March 5, 2014

Scottish Wedding Invitations from Vigilante Paper


This winter I was approached by a bride asking if Vigilante Paper could provide her with custom Scottish-themed wedding invitations. She and her husband-to-be are of Scottish ancestry and had been remiss in finding any pre-designed wedding stationery. Most of what she found was “Brigadoon Hell” as she described it. So she showed me examples of their two family tartans and the location (a charming historic Inn in Raleigh, North Carolina) and asked me to come up with something summery but not too flouncy to combine the two aesthetics. It was going to be a somewhat understated wedding: not huge, groom in his kilt, bride in a seersucker wedding dress.

I focused on the tartans intertwined at the top of the invitation, and lush greenery on all the pieces to reference the Southern location. There is even a sly reference to kudzu in the envelope liner. I think they came out as crisp as a gin and tonic and elegant without being too girly. There is something so pure and refreshing about green and white in contrast to all the foil and glitter being hyped right now in the stationery arena. If I see another hand-lettered foil print I’m going to yak. I love that this couple wanted to celebrate their heritage – and stayed clear of all the design cliches that dominate the paper landscape right now.

(Sidenote: this project had a special place in my heart as I am part Scottish and have always loved the whole idea of Scottish warriors and their tartans. I haven’t worn a kilt since I was a kid, but I did recently upholster a chair in it. Seems to me the Scots are in general a rather Vigilante people.)

McLaren_Suite copy


tartans_The Tartan Mill

Courtesy of Scotweb Tartan Mill


My family’s tartan upholstered on a chair and window seat in our house.

March 3, 2014

Profiles in Vigilante Living: Sexy Tennyson-quoting Wine Passionista Renee Kuo

ReneeKuo_Vigilante ProfileIf there is one thing that Vigilante Living is about, it’s listening to that little voice in your head. And then taking action. This is the story of Renee Kuo, a young, accomplished, female Managing Director in Bonds at several premier Wall Street banks (Banc of America Securities, Citadel Securities) who seemed to have it all professionally — the business school degree, the rolodex of happy clients, a fast track trajectory in a highly competitive field, glamorous evenings out in New York’s best restaurants. All seemed ironed-out, but for the little voice in her head that whispered….. “I love wine.”

When she first began her career in finance, Renee Kuo knew nothing about wine; her boss insisted that she study-up on basic wine literacy : “Renee,” she’d say, “if you order the Two Buck Chuck with a client, I’ll kill you.” Soon enough, however, she could confidently navigate the wine list, and made friends with several notable New York City and LA sommeliers. Meanwhile, this high-powered finance expert (her specialty was bond sales) got promoted further and further up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming the Managing Director of the newly formed Citadel Securities. Happily, she referred to herself as bonafide “Bond Girl”. In her spare time, however, Renee dove into the world of wine, making it her hobby. She enrolled in a course after work at the local farmer’s market where she would take a series of Wine & Cheese classes, which she credits for training her palate and educating her about the different wine-growing regions of the world. Which led her to France: she travelled with a group of wine enthusiasts to the Bordeaux region in France for a holiday. And as Renee describes it, it was a life-changing trip in terms of solidifying her passion for viticulture, but ended up concluding that it was not sensible to leave her career in finance to follow her passion for wine as a profession. It just seemed too far a leap. As Renee wryly describes it, in her blog From Wall Street to Wine, she just dove deeper into collecting wine to consume : “Carrie Bradshaw had a closet full of shoes. I had a closet full of wine.”


Wine Internship

But this tenacious Stanford grad found herself looking for more depth to her hobby, and in Vigilante fashion, took things a step further by enrolling in the UC Davis certificate in Viticulture.  So, while still rocking her finance gig all day long, Renee would retreat to her wine studies at night, and pick grapes with friends in Santa Barbara on weekends for fun. She’d been so natural in her successes in banking, and it seemed the most logical path. But when she looked honestly at herself, she noted that “it was really that I just didn’t find banking fulfilling anymore. I realized I had very little to lose if I left, as I wasn’t in the same situation as 99.9% of my colleagues (male) who had wives who didn’t work and children all ready for college. I knew if I didn’t take the chance, I’d be living a life of regret.” Renee puts it eloquently: “The saying usually goes Life is too Short but for me, life was WAY too long to do something I didn’t want to do!”  In a tale that reads like a screenplay, fate then sent Renee directly toward her new career, step-by-serendipitous-step. She experienced a series of miraculous & fateful encounters: a run-in with one of Bordeaux’s most famous wine-makers, Christian Moueix, while both were in New York; a chance wine-bar dinner where she ended up seated next to Don Ross, a prominent Napa Valley vintner and wine collector, and lastly, while hiking in Santa Barbara, literally bumping into Garon and Shari Staglinwho HAPPEN to own Staglin Family Vineyards in Napa Valley — where she landed her first internship in Napa. At each of these junctures, Renee made it known that she wanted to work in the wine industry – and of course being charming, smart and hot did not hurt either. But that was all it took.

Once she landed in Napa, it was all over: in a three-year period, Renee went from scrubbing the interior of wine tanks as an intern, working 12 hour days doing gritty behind-the-scenes work to landing a wine sales job (obtained probationally) — and of course KILLING IT by calling up her old Wall Street contacts with wine cellars –to the present: Renee now has her dream job as General Manager of Seven Stones Winery in Napa. “It’s soup to nuts” she says; “There is just one person responsible for Seven Stone’s overall business strategy… and then just one person washing glasses after the tastings. Me!” This is Vigilante Living people. Living your passion every day and not being afraid to change course when your inner voice speaks.

Renee says that this whole experience from Wall Street to Napa reminded her of the Tennyson poem, Ulysses (which is available in its entirety at the bottom of this post.) For, if it were not for Wall Street, Renee surmises, she may not have encountered her passion for wine. “I am a part of all that I have met,” writes Tennyson. “I will drink life to the lees,” he says — a sentiment that Renee has made her professional and personal mantra. Of course, explains Renee, there is the 99.9% pay cut to consider, despite living without regret in a career of her dreams. Renee sums the trade-off best: “As two of my colleagues on Wall Street said, ‘Part of us thinks you’re crazy, and the other part is really jealous.’  “Here’s to crazy!” says Renee. We could not be more in agreement, darling: with both Tennyson and you. 

Check in regularly for our Profiles in Vigilante Living series which will be posted every other week.

Wall Street to Rubber Pants

Internship at a Napa winery. Foot in the door, and 95% pay cut.

non-Glamorous Wine Industry

The unglamorous job of cleaning the wine tank.

Cleaning the Tanks

The joie de vivre is ever-present in Renee’s approach.

The Vines

Seven Stones Winery, Napa.


SevenStones_artowrk on site

From high-rise Wall Street office to THIS officeL the grounds at Seven Stones Winery.

Kuo in her new career, as General Manager at Seven Stones Winery in Napa.

Kuo in her new career, as General Manager at Seven Stones Winery in Napa.


By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


February 27, 2014

Announcing Profiles in Vigilante Living

Profiles in Vigilante Living_TITLE_HEADER

If if you’re anything like me, you are known to go crazy in the Biography section of the bookstore. I’ve always found it a pleasurable and informative way to understand history, to rethink my own life decisions, to learn about far away cultures, and learn from others’ mistakes. It’s about time, I thought, that Vigilante Living feature regular posts about true civilian Vigilantes out in the world — individuals whose decisions and ways of living are truly unconventional — artful, considered yet a little wild, and most importantly, on their OWN terms — not those of society, cultural norms or traditions. I will be calling these posts Profiles in Vigilante Living. Look for a new one every two weeks or so. Teaser: our first post features a sexy Tennyson-quoting Napa Valley wine aficionado with a joie de vivre to match her passion for wine-making and wine-drinking. Bottom’s up, Vigilantes!

January 22, 2014

How to Survive Winter

As a native Californian now located in the Midwest, it has taken me several years to develop methodologies for how to survive winter. Here are some Vigilante Living tools for my friends in the wintery climates to keep in mind while getting through these next few months.

1. Wear bright colors. Go right now to the sale section of and pick yourself up something wildly colorful that will cheer you up. is a marvelous resource for vintage jewelry of high quality that you will not find anywhere else.

2. Buy insanely colorful items for your home or apartment. Christmas is over, and if you didn’t get what you wanted, go to and buy yourself a magnificent turquoise metlasse box to hide all your trinkets in. They are not expensive but they look it.

3. Wear a dab of perfume — behind your ears and your knees. If you are a guy, work a smidge of aftershave. Try for small bottles in new fragrances so you can test them out.

4. Pour yourself a drink and make a homey warm dinner. Just forget about salad. It does not help you feel better in winter. Make yourself a hot cider for dessert if you still do not feel the sunshine running through your veins.

5. Music is the most essential blues breaker for winter doldrums. If you want to spice things up cheaply, get a used record instead of hitting up iTunes — record shops are curious places where you can stumble upon something magical — get a record to just to shake it up and actually read some liner notes. The tactile nature of a record will go well with your cocktail at the end of the day! Tropical music, like ska, reggae, salsa, or other latin music will do wonders for your sun-deprived self.

6. The next time you are at your corner bodega or grocery store, look at the flowers for sale. If they are not dying and brighly colored, just buy  them. Even baby’s breath look nice on your kitchen windowsill or on your desk at work. (I am not a flower snob. Almost every plant has some beneficial qualities.) The smell of something alive is not to be underestimated. Plants are great too — but only if you remember to water them. A dead plant is only going to add to your winter woes.

I hope these tools for surviving winter are at least a little helpful. They are not avant-garde, but they are cheap and appeal to everyone’s need for color, humor, and desire for JOY in everyday life. For those of you in California, India or Australia (where it’s now summertime) please do have a margarita for me and take a look at your legs. I totally forget what mine look like they’ve been in pants for so long.

Sayonara from the polar vortex….



January 15, 2014

Preppy Edge: A Manifesto – Part 1


It’s January 2014 I’m suffering from hipster fashion fatigue. I am tired of you, hipster. Raise your hand if you’d much prefer a hot date with the late, conservative poster-child William F. Buckley than spend an evening with a skinny-jeans clone on a fixed gear. It would be more original to be with Buckley! More fresh! He’d probably suggest doing more shocking and fun things, and order you one too many a cocktail. Sure, I might have more in common with the hipster, in terms of music and cuisine, but there is something to be said for a little SHOCK VALUE. This brings me to an existential design question: does what’s on the inside have to match what’s on the outside? What if someone who held the interests of a hipster dressed like William F. Buckley? I admire people who don’t wear their political alliances as a costume. Give me contradiction or give me death.

preppy_quoteSo here at Vigilante Living, we’re deeming 2014 The Year of Preppy Edge. How on earth is preppy dressing revolutionary, you might ask? Well, khaki trousers and a button down are a classic way to pass under the radar and spend your core energy doing something original with your life. In essence, you are not screaming “I AM DIFFERENT” as you sashay down the street. You are whispering to others to come closer, listen to your stories, make some mischief, and offer just a sliver of a window into your interior life, which makes everyone realize that you are much more rich and complex than your preppy uniform suggests. It’s about subtlety and the slow reveal.

I find it immensely appealing in both men and women when conservative clothes on the outside sheath avant-garde leanings (whether Left or Right) on the inside. It’s only once you talk to this person that you realize they are a true original, or a weirdo. These are the people who are so comfortable with their originality that they don’t have to wear it on their sleeve. Preppy Edge is irresistible because it defies visual expectation. (Preppy Edge, by the way, is not to be confused with the disastrous, over-used phrase “classic with a twist,”  used of late by influential interior designers and celebrities.) Lord, bring me a severe preppy in plaid pants. But give him a rebellious interior life filled with knowledge of obscure 1960s reggae groups and a penchant for reciting naughty bits from important literature. Or deep knowledge of astrophysics. Edge preppy is preppy on the outside, 100% original on the inside. This is what style in America needs right now. A little more substance, a little more humor, and a little more reserve.


October 31, 2013

My Yul Brynner Pumpkin

yul_brynner copy

I have always had a thing for Yul Brynner. Maybe this is due to a childhood peppered with musicals from generations prior (i.e. The King and I (1956), in which he starred.) And then of course, he is owed tremendous props for his strange continental-eurasian accent. I took note in the early 2000s when Stephen Malkmus wrote “Jo Jo’s Jacket” which is a 100% idiosyncratic song which begins with an excerpt from a Brynner interview about his shaved head. My family pumpkin this year is a tribute to Yul Brynner and Malkmus. While the face design is mine, the masterful carving is the handiwork of my surgeon husband who relishes cutting and sewing in a tidy fashion. Not sure if it actually looks like Brynner. But it was the intent that mattered to me.

Happy Halloween y’all. Malkmus’ song is below.

YouTube Preview Image



October 22, 2013

Put a Chevron On It & Other Cliches in Illustration

One of the challenges in practicing illustration is steering clear of the cliches that saturate the design world. The ubiquitous trend of the moment appears to be the chevron pattern. First lauded in the pages of the now-defunct Domino Magazine which was laid to rest in 2009, the chevron pattern was used first in chic area rugs and bed linens. Five years later, it’s on everything from blouses to Christmas cards. I am bored to tears by this pattern, as much as I genuinely liked it at first. When you see something everywhere it loses it’s potency. Another such cliche is the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster, which also took flight as a trend via Domino Magazine. Now part of the public domain, this World War II era poster is now re-purposed by Paper Source and other trendy stationers on cocktail platters that say “Stay Calm and Eat Latkes.” Jesus! Could this be any more a grotesque distortion of the purpose of these posters — to assuage the fear of Londoners  during the extended arial bombing of their city? WTF Paper Source? Not to point fingers, but I now look to Paper Source if I want to know what to avoid drawing for my clients. Right now, they’re showing a lot of octopus-strewn paper products, owls (a now nauseating trend since 2010 or so), prisms, mason jars, and still (!) the ever-present deer with antlers.

If I am 100% honest, I am guilty of following trends in my own work too. My logo for Vigilante Paper is surrounded by antlers.  (I’ll be changing my logo in 2014.). Similarly, I offer a really fun wedding invitation on my shop that features a prism-esque pattern. Perhaps the most difficult for me, as an illustrator and hand-letterer is the proliferation of “naive lettering” which everyone & their step-brother is attempting — in particular in the manner of the talented Anna Bond of Rifle Paper. I feel bad for Mrs. Bond: she was so original and cool that the establishment has stolen her great ideas. Her calligraphic approach to lettering has snowballed into a naive movement of sorts — especially now at the holidays when you’ll see Happy Holidays printed in gold foil cursive. It’s not easy to stay ahead of the curve. And it’s not easy to drop one of your signature moves (in my case, naive lettering) once it becomes an official trend on the shelves of Paper Source. One must keep inventing new drawings and themes and stylistic forms to stay relevant and not get sucked off the cliff, an illustrator lemming.

One of my goals as an artist is to seek inspiration from within and bring it to paper. And also to crush convention. Why can’t a wedding invitation feature a VW Bus? Why can’t a birthday party invitation just feature a bunch of trees and a hammock? Can a holiday card reference Soviet style from the 1970s? The longer I am in the marketplace as a stationer, the longer I realize that it’s pointless to look at what others are doing. It will flavor your work subconsciously and taint your original ideas. At least this is what is working for me right now. And that is why you will not be finding a chevron pattern on my holiday card this year. But you might indeed find a weird portrait of Yul Brenner. Or a bowl of acorns. Or anything else amusing and out of the depths of my perverse noggin.

chevron pattern copy

owl copy prism copy


mason_jar copy

andrew bird deer texture






September 18, 2013

The Cell Phone Albatross

the phone

The mobile phone is the albatross around the neck of modern man. Our lives are dictated by the ring ring, buzz buzz of these insipid devices that keep up supposedly feeling safer, more connected to others, and more informed about our work. But there is such a price to pay — there is a price to pay in feeling truly independent of machines. I found this old picture of my mother. It’s taken in the mid 1960s, and she is using a phone to do something critical. I know this because this picture is taken at her wedding — so it must have been important. She presumably hung it up and walked away from technology to resume her life. I long for a life where I can practice the art of living with less reliance on machines and gadgets. Ironists out there might say “charming that you are announcing this on your blog!” but the immediacy of the cell phone is far more disturbing to life’s natural patterns and sounds than a computer (which you typically go to, rather than wear on your person.) I am not sure what this post is about really, other than to say that this photo moves me — and makes me nostalgic for the time not so long ago when the phone only rang when you were indoors. In a room with a jack. And I am trying to sort out a way to live less with my albatross. Please share if you have any ideas in how to let go, fellow Vigilantes.

August 20, 2013

The Vigilante Way to Lose Your Hair


This is a post about Marianna Sachse, a case study in Vigilante Style and it’s power. Marianna’s husband is my longtime childhood friend from summer camp. Even as a teen, he was an erudite, badass little Beastie Boy with big plans. He married his equal: Marianna is brainy, creative and nurturing, with street smarts and a dancer’s graceful body. She is an amazing woman with ideas and the energy to implement them. Last year, Marianna was diagnosed with cancer. This is her account of true Vigilante Living — namely, the unconventional approach she took to dealing with hair loss after chemo.

When you get kicked in the face by a cancer diagnosis, you expect that tough roads are ahead and that you will have to say goodbye to your talisman of beauty: your hair. Nine months into my cancer journey I finished chemo and lost my hair at the same time. No one told me that my hair might continue to fall out after I finished treatment. So there I was, watching my hair pile up in the drain and scatter on my pillowcase, wondering what to do about my hair post-chemo.

I was done with treatment and finally feeling better, the last thing I wanted was to look sick. I’d had enough of that, thank you. I’d beat cancer and come out the other side stronger. I needed to look like it. So what to do? Classic chemo solutions just didn’t seem my style. I didn’t want to futz with wigs and scarves. My solution: rock the ‘hawk. When cancer kicks you in the face, fight back like a punk with a Mohawk.

I admire you, Marianna. You are fierce and elegant.

You can read more about Marianna here:




August 14, 2013

Northern California Dreaming

coral_illos_Olivia JoffreyA few months back, I posted about Tiny Atlas Quarterly, a new online travel magazine that is revolutionary in it’s spare layout and poetic photography. San Francisco Bay Area photographer Emily Nathan founded Tiny Atlas Quarterly as an online project to collect new, sumptuously photographed work from locations all around the world. As it happens sometimes in the universe, I was subsequently invited by Tiny Atlas to provide custom illustrations this summer for this piece featured here called “Demystifying Abalone.” Shot in Jenner, California north of San Francisco Bay, Ms. Nathan tapped writer David Prior (formerly Director of Communications at Chez Panisse and the Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard Project) to explain the culture of abalone diving and the mollusk’s unique status as rare delicacy and skilled diver’s prize. It’s a private world, and Prior does a wonderful job cracking it open.

blue_geometry_Olivia Joffrey

NorCal House_Olivia Joffrey

canoe_geometry_Olivia Joffrey

Cutting the abalone_closeup

marine_overlay_Olivia Joffrey

Iso_Rabins_Olivia_Joffrey lettering

lettering2_orange bus_OliviaJoffrey

As a native Northern Californian (I’m from Santa Cruz, a surf town on the Monterey Bay) this project was an utter joy to work on. I’ll spare you a tome of Proustian memories of barking elephant seals that served as my alarm-clock through my bedroom window — but suffice it to say that I know this majestic landscape of ice plant and rocky coast like I know my own family. Emily Nathan has done it justice by capturing the messy seaweed waves, the unfinished, unfancy, salt-worn wood beach houses speckled along the cliffs, and the ruddy faces of surfers and divers who spend much of the day in a full wetsuit in the Pacific’s icy waters. I guess I am a bit homesick for Northern California. But at least I can spend some time on Tiny Atlas’ Jenner piece and let my eyes soak in the beauty. And dude, I am all over that orange WV bus.