If you are an owner of a small business in Brooklyn (there are, roughly, more than 35,000 of you) or belong to the self-employed set (there are, roughly, more than 80,000 of you), you need a business card. In a day when everyone is making very attractive things and offering particularly useful services, branding is everything. Apart from your website, that rectangular piece of paper with your contact information printed on it is still one of the best and first opportunities to let people know what that brand is (after the eye contact and firm handshake your mother taught you, of course).
But Brooklyn abounds with beauty, so creating a card that stands out among a sea of pretty ones might seem hard. Enter Rachel Kroh, owner of Gowanus-based Heartell Press (pronounced “here-tell”). Later this month and early next, Kroh will give two letterpress business card workshops for artists and makers. If you have a thing to sell, she’ll help you make a business card for it. But rather than from a traditional woodblock, which Kroh uses to print the Heartell Press line of greeting cards, she will teach you how to hand-print your new business identity on an antique letterpress using a photopolymer plate, which is a more modern and crisper printing technique than its wood-based predecessor.
Kroh got her MFA and studied print making at the Art Institute of Chicago. When she moved to Brooklyn in 2009, despite advancing her fine art work and securing shows, finding a way to make consistent money from it or get a rarified fellowship–the kind of traction she needed to earn a living from her work–proved difficult. It was like the talented and precocious student not getting invited to join the cool kids at the lunch table, and no amount of trying harder to convince them would change their minds.
But as with everything, the Internet started chipping away at the established order. Kroh realized she could redirect traffic, and create her own community around her prints and paintings. When she became a small business owner with Heartell Press in 2014–initially as a way to make the more immediately personal, warmer cards she could not find in the market and that she wanted to send to her mom who was sick at the time–she started to understand the importance of creating a brand that conveyed why her cards were a little different than your cards, or, at least, just the thing you were looking for.
“The odds were (originally) against me,” said Kroh, about her dream of supporting herself with her creative work. Now she has just one part time job (as opposed to three or four) to help her fill in the gaps. “I feel so lucky to be working in New York at this time specifically. Even in 2009, graduating from art school with the idea of supporting myself by selling my creative work online was not a possibility. Now it is very real, and a lot of people are doing it, and I’m very inspired by watching others.”
The idea to offer business card workshops came from a small business owner who took one of Kroh’s printmaking classes. “I was thinking it would be really cool for her to make business cards by hand, and have control over the process,” she said. “You can have letter press business cards made as well, but it’s a big endeavor and, for a new business, it’s about being flexible and trying things and changing them as you go.”
What, after all, was the other thing your mother told you? Your handmade gift is better received than the store-bought kind. It might have sounded boring at the time, but she was right.
“It’s really amazing to give something to someone that you made by hand,” said Kroh. “It’s an expression of how proud you are about what you’re doing, and shows a level of investment in your project that, I think, people are impressed by.”
You can join Kroh and rectify all the times you took the easy way out by signing up here for a letterpress business card workshop at her Gowanus Studio on September 29 or October 4. Get ready to make all the other things you already make look even better.