Sarah McCoy

In 2006 a press arrived in her driveway. Sarah is busier than ever and continues to teach at Drake.

Describe who you were as a kid. A middle child in a family of 4 kids (I’m second oldest), born in Madison, Wisconsin. I drew on everything in sight according to my parents. I drew all over books, dolls, and walls.

I also made a lot of cards as a kid. I have to thank my mom for nurturing my love of letterforms, even though at the time we didn’t even know it. During summer after second grade my mother enrolled me in a calligraphy summer school class. That’s where I first fell in love with letters and calligraphic forms.

With your mom having such an impact on your creativity, what goes through your head with you being a mom of two? My mom wasn't really creative but she nurtured the things I was interested in, so I definitely try and notice what my daughters' various interests are and find ways for them to do more of it.

Right now it for my littlest (age 5), it is drawing and the use of color as well as music lessons. For my oldest (age 8), she just loves to read and run but lives to rock climb at Climb Iowa… The girls are in my studio with me fairly often and I've taught them how to set type and print, but I don't want to make them print, only if they want to on their own. Nobody needs that overbearing mom, but they sure do need a cheerleader, lots of love, laughs and someone to show them all the wonderful things in the world.

"Nobody needs that overbearing mom, but they sure do need a cheerleader."

Walk us through your journey to starting your own thing. Laugh, well, I’ve always been pretty independent… I started printing at an Introduction to Letterpress Printing at the University of Iowa Center for the Book during the winter of 2002. I was a graduate student working on my MFA in Graphic Design and was also working on my graduate certificate at the University of Iowa Center for the book with my concentration in Letterpress Printing.

During the spring of 2006 when my husband Andy and I were getting ready to leave Iowa City, Andy asked me if I’d like to get a press since I wouldn’t have access to one once we left Iowa City. So we purchased a Vandercook SP-15 and had it shipped from Canada to our driveway in Des Moines. We moved it into the basement and that fall I cranked my first print in my own studio. We were also in talks with my good Iowa City and fellow design graduate school friends Brad Dicharry and Meryl McKean to start a little card company - called The Permanent Collecton. We decided we could could have an Iowa City office and a Des Moines office. We spent weekends printing and shipping product back and forth. I walked into the Village Bean, Salon W, Eden and Pure Paper in Des Moines that January to see if they would want to carry a few of our valentines. I don’t even think we had them in sleeves or even presented a catalog!

Around 2009 it was getting difficult to be spread between Iowa City and Des Moines. So I took over the Permanent Collection fully in 2009. We’re still good friends with Brad and Meryl to this day, it was just easier for everybody to do their own thing.

"I don’t even think we had them in sleeves or even presented a catalog!"

Along the way, who and what helped you to keep pushing forward? Multiple things: first, my love for designing and printing; second,  seeing people come into my studio and really enthused about what I’m doing; third, my husband Andy. He’s steady by my side and encourages me to take a break when I’m wiped and encourages me to push my ideas; and finally my faith — I’m motivated to do the things I think I’m good at and don’t want to waste my days, but make the most of the time I’ve got.


Someone is starting a project for the first time, what would you want to say to them? You’re going to have some really tough moments and you really have to fail enough times that you actually start to learn how to succeed. I’ve been designing for 20 years, printing for 15 years, and teaching for 10 years and there wasn’t a shortcut. You can’t get good at anything without really working at it. Stay the course and make sure you have someone in your life cheering you on and encouraging you.

"You can’t get good at anything without really working at it."

Talk to us about one of your good days this past week. Really, any day in the studio/shop is a good day. A good day is when things are inking/printing well or when I’m printing something really difficult and it looks beautiful. Also, it is really fun for me when my friends and fans of the press stop in when they are in the East Village.

And one of your not so good days. A not so good day is when I have something finicky on the press and it is going slower than I had hoped.  Or when I ruin a stack of custom invitations on the paper cutter and half of do them over.

Most of the time a design is never done, there is always something to improve on it."

What's keeping you busy? Custom work, Wholesale orders and developing new products at The Permanent Collection. My position as a full-time professor of Graphic Design at Drake University, and my girls Charlotte (8) and Gemma (5) and time with my husband.

On the first day of school what do you tell your students in graphic design? Work hard, show up, and most of the time a design is never done, there is always something to improve on it. Finally don't start your emails to me, "Hey Sarah," if you do, I won't answer them!

If you were given any spare time this coming weekend what would you want to do and why? Start the morning walking with my friend Sarah to La Mie in the cold from our houses (4 miles round trip), then Snow shoeing in Waveland or sledding with my girls (if we had snow), walking around browsing in the East Village and popping into friends’ shops, all ended with afternoon aperitifs (most likely a Negroni or G&T) with my Andy and my crew of friends. Ending the night with some live music either dancing to the Dirty Rotten Scoundrals at Wooly’s or listening to singer song writers: Sara Routh, The High Crest, Patresa Hartman or Jason Walsmith.

Someone just moved to the area. Where do they need to visit first? Of course, come to The Permanent Collection!

But after that, the incredible collection at the Des Moines Art Center and the Goldsworthy Cairns (and it’s free!); Wooly’s or Hoyt Sherman for good music; Mars cafe to chat with Daniel or scenic route to get a sense of the local vibe; Grab a B-Cycle and cruise around downtown or get on the pedicab in the summer. Walk around the World Food Prize building the map of the world is fun and I love their gardens. The possibilities in “the Des” are endless, give me what you’re into and I’ll give you an itinerary!

Who is someone you look up to and why? Kimberly Stuart is a writer who happens to live in Des Moines and she’s busy like me with a full family around. So she gets it, that for me time is my most precious gift. Time with my kids, friends, and Andy. Time to work, think, dream and create. She also gets what it is like to put yourself out there. Will my work resonate with anyone besides me…and she also understands the victories when someone out there (you know, other than your mom and spouse) dig what you do and it does resonate. Oh and how to be efficient with a 10-15 minute block of time.   we could both school everyone in town on that…

What are you most proud of and why? Building my studio and business. I think most people just see the shop and think it happened overnight. It has been 10 years in the making with lots of big steps and baby steps along the way. Being in a few special exhibitions and just enjoying that people love what I love.

"The people who live here want to live here, nobody had to tell them it was cool."

Why Des Moines? Why not?! Because I used to live in Austin in the late 1990s, before graduate school in Iowa City, and then that town exploded and then a bunch of people who “heard it was cool” moved there. I love that Des Moines is a city emerging in its own way. The people who live here want to live here, nobody had to tell them it was cool. Plus, Iowa is full of really great, genuine people.

If you could grant the Des Moines area one wish what would it be? That the Des Moines riverfront would continue to have more cafes and a gallery along it to compliment the hub… I’m married to a hydraulic engineer, I know all about flooding along rivers…but it would be super cool

In three months what do you hope to accomplish? Some specific projects at Drake University (and some research), a bunch of new prints and time outside (this one is happening for sure since I’m headed to Joshua Tree National Park in Feb and L.A. in April)!

Photo credit: Justin Salem Meyer

Derek Jensen