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Stanford students make Calico Cards, unique watercolor kits for fans of crafts

Product design majors Vivian Xiao (‘19), Chloe Thai (‘19), and Nicolette Grabiec (‘19) created watercolor-stencil card-making kits for anyone interested in visual art.

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As someone who loves making and giving handmade gifts, I was incredibly excited to learn about Calico Cards, a product brought to life by seniors Vivian Xiao (‘19), Chloe Thai (‘19) and Nicolette Grabiec (‘19) for ME216C: Implementation, a two-quarter capstone class for product design majors. Xiao described Calico Cards as “a watercolor-stencil card-making kit that allows anyone, regardless of age or painting experience, to create unique watercolor cards for their friends and loved ones.” By exploring their website, I got the chance to see examples of cards created with their kits. The colorful cards were covered in cute and playful designs like a potted plant saying “ALOE THERE” and a smiling donut saying “DONUT WORRY.” The website also included a three-step photoset that demonstrated just how easy the product was to use: “Just press, paint and peel a stencil to reveal a unique design & message!”

Xiao, Thai and Grabiec have succeeded in creating an aesthetically pleasing, intuitive and heartwarming product, but their success comes near the end of a fast-paced, ongoing 20-week journey powered by hard work and filled with challenges and setbacks. From the start, the trio knew they wanted to craft an art-related product, and initially, they were interested in designing a paintbrush cleaning product. As Xiao recounted, once they learned about “the costs of injection molding [and] the time frame for working with overseas manufacturers,” they reevaluated and took off in a new direction.

The idea for this watercolor-stencil card-making kit came from conversations the team had early in the design process with different artists, who each offered unique perspectives that ultimately came together to form Calico Cards. The perspectives that proved most influential to the end product included insight about watercolors, which many artists found appealing because they were “convenient, affordable, and quite easy to use.” Xiao recalled that the professional artist Michael Azgour “wished someone would invent ‘curved tape’ — presumably so that he could make precise organic shapes and outlines.” Additionally, some artists used different taping and masking techniques in their painting. Xiao, Thai and Grabiec synthesized the usability of watercolors and the need for precision to arrive at the idea of a watercolor stencil made with sticker vinyl. These sticker vinyl stencils make it easier for people of all skill levels to create simple yet beautiful art with clean lines and gorgeous gradients.

After settling on a concept, the team needed to execute their vision to create a tangible, fully functioning product. This process included multiple rounds of prototyping, holding workshops and testing different varieties of paper and vinyl. Though this was an exhaustive and exhausting process, it proved to be crucial to refining their product. Grabiec shared that during their first workshop, their stencils were not “pre-weeded (the negative and positive parts were still on the stencil),” so users had to figure out on their own which parts to peel off and paint over. This ended up causing much confusion and taking up a lot of time, so for their next workshop they pre-weeded the stencils to make the process more intuitive, and it went much more smoothly. In addition to workshopping the product, Grabiec discussed how they also tested out different materials, which helped them develop a stencil that would “stick on well enough to avoid any paint bleeding underneath it but without ripping the paper when you peel it [off].” She added that they also tested the reusability of their stencils and “found that when handled with care, the stencils can be reused up to three times!”

After thoroughly testing and finalizing their design, the team launched a Kickstarter campaign on May 7th to fund the next step in their journey: manufacturing and production. Their campaign was 100 percent funded in less than 48 hours. However, the campaign runs until May 21st, so if you would still like to contribute to their project or pledge for a reward, the link to their campaign is tinyurl.com/calicocards.

Calico Cards designs come in three different stencil pack themes: Foodie Fun, Animal Party and Punny Plants. Grabiec outlined the reward tiers which “range from ‘A la card’ (two cards, stencils, and envelopes), all the way up to ‘The Triple Threat’ (3 stencil packs, a watercolor palette for early-bird pledges, 18 envelopes & cards) and even a custom party kit where [they] design a custom stencil and [we] provide 30 cards & envelopes.”

The next exciting event for the team is the 14th annual Maker Faire Bay Area, where they will have a booth with the Stanford Design Program on Saturday, May 18th in San Mateo. Having the opportunity to be at Maker Faire is particularly meaningful for Thai, who was inspired by her previous visit. She says, “It feels crazy to me being on the other side of the fair now, being an exhibitionist instead of a visitor.”

Overall, the trio has found the experience of working together on Calico Cards incredibly rewarding. Thai said, “Seeing our product bring a smile to people’s faces and inspiring people’s creative confidence is ultimately the end goal, and I’m so grateful for all of the warm responses we’ve received!”

If you want to follow Calico Cards, their website is www.calicocards.com, and you can find them on Instagram @calicocards. If you’d like to get in touch with Calico Cards, please reach out at hello@calicocards.com.

Xiao, Thai and Grabiec have had a lot of support and would like to give special thanks to the Teaching Team (professors and TAs of ME216C), Dave Evans, Eli Goodman, TinkerLab (Rachelle Doorley), Pacific Art League, Taiwanese Cultural Society, Katherine Liu and Sasha Spivak.

Contact Dax Duong at daxduong ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Dax Duong '22 is a desk editor for Culture, a beat of the Arts & Life Section of The Daily. His favorite stories to cover are new exhibitions at the Cantor Arts Center, since he loves any excuse to visit. He is currently undeclared, but plans on minoring in creative writing. Contact him at daxduong 'at' stanford.edu.