Cardboard box printed with a linocut image of birch trees.

Ours is a story best told in layers. So it’s no wonder we’ve become entranced with a printing process called reduction linocut which essentially means we create our printed work by building up colour layers while successively carving things away.

Our lives have been like this since we met. For the past 2 years, we’ve been writing a new story, blending our families (and friends), and merging our things. Building up these new colourful layers together has meant confronting our pasts and navigating many emotions in ourselves and our kids. It has not been for the faint of heart.

Like in reduction printing, to pave the way for something even more beautiful to emerge in our lives, we’ve needed to keep carving away some aspects of ourselves. In our case, we’ve chosen to carve away our professional identities, at least for now, and embrace new identities like “reduction printer” to see what good can pass through us into the world.

And so, in life (and boxes), we’re making it up as we go. We’re learning about ourselves and each other. We’re paying attention to what happens when we hold on too tight and when we let go a little. Sometimes it feels like flirting with disaster and sometimes it’s shear delight.

Scope Creep

Our first box, conceived and printed in December 2023, was just intended to be a homemade Christmas gift for friends and family. We thought it would give us a chance to practice our newly acquired linocut skills and give us a custom, handmade gift to share with the people we love.

But if you know us at all, you’ll know that this single project wasn’t enough.

We’d just begun to uncover the infinite possibilities (within the serious constraints) of linocut printing and we wanted more. And we’d only had a small taste of how exciting it is to give a box to someone locally and have it show us in Australia a week later! Something good was indeed emerging and we wanted more.

In the swirl of joyful holiday gathering and (Olympic level anxiety management for one of our kids), I sent this email to Peter.

From: Lisa Chandler <>
Date: December 30, 2023 at 3:58:52 PM AST
To: Peter Rukavina <>
Subject: This box is for GOOD 2024 proposal

We’ve started something for GOOD. Let’s nurture the seeds we’ve planted.

My proposal to you:

We stick with the boxes and create a new limited edition (varied edition) every month. Each month we create only the number of boxes as there are days in that month, so on average we’ll print 30 versus 80+.

We find a partner for each month to provide the interior gift (coffee, flower bulbs, limited edition artwork, a different print piece by you, a story etc)…

We make the website more robust so people can register and track their boxes…

We write more about our hopes and dreams for the boxes …

We find a way to print the monthly box from another country or two and/or invite guest printers to design and print on a month we cannot…

We teach some people as we go…

What else???

You in??

“Yes, I’m in,” he said.

“This is a solid idea worth exploring more, and it’s a good playground for our collaborative creativity.”

Peter is often all in. It’s one of the reasons I love him so much.

I realize now that my proposal was a New Year’s resolution in disguise, even to me. Though unstated, what I was really saying was “I resolve to spend hundreds of hours being creative together with you in 2024. Will you resolve this too?”

Things have worked best for me in life when I make a clear commitment in a certain direction with enough flexibility to adapt and change as things unfold. I also do best when I have a strong partner and/or coach and when I believe fully in the cause. My twice weekly hard workouts with my coach and friend Matt Cormier are like this. I have seen this kind of thing work for Peter too.

So far, boxing ourselves into a resolution is working for us. Sometimes if feels like a super fun playground and other times if feels like a hard relationship experiment.

We completed the January box as January was turning into February after what seemed like a zillion trips to the print studio to pick away. One thing we’re noticing is that the months fly by. As I write, we’re already working on the March box, having completed February’s in a whirlwind using letter press only to make up time.

But let’s back up. This post is about our January box. We made it in the depth of deep winter and what speaks more to deep winter in Atlantic Canada than birch trees in snow?

Our Inspiration

Our inspiration came from a wood carving done by a US printmaker Lisa Vanmeter. I say this bashfully as the original image was a nameless one on Pinterest that I replicated without much thought. I am learning that as we go forward, we must be far more careful to research and credit any artist whose work inspires/informs our own. To Lisa Vanmeter, I say thank you for being an inspiring artist and printmaker and I apologize for not asking permission. I hope Lisa will see our January box as a tribute to her artistry and sharing good in the world.

In parallel, I am taking a beginner water colour painting course with Marion Copleston. Her simple, often while giggling, explanations on light, shadows and shading are so helpful.

The Process

As I mentioned above, we challenged ourselves to do this box as a reduction linocut plus letterpress printing on the top, bottom and inside flap. Peter likened this to deciding to ski down a mountain, having only had some basic instruction. So while the December box was the bunny hill, this box was at least a blue run.

A partially carved lino block, with image of birch trees sketched on with Sharpie.

From this lightly carved block, we pulled the first layer. You’ll note that everything that is not carved away printed in white. Not shown is the other block used to print the other side of the box.

The printing process itself swings from a highly meditative trance dance with the press to a pull your hair out frustration fest. Registration, or getting things to line up, is one of the things Peter is expert in from his years as a letterpress printer. He’s willing to take this on while I pace around impatiently.

A single cardboard box with the white layer printed on it.

At this point we had about 50 boxes printed with white on all sides. We knew we needed extra boxes as some would be sacrificed during the process to get ink colours and registration right.

In an alternating sequence of carve, print, carve, print we added the next three layers of light grey, blue, and black.

A single cardboard box with white and grey layers printed.A single cardboard box with white, grey, and blue.A single box with all colours.

Remember when I said we started with 50 boxes? By the time we were finished printing all the colours, we only had 24 “good” boxes left. I was discouraged by this, both from a “wasting” boxes perspective and also because we had hoped to have 31 boxes since January has 31 days. Peter once again used a skiing metaphor to reframe this. His take: we decided to ski down a challenging mountain for the first time and only fell down half the time!

Who got the January Boxes?

We choose some local friends and some water colour classmates; we also mailed more boxes off-Island to Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, the U.S., Europe and even to a friend in Japan. We’re realizing that one of the aspects of this project we love most is delighting people who are not expecting to receive real mail, let alone an unexpected gift. A parallel delight comes each time someone registers their box.

Where have the boxes travelled so far?

Since releasing some boxes into the wild just before Christmas, we’ve had boxes get registered as far away as Australia.

Submitted by Lisa Chandler on