Find out how Marianna Peragallo, owner of Hand Plus Heart turned her hobby for creating greeting cards into a thriving online shop.
Marianna Peragallo is the fabulous artist behind greeting card company, Hand Plus Heart. Based in New York City, Marianna’s passion for designing cards started when she was back in high school where she would create a card for every occasion. Here, she tells us how she turned her hobby into a thriving online shop and shares the stories behind some of her favorite designs.
Tell us about your business – and where did the name come from?
It all started when I began making personalized cards for friends and family in high school. Hand Plus Heart has since grown into an online shop ranging a collection of cards with heartfelt, quirky messages (and the occasional pop culture reference) for all loved ones. Most cards are available in a variety of skin tones – I wanted them to feel customizable, inclusive, and progressive.
When I began deliberating a name for my shop, I thought about my subject matter and process – my drawings are mostly of hands doing something (holding flowers, holding wine bottles, holding another hand, etc.). And my designs are hand drawn, usually made with specific people in mind, so the cards come from a place of love. The name Hand Plus Heart popped into my head one day and I ran with it.
How did you come to find yourself designing greeting cards?
I’ve been making cards for people since I was a kid. When I was in high school my friends nicknamed me ‘Mashbomb Hallmark’ because my name would get autocorrected to Mashbomb in texts and I made cards for every occasion – I probably should have named my store Mashbomb!
I started developing the style of Hand Plus Heart in early 2016. This coincided with another drawing project I was working on called ‘The Remembrance Archive’ – it was a really heavy project. I’m a visual artist with a focus on drawing, but I also work on fine art projects that have a very different aesthetic to Hand Plus Heart. Making the cards was a fun outlet that gave me the space to reflect on moments that bring people joy. By October 2016, I had a solid range of cards and decided to put a website together that I could use as a commercial portfolio and web shop – separate to my artist’s website.
What were you doing before you set up your business and where did the drive and ambition to start your own business come from?
I used to work as a studio manager for another artist – I left as I decided wanted to give more time to my own work. Hand Plus Heart is just one of my many projects – the web shop seemed like a natural next step once I’d realized just how big my range was. To be honest, I’m the least business-minded person ever, but I love launching new projects and sharing them with people. Opening my web shop was just that!
I’m driven to make artwork that resonates with people, touching lives in some way. Creating brings me pleasure and satisfaction – but the prospect of not making things also gives me a deep anxiety, propelling me to constantly create. That’s probably my least healthy drive, but it’s very real.
Some of your cards have a really specific story behind them – your Missed Calls From Mom card is brilliant and something everyone can relate to. Do you draw inspiration from your own experiences?
Yes, most of my cards are inspired by my life and the lives of my friends and family. I’ll often include a little story when I post new cards to the Hand Plus Heart Instagram account. The Missed Calls From Mom card is a personal favorite that I made for Mother’s Day. I haven’t had a slew of missed calls from my mom in a while, but my brother still experiences it from time to time.
It’s so funny – when I call back she’s like “WHERE WERE YOU!?” And I want to be like, “I was dying! Thank god you called a million times! That’s what got me through and now I’m calling you back!” Instead I’m like, “Sorry…I was making myself dinner”. My mom and I are really great friends and talk often, so I feel ok about teasing her a bit.
Your illustrations feature a lot of meme references and internet culture – what do you love about this and do you find yourself creating the message or illustration first?
I usually have a specific occasion or person in mind, and I’ll jot down ideas as they come. The message and drawing usually come together. Sometimes I’ll use reference images from memes – as you can see on the Rizzo Valentine’s Day card and Mean Girls Christmas card. I use emoji’s recklessly and without shame in my text conversations, so it was only a matter of time before they made an appearance on my cards. With that said, I am usually the last to know about new memes and internet trends. The images and text I choose are more of a reflection of my sensibility and humor than an interest in internet culture.
What’s your favorite design and why?
One of my favorite cards has a drawing of Rizzo from the movie Grease lounging on a bench saying “Valentines Day? Sounds like a drag.” I watched Grease every weekend when I was a kid and I’ve always loved Rizzo. It was designed as a Valentine’s Day card to myself – even though I enjoy the (fake) holiday.
What’s the reaction to your cards? Do you have a story of a time one of your cards has really saved the day, made a difference or built a connection?
I’ve received really sweet responses to my cards. Friends and family are especially touched when they can tell the card was made with them in mind. The option to customize the skin tone has been really positive too. A friend of mine told me that she never saw herself represented in greeting cards before, so she was really moved that she could buy her mother a card that truly felt like it was coming from her.
How do you promote your brand? Do you use social media to build brand awareness?
Social media is my primary form of promotion and I’m learning about advertising through Facebook and Instagram to expand my reach. I also love participating in events like the one at Art Helix Gallery and connecting with people in person.
MOO has the important job of printing your amazing designs for you – why did you choose them?
Hands down, Printfinity is one of my favorite MOO features. My operation is very small, and this feature allows me to order multiple skin tones for my designs without having to keep a crazy amount of stock. The paper and print quality is consistently amazing and the customer service is unparalleled. My designs are in very good hands with MOO.
What’s next for you?
New cards are always in the works and I plan to add some new tote bags to the shop soon. I’ve been working on some custom projects through Hand Plus Heart too, so I hope to expand on that side the business. I’m also starting an MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York this fall!
What are your tips for aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to start their own business?
Hand Plus Heart is a lot of fun for me. I honestly had no intention of making money with these cards, which I realize is the least sage advice – but there’s something to be said not putting pressure on making a profit right away.
Starting a business, no matter how small, takes a lot of time and patience. There were so many details to work out in the beginning: finding the right website platform, photographing the cards, starting the Instagram account, finding the right packaging and determining shipping costs, etc. It took weeks longer than I anticipated. But, since I thought of it as a fun project, I didn’t mind.
I asked my friends and family to give me their feedback and implemented what I could – I do this with most of my work. I feel so lucky that the people close to me are incredibly generous and patient. I try to keep Hand Plus Heart as low cost and low maintenance as possible so that I can sustain it. It’s important that I keep the cards fun and make what feels true to me.
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