We are so excited to feature Nichole Robertson, co-founder of Obvious State with her husband, Evan Robertson. We have long admired the aesthetic of Obvious State as each of their designs pays such sincere homage to the power of reading and writing to inspire, change minds, shift hearts and reveal truth –and they convey all this with a killer eye for design. They are true game changers in the literary space and we are so grateful to share a bit of this space with them. . .
EL: We found Obvious State through Instagram and immediately fell in love with the aesthetic as well as the philosophy of celebrating language and elevating written words with beautiful presentation. How did Obvious State start? What were your and Evan’s careers prior to starting Obvious State?
NR: It was a happy accident that stemmed from a futile search to find sophisticated literary art. There’s a ton of kitschy art or old book covers, but everything had a college dorm wall vibe (“I like big books and I can not lie”). We believe that ideas are timeless and that Shakespeare doesn’t always mean parchment paper and tights, so Evan made me a set of minimalist prints to hang on our new apartment’s bare walls. At the time, I was working as a writer in advertising and was the fashion and beauty blogger at Bravo TV. I shared the prints in one of my weekly columns (as well as on my old personal blog) and people really responded to them. After that, requests for us to sell prints rolled in, which we initially shied away from, but eventually we opened a shop and it grew from there.
EL: As a lover of words, where did that first love of language begin and which genre or form draws you in most? Are you a poetry lover? Prose? Do you remember those first moments where you discovered the power of language — the power of one elegant sentence?
NR: Evan and I are both lifelong language and literature lovers. I was a voracious reader from a very young age (beginning with countess re-reads of “The Velveteen Rabbit”), studied English in college and spent my pre-Obvious State career as a writer. I tend to read classics and Romantic Era poetry, and often have to make an effort to read modern fiction. I do read a ton of current non-fiction.
Evan studied English and theatre at Yale and theatre at Juilliard. Though he is a self-taught illustrator, he credits his liberal arts education and years of honing the skills necessary to get into character, understand themes, motivations and subtexts as the inspiration for much of his work at Obvious State. He’s a huge Shakespeare fan and can recite just about anything from any play on demand. This comes in handy when he is your Jeopardy partner.
EL: What’s on your nightstand right now? Do you have a stack of books and find yourself hopping between them or do you commit to one at a time?
I am currently reading “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine. I picked up a copy at The Abbey Bookshop in Paris recently and enjoyed reading it, especially in light of the current US political madness. It is often credited with instigating the American Revolution and it was a call-to-action of sorts to rebel against British rule (cronyism and corruption).
EL: When I first saw the products you were creating for Obvious State, I felt such a kinship because I could tell that you held visual art in as high regard as writing and, like me, felt that the two modes of expression are very aligned. Which artists inspire you? Are there a few in particular that have inspired your design — if not outright, then by mood and feeling?
As we’ve grown our business and connected with our customers (especially on Instagram), we’ve realized that most bookish people are aesthetes. It makes sense, given their love of printed books, beautiful covers and those delicious moments in which you curl up next to a fire with a soft blanket and hot beverage. We’re inspired by Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Neoclassicism, Japanese woodblock and artists like George Barbier and Aubrey Beardsley.
EL: You and Evan are a couple and started Obvious State together. What is it like building a business with your partner? Was this something you two dreamed together from the start?
I hadn’t given it much thought until it happened, but now that we work together, I can’t imagine not working together. I’m inspired and humbled by Evan, and I like working with someone who keeps me on my toes intellectually. I truly enjoy our creative and product development meetings, and it’s a delight to see his process in action. I admit that some of the operational aspects of running a business can be stressful, but that’s simply part of it, and it’s been fun and challenging to learn new things side-by-side. We both are optimistic go-getters and tend to shrug things off, so when things do go wrong, we just open a bottle of wine and laugh about it.
EL: What has been one of the best moments in starting this business?
Connecting with our customers. I am so grateful for social media and the ease with which you interact daily with like-minded people. I’m more interested in growing a community than I am a business some days, because that’s what truly makes me happy. To be surrounded and inspired by other people who love books, philosophy, art (and coffee – ha!) has been such a delight. Some days I can’t believe it’s how I spend my time. I am truly grateful.
EL: What is one lesson you’ve learned along the way?
I’ve learned that as your business grows, so will your operational headaches. Whether it’s the post office dropping the ball around the holidays or a supplier being four weeks behind on an order, it’s the back end stuff that takes up most of your time and instigates insomnia. Looking back, we should have hired more help when we were a smaller company, but it has been valuable to have touched every aspect of the business and understand how to make it more efficient.
EL: What’s next for Obvious State?
We’re working on a fun project with Penguin Random House that releases next spring as well as new line inspired by classic children’s stories. But first… holidays!