Interview with Rachel Kroh of Heartell Press

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We want you to get to know the all-star vendors for our upcoming Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar. From now until late November, we’ll be running a series of interviews with some of these talented makers. We’re super excited to open the series with Rachel Kroh of Heartell Press!

Their beautiful art prints and cards owe their unique aesthetic to a hands-on production process. After creating a design, Rachel carves it by hand on a woodblock and then prints each piece using a letterpress at the Heartell Press studio in Gowanus.

The designs are full of love and warmth – perfect for making someone’s day or brightening up your home.

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A little trivia about yourself

– Born & raised: In Chicago, Illinois until I was 11 when my sporty parents moved us to Salt Lake City, Utah, to be near the mountains.

– Cups of coffee a day: One — my husband and I take turns making it (whoever wakes up first) and we take it back to bed to drink as we quietly wake up and get ready to start the day. I need that time, I feel crazy if I try to do anything else first!

– Currently reading: I just finished Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf. Haruf’s novels are about a small town in Colorado and I love the quiet pace and humble humanity of his work.

– Currently listening to: Currents by Tame Impala

– Favorite pizza place: Table 87 opened on 3rd Ave and 10th street last year and it’s a friendly, unpretentious place with great coal oven pizza. I especially love the pots of roasted garlic and hot peppers they have on every table for toppings.

– Hidden talent: I love to sing, and for the last few years I’ve been involved with an organization that teaches people how to lead groups of people in singing without written music, regardless of age or musical training. So if all the people who are reading this right now were in a room together, I could get us all singing in harmony!

– If I didn’t do what I do, I would be a… There are so many answers to this question — I wish I had twelve days in a week so I could be and do so many things. If I didn’t feel compelled to make art the way I do, I think I’d be doing some kind of counseling or ministry work, being with people who are struggling and trying to help them in some way.

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What inspired you to start your business?

The idea for Heartell Press came to me after my mom got sick with cancer in 2012-2013. She is well now, thankfully, but for a while things were really hard, and between visits I spent a lot of time in stationery stores looking for cards to send her. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I started having ideas for making my own.

The first Heartell collection I released in the fall of 2014 consisted of sympathy cards with a warm, sincere tone that lets the giver be present to the person receiving the card, without trying to explain or fix or avoid the hard thing that is happening. Around the time my mom was getting better, I made a change in my work situation that freed up a lot of my time, making it possible for me to devote the necessary time and attention to build a small business from scratch. Heartell is a full line of cards for all occasions now, but I strive to maintain that standard of warmth, sincerity and presence in every card I design.

What is your production process like, from concept to finished product?

Each Heartell card begins by making a drawing on paper to act as a guide for carving. I refine and rework the drawing until I’m happy with it. If it has text, I’ll scan it and set the type on the computer so that the carved letters will be legible and evenly spaced (hand lettering is not my forte!). The drawing also has to be in reverse so that the print doesn’t come out backwards, and the computer is useful for that. Then I print it out again and transfer the drawing to a block. My favorite material for blocks is Shina plywood, which is made in Japan and favored by woodblock printers because it has a fine grain and is easy to carve but is strong enough to hold fine detail. Sometimes I use linoleum blocks since linoleum has different properties that work better for some images.

My favorite part is carving the design by hand using Japanese-style hand tools. Carving is meditative, and seeing the finished design is very satisfying. Printing the blocks on my Chandler and Price Pilot letterpress is the last step, using high quality recycled cotton paper and special inks that are highly pigmented to create bold, saturated colors.

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What are you planning for the next few months?

I’m always adding new cards to the line, and I’m thinking about adding some other paper products for the holidays including table cards, gift wrap and gift tags. I’m starting to sell my cards to retailers so that people can buy them in stores, so I’ve been working on my wholesale catalog.

I’m participating in Gowanus Open Studios in October, which is one of my favorite weekends of the year. Hundreds of artists participate, and we all open our spaces to the public. I love talking to people about what I do and hearing their stories. I might even do some live printing demonstrations so people can see how the press works. And of course, I’m looking forward to being a vendor at the Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar in November! I didn’t get to visit last year but I heard rumors about hot chocolate drinks with giant marshmallows.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?

Running a business means managing lots of different projects and keeping many balls in the air at once. I just read Getting Things Done by David Allen (never thought I’d be reading business books but now I gobble them up like candy!) and started using an app called Trello to organize all my to-do lists and projects. The change has been pretty revolutionary in terms of my clarity of focus and productivity. I’ve tried lots of different systems but I think I have hit on the right one for me, and I wish I’d known about it a year ago.

On a more philosophical level, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that developing an idea and growing a business takes time, and that’s a good thing. I was anxious to figure everything out at once at the beginning, but I’ve realized that if a project is something you really care about (and Heartell Press definitely is for me), you’re going to be doing it for a long time, and it’s OK to build it slowly at your own pace and enjoy the process.

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What neighborhood are you in? What are your favorite spots?

I’m in Gowanus, and I love it! New businesses and projects of all sorts have popped up during the six years I’ve lived here and I feel spoiled having access to so much within walking distance (my home and my studio are a five-minute walk apart).

I live on the same block as the pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds, which is a little dangerous because their pies are so delicious. There are excellent art spaces in the neighborhood, including Brooklyn Art Space and Trestle Gallery, Gowanus Art Space and Gowanus Print Lab, and a new place called Craftsman Ave for taking classes. Supplies of all kinds are easy to find at Artists and Craftsman on 2nd Street, Build It Green and the flea market New York Old Iron under the F train overpass on 9th Street, and of course good old Lowe’s.

For drinks I am loyal to Halyards, it opened a couple of years after I moved here and I have now celebrated all kinds of occasions there over the years like birthdays, art shows and even our wedding in 2013.

Cheers to Heartell Press! You can shop the full collection at http://heartellpress.com. Don’t miss Rachel in person at our upcoming Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar!

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