Natasha stands at the helm of her steel printing press while we chat. She’s setting up for screen-printing a new batch of Tchoup Industries tees, and I’m tagging along to experience her process firsthand. Her company Heartsleeve operates out of this space in the Mid City Art Studios on Toulouse Street. Once the large commercial home of New Orleans’ City Graphics, it has since been renovated into art studios now occupied by over thirty artists. Natasha’s space is rich with character – old thick brick walls interrupted by swaths of brightly painted plaster shapes and large windows providing so much light and fresh air when propped open. Her space is toward the front of the building and as other artists stream in throughout the day, she calls out a kind “Hello!” to everyone passing by her open door.
During our printing session, conversation wandered through the topics of small creative business ownership – growing staff, team management, design originality, competition, festival selling tricks, being Leos, and keeping a general positive attitude about life. Even though I’ve been familiar with Heartsleeve for a few years now, I was thankful for the opportunity to learn more about this company whose positive roots are growing quick and strong here in the New Orleans community.
Natasha is only one half of Heartsleeve. Her partner in life and business is graphic designer Bernie January Jr. Together they provide the services of design, screen-printing, and even offer their own collection of tees that donate back to local non-profit organizations. Their goal with the collection is to support small, Louisiana Causes with original designs and hand-printed t-shirts. Above and beyond this financial support of local projects, Bernie also puts in time as Lead Design Mentor and art directs design projects for YEP Design Works, a work and learn program developing local, creative youth into creative digital media professionals at the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP). I can tell by the way Natasha talks about it, they both take special pride in further supporting exceptional graduates through their own professional networks.
I was curious how Natasha started screen-printing since her background is in environmental non-profit development with the Gulf Restoration Network. When asked, her response was bright and simple, “Pippin taught me!” Pippin Frisbie Calder is one of my personal favorite New Orleans artists, her block prints express the beauty and command an awareness of our fragile ecosystems. Pippin has collaborated with GRN (initially connecting her and Natasha), and she also played a big role in the New Orleans Community Print Shop, where she taught Natasha how to screen-print and develop designs for this medium.
I left the printing studio that afternoon with my arms loaded up with freshly printed tees and a feeling of pride for supporting this local company. Considering their scope of generosity and positive impact on our city, the dollars Tchoup Industries spent for these shirts will most certainly be paid forward. Heartsleeve has its roots firmly set in a foundation of community, leveraging its creativity for local change.