How Lucky Pencil Co. founder Sally Gulde developed her love of old things and graphic design
Text and photos by Meda Kessler
This award-winning graphic designer goes low tech and loves it
Some of us are pencil people. Our writing instrument of choice is a No. 2 made of soft cedar with a not-too-soft lead and an uncrimped metal ferrule holding the pink eraser in place. If that makes us an analog dinosaur in a digital world, so be it. The added bonus: Unlike our pens, no one ever steals our pencils, and they never run out of ink.
When we saw Sally Gulde, she was hand stamping Musgrave pencils — made in Shelbyville, Tennessee — on a vintage Kingsley Hot Foil Stamping Machine. Reading glasses perched on her nose, Gulde was carefully checking her work, looking for uniformity and imperfections. We knew she was a kindred soul.
Months later, we met up with Gulde at her home in a historic Fort Worth neighborhood. She runs her year-old business, Lucky Pencil Co., out of a tidy second-floor office she shares with her husband. The rest of the house, home to three children and a dog, is a wonderland of art, kids’ school projects, antiques and funky collectibles. And did we mention there’s a Grammy Award with Gulde’s name on it sitting casually on top of a piano?
Her love of old things and graphic design can be traced back to her childhood. She grew up mainly in Oklahoma and Panama; her father, a doctor, was in the Army. “My mom was an antiques dealer and always had cool stuff,” says Gulde. “I was drawn to show posters, creative typography and old graphics.”
She took art classes in high school and college but wasn’t confident enough to major in art. Instead, she chose sociology because she loves people. After graduating from Wheaton College in Chicago, she moved to Nashville, where she landed a job as a receptionist at a design agency with many clients in the music industry.
“My boss told me that just because I worked there to not expect to move up to be a designer,” says Gulde, who later became an accounts manager where at meetings, she would throw out her ideas for logos and artwork.
“I was still sketching on paper while everyone else was transitioning to computers,” says Gulde. “I knew I would have to learn new skills.”
It was her boss — the same one that told her that she would never move up in the company — that gave Gulde her first lessons in design and photo software. She learned enough on her own and, along with her natural talent, began competing for work with the rest of the staff. Gulde soon was designing CD packaging — covers and the cool booklets including the liner notes — for big-name artists. Her work for Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel earned her the Grammy in 2000 for art direction. Other projects include design work for superstars such as Garth Brooks. “I also did Kenny Rogers’ last album.” Her work was featured in major design publications, and she also won a slew of advertising awards, local and national. The CDs still can be found on the shelves next to Gulde’s desk, along with a carved folk art piece of country music icon Hank Williams and, of course, pencils.
While her future looked bright, Gulde opted to step back from full-time work when she and her husband started their family. “My kids came first, and I wanted a less hectic lifestyle without so many deadlines.”
But she found another way to feed her creativity. “A lot of my work had a vintage feel, and I loved letterpress. I figured it was time to learn how to do it.”
While Kingsley hot stamping machines are no longer made — it was invented in 1932 for imprinting the round surface of a fountain pen — used ones can be found on eBay and other selling sites.
After researching them, Gulde found one in Odessa about a year ago, which also came with some type. She found another source for the tiny metal letters in Oregon and sourced her pencils from the Musgrave Pencil Company, the 107-year-old Tennessee company that’s going strong today. Gulde taught herself to use the machine, but says there are knowledgeable people always willing to help.
She demonstrates how she stamps pencils and what she loves about the different fonts. She also shows us how she makes foil-stamped notecards, which are simple but sophisticated.
Her wood-topped workstation features multiple glass-front drawers. She opens them to reveal neatly stacked pencils of every color, all of which also are on display in glass jars.
Gulde is torn about not doing as much freelancing in the graphic design world, but she smiles when she talks about the joy Lucky Pencil has brought to her life.
“This work makes me happy. It’s tactile, it’s hands-on. And I’m using something from the past that still works today to make lovely things that also are practical. Everyone should have a good pencil, and they’re more special when they’re personalized. Sending someone a handwritten note on personalized stationery or adding a custom monogram tag to a gift makes everyone feel special.”
Even her packaging is carefully thought out, from the clear plastic pencil packs to the cotton ribbon and custom packing tape and mailing pouches she uses for shipping.
Her daughter helps her at pop-up events as often as she can, and her husband, a lawyer by trade, is supportive, too. Even Alice, the family dog, promotes the brand by wearing Lucky Pencil bandanas. Artistry runs throughout the Gulde family as they are famous in the neighborhood for their creative Halloween costumes which always have a theme.
“Every pencil order I get makes me feel special,” says Gulde, who has a deeper understanding of what it means to support small, local businesses.
The company name reflects that, too. “I have a lot to be grateful for, so yes, I do feel very lucky.”