Perfecting the bullet journal
Archer &amp; Olive founder sets out to create the best notebook for both artists and listmakers
Bonnie Kuhl was looking to solve a problem when she created the journal company Archer & Olive.
The Cedar Park mom was searching for a notebook that she could paint in as well as write in. Often, the journals she would find had paper that was too thin and couldn't hold the paint, or they would cause the ink to smudge with certain pens.
At the time, she was a graphic designer working on corporate websites and doing wedding invitations on the side. She called her wedding invitation company Archer & Olive after her two cats. Archer is a tuxedo; Olive is a gray tabby.
When Kuhl, 32, decided to create her own journals, planners and sketchbooks, she kept the Archer & Olive name and took all that wedding invitation money and invested in launching the right product.
She tried sample after sample until she got a journal she would use: thick paper, dotted grid lines that weren't obvious but provided a guide for drawing boxes, enough pages to provide value without being too heavy to carry everywhere, and options of simple stamped metallic designs on the cloth cover or no design at all.
She launched her line in April 2018 and did well for a few months. Then something happened in September 2018: word-of-mouth and Instagram.
"What I have is a very visual product," she says, and that works with Instagram. "There's a community of people that do art planners," she says. "Word spread around about the quality of the notebook."
People, including influencer Amanda Rach Lee of Plan With Me, were showing off how they were using Archer & Olive products as bullet journaling was becoming an even bigger trend. Bullet journaling is rapidly writing down your thoughts as bulleted lists.
Kuhl had hopped on this trend years before while in college."I got into bullet journaling to stay organized," she says.
But Kuhl, as an artist, likes to bullet journal with drawings in the margins.
"It's just this creative outlet, but you feel productive," she says.
Kuhl created partnerships with known bullet journalists and people who share Kuhl's love of paper. She offered tips from herself and others on the blog portion of the Archer & Olive website as well as art classes.
"The magic of bullet journaling is it can be whatever it can be," she says.
Kuhl shows fans how you can keep a self-care journal of habits like drinking enough water, getting enough exercise or sleep, etc.; how you can create a fall bucket list; and how you can track schoolwork. In her personal journals, you'll find self-care notes mixed with to-do lists, idea lists, meal planning and appointment lists.
"It's a lot of lists," she says. "I make lists about the lists I need to make," she says.
Now as a mom to Harvey, who will turn 2 in November, her journals also involve date night babysitters and managing the nanny/school schedule, and what Harvey will eat.
The journals "help me see into the future in a little box," Kuhl says. It's what she has to do and when she has to do it. She can look a week at a time, a month at a time, six months or 12 months down the road by paging through the boxes of lists she's created in her journal.
Bullet journaling has been one of the keys to managing the symptoms of being bipolar, a diagnosis she received in college after things just didn't feel right.
Kuhl, who grew up in Kyle, says in high school she always felt like an outcast. She and her parents thought she was just being a teenager.
When she went to Texas State University to study art and communications, it felt like it had to be something more.
She was incredibly busy, but struggling. "It was an incredibly turbulent time," she says.
The college medical center diagnosed her as having bipolar disorder with anxiety. She finally had a name for what it was she had been feeling.
The school set her up with a counselor who suggested that she journal to help control the anxiety. She often doodles a graphic element over and over again as part of her journaling technique.
"The repetition makes me focus my mind to stay on the page," she says.
And the journaling helps her get out of her own head.
Even today, she will use her journal to chart her moods, which helps her see patterns and realize that what she's feeling is not forever, it's just for right now.
One of the surprising things about launching this company is how willing Archer & Olive fans are to tell her what they're using the journals for. For them, it's more than a sketchbook or a notebook.
"I didn't expect to hear from people," she says. "They take the time to reach out. I feel very unworthy."
And, yes, sometimes they use their journals for something a bit wackier, like recording their sex life or creating a book of spells.
Archer & Olive now has about 3,000 orders a month on its online store and through wholesale accounts, Kuhl says, and has reached $1 million in revenue. That's on journals that sell for $28 to $35 each.
One thing she's noticed is the copycats are now out there, which is a form of flattery, Kuhl knows, but still annoying, she says. Kuhl added a ribbon bookmark with the Archer & Olive ampersand logo medallion attached to distinguish the genuine from the knockoffs.
She now has five employees, who tend to bring in friends as the company grows. They're moms, who, like Kuhl, figure out how to make work and motherhood coexist with the help of flexible schedules.
Kuhl continues to add new products and new designs as fans make new requests, like having a planner with predesigned calendar pages instead of just a journal to create your own planner. She's experimenting with journals with even more pages, which she loves.
And all these ideas, all these products, start with a note jotted down in one of the three simultaneous journals she's keeping, often surrounded by pretty flowers drawn or painted into the margins on paper that can hold the ink or paint.