How Heartell Press Began

How Heartell Press Began

March 01, 2020

People often ask about the beginnings of Heartell. The idea to start a stationery line came out of a rough time in my life, and I'm wary of stories that have even a whiff of the philosophy that "everything happens for a reason." So I've hesitated to share until now. But the way I am looking at it these days is that bad things happen, and then good things can happen next. And it might make it easier for others who experience hard times to know that they aren't alone. So here is the story of how Heartell Press began.

After I received my MFA in Printmedia from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 2009, I moved to New York and supported myself with nonprofit work while working to build my art career. Graphic design and illustration were a small part of my job and that was the part I loved best, but even the spreadsheets and admin work I did seemed worthwhile since I believed in the organizations I worked for. I had a studio in Gowanus and made paintings and prints, and even had a few shows in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

My mom and I in 2014, celebrating two years in remission with a hike in Utah.

In 2012, things in my personal life suddenly got really hard when my mom was diagnosed with stage IIIC ovarian cancer. My mother was a super tough woman (she was training for an Iron Man race when she got sick!), received excellent medical care and had some amazing luck, and I’m so grateful to be able to say we had a total of seven more years with her before she passed away in September 2019. She helped me shop for a dress and walked me down the aisle at my wedding, she got to snuggle with my son (her first grand child), she got to travel the world with my dad, she even helped me with my first trade show and got to see the beginnings of what Heartell has become. She was fortunate to have had some more years when she felt well, but she was gravely sick for that first year and we didn't actually think she had much time left.

During that year, between my visits to Utah where my mom lives, I spent a lot of time in stationery stores looking for cards to send her. There are so many great cards being made for happy things like birthdays and weddings these days, and the stores were filled with beautiful things. But I couldn’t find cards that would let me tell my mom what I wanted her to know during that hard time without trying to fix or explain her situation or distance myself from it in any way. I found that even the best sympathy cards felt too formal and cool to send to my mom. A lot of sympathy cards convey messages that are a version of the idea that "things will get better." At the time we really didn't know if that was true, and it seemed almost cruel to say it. Humor is another strategy that can help cut through the fear when things are hard (Emily McDowell's empathy cards are a great newer option), but for my mom and I at that moment, funny didn't feel like the right approach either.

I began having ideas for a different kind of card with a warm, sincere tone that would let the giver say simply, "I'm here. I see that you are suffering. I'm here with you, loving you and caring for you with my attention and my presence." Woodcut has a humble look that conveyed the down-to-earth, human quality I want Heartell cards to have, so I started to experiment with making my own cards by carving and printing woodblocks.

During my experience caring for my mom I became aware that all around me, people were struggling with illness, loss, pain in so many forms. I would ride the subway and look at the faces of people around me and wonder what burdens they were carrying. Of course I always knew that bad things happen all the time, but the experience of my mom's illness was like seeing behind the curtain so to speak. I've heard others talk about illness or loss that way, and how afterward you can't ever really forget that the dark side of things is there. All it takes is a late drive on icy road, a visit to the doctor, a phone call,and then suddenly everything is turned upside down. We were pretty lucky, but many people are not, and she could have had much less time than she did. I realized how much a message from a friend can mean when things feel raw and vulnerable.

I wanted to help people who are having similar experiences, so I worked hard to turn my ideas into cards and prints. In August of 2014 I filed my paperwork with the state, opened my online store and officially became a small business owner. I've been amazed by the response I've had to this work. People have so much love to give one another, and it is a gift to be able to help them communicate that love.

Since then Heartell Press has evolved into a full line of greeting cards for all kinds of occasions, and after exhibiting at the National Stationery Store in 2016 and 2017, we've expanded the wholesale side of Heartell through collaboration with over 300 stationery shops, bookstores, museum shops and boutiques all over the world. I strive to design each card with the honesty and warmth I was seeking when my mom was sick. If I’ve learned anything in my life it is that you just can't express love and gratitude enough. Those are what we all need from each other (and ourselves), as much and as often as we can share them. 

I feel so lucky to be doing this work, and I'm grateful for all the interest and support from family, friends and customers who have helped me make it what it is today. I have so many plans for new products and projects, and I can't wait to see where the next chapter leads us!

Thank you for your interest in Heartell Press.


Leave a comment