“There was a shift in my colour palette when we all had to hunker down at home,” says Sheffield-based printmaker Luiza Hulub, “and I started printed with a lot of happy colours. I think subconsciously I was trying to brighten up the long, hard and relentless days!”
It made sense for Luiza to turn those ‘happy’ prints into art cards, to spread a little bit of joy during a period in which we were all missing friends and family. This instinct correlated with a significant increase in greeting card sales on her Etsy shop as lockdown begun to take hold. “It all happened suddenly,” she tells me, “with sales really picking up at the beginning and lasting throughout.”
She’s not the only artist to experience this uptick in sales for greetings cards in recent months. Manchester-based printmaker Hannah Sulek also reports seeing increased sales as lockdown kicked in, while Liverpool-based illustrator Rachel Victoria Hillis has recently added greetings cards to her online store after much demand for them. “Lockdown has been the perfect time to acquire new pen pals,” says Hannah, “and my greeting card sales have definitely increased; certainly from family members wanting to support me, but also from all those lovely people who have supported local makers and artists during this time.”
While lockdown certainly brought increased digital connections via a frenzied uptake in online video-calling services such as Skype and Zoom, a return to a more traditional method of communication such a letter-writing speaks to a fundamental desire for a more considered, and authentic, connection. “I think the beauty of greeting cards is that they can be displayed, picked up, held, looked at, re-read, and even framed. It means that personal connection between sender and receiver lasts for a while longer,” muses Luiza. “My children have really engaged with sending and receiving letters, and find it very exciting when a letter or postcard drops through the door. There’s a moment of delight and gratitude when you open an envelope and read your loved one’s words. It’s very special.”
While quick FaceTime or WhatsApp check-ins from friends are very much appreciated, there’s something far more intimate about a handwritten letter. And in a time where everything has slowed down dramatically, it feels fitting to use this time to revisit such a traditional and deeply rewarding method of communication, bring generations together, and avoid any of the potential barriers that may hinder the use of digital services. The art of letter writing is far more therapeutic than logging in to a video call – which for many can bring on huge bouts of social anxiety – and involves many purposeful and considered choices before you begin; the type of writing paper, or choice of greetings card design; the type of pen or pencil to be used, and the colour of the ink. The act of stepping away from a screen and focusing carefully on your words, train of thought, and style of your handwriting all require an attention to detail that can help elevate the process into a valuable act of mindfulness.
Your words are – of course – the most important element, but a beautiful card considerately chosen for the recipient provides a long-lasting visual treat to be enjoyed for years to come. Here are three Northern-based artists whose carefully crafted designs are perfect for bringing a splash of charismatic cheer to the doormats of your nearest and dearest…
Luiza Hulub is a self-taught printmaker who came to her craft 7 years ago. “I’ve always had a very strong need to create,” she tells me. “It’s the physical act of creating something from start to finish and having a product at the end that really appealed to me back then – and still does now. I love that I can sit down with an idea and a few hours later have a completed print hanging up in my studio. Isn’t that great?!”
Having studied for a Masters in Contemporary Fine Art, Luiza didn’t initially pursue a career in an artistic field and instead went into banking. After maternity leave, she decided it was time to give printmaking her all, and begin selling her art. “It all happened quite organically,” she says, “and was something I did on the side for a few years, but taking the plunge has meant I could go at it head on.”
Her work is bold in colour, but simple in composition; contemporary with a nod to the traditional. “I find it expressive, but others have described my style as calming,” she tells me. “I like to embrace the uneven lines and the unexpected details of ink on paper when I’m hand printing, and try to put that across when I’m selling my work; the buyer will receive this one-off original piece with all of it’s quirks and imperfections.” She is drawn to still life, people and the natural world and works mostly from drawings and photos. “Prior to lockdown I used to go into charity shops and look on their bric ’n’ brac shelves for cool vases and pots and photograph them with my phone to work from in the future,” she tells me. “A lot of my coloured prints started this way. It’s not always just the objects that inspire, but the colours too. My photo feed is full of everyday, ordinary, and mundane things that I store for inspiration later.”
Until recently her prints were always very minimal and she only ever printed with black ink. At the start of the year however, she discovered her old paint box and within it, some old tubes of coloured ink. “That moment changed everything,” she tells me, “and I’ve found myself experimenting with colour ever since.” Colour has played a big role in her most recent lino prints, but she tells me that she tries not to overthink the colour-choosing process, working instead on gut instinct as to what looks good, while incorporating a splice of her signature bold black detailing into the design too. “That strong, irregular line in my early work comes from the core of me,” she says. “I never want to lose that line, so I try not to refine my ideas or drawings too much. I also don’t take my work very seriously, which means I can experiment quite easily, and feel no pressure in creating something perfect. I go into my studio to play.”
The past 4 months have definitely been a balancing act, looking after her three children during the day, and working in her garage studio in the evenings. “My business is still relatively new, and was just getting started before Covid-19 hit,” she says. “I had 6 months of art fairs booked up, but the pandemic abruptly stopped all of that. Selling online was my only option and luckily people have really engaged with lots of small businesses, which has been amazing. I’m forever grateful for the support and love of my work.”
She has also begun working on bespoke commissions, most recently for local hairdressing salon Kojo & Lee. “When Nikki-lee, who owns the salon, got in touch with a brief for the poster I jumped at the chance,” says Luiza, “even though I’d never done anything like that before! The icons were all hand-printed and the whole thing was put together in Photoshop. I learnt so much from that process, and surprised myself that I managed to complete it in a really short time with three kids at home! It was a challenge, but something I enjoyed hugely, and I would be really happy to take on more commissions like that.”
“Printmaking is the main thing I do, but running a small business means I also have to do the admin, answer customer queries, source materials, pack orders, social media marketing, product photography, shop updates – there’s so much! It’s been a huge learning curve. I’m still figuring out this creative path, and taking it day-by-day.”
All photography © Luisa Holub, used with permission.
Prior to becoming a freelance maker, illustrator and printmaker Hannah Sulek studied Textiles in Practice at Manchester Metropolitan University. “My creative practice has allowed me to explore so many different mediums including ceramics, textiles and print and all these experiences have contributed to the inspiration of my work,” she tells me. “The way in which I work acts as a kind of therapy and the slow, repetitive process becomes almost ritualistic. With the increasing demands on our time, it’s my time away from the digital realm. For me, my work portrays a visual record of the time I have spent making, and a way of keeping in touch with my own voice.”
Hannah’s work is suffused with a gentle sense of calm and mental clarity, with therapeutic shades of blue playing a significant role. “I always have in mind the times I have felt most content,” she says, “and usually this is when I’ve been out walking, visiting the beach or playing the piano. This filters through to my work in the use of colours and shapes associated with those places and experiences.”
She places a strong emphasis on the ethical and sustainable development of her pieces, whether it be large-scale recycled textile artwork or singular printed greetings cards. “These considerations have prevented me from making things at all at times,” she tells me, “but then I have to remind myself that making is a way to exercise my health and wellbeing in a positive way, and a way of distancing ourselves from the concerns of everyday life.” She always sources recycled materials and papers for her printing, and her next planned step towards being even more ethical in her making is through the production of her own natural dyes and pigments. She’s also extremely mindful of how her pieces can be used in a variety of ways, and is keen to promote the fact that a greetings card can also be repurposed as wall art, extending the longevity and purposefulness of a piece.
Lockdown has provided Hannah with the opportunity to reconnect with customers who have followed her practice over the years and she says that feeling reassured that there are people who want to support her, and value her work, has meant the world to her at this time. “Luckily my practice is based at home, and so the pandemic has allowed me the time to adapt better to using more accessible materials and purely making work from recycling previous projects. I have also been in the process of creating a series of print and textile wellbeing workshops,” she says. “Given the current pandemic, and the effect it will have long-term on people’s mental health, I would like to help make people more aware of how taking the time to make something is one of the best possible ways of mending the mind.” Watch this space!
All photography © Hannah Sulek, used with permission.
Rachel Victoria Hillis
“I grew up in a family of creative people,” says Liverpool-based illustrator Rachel Victoria Hillis, “and a family who love plants. When I was little I used to get dragged around garden centres constantly, and I hated it, but it’s funny how these things from childhood turn out to later be huge sources of inspiration. I am very much inspired by plants now in my work, and I have a huge appreciation of the natural world.”
Rachel grew up in North London but moved to Liverpool when she was 19 to study art, and be closer to her grandparents, who are from the city. “When I moved to Liverpool I started off doing an art foundation course,” she says, “then moved on to university, studying Illustration, and finally did a Masters degree, also in Illustration. I always wanted to be an illustrator, ever since I was little. I used to look at the illustrations in my mum’s Red and Marie Claire magazines and used to draw in a similar style to Jordi Labanda and Liselotte Watkins, who were two very popular editorial illustrators in the 90s and 00s.”
Her style hasn’t changed all that much since then. “I used to draw fashionable ladies from magazines, and stick bits of collected fabric and ribbon onto their clothing, and I’m still very much inspired by fabric patterns and clothing, but now it’s not my main focus.” She still includes ‘fashionable ladies’ in her illustrations from time to time, but plants have taken over as her main source of topic and inspiration. Her popular botanical infused illustrations have a playful focus on design, nature and sustainability, ranging from pretty interior scenes with unusual houseplants, to verdant European courtyards with an abundance of greenery.
“Making sure my business is ethical is very important to me, because I care so much about the world and constantly feel upset about how big businesses seem to not care about the planet at all,” she tells me. “I like to think that my appreciation of the natural world is evident throughout my work, and positively inspires other people to appreciate the world in a similar light. I strive to create the type of world I want to live in through my work,” she says. Her discerning eye and distinctive illustration style is very much in demand, and she has collaborated with a range of like-minded brands across the globe since graduating in 2017, including Soho House, Slowdown Studio (her design for the Ashby throw was one of the winners of the Slowdown Art Comp 2019), HEMA and Goop, and has created bespoke illustrations for an array of publications including Be Kind, Bloom, Flow and The Simple Things.
When it comes to the products she sells online, all of her greetings cards and postcards are all printed in the UK on FSC paper, batch printed to order, using a scheme that promotes less waste of stock, and sent in packaging that is biodegradable or recyclable. Likewise, her Giclée prints are printed sustainably in the UK on cotton paper that has been ethically handmade in Somerset by St Cuthbert’s Mill, using by-product materials from the textile industry.
“My long-term goal for my business is to just keep growing, improving and learning. I want to continue to work with brands I admire, and to continue making my business as ethical as I can,” she says. “I would love to travel more, for inspiration, and continue to create drawings along the way.”
All imagery © Rachel Victoria Hillis, used with permission.