How do you reach your people!? Chicago-based letterer Jenna Blazevich, all-round creative witch, and founder of Vichcraft tells us how she found her niche audience for her brand. Using her creativity, design experience, and badass hand lettering style crafted a business around the changes she wanted to see in the world.
How did Vichcraft get started?
Vichcraft started out as a service-based design company back in 2015; we really focused on logotypes and the branding of small businesses and nonprofits. It didn’t hit me until six months in that I could, rather than solely focusing on client briefs, bring in this whole other facet to the agency, products. This really stemmed from not wanting to be boxed in as a specific kind of letterer, as all the work we were working on were, essentially, just the briefs of clients. So I decided it was time to let our brand speak for itself.
I took a calligraphy workshop in 2012 which pretty much set me on this path. Back then, all I was seeing was Jessica Hische, and I had a Doyald Young book; that was pretty much it. At the time I was still studying graphic design whilst trying to teach myself pointed pen calligraphy, but I would say the two inevitably merged as became prominent in my freelance and agency work.
How do you feel that agency experience better prepared you to work as a full-time artist?
In undergrad I was studying fashion design, later switching my major over to graphic design, which inevitably led me to having to redo my undergrad because of this. My undergrad alone took me six years! It was a prerequisite at my first school to graduate with five paid internships under your belt, but given the economic crash, a lot of us were doing unpaid. Though, that initial experience did set me up in seeing the value of real world experience within the workspace, and I self initiated my own internships at my new school studying graphic design; though this wasn’t necessary.
I interned at six various establishments, these ranging from agencies to small stationery companies; all whilst upholding a number of personal projects so as to better my hand lettering craft.
I wouldn’t necessarily say it was the agencies themselves, but rather the juggling of all these elements, and developing that self-starter muscle, that prepared me to take this whole lifestyle full-time.
I do just want to touch on the internships however. I think about this a lot, and how I further perpetuated the problem; but interns need to get paid! People should be paid for their services. If you’re coming from a position of privilege, and are able to take on an unpaid internship, acknowledge that by upholding exploitative interrelations within the workforce, on a macro scale, is a disservice to those who don’t have the means to explore their education in this way. It’s a toxic dependency that is an integral part in upholding the greater parts of our global industries, and only feeds further into the devaluing of one's’ work and self worth.
At what point did things really start to take off for Vichcraft?
So Vichcraft, sure, it’s one name. But then there’s been so many creative ventures that have been executed under that name, that sometimes I feel the brand may present as a little confusing to people.
You could encounter Vichcraft in the form of a t-shirt, a logo, or a chainstitch embroidered jacket. And in the last few months, we’ve also acquired a storefront space here in Chicago where, by appointment only, you can get things custom made. And we also host events.
I guess what I am trying to say is that, as I’ve scaled the business in a way that’s been more so focused on the expansion in the various forms through which it could creatively cater towards, my mind’s never really perceived it in terms of “one-goal-one-formula-equals-success”.
It’s been manageable and I can’t say there’s ever been a time where things got too hectic!
You haven’t had that “viral” moment yet?
Not per se. I’d say my work is so specific in its aesthetic and subject matter that I don’t think its influence has been quite so far-flung. It’s in the more immediate moments between a client and myself, and that they’ve found something in my work that truly speaks to them; that’s where I find gratification.
What are the subjects you’re most drawn to?
When I have full control over the topics I am discussing, I choose to concentrate on racial equality, intersectional feminism, and environmental sustainability. It really ups the game for me in terms of immediate action and what I can do right now, today. I am not, say, in a larger corporation where there’s hierarchy, protocol and a much lengthier process involved when launching something. I am a one-woman-show, and with the internet at hand, can see my actions take immediate effect.
That’s not to say it isn’t intimidating. I am extremely conscious of what I put out there, and that once you hit “publish”, you can’t take that back. Messing up and being uninformed in a public space will have its consequences, and that’s where having a team or company backing up the product, message, campaign.etc., gives you that safety cushion in that it’s been cross-checked by multiple professionals within your field.
I want to make sure that, whatever it is I put out there, it’s informed and that I can stand behind it indefinitely.
Why the transition from logo design to working within a space that’s really bringing these topics to the forefront - what triggered this?
Ultimately, it’s what I care about. It’s prevalent within my own life, and within the lives and communities of those that I love.
These sentiments have been a part of my work from quite early on, and I’d say it’s delivered in a way that’s more so polarizing than say an aesthetic that would ultimately allow for the continued idleness of those who see what’s was going on, but aren’t really doing anything to address it. My debut project for Vichcraft was made out of bullet casings in reference to Chicago’s ongoing issue with gun violence. That format, perhaps not offering an immediate solution, does serve as a vehicle of truth. What’s happening, right now, right here, within our own community - now what are we going to do about it.
I wanted to take lettering from these everyday visual statements, such as doing someone’s wedding invitation, to literally spelling out the things we can no longer ignore.
What was your social media strategy?
“Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon was a book I was gifted around the time of my graduation, and one of the immediate actions he touched on was to pick your platform, and to post consistently. I didn’t have a smartphone, and this was pre-Vichcraft, so tumblr served as my initial accountability tool in getting comfortable with this practice.
Fast forward, I got my smartphone, started my instagram, and stayed consistent. But now, with the algorithm being the way it is, I wouldn’t necessarily give that advice anymore. I don’t like playing the game and working around, or running on the algorithm’s schedule. It feels disingenuous and it goes right back to feeding the machine.
I post infrequently, I don’t know how to access more than about seven percent in engagement, or how many of my 33k followers could be actual bots!?
Let’s delve into products. With what products have you seen the most success?
Oh gosh, so even just following up on the marketing aspect of the social media, I haven’t done much with my approach to product either. My first product “Tough Little Self-Employed Bitches” patch is a pretty strong staple as a bestseller. I think it’s an easily applicable embellishment for many, and that a lot of us identify with this sentiment. It was also the product that set the tone for many of my products to come. “Girls to the Front” is also a statement I’ve seen many of my customers resonate with; it’s reflective on a micro and macro level, and not only within the political landscape, but widespread in industry and community alike.
So what advice would you give to those just starting, and want to find that community?
Don’t base your aesthetic, message, approach.etc., on what’s popular. If you can take the time to figure out and delve into what makes you tick, what’s authentic and important to you, all will follow. By translating these inner most aspects of yourself, you’ll come to build a sustainable long-term business established on authenticity; and that’s what speaks to people and allows for genuine connection.
My approach to creating content for Instagram
What three topics are important to you?
Get clear on who your demographic is.
See how many pieces of work you can make a week, and for thirty days straight, start posting consistently on your platform of choice:
- The process behind the work + the static image
- Share elements of yourself + lifestyle
- Repost content from other people (within reason) on topics that resonate with you
This exercise will allow you to hone in on fine tuning your marketing strategy, whilst already putting yourself out there as a brand; and if you actually enjoy doing this or not!
Okay, before we sign off, is there anything you want to promote!?
I’ve been sitting on the idea of doing a few tours with my chainstitch machine in tow, see if I could do a little collaborating with fellow creatives in other cities, some live chain stitching, and perhaps host some workshops.
I really want to further develop my stained glass piece and see where I could take that too. If people have any thoughts, I am totally open to hearing them! It’s something that I hope could serve as a touch-point in creating tangible experiences - though I am not quite sure yet in how to facilitate this. Having the piece exposed via design blogs focusing on this type of work would also help to further circulate it. Getting in touch with potential art buyers or kickstarting a series for showing would be ideal in terms of where I see this going!