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Meet Rachel Hillberg of Tiny Telegrams in Long Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachel Hillberg.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Rachel. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
It’s a long and winding path that’s led me here. I started my creative career as a freelance studio assistant while in college, primarily working for my friends Kim Garrison and Steve Radosevich of United Catalysts. I found my passion for bookbinding as a Studio Arts major at Orange Coast College.

I started co-teaching bookbinding workshops with Kim and landed a gig teaching book arts workshops at a craft studio in Anaheim called The Makery right as I graduated from California State University with my Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Arts.

Meanwhile, I was struggling to sell my own handmade journals. While the craftsmanship was good, they were just kind of generic, there was no je ne se quois, no artist signature in them. I felt an increasing need to find my niche and make something truly unique.

The first step towards what would become Tiny Telegrams came when my friend Leland had his 64th birthday celebration after having cataract surgery. I thought it’d be fun to make a tiny card with microwriting so he could take his new, improved eyeballs for a spin, so I made him what would become the first unofficial Tiny Telegram prototype. It was a huge hit, delighting everyone in the room! I felt, at that moment, I’d hit on something special and worth developing further.

The second step towards making Tiny Telegrams what it is now was the telegram part. The big ah-ha came in the form of a literal telegram. My friend Laura sent me a letterpressed telegram style postcard because she knows how much I love vintage ephemera and correspondence. Thus, from having a unique size and vintage style, as well as a deep love for alliteration, Tiny Telegrams was born! I made a logo and a few designs and in the fall of 2014, launched my new Etsy site.

Since then I’ve added the Tiny Cryptograms- hand encrypted messages with tiny Caesar cipher wheels inspired by the 1980s how-to book series Usborne Spy Guides. Making these allows me to play out my childhood dream of being Nancy Drew. I’ve also more recently added Proposal Grams, and also a pictogram treasure hunt that I developed with Kim Garrison’s college illustration class. I owe the students a big debt of gratitude for helping me put my ideas into the world so much more quickly, and also for the chance to develop my art directing skills.

Has it been a smooth road?
Oh, god no. Like I alluded to before, the first couple of years after graduating college were tough. I loved being a student and struggled to adjust to life outside of school and find my niche as a maker and artist. As a Studio Arts major, I had taken a lot of different classes based more on my interests than a clear career-oriented trajectory. I knew I loved bookbinding and paper craft but knew the job options would be few and far between.

Out of school, I was a conceptual artist with some disparate and really specific skills who was looking at listing after listing of private art teaching jobs that wanted a portfolio heavily laden with drawings and paintings. My portfolio had a lot of breadths and straddled a lot of media and genres, but it was incredibly unfocused, much like myself at the time.

I’ve also struggled with inattentive ADHD all my life. I wasn’t diagnosed until a couple of years ago and I’m actually really grateful I wasn’t treated for it earlier. I’ve developed coping mechanisms that have served me well both as a freelance artist and creator/owner of my own business. The wandering mind is such a marvelous source of creativity and a wellspring of ideas, and often I find that I need to use my strong sense of play lead me into my best ideas. I’ll sort of let my ADD run loose for a while and take a lot of brainstorming notes, sketches, etc. until I find something that captures my attention. Once that happens, I can dial it in.

I also often find myself and my work existing in these different, parallel creative identities. I’m part maker/ craftsperson part fine artist and part designer, but never really at home in any one of these worlds. For a while, this imperfect venn diagram troubled me, but over time, I’ve found strength in versatility.

I am incredibly lucky in that I have a supportive community of creative friends around me, always willing to dig in and toss around ideas, especially my good friend Kim of United Catalysts. She’s been there as a sounding board since the inception of this project, and she and Steve are hugely influential to me both as conceptual artists and human beings. Their spouses too, really… my friendship with them came with a strong network of creative friends attached, and I’m forever grateful.

I’m also truly grateful for my spouse Mike, who has been complicit in and supportive of my crafty shenanigans from the very beginning. He’s got a strong business background, and I’ve learned a lot from him along the way.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I own and operate Tiny Telegrams Postal Telegraph Co. I make teeny tiny telegram style cards, encrypted secret messages, cipher wheels, and tiny pictogram-based treasure hunt kits.

Each of my tiny Telegrams or Cryptograms is carefully packaged in a keepsake tin, wrapped in a craft and butcher’s twine band and sealed in wax, and comes complete with mini magnifying glass, cocktail sword letter opener. The Tiny Treasure Hunt Kits include 25 pictogram cards and an instruction booklet in a tin with clear lid, bound with decorative butcher’s twine.

Oddly enough for an artist, some of the proudest achievements come from the business side of this little company. A little less than a year ago, I got my business name trademarked. Just figuring out how to explain my business to the folks at the U.S. Patent office so they could fit me into the correct categories was a huge accomplishment. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about running a business through doing and I’ve been able to teach myself administrative skills like cost analysis, pricing, and marketing.

Tiny Telegrams has also brought in some amazing projects. I’ve gotten graphic design jobs like designing a podcast logo, or a university newsletter mascot. I even got my first art director IMDB credit for an indie TV pilot called The Friendless Five making maps, posters and ciphers. Besides founding Tiny Telegrams, Making props for the show was the absolute greatest and most fun, creative achievement of my career thus far.

I’m also incredibly proud of the Tiny Telegram Gal persona I’ve curated for craft booths and in-person sales. She’s a little retro, a little sassy, and a costume inspired a little bit inspired by Jan Weidlin’s Singing Telegram Girl in the movie “Clue”.

Between the product itself, my costume, miniature roll top desk, and other fun vintage miscellany, my booth is pretty eye-catching and unique. I do my best marketing and networking in person. There’s a strong tactile element that is difficult to portray online, although the gorgeous promo photos Lindseying Photography took for my website are really spectacular.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Oh man. I love Long Beach, I really do. I’m a transplant from Orange County, I’ve lived and worked here for about six years now. I met my husband at a cool local wine bar called 4th Street Vine on Retro Row, later had an art show at that same bar, and have had a craft booth at several artwalks around the city. I’ve popped up at Freespirit Yoga in Bixby Knolls and MADE by Millworks in downtown and met a lot of really cool people.

This city has been really good to me both personally and professionally. I operate primarily from my home studio as an independent contractor/freelance artist, and don’t have a physical shop or run a retail business, so I can’t speak to that, but there are a lot of creatives living and working here, a lot of galleries and shops that sell local handmade like MADE by Millworks and MAKE Collectives, as well as tons of mom and pops businesses.

Long Beach is also really bike friendly, especially in comparison to Orange County. I bike from my home in East Anaheim/Zaferia District to my awesome day job as a bookbinding assistant to Kristin Dunn Bookbinding and Design in Downtown, and I can walk to my local post office to drop off orders.

Long Beach has changed a lot since I first fell in love with it in the early aughts. It’s not without its problems, there have been struggles with gentrification, and I must acknowledge as a middle-class white person, I am not exempt from responsibility. There has been a lot of construction lately, a lot of change and growth… and with it some growing pains. It’s a really diverse place, economically, ethnically, linguistically and philosophically, and I hope it continues to be a place that takes care of its own while welcoming and embracing outsiders and transplants.

Pricing:

  • Tiny Telegrams $20.00 (plus S&H)
  • Ready to Send Grams $18 (plus S&H)
  • Tiny Cryptograms $25 (plus S&H)
  • Tiny Treasure Hunts $20 (plus S&H)
  • BOGO Treasure Hunt with any Tiny Telegram $28 (plus S&H)
  • Tiny Proposal Gram $20 (plus S&H)

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Lindseying Photography hwww.lindseyingphotography.com

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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