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Gowanus Open Studios this weekend!

I'm participating in the annual Gowanus Open Studios this weekend, Saturday October 17 and Sunday October 18 from 12 PM-6 PM. Its a great event with over 300 artists participating. My studio is at 112 2nd Ave. between 9th and 10th Streets in Brooklyn, Studio 17 on the 2nd floor. I hope to see you there!

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Heartell Press in the News!

Heartell has been featured in a couple of publications in the last few weeks. 

I was interviewed for the Brooklyn Maker's Blog in a series about vendors in the Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar which I'll be part of November 28-29.

Natalie Rinn from Brooklyn Magazine interviewed me about the Business Cards for Creatives Workshops coming up on September 29 and October 4

So exciting!

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Photos from our Spring Pop-Up

My friend Kat Chamberlin is a wonderful photographer and she took some great shots of our pop-up sale at Halyards in Brooklyn last month, so I thought I'd share.

It was such a fun day! Thanks again to all our vendors and visitors!

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How Heartell Press Began

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 happen 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 is 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 she is doing really well now three years later. But she was gravely sick for about a year and we didn't actually think she was going to make it.

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 new 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 night drive on icy road, a visit to the doctor, a phone call--and then suddenly everything is turned upside down. We were so lucky, but many people are not, and it could just as easily have gone the other way. 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, but 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!

 

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Summer Sale

To celebrate summer I'll be offering free shipping on all orders over $25 from Wednesday, June 10 until Sunday, June 14. Just use the code SUMMER at checkout!

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Spring Pop-Up at Halyards

The holiday sale at Halyards in December was lots of fun and I'm happy to share that I'm partnering with a similar group of local artists to host another pop-up there on May 10. A couple of the artists who participated in December will be back: Erin Molitor of owl&bone and Mahalia Stines of Manny's Sister will be selling beautiful jewelry and textiles, respectively. We also have a couple of new friends in the mix: Brooke Winfrey of BTW Ceramics lives and works here in Brooklyn, and we'll have special guest Beth Cyr coming all the way from Athens, Georgia and bringing her handmade nature-inspired jewelry (made from recycled metals!) to share with us Yanks.

And of course, I'll be selling cards and prints. In fact, the new Heartell Press Spring Collection will make its debut at the pop-up! I've been working on cards for celebrations, including birthdays, new babies and mother's and father's day, all printed by hand on my new letterpress. I hope to see you at Halyards on May 10! You can RSVP and share with friends on the facebook event if you like.

 

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How I Make My Woodblock Prints in Ten Steps

I'm giving a workshop on woodblock printing in my studio in a couple of weeks (there are still spots open and you can sign up here). In honor of the occasion I thought I would share my process for making woodblock prints.

Printmaking is like cooking--it can be a highly skilled craft honed over a lifetime of practice, but anyone can learn to fry a great egg. Woodblock printing is a great medium because there's room for all levels of skill, from a first attempt at an omelette to a world class sous vide souffle. 

Just like cooking, there are lots of different ways to make a woodblock print and every printer does things a little differently. Here is my way, in ten steps (with lovely photos taken by the talented Andrea Wenglowskyj of Kind Aesthetic).

Woodblock printing is a form of relief printing--the simplest (and oldest) of the four major printmaking processes in terms of technique (the others are intaglio or etching, serigraphy or screenprinting, and lithography). It is a labor-intensive method of making images which is one of the things I like best about it. There's nothing quite like a few hours of carving or the rhythms of printing to quiet my mind, and I hope everyone can one day experience the supreme satisfaction of pulling a finished print off the block. 

1. Designing the Image 

Depending on what kind of image I have in mind, I use graphite or Nero pencils, markers, charcoal or watercolor paint (shown here) to come up with my design. I often use tracing paper or vellum to make changes and try different layers until I come up with something I like. Then I scan the image and, if I'm adding text, set it in Illustrator or InDesign (mostly to keep the typeface looking consistent from print to print even though it will be carved by hand). I have plans for a future post about how I use computers and digital printing in my process, so stay tuned for that! Suffice it to say for now that I am grateful to have these super helpful tools to augment the handwork of traditional printmaking processes.

2. Carving

This is one of the most meditative parts of the process. I use Japanese Shina plywood which has a very smooth surface and a fine, strong grain and Japanese style carving tools with blades of different shapes including V-gouges, U-gouges, straight knives and flat chisels depending on what kind of marks I want to make. 

3. More Carving

Like I said, making a woodblock print is labor intensive, and this part can take hours! But as long as I'm careful about my posture and take breaks to stretch, I could carve for days and days and not get tired of it. There's no gray in woodblock printing (unless you use gray ink of course), just places on the print with ink or no ink. So shapes and values are created by juxtaposing different textures, and its fun to come up with these patterns as I carve.

4. Preparing the Ink

I like Gamblin relief inks--they are newly developed since I was a student and I find that they produce brilliant colors without having to over-ink the block. I use a Takach rubber hand brayer--one of my most prized art tools and a thing I take a lot of care to maintain.

5. Inking the Block

Inking the block is the trickiest part of the process and it takes practice to get a feel for how much ink to roll on the block. Things like humidity, the types of pigments in the colors I'm using, and how detailed the image is can all be variables in this delicate equation.

6. Registration

There are lots of different tricks to make sure the image shows up in the place you want it to on the paper once you lay the block on the press (the printmakers' term for this is "registration"). I use metal registration pins and tabs taped to each piece of paper so that every print is positioned in the same way (taping on the tabs is one of the hidden sources of manual labor in the printing process!). The block goes into a wooden jig I made to convert my quirky old tabletop etching press into a press that is appropriate for relief printing (without it there would be too much pressure on the edges of the block). Then I lay the paper on top of the inked block using the pins and tabs as a guide, and then cover it with an old rubber blanket recycled from the offset lithography process to cushion the paper and protect the wood from the pressure of the press.

7. Printing

My press has a star wheel which always reminds me of steering a ship. Arrrrr!

8. Quality Control

There's nothing more satisfying than pulling a finished print off the block--unless it has an unsightly mistake! Smudging, "noise" from the carved bits of the block printing where I didn't want them to, off-kilter registration and uneven inking are some of the many opportunities for a failed print. Even the best printmakers plan for 20-50% of a day's prints to fail, which is why an edition--a set of prints that all look the same and are numbered and signed--is such a prized accomplishment. 

9. Drying

Check out my rack! My homemade drying rack (adapted from this one by Sherrie York of Brush and Baren) is one of my favorite parts of my setup in my studio. Its suspended on a pulley system so I can pull it up to the ceiling and out of the way (and closer our giant ceiling fan) to save space in our Brooklyn-sized studio. Prints take a few days to a week to be fully dry, depending on the humidity levels in the air. 

10. Hanging the Finished Print

There you have it folks, a finished woodblock print! Thanks for reading--I hope you will join us and try your hand at woodblock printing at the upcoming workshop

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Touring the Holiday Windows on Fifth Avenue

One of my favorite New York holiday traditions is going to see the window displays in the stores on Fifth Avenue. I have made the mistake in years past of tying to bring friends or loved ones with me on this annual venture into the midtown throng and made people I care about very grumpy. If you aren't naturally amped on adrenaline at the thought of seeing the highest-budget work of the world's most accomplished window dressers, the tourists on that stretch of sidewalk just south of the park can be hard to take. But for me its a highlight of the season, so I ventured out on my own last week to see what the world's fanciest stores had allowed the creative people they employ to do with their holiday marketing dollars.

I spent the afternoon at the Met first, looking at drawings and sketching the plaster casts for figure drawing practice. Then I began my holiday tour with the Angel Tree in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. 

The full given name of this installation is the Annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche. The ornaments and figurines are from the 18th century. They pipe in Gregorian chant to complete the scene, and it is all pretty enchanting. There are lots of funny details to discover. Here's a man riding an elephant!

From there I walked downtown along the park as the first snow of the year fell. I started with Bergdorf Goodman, which has been my favorite for four of the five years I've had a chance to see the holiday displays. This year they dedicated each window to a different discipline of the arts. The window devoted to film had a rotating canvas backdrop painted in monochrome with an iceberg scene and a sleigh pulled by friendly huskies (made with fake fur--not taxidermy!). Scroll through to see the windows dedicated to sculpture, music, painting, theater, architecture and literature.

The designers for Bergdorf often use the strategy of choosing a specific material and making everything in the window out of that material. The architecture window was filled with things made of paper, including a very charming blue lion and a blue paper gargoyle.

Literature was all fabric and embroidery...

Tiffany has pretty small windows so they often do something elaborate with the facade of the building itself.  

The window displays were simple vignettes of holiday scenes in the city, with subtle animated details. It seemed underwhelming at first after the splendor of Bergdorf, but the limited palette and reserved quality of these little maquette-like scenes grew on me as I looked at them.

It was a blustery night but the weather just made it seem all the more festive.

Saks Fifth Avenue has done this projected light show with blasting music on the facade the last couple of years which is a little boring if you ask me. 

These guys liked it though.

Rockefeller Center was in fine form too. 

This Salvation Army volunteer was really going for it dancing to Mariah Carey, and then some high school age girls standing nearby joined in too.

Zamboni time!

There were lots of other displays but my other favorite this year was Anthropolgie. You'd think the world would be too tired to enjoy any possible combination of birds and crafts at this point but these New York landmarks-turned-birdhouses for paper cardinals, parakeets, sparrows and even a Great Blue Heron were beautifully made and captured the spirit of the season in an earnest way that I liked a lot.

Thanks for touring the windows with me! Can't wait to see what they come up with next year. 

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A visit to the flower district in NYC

This morning I got up early and made a trip to the New York flower district, mainly on 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan. I went to buy greenery to decorate for our Pop-Up Holiday Boutique this Sunday at Halyards. This was my second time shopping there, and I think it was easier to navigate since I had a better idea of what to expect. That block is one of the best places in the world, and I was in heaven. Here are some photos to give you an idea of what its like. I took these photos with my not-great phone camera, but hopefully they'll still inspire you to visit yourself one day. 

I've heard its best to go early in the morning when everything is fresh and the good stuff hasn't all been scooped up, so that's when I went. I love being on the city streets before most people are up and about. The flower guys get started super early, and there's a convivial atmosphere as they unload trucks and pile the branches, leaves and blooms up on the sidewalk. Everyone I've talked to there has been very welcoming and kind. I think you earn a measure of respect with the regulars when you get yourself out of bed early. Not as early as them, but still. 

What's on offer changes with the season obviously, but there's an astonishing variety and abundance. These are some baby pine cones of different kinds on branches above, and all kinds of other things I don't know the names of below. 

I thought poinsettias only came in red and white, but here are some in variegated red and pink. 

I was mostly looking for greenery to make garlands and wreaths, and there were a million choices. I always wondered where the incredible flowers come from in New York window displays, hotels, the big ones in the main hall of the Met. I think lots of professional florists shop in these stores on 28th street. I could tell there was a lot of negotiating going on and there were a lot of regulars picking up orders with vans waiting out front. I loved thinking about all the opulent spaces these flowers would end up decorating. I found myself wondering if there was something sinister about all the money and effort being spent on these things that are purely aesthetic, especially when there were people in need within plain site of all the storefronts. But I think it would be hard to find a human that didn't want flowers in their life if they could have them.

Winter berries in all colors!

I rounded out my visit with a browse in Jamali Garden--the best place to buy vases, twine, floral arranging supplies and all manner of man-made botanical decorative item. They have a great online store too!

Thanks for reading! I hope you get a chance to visit the NYC flower district if you haven't already. Come by on Sunday and you can see what I bought in person!

 --Rachel

 

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