We had the good fortune of connecting with Krishna Chavda and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Krishna, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I always knew I wanted to do something in the arts and have my own business, like my parents and their architecture firm. It wasn’t until I took an illustration class during a study abroad program that I pinpointed illustration as my career path. I went to grad school to study illustration as my undergraduate degree was in fine art and I had no concept of the ins and outs of an illustrator’s life.
I graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with an MFA in Illustration and an unofficial concentration in surface design. I first started illustrating professionally in 2011 while still in school and NANU Illustration was my business. At the time, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what I wanted other than wanting to be a freelance illustrator for editorial publications, books, and whatever else piqued my interest. Stationery design hadn’t crossed my mind at the time, aside from a few holiday cards I made. That all changed with a text message from my friend.
In 2014, my friend, Catherine Moore (a phenomenal graphite and watercolor illustrator), texted me “Vincent van Gopher – make it happen”. Catherine is a college art and design professor and, at the time of the text, she was grading tests where she saw her student had misspelled van Gogh as G-O-P-H. She loves wordplay so her mind went from “Gogh” to “Goph” to “Gopher”. As a fellow lover of puns, I had to oblige and draw it when I got the whole Vincent van Gopher backstory. Once I started thinking about famous people and merging their names with animals, I couldn’t stop. I had so many ideas pouring out of me.
The illustrations were popular amongst my family and friends, who requested art prints and greeting cards. Around the same time my other friend invited me to be her featured artist for Montclair Art Walk. It was awesome to see so many people responding to my art with hearty laughs. I began to branch out by adding birthday cards and love/friendship cards.
In 2018, after some years of doing local markets and art fairs, I decided to take the leap into the world of wholesale stationery. Since NANU Illustration didn’t fit as a name anymore, I rebranded to NANU Studio, a purveyor of punny and pretty paper products!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My vibrant, playful, and pun-filled line of greeting cards and stationery is a reflection of my Indian heritage and my multicultural upbringing – I was born in NY and raised in Tanzania, which I still call home as my parents are still there. As a kid in TZ I was fortunate to be surrounded by rich, bold patterns and colors, my parents’ lush garden, and plenty of nature and wildlife when we went on safari during school breaks. We also visited India often, where I experienced yet another world of brilliant colors and textiles. All these elements are woven into my drawings.
The illustrations are drawn with pen and ink on paper, which are then scanned into Photoshop, or I draw directly in Photoshop with a stylus pen. Either way, I color my work digitally using a process I call collage painting because I layer colors with real watercolor textures to create the look I want. I started working this way during my junior year of college and refined it during grad school.
The easy part of all this has been that I knew I wanted to make art for a living. I’d known this from a young age and was grateful to have supportive parents who also sent me to a boarding school with an incredible arts program, The Cambridge School of Weston just outside Boston. It is also where my current style of drawing was born; in Tom Evans’ Self Portrait class where we did blind contour drawings for about a week. The wibbly wobbly linework stuck with me.
An early challenge was that I didn’t want to do fine art nor graphic design but didn’t know what my other options were. I appreciated both of those things but it wasn’t quite right. I took an illustration course during a study abroad program during my junior year of college. That’s where I discovered that “illustration” was a thing and the thing I wanted to do. But how? So, I went to grad school, learned about concepts and composition, new materials and techniques, refined my drawing skills, and discovered I love surface pattern design. I graduated and had all sorts of jobs from sign artist to licensed character pajama print pattern designer, educator, yoga teacher, and now, stationery maker!
I think one of the biggest lessons I learned along the way was to let go of other people’s judgement about my work and not let it drag me down. There were distinct times when I was told in a tactless manner that my drawing skills were lacking, which made me very self conscious and self critical about my abilities for years to come. The more I learned and grew and started really discovering what I did and did not want to do in the art world, the more I realized that those people didn’t know what they were talking about and I didn’t need to internalize their words.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
This is a hard one! The “best time ever” itinerary would be so different for each of my favourite people! However, I think regardless of who it is, the plan would involve some combination of the following:
– Grilled cheese sandwiches from Van Hook Cheese & Grocery in downtown Jersey City.
– A trip up to the Storm King Art Center in NY’s Hudson Valley.
– Ice cream at either Torico or Milk Sugar Love, also in Jersey City.
– A bike ride through Hoboken and Jersey City to the southern part of Liberty State Park to see the NY Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. Maybe have a little picnic with the grilled cheeses.
– A stroll through Soho and the West Village, stopping into the independent shops (McNally Jackson bookstore on Prince Street is a staple). Then make our way to the Hudson River and walk along the waterfront before taking the ferry back to Jersey.
– Dinner at Empyrean Indian Kitchen in Hoboken. It’s one of my favourite spots for Indian food in the area.
– Trip to the American Museum of Natural History to check out the exhibitions and find some cool taxidermied animals to sketch.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
This answer is going to be a long one!
First, I’m super grateful for the support and encouragement from my parents to pursue my creative dreams since I was a child.
Big credit goes to Catherine Moore for giving me the “Vincent van Gopher” idea (and not requesting royalties!).
Over the years my sister, extended family and non-stationery friends have been incredibly supportive and helpful from helping me set up trade shows, providing ideas, stuffing and stamping envelopes, making me meals.
I would say a huge part of my recent success is a result of having a ridiculously fabulous group of stationery-making friends whom I’ve met through trade shows and mentor groups. I have a group of 5 friends whom I met at the NY Now Gift and Stationery show in 2020. We have a Whatsapp group chat called the Stationery Gang where we troubleshoot ideas and situations, provide moral support, creative feedback, and just chat about life in general. We meet in person when we can manage to coordinate our schedules! These paper people are: Daniel Durkin, Kate Murray, Cecily Moore, Ken Crossland, and Janine Kwoh.
In 2021, I joined the Greeting Card Association. It was quite possibly one of the best things I could have done for my business. I have met so many talented stationery people. Everyone there has been very generous with their time and knowledge. I also met one of my mentors through the GCA, Andy Meehan, who I virtually meet with about once a month for a group Zoom call with his other mentees.
Katie Hunt, founder of Proof to Product, has also been invaluable. Her educational program Paper Camp and her group business mentorship program PTP Labs have provided me with all kinds of business support along with an extensive community of people to keep me motivated and accountable!
Julianna Kissick of the brilliant stationery company Good Juju Ink was one of my first in-industry supporters. She was exhibiting at the National Stationery Show, a stationery trade show in NYC, in 2018. It was my first time exhibiting. I was taking a break from my booth to walk around and came across her booth. I had a browse then started talking to her. It was like instant friendship and we have a VERY similar sense of humor. She told me about her stationery journey, the ups, the downs. At some point I asked if she would have time to come check out my book and give me feedback for improvement. She and her husband, Ryan, both came over one at a time. They both said to me that my illustrations and puns are delightful though it might take some time to get recognized as I don’t have the flashy elements like foil or super trendy sayings. But they told me to keep at it because I am on to something wonderful. I’ve always kept their words in the back of my mind for when I’m feeling stuck. And I’m happy to say that this year it feels like the recognition is picking up.