a while.  We called the Ghostbusters but they've got a four-month backlog so for now we are only buying canned goods."

I also loved his answer to my inquiry about who might play the lead role if Hollywood were to make a movie about Nathaniel's life.  "Neil Patrick Harris has been contacted but his people have yet to respond to my people.  We were able to get a commitment from Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from A Christmas Story) but his fee is almost 60% of our budget.  Macaulay Culkin is interested as well but wants a LOT of script re-writes and a producer credit as well."

My vote is, therefore, for Neil Patrick Harris.

It's a stretch, but I'll allow it: "You [are greater than] cupcakes."
In addition to being hilarious, Nathaniel is also in tune with his priorities and gives credit where credit is due.  He cites his girlfriend, Delia, as his biggest inspiration: "I couldn't do any of this without her.  She has her own successful Etsy shop selling vintage housewares (Amelia Bedelia Vintage) and advised me on everything Etsy when I was just getting started.  I avoided so many mistakes because of her help," Nathaniel told me.  "She also proofs my designs and helps to keep everything running smoothly.  Once a design is finalized, she can and does do anything from printing and cutting to shipping.  We make an awesome Etsy team."

When I asked Nathaniel about his most prized possessions, he replied, "for the purposes of this article, I'm going to say my awesome printer and my super cool corner rounder.  But in a more personal sense my most cherished possessions aren't things but rather the memories of people and experiences from my past that inform my daily decisions and often get me through the tough times."  Awww.

My #1 pick for V-Day: "here's some bacon."
Nathaniel also shed a little light on his creative process: "[It] usually begins with either watching movies or reading books. I can never seem to sit down and say 'ok, time to make a new design.'  Occasionally a design is already fully formed in my head, but usually I'll start by writing what I want to say in as many words as it takes to say it.  Then I'll start trying to shorten it as much as possible by rewriting it over and over until it pops ... I try to keep things as simple as possible, so occasionally I'll toil on an image for days (or even over the course of a few weeks) only to dump it and keep just the text."

"My work space looks like the bat cave in the original batman movie with Michael Keaton," Nathaniel said.  "Fewer bats and better lighting, but otherwise you might just think I'm chasing down the Joker.  The Jack Nicholson Joker, not the Heath Ledger Joker."  Thanks for the clarification; this helps my ability to imagine.

Finally, I challenge Nathaniel to state his five-year plan, but my efforts were rebuffed with some simple yet surprisingly wise words:  "I had a five-year plan about five years ago.  I'm living life by the seat of my pants these days."

Don't miss 4/Four's amazing, hilarious, affordable, any-occasion greeting cards on Etsy.  You can also stalk Nathaniel on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook (so do it!).

Big THANK YOU to Nathaniel for the entertaining interview!  Back later this week with more Los Angeles residents who also reside on Etsy.  Stay tuned!


  1. What a fun interview.
    Can you guys write a book? I want to read more.

  2. @halfmoonroad -- I would LOVE to write a book with Nathaniel! He's super clever. For now, I guess we have to settle for his witty cards. :)


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