The business (and art) of designing a sticker

Nov 21, 2017

Have you ever thought about a sticker being a piece of art? Most people don’t until they experience them on a deeper level, according to Maureen Vazquez, owner of Pipsticks, a sticker store she opened up earlier this year in San Luis Obispo.

When you take a step into the store, you’re transported into a sticker wonderland that rivals the pizazz of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and well… the Lisa Frank notebook I had in the 2nd grade. I can see why somebody might not take it very seriously.

You’re greeted by walls lined with candy-colored stickers of many kinds… fruit, fire engines, flowers, you name it. Look down... the floor is hot pink. Look up, and white clouds canopy the ceiling. At almost every corner, there’s at least one rainbow.

Pipsticks Founder Maureen Vasquez.
Credit Bree Zender

Maureen Vazquez is the founder of Pipsticks. She said when people come into the store, they tend to get a little excited.

“They freak out. They lose their sh*t,” Vazquez said.

Pipsticks is a craft store that opened in June--but the main gig is stickers. I recently sat down with Vasquez. While talking, we decorated small tin boxes with googly eyes, gems and of course, stickers.

Vazquez said Pipsticks started out as a mail-order subscription sticker service for kids and adults. She and the team select a monthly theme, with stickers designed around the world, and in San Luis Obispo. Vazquez herself and other in-house designers contribute about a quarter of the designs that are sent out each month. They opened a brick-and-mortar store earlier this year, with a community craft space. Vasquez said the idea originates from her childhood love of stickers.

Crafting supplies set up in the Pipsticks store in San Luis Obispo.
Credit Bree Zender

“I think the thing that I love most about stickers isn't actually the sticker,” Vazquez said. “It's the feeling that you get when you love stickers. [It’s] small. It's affordable. It's seemingly innocuous thing, inconsequential. But the power of a sticker is massive.”

Vazquez said there’s something to appreciate about the art of the sticker, even though many people don’t really take it seriously as an art. She said when she opens the craft-making space in the store for San Luis Obispo’s Art After Dark for community sticker art projects, she is often met with skepticism from walkers.

“And then as soon as they actually participate in the process it is I think their their horizons are broadened and and their mind is open a bit,” she said.

Vazquez said some adults just have a tendency to see it as a little kid thing and nothing else.

Vasquez said she and other local designers make up about a quarter of the stickers that are sent out in sticker packs each month. Pictured here are some local original designs.
Credit Bree Zender

“I think there is a lot of room for something that doesn't take itself so seriously,” Vazquez said. “At a glance we are a store of colorful stickers and they're all teeny tiny and they kind of all blend together into this background of pattern and color and other things. But if you look closely at each single sticker, [it has all] been designed. I know that now because I'm designing about a thousand of them for a project that I'm working on and each one is a little piece of design.”


Vazquez said Pipsticks is bringing together a community of people who love stickers. She took me to a corner of her store that has fan mail from subscribers all over the world. It’s a very specific kind of fan mail… from kids and adults alike, but the letters themselves are covered in stickers, sparkles, and crayola doodles. Vasquez described an email she got from one particular fan.

“[He said] I am 38-year-old paper pusher working in an office. Wears a suit and tie by day. Nobody would know that I am gleefully going through my stickers at night,” Vasquez said.

Vazquez said kids love the store and the stickers. And it’s definitely geared towards children. But, there’s parts of it for adults too.

“And I think when it all boils down to whatever you've got on your plate. Everyone's dealing with their own stuff and have their own complications going on in life. And stuff is not always easy. And this is easy,” Vazquez said. “This little sparkly fruit is fun and it's easy and you can put it anywhere or you can not or you could just look at it.”