Small Biz Bio: Chicago Birch

Chicago is the home of many talented entrepreneurs. This blog series is made to highlight their talents and spread awareness to their individual and unique businesses. Meet Jared Rohlfs, an ISU graduate that inspires students by day, and creates homemade art by night. Here is his story.......

Q: Tell us about yourself in general

A: I am a 25-year-old PE Teacher working in Chicago Public Schools with a lot of extra time on my hands. I love traveling, camping out west, going to concerts, pizza, beer, my family, my fiancé, my friends, the WWE (specifically Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Attitude Era), and making stuff that I think is cool. (not necessarily in that order)

Q: Why do you do what you do?

A: That's a good question. This all started by accident. I was at Target with my fiancé buying stuff for our apartment, and I spotted this framed piece of art in the decorative section. The image was of the Eiffel Tower, but made with pins stuck into a board with string wrapped around each pin to create the image. I thought it was pretty cool, but the image was stupid, and whoever made it did a really shitty job, not to mention it was expensive. I said to myself "I can do that, and I can make something cool like the CTA train map." Literally the next day I went to Home Depot and Michaels, bought some supplies and got to work. When I hung it up on our wall. As friends and family came by to see the new apartment they all commented on how much they liked the piece. With the amount of attention that it gained from our friends, my fiancé pushed me to make more and get a booth at the Lill St. Craft Festival in Lincoln Park.

Q: What do you do? What is the process of making a piece of art?

A: I make handmade nail and string art. The process starts with finding a good piece of birch wood, then I cut it down to size for the different pieces I want to make. After that I choose a color of stain, and put a coat on each side. Then I hand draw a design on a piece of paper, and mark all the spots where a nail will go. Once I have the drawn template completed, I place it on top of a piece of wood, and tape it into place. Next I take a nail and tap a hole where each nail is going to go. After that I take the template off, hammer in all of the nails, and finally I pull the strings around the nails to create the desired image. 

Q: Why birchwood specifically?

A: Two reasons.

1. Reasonably priced

2. Has an awesome grain that looks really cool when stained

Q: What problems have you run into? And how have you solved them?

A: Packaging and delivery. The pieces are just awkward to package, and making sure they are safe in the mail has been a big concern. Also, the pieces can be rather heavy depending on their size which makes shipping them really expensive. At this time I have found that wrapping the pieces in butchers paper works really well to keep the strings from getting caught on anything. I also try to personally deliver the pieces if possible to ensure that they get their safe. Plus I think its really cool to meet the customers that like what I am making.

Q: What Inspired you to start this? What inspires you to continue? What inspires the designs you make?

A: The inspiration was just dumb luck, but what inspires me to continue is the challenge of trying to make new designs that people will look at and go "That's awesome, how did you even do that?" The initial designs have almost entirely been inspired by the city of Chicago and the feeling of pride that I have for this city. 

Q: Why the name Chicago Birch?

A:  Well, I needed a name to register for the Lill Street Craft Festival, and it was coming down to the wire. I looked around and almost every design I had made was Chicago themed or inspired. I just decided that I mine as well merge the canvas that I use with the City that I love, and just like that Chicago Birch was born. Honestly though I am looking to change the name to "Strung Out" in the near future. It's a great play on words and perfectly describes how I feel sometimes when hammering in thousands of nails, or pulling hundreds of feet of string long hours into the night and early morning. 

Q: Where can people find you? 


 and more actively on my instagram page @chicagobirch

Q: What does the future hold?

A: The company basically started out with a small number of designs that I mass produced in my kitchen to make a decent profit in order to avoid getting a summer job. However after spending the summer recreating the same design over and over again, I have decided that what I love most about this whole thing is making new pieces and challenging myself. I'm still going to make my Chicago themed pieces and attend summer festivals, but I am really going to focus on making/recreating as many new and challenging pieces as I can


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