January 2020 Feature Story: Rachel Bartunek

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

Rachel Bartunek | Designer, Calligrapher, Lettering Artist | Handmade Darling

When I first learned of Rachel's business, I was ecstatic. Living in a small town in Upstate NY it's hard to come across uniquely talented businesses like Handmade Darling.

Handmade Darling was created in 2012 as a side business. As the business grew, Rachel knew she wanted to run it full time someday.

Today, Rachel owns a brick and mortar shop selling custom products and services! Talk about dreams becoming reality.

Rachel's story is a prime example and perfect mix of undying passion, dedication, and commitment to something she loves. With a perfect mix of all 3 elements, she made her dream become a reality. It's proof that with motivation to succeed and do something you love full time, you can.

In addition to working on her business and brick and mortar full time, Rachel serves on the Clinton Chamber Board of Directors and serves as the Committee Leader for the Clinton Art and Music Festival. She's dedicated to giving back to the community and using her business as a means to do so. She's truly a one-of-a-kind.

I'm so excited to be working alongside Rachel for some of my wedding clients too! Her work is beautiful and truly one-of-a-kind. I can't wait to see her business continue grow throughout the years.

Enjoy her story below.

Tell us about yourself - Where are you from and what do you wish to be when you grow up?

Texan born, New York raised, I grew up with two amazing parents outside of New York City. My Dad traveled for work and we would travel with him whenever possible. I was very fortunate to be exposed to so many different experiences and cultures and creativity was fostered in our home. I’m still teased about all the businesses I created as a little kid, and I was absolutely a self-starting entrepreneur. From babysitting to friendship bracelets, I was determined to be a business owner.

What brought you to where you are today?

I went to art school directly after high school and interned with a fashion PR firm. In my first job out of school, I took what seemed like a great position – and hated it. I shuffled papers nonstop, did a lot of coffee runs, and organized luncheons. However, I also had a lot of free time in this position. I went back to graduate school at Pratt Institute, and Handmade Darling started in my teeny studio apartment and grew during my breaks. I started making handmade greeting cards and apprenticed with my thesis advisor, a master spencerian calligrapher when he saw I had a knack for hand lettering.

What do you do professionally?

I moved to upstate NY in 2016 and worked at a museum before moving into a graphic design position at a local advertising agency. This past August, I left my “day job” to pursue a freelance design career and focus on Handmade Darling and my brick and mortar, Almost Local, full time. Handmade Darling officially started in 2012, and I began working with wedding clients in 2015. I really wanted to take the time to hone in on my craft and make sure I was offering the highest quality items and design. I think a lot of people start too soon, and it’s incredibly important to take your time. I formed a friendship with a wedding blogger and she used me for many of her weddings, and even when she got married herself. I also started working with other vendors and reaching out to local venues to promote my services. At the time, calligraphy and hand lettering was still newer to our area and it was great timing. I also taught workshops at several venues which created a nice customer base – referrals are everything.

How long did it take to become a profitable company?

In addition to hand lettering and calligraphy, Handmade Darling is also a product-based business. We have items dedicated to weddings, but also for the everyday and a lot of local love. As with any business that deals with products, you have to spend money to make money. For years, we reinvested directly back into the business but two years ago marked our first profitable year with paychecks.

What does a day in your creative studio look like?

Although I have a home studio, I mainly work day to day from my storefront in Clinton, NY. I have a dedicated workspace and my rental pieces are on display in the shop. Our studios are spread throughout our home and include a wood shop, a laser workshop, and my own messy-but-organized desk area full of in-progress pieces, wedding decor, cork boards with inspiration, and so much more. Each day is different depending on the project we’re currently working on and the season we are currently in. Wedding season brings wooden signs, paper goods, table numbers, and lots and lots of samples. Christmas brings ornaments, signs, and almost daily post office runs. No matter the season, we’re always checking emails, following up with clients, working on design work, and staying up way too late!

What do you do to stay involved in the community?

When I moved to Clinton I definitely compared it to Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls and although I always thought I had Lorelei tendencies, I never thought I would actually become her! Currently I serve on the Clinton Chamber Board of Directors and I am the Committee leader of the Clinton Art and Music Festival, a really fun annual event that brings over 6K people to our little town! I’m also the Utica chapter leader for the Rising Tide Society. We’re known in our community and it’s really comforting, especially since I’m a transplant to the area. We know our neighbors, the coffee shop girls, and all the local dogs.

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

In 5 years, I hope to be a household name. We’ve been super busy trying to consistently create new products for our clients. I’m also working on licensing my art and creating templates for our customers who want the custom look with a more cost-efficient method. We truly care about each and every client and we want the best for you and your brand – whether that be your wedding or business.

If a child walked up to you and asked for your advice and you only had a few minutes to give them your best tip, what would it be?

If a child asked me for advice, I would tell them not to rush anything. Time is so valuable, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

What do you enjoy most about being a calligrapher and graphic designer?

The most rewarding part of doing what I do is connecting with other people in exciting times in their life. Whether it’s a couple getting married or an entrepreneur launching a new business, I’m always honored when someone chooses to work with me. I try to stay current by attending conferences and meeting with other creatives. I truly value community over competition and love to work with likeminded people.


Rachel Bartunek


Instagram: @handmadedarling

Facebook: @handmadedarling