A hospital stay in 2007 was the unlikely catalyst for Eileen Conlisk to start her own card company. At the time, the graphic designer, who got her BFA at the Rhode Island School of Design, found inspiration for her own small business in the flower bouquets friends and family sent her.
“I just started drawing the flowers in my sketch book, and I just made these really intricate pen and ink drawings of all of the flowers people were giving me,” she says. “I turned them into cards, and approached a bunch of stores with them.”
People started placing orders, which Conlisk filled from her Greenpoint apartment, naming her new business Design Parlour. At a certain point, however, she started getting feedback from her buyers that her cards’ flower motifs and lack of messages might be limiting their appeal to specific customers–who were not exactly the hipsters who frequent North Brooklyn boutiques. “I realized a lot of parents and grandmas and old ladies were buying them,” Conlisk says, “but one store said to me, ‘Your cards don’t say anything on them.’ And for me it was like, ‘I’m an artist. I just want to draw and print my drawings and that’s it. But then I started thinking of the business aspect of it, and I said, ‘You know what, I’m only going to draw things that I believe and and sayings that are true to me.'”
Conlisk now has close to 100 different card designs that include everything from a card with a bright green head of broccoli that reads “Thanks a Bunch” to a quartet of troll dolls (those children’s toys with the heads of flaming hair that first popped up in the ’60s) with heads of alternating red or green hair above the words: “Merry Christmas.” Most of her messages play off puns like a vintage typewriter and the words: “You’re just my type,” but Conlisk says her biggest seller isn’t silly at all. Every year she gets request from all over the world for her Brooklyn Bridge cards–a series of prints created from photographs and drawings of the bridge she sometimes superimposes with everything from hearts to snowflakes, depending on the season.
“People love the Brooklyn Bridge, whether you’re from New York or you’re a tourist,” says Conlisk, who sells her stock on Etsy, as well as in local businesses. (She also designs wedding invitations and dinner menus as well.) “I’ll get orders from people in Europe who want that card–I don’t know where they’re going to–people might just be framing them as art. But people all over the country buy those Brooklyn Bridge cards, too. It’s really neat.”
No matter where in the world it’s going, all of Conlisk’s cards are handmade here in Brooklyn. She creates prints from the pen-and-ink drawings she puts down in sketch books by scanning them into her computer and slightly editing them digitally–like adding the snowflakes to the card above. Conlisk prints, cuts and assembles each card herself, preferring to use recycled paper and envelopes, which she picks up at a factory in downtown Brooklyn.
“Nothing I do is outsourced,” she says. “One thing that was important to me is that, when someone gives someone one of my cards, they don’t have to have any of the guilt of buying something factory or mass produced. There’s none of those connotations here. Most times when people buy a card from me, they’re buying it for someone else–a birthday card or a get-well card or a Christmas card–so I just liked the whole idea of hand making something that was going to make someone smile or make them feel better.”