The greeting card company Tellinga was created with a goal to help people stay connected on a tangible, personal level. Tellinga allows people to send individualized story cards through snail mail with their loved ones as the characters.

While attending Rice University in 2018 for his master’s degree, Tellinga founder Alex Kurkowski decided to start mailing hand-drawn artistic letters to keep in touch with his friends and family.

“Imagine a comic or any book with images being taken apart page by page and then those pages snail-mailed out one by one throughout weeks or even months,” Kurkowski said. “For my friends and family, it was always a way to stay connected and create fun, personalized stories so that they could look forward to checking their mailboxes every day.”

Later that year, Kurkowski’s friends heard about his “mailbox movies” and encouraged him to start a business offering people a chance to send personalized greeting cards with similarly creative and thoughtful storylines.

“We live in such a digital world these days as we are always emailing, text messaging and following each other’s social media accounts,” Kurkowski said. “Tellinga offers a way to tap back into the tangible and traditional by providing a product that you can touch and feel on a deeper level rather than staring at another screen.”

Tellinga currently employs 25 artists with visualization or art degrees from around the country, including from Texas A&M, who illustrate each order on heavy cardstock and mail the cards every other day to the recipient’s address.

“There is a connection between the artist and the customer that allows us to create a completely unique story for each customer that involves their friends, family and even themselves,” Tellinga illustrator Patrick Medina said. “As an artist, I am bringing someone's personal story to life in a tangible way. That kind of connection isn't something that can be found in the gift card section of a supermarket.”

When ordering, customers choose to either send their stories as a one-time card or a series of letters spread over one week, two weeks or one month. After giving a description of the basic storyline, the senders upload photos of the recipients for the illustrators to use as a reference for the characters.

“Because story orders vary in timespan, I must take a customer's storyline and split it into the appropriate amount of parts (1, 3, 6, or 12) and then form a narrative around what they've written,” Medina said. “Some customers are very specific in what they want in their story descriptions, while others are more vague. In general though, I have a great deal [of creative freedom] in terms of dialogue, artistic style and plot development.”

Elissa Weaver, an Aggie visualization graduate from the Class of 2015, joined the project this past summer and said she has always done something similar for her own family and friends, making her new job an extension of what she does naturally.

“I think tangible art will always hold more power than digital, due to it just being inherently more rare and personal,” Weaver said. “What makes Tellinga special is simply that it is so customizable and personal and it’s always something new.”

In the future, Kurkowski said he hopes to expand Tellinga into a “significant alternative to the traditional greeting card” by implementing a sharing economy like Uber, where aspiring artists can easily join the project and work on their own schedule while fostering connections between their customers.

“For a young college student, it provides a manageable level of work with a nice bit of supplemental income,” Medina said. “As an art student, it also provides me with a regular outlet to practice my craft. For a customer, a great deal of value comes from what you can see and feel, such as the strokes of the pen/brush or the feel of the card in your hand.”

Along with comic-style cards, Kurkowski said he plans to bring on writers and novelists to write “love letters, poems, or any fun story,” and begin a subscription service for Tellinga.

“The goal is to provide an extremely personalized gift that brightens a loved one’s day by delivering little hand-drawn story surprises in their mailboxes,” Kurkowski said. “It gives people the chance to be a character of their own mailbox story sent out piece by piece.”

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