Graphic designer and business owner Chelsie Tamms is making moves up and down, left and right. She opened her Lettering Works graphic design business with a Kickstarter-funded book called Just My Type of Lettering she has just launched her newest project Cool Bean to help bring awareness to kidney disease.
The Logan Square resident was officially diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease in September 2019 and now is using her skills and time to bring together community, understanding and support in a playful manner to those who also suffer from kidney disease. But that’s only a small part of her work—she’s busy juggling different worlds that come together through art, design and advocacy.
Read more about her projects, her inspiration from her favorite places to visit in Logan Square and her experience as a business owner.
What inspired you to work on your art project called “100 Days of Chicago”?
Chelsie Tamms: I spent about the past seven years in central Illinois and I did the same project in Peoria. When I first started my business, Lettering Works, I wanted to find a way to reach out and get acclimated with the community and find new business owners that could use my services, so I created that project as a way to communicate what I was interested in working on and as a way of connecting with the community. When I decided to move to Chicago last year, I wanted to replicate what worked well in Peoria. The two things that stood out that worked well from the last project was making a series of postcards for Peoria as well as the 100 Day of Peoria. So I did both of those things upon moving here. First I created the postcard series, which is a series of six designs. After that, I decided to expand it into the 100 Days of Chicago.
The premise of the project was to create 100 different illustrations of local businesses and events happening in the area. For Chicago, I wanted to focus on a combination of the typical touristy things that are really iconic to the community and building pride, but also a focus on the neighborhood venues, businesses, and events that make Chicago unique and enjoyable for me personally.
All of the pieces are original hand-drawn illustrations; some of them reference the existing branding of locations, but really they’re independent illustrations made to promote the different businesses. None of the businesses knew they’d be featured, so it’s a way to show my interest in being involved in the community and also build up work focused on Chicago specifically.
Why did you decide to live in Logan Square?
This is my first time living in Chicago. I knew I wanted to be in the Logan Square area because of the art scene and high emphasis on creativity here; it’s integrated into the city. I always felt at home when I visited in the past, so it seemed like the right place to start. Logan Square has more of an art presence than some other neighborhoods.
What are your favorite places here?
All of the businesses that I highlighted in 100 Days of Chicago were some of my favorites pretty early on and I still go to them pretty frequently: Lula Cafe, Gallerie F, Lonesome Rose and Tacqueria Moran. Bang Bang Pie is a restaurant I enjoy going to frequently and bringing friends and family to when they’re visiting. Their biscuits are great; I always get something that has some type of avocado on it and their patio is great when it’s nice outside. I enjoy spending most of my time in the area because of the artsy vibe of all the restaurants. You can tell that they care about aesthetics and creating a good experience—it’s often less pretentious than some of the restaurants downtown.
As a business owner, what are some lessons you’ve learned along the way?
When I first started [Lettering Works] I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and tried a lot of things. Now, three to four years in, I feel more comfortable in my abilities, my ability to conduct business, and my understanding of what I want to work on and what I don’t want to work on. I think that’s a huge struggle for a early-stage businesses in general, but also female entrepreneurs in saying “yes” to too many things and not enjoying the work.
Each time I get a new project I make tweaks to make it better than the last one and make sure I’m working on projects that are aligned with my personal goals. Once I hit the three-year mark, things started to click in that projects I’ve worked on in the past started to pay off in different ways, such as being able to grow my product line as well as my branding and graphic design services.
My experience in working with local shops in Peoria prepared me to approach businesses such as Wolfbait & B-Girls. I think that’s something a lot of artist don’t consider, they’re just waiting for somebody to say, “Can we sell your products?” The reality is you need to go show them your product and ask them. In the future, I would like to have more streams of passive income and grow everything so I can outsource parts of the business that I don’t enjoy. I want to keep the focus on doing the artwork and figure out ways to grow and scale without compromising the art.
You work with a lot of other female entrepreneurs. How is the network in Chicago?
One of the first events that I attended, and what got me connected to female entrepreneurs in Logan Square and Chicago in general, is a Ladies of Logan event that was hosted at Ampersand Cowork. It was great to see the range of people who are in the community and owning businesses. They’ve been able to cultivate a community around women business owners in Logan Square, which is great to see. I’ve also made connections through Bossy Chicago, a women-owned business directory that is specific to Chicago.
Since moving here, I’ve wanted to observe more than signup for events and be vending at them. My focus is meeting other people, seeing what’s happening, and interacting and learning more about their business. In addition, I will attend general networking events such as the LoganSquarist Meetups. It can be scary moving from a small town city to a bigger one and finding the same community of people and adapting to the size can be a challenge. When you attend events like the LoganSquarist Meetups or other events in the neighborhood and community it’s pretty easy to find the right people where you can run into them on a regular basis. It then doesn’t feel like this huge city but more so a small tight-knit community.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on making some of my designs into stickers and pins, which can be found at Wolfbait & B-Girls. I just started working with the Field Museum at the end of 2019 and I’m also working on getting my work into airports. [She has seen succeeded and seen her work in airports!] It’s been challenging navigating that, as well as figuring out who manages the purchasing for the airport shops.
I just launched two new projects: Plant Collection and the other called Cool Beans, which helps bring awareness to Kidney Disease. I did a restaurant concept, created a brand and also hired a dietitian to write up a menu for Cool Beans. The goal is to educate people on the renal diet and the effects and impact of kidney disease. It’s a personal experience for me, but I don’t just want to share facts about it. My problem was thinking I could only eat white rice with no seasonings and I wanted to solve that for myself, and at the same time make it beautiful and interesting, and tie it into my business. I’d love to do more restaurant branding, so creating a case study helps that while educating people on things that I’ve learned about it.
I enjoy spending a lot of time and product and art and bringing that into branding. A lot of the work I do in terms of visuals I do the same for businesses, whether it’s an iconic image for their businesses or designing something that doesn’t exist. I bring the same art and energy into what they’re doing as well.
Find her on Instagram @LetteringWorks and follow her creative journey.
Featured photo: Chelsie Tamms