Mosaic Stories

    The greeting cards that Brad Woods makes are anything but conventional. He describes them as “happy, colorful, simplistic…most people call them whimsical” and they’re unlike anything else on the market. Like his cards, Wood’s life and career has been unique and he’s thankful that this path eventually led him to St. Louis.

    Brad first left his native Toronto and moved to the U.S. in 1995 to be an animator in the film industry. Though he loved animation, the film industry was extremely competitive and the work could be frustrating. His first job was at George Lucas’ Industrial Studio of Light and Magic in San Francisco. For one project, he says, “I worked on this one film for nine months and I produced 21 seconds of animation. Just imagine, 9 months with a return of only 21 seconds. So that was not my cup of tea.”

    Looking for something more rewarding, he moved to L.A. to work for a company that had just bought the intellectual property rights to one of the very first animated characters, Gertie the Dinosaur. They had plans for an entire franchise and Brad worked to design and re-envision a modern Gertie. After five years, the company suddenly went bankrupt and shut down the project. Nothing was ever produced or released. When asked if this experience was frustrating, Brad is characteristically upbeat, saying, “it was disappointing, but I learned a ton of stuff and I met my wife in LA, so I was really glad I moved to LA.”

     After a few years of freelance work, his company, Maginating, was born after a chance visit to a high-end greeting card store. All of the cards were printed on an antique letterpress printing press. Something clicked as he looked at the store’s cards and Brad bought his own letter-press printer. “It was just totally the most unprofessional business-minded thing you can ever do,” he says now. He started teaching himself how to use the press in his garage and quickly decided that printing was going to be more than just a hobby.

    For Brad, the greeting card is a truly important form of communication, especially as we rely more and more on social media and emails to connect. “If you get a Facebook Happy Birthday that took somebody what, a second? It’s not much of a sentiment. But to get a card now is huge…You’re basically telling someone that you love them,” and for some people, “that’s the only time a person can convey that is through messages in a greeting card. So when you distill it to that, it’s pretty important.” 

    His designs start as quick, simple sketches in his Moleskine. When he draws something he likes, he transfers it to Adobe Illustrator and draws over the top of his doodle to create a more polished image. A new card may take 5 – 8 hours for Brad to design from start to finish, but there are some ideas he toys with for years before he feels it’s ready to print.

    A sketch in Brad's moleskin         The evolution of a Maginating card: A doodle in Brad's moleskine becomes a drawing in Illustrator before it is printed as a greeting card. 

    After two or three years of printing in his garage, Maginating became a revenue-generating company, but Brad and his wife were ready for change. Neither had ever planned to live in LA long-term and, after almost 16 years there, they were ready to move on. When Brad’s wife got a job in St. Louis, they didn’t hesitate. He closed his offices on the West Coast and followed her to the Midwest. It wasn’t long before they fell in love with the city. When asked what he likes about the city, Brad rattles off a rapid-fire list, including the people, Forest Park, Central West End, the Loop, traffic, the amazing food and just about everything else.

    He also found that St. Louis was a great place to do business. His overhead costs were lower, which meant he could charge less for his work. He even found a printing company in St. Louis that was using a brand new printing process, Indigo printing, that Brad adopted for his greeting cards. He joined the generator Create Space on Delmar Boulevard, which introduced him to the maker community in St. Louis. “Everyone there is nice,” he says of his colleagues at Create Space, “I can’t say that of every community I’ve been apart of.”

    He later moved his office to the Cortex District and he describes the area as “something you would see in California or Boston… Suddenly, St. Louis has become a tech hub…There are all these things you can do as an entrepreneur here that you can’t do anywhere else. Or you can but it costs an arm and a leg or the competitive marketplace is just so huge that you’re gonna get squashed. [St. Louis] is the place to start.” 

    Brad’s gone from running a printing press out of his garage to winning 7 Louie Awards, the greeting card equivalent of the Oscars, and he’s proud that he’s accomplished this as a small company competing with larger, more established businesses. While he has a lot of plans for the future, he is still focused on continuing to produce high-quality cards for a market that loves the same things that he loves. 

    As an immigrant from Canada to the U.S., Brad didn’t have to learn a new language or adapt to a foreign culture, but he does say that “the differences are vast are in their accumulated subtleties.” In particular, he found that he’s “actually had to learn to communicate in an American style…people tend to take things more personally here than I found people do in Canada.” He’s also found that many Americans, including his friends tend to make fun of him for being Canadian. He isn’t sure why it’s considered acceptable to mock another country or culture. The joke might be on his friends now though, as Brad is planning to apply for U.S. citizenship next year. Once he’s American, he says, “I don’t know what the jokes will be anymore!”