Arts alum sinks passion for graphic arts into entrepreneurial venture

For Sandy Muldrew, curating his own shop - The Prints and the Paper - is the realization of a dream

Donna McKinnon - 13 December 2017

Two years ago, when Sandy Muldrew ('92 BA) was laid off from his job as a video editor with CBC, he didn't even consider looking for other editing gigs.

The idea of opening a curated graphic arts shop had been brewing for years, and so he viewed this career disruption as an opportunity to make his move. A keen visual esthetic developed through a lifetime of education and travel had prepared Muldrew for what would eventually becomeThe Prints and the Paper, a highly personalized shop of stunning graphic art prints, books, uniquely designed greeting cards and art objects, and, according to his website, "other cool stuff" - like a collection of products celebrating the films of director Wes Anderson.

It is his passion, his experiences, and his talents, come to life.

Curated shops are part of a new trend of independent, shop keeper-driven stores that offer thoughtfully chosen products and services in opposition to the big box mass consumer experience.

In many ways, Muldrew has been working toward this type of entrepreneurial venture since his early days studying art and design. Although initially enrolled in the BFA program, he transferred to a more general arts degree path after taking a few film studies courses withBill Beard. As a part-time employee (and future co-owner) of the now departed video storeSneak Preview, Muldrew was fascinated by film. Courses with Beard further refined his critical eye.

"That's where I learned how to learn," says Muldrew. "He was the only professor I've had where, if I missed a class, I knew I would be missing something I would never get, or find again. You'd see the movie in the lab, you'd read the book or article and sort of understand it, and then you'd go to his lecture and the sun would come out from behind the clouds. His courses were very good for understanding how films affect - and reflect - our culture."

After graduation, Muldrew set off to Calgary to study film editing at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), but a sagging Alberta film industry in the late '90s made television a likelier bet. And so he refocused his efforts, landing jobs at the fledgling A-Channel, followed by a 13-year stint with CBC Edmonton.

Throughout this time, Muldrew continued to collect beautifully illustrated and designed books and art objects, obtained both locally and internationally, while traveling the globe. And yet, he was frustrated at times by what he wasn't seeing.

"Fine art doesn't speak to me the way graphic art does," says Muldrew. "It's relatively inexpensive art, and it's limited edition - signed by the artist. Even in New York or Paris, I've never actually seen people selling it, so I thought, yeah, I'd like to do that. I'm going to open a store and I'm going to get all the things that I think should be on the shelves. When my job [at CBC] was made redundant, I had already put this plan into motion. I wanted to use my talents for my own benefit, where no one was going to decide if I was valuable or not."

The learning curve was steep. Although he had been a co-owner of Sneak Preview (alongside his work as a video editor) for several years, Muldrew had "inherited" an existing business model. With The Prints and the Paper (a play on the novel and film, The Prince and the Pauper), he was starting from scratch. This included finding and renting a location; designing the space; constructing the fixtures (with the help of his brothers); creating relationships with wholesalers, suppliers and publishers; and - unlike Sneak Preview - dealing with an inventory in need of constant replacement.

"Esthetics are definitely my strong point. On the business side... I'm learning as I go along," laughs Muldrew.

Finding the prints, many of which draw inspiration from the world of film and children's illustrated picture books, was one thing, framing them was another. Initially, Muldrew thought he would develop a relationship with a local framer, but then realized he could learn how to do it himself. "Like editing, you're piecing together a story," he says. "I'm telling stories. It has a lot to do with dimension and colour and balance. The proper attitude to take is to not think you know everything. I learned that in fine arts: I always think I can do better, and I'm always learning."

Versatility, creativity and an openness to new opportunities have been defining characteristics of Muldrew's career thus far, but with the Prints and the Paper, all of these experiences have been curated and distilled into a venture that not only is he passionate about, but his customers are as well.

"Even if - at the moment - I may not be making a lot of money, it makes me feel good that people are responding to it, and loving it," says Muldrew. "With a shop like mine - a bricks and mortar shop, a curated shop - people enjoy the experience of coming in and forging a relationship with the shopkeeper. Finding unique gifts. Seeing their neighbours. It's a more vibrant neighbourhood when you have shops like mine. Maybe there's a bit of folly involved, but it's a beautiful thing - and I think that's worth doing."

Check out these other curated shops: My Filosophy - founder and owner, Tannis Davidson ('96 BA); and Poppy Barley - Community Manager, Caroline Gault ('10 BA).

Know other Arts alumni with curated shops? Let us know!

Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit? Put your imagination to work at eHUB Creative, a partnership between the Faculty of Arts and eHUB (UAlberta's entrepreneurial centre) to support Arts entrepreneurs and to connect creative communities.