Over the past several years, the LGBTQ community has been making great progress in equality and acceptance within our country, although there’s certainly still much work to be done. While the LGBTQ community can be seen more frequently being accepted in film, television and music, for instance, true equality will come when there’s LGBTQ representation throughout all areas of our society… even in something as simple yet powerful as a greeting card. Married entrepreneurs Caroline and Jessica Kaplan exemplify that spirit within their company, J. Caress Studio, which offers a variety of LGBTQ-themed greeting cards, art prints, sapphic erotica as well as custom portraiture.
C.J. Asher – First of all, thank you both for this interview! Tell us a little about yourselves, Caroline and Jessica…
Caroline Kaplan – Both of my parents were musicians and teachers. My whole family is involved in the arts in some way. I started playing piano from the age of two, figuring out famous tunes by ear and playing everything in octaves. By the age of eleven, I was studying Bach, Mozart and Chopin, and by twelve I was studying Rachmaninoff. I continued on throughout high school and was really serious about it; if not for developing severe stage fright over the years, I would’ve attempted a career as a pianist. I started drawing… I don’t know when. I liked to draw people. I loved comics. I created my own comic books when I was around eight years old. I taught myself portraiture. But at the time it wasn’t connecting with me the way music was.
During my college years, I wound up searching for answers in different fields, and my course changed a lot and I learned so much about art and science. I was gravitating towards science because I needed to find myself, but also because I needed to find out how and why diabetes had ravaged and killed my father while I was still in high school. I combined my academic career with a Masters in Medical Illustration. Though I graduated during the recession and took a job as a secretary at a midtown real estate firm, I grew with that company and was promoted up the ranks to Marketing Manager and Graphic Designer, as I always somehow return to art.
I think it’s true what they say… that you find yourself in your thirties. Now, with J. Caress, I’ve found an outlet where I can contribute to my LGBTQ community along with the person I love. And it turns out that it’s through my art, which has been there all along. I’ve never felt more proud.
Jessica Ann Kaplan – When I was only a year old and my mother was sick with lupus, my grandma would watch me and express concern that I’d swallow the little marbles I kept playing with but my mother always assured her I was content with arranging them in shapes and colors and would be fine. Apparently I did this through preschool, content as could be. In kindergarten, I made a dollhouse out of various paper. Not a little one. One as large as dollhouses! I made paper dolls to live in it and made tables and chairs. In second grade I used clay and sculpted a Native American scene with figures, pets, buffalos and teepees for a simple diorama project. My mom saw a pattern. When I was seven or eight years old she put me in art classes, where I learned different mediums and how to use them.
Between eight and nine, I became obsessed with dollhouses again and built a real one out of wood from a kit on my own and decided I wanted it to have electricity, so I laid down electrical wiring for lighting. My IQ was tested around this time because the school was concerned about a possible reading deficit. My IQ was more than normal but my performance IQ tested through-the-roof. It turned out I was severely dyslexic. But it never affected my grades. I wouldn’t let it. My parents made an art room for me when I was ten, once my older sisters moved out.
In junior high, I created my own little company, ‘Just Jess.’ I sculpted Femo characters for Christmas and my mom bought a table at a bazaar for me to sell them at. People loved them and I sold a bunch, even to my classmates for them to give as Christmas presents. In high school, I continued to pursue my art through sculpture, painting and drawing, but I also began another artistic journey—Speech & Debate. I took our high school to State with Humorous Interp. That’s a whole other story.
Because I was dyslexic, because I was shy, because I was gay, because I was the only black girl in an all-white catholic school in the Midwest in the ’80s and ‘90s, because I was adopted by two white parents in Ohio and had to explain my racial difference from my family to absurdly rude and ignorant people…. art was my outlet. There really was never any other path. It’s my passion.
C.J. Asher – Tell us a little about the company.
Caroline and Jessica Kaplan – J. Caress Studio – on jcaress.com and Etsy.com – offers the LGBTQ community a range of products that reflect our lifestyle, including unique greeting cards for special occasions, and beautiful artwork that celebrates our love. We all talk about gay pride, but these items can be an important source and reflection of that pride. We’re a sculpture and an illustrator. And both painters. We do commissioned portraits. As creative and entrepreneurial individuals of the LGBTQ community, we want to build a recognizable brand that starts a movement of inclusiveness. We care about all the moving parts of our business, from creation to marketing. We developed LGBTQ cartoon characters and plan on further developing for our Puss ‘n’ Bitch greeting cards. We offer more risqué cards you won’t see many other places, and we are excited about our newest Let’s Get Real serious line of cards. We offer art prints, sapphic erotica and you can commission us. As for the future, we have endless ideas about projects–some of which are currently in the works. But we don’t want to give away any secrets.
The name came from a combination of our own names, Jessica and Caroline, and the word “Caress” was a welcome option. The creation of our logo was also very important to us and we tried many, many versions before arriving at one we feel conveys what we do without having to state it.
Our demographic has long been underrepresented and underserved, and we want to help rectify that. As lesbians and artists, we established our wife-and-wife-owned creative company to focus our talents on increasing the visibility and inclusiveness of the gay community.
C.J. Asher – What are your titles and roles with J. Caress Studio?
Caroline and Jessica Kaplan – We both own the company. For formality purposes on business cards, we put that Caroline is the CEO and Creative Director and Jessica is the President and Senior Designer. As far as what each of us contributes, we work very closely. We bounce all ideas off of one another and come to a mutual decision. I illustrate the Sexy Silhouettes line art. Jessica sketches the situations for the cartoon characters from our Puss ‘n’ Bitch TM line and I implement them as vector drawings. Together we decide on color, texture, tone and overall composition. Though we’ve started with just a few, I come up with the sentiments for our Let’s Get Real line, while Jessica art directs me to create her vision of a printmaking feel. Caroline is more of an illustrator when it comes to our art prints and Jessica is more of a painter.
C.J. Asher – What first made you decide to start producing your line of greeting cards and prints?
Caroline and Jessica Kaplan – We’ve been J. Caress Studio since around December of 2015, even though the idea was sparked six years ago when Jessica and I got married. Despite the fact that we had guests attend from across the country, we found that–of those able to find a card for a lesbian wedding–they all only had access to and bought the same one, which we subsequently received several times. While this affected us on slightly more of a subconscious level, we didn’t take action until last November, when Caroline’s aunt married a woman and experienced the exact same thing, opening multiples of the same lesbian wedding card (not the same one as ours… I mean it was five years later). So yeah, a full five years had passed, gay marriage was finally the law of the land, the tide had supposedly turned, and yet something so simple but important had not changed at all. So, Jess and I took all of our years of talking and dreaming about owning some type of art business together and decided to make it real, and for an honest and beautiful cause.
C.J. Asher – What’s your best-selling product, and what makes it so popular?
Caroline and Jessica Kaplan – Our greeting cards are our best selling at the product right now. It’s hard to get people to remember we do other things, but so far some of the most popular greeting cards are: http://jcaress.com/greeting-cards/breakfast and http://jcaress.com/greeting-cards/sentiments-truth.
We think greeting cards in general, based on our business plan, are easier to market than artwork, regardless of subject. We think the most popular cards must have the right balance of what the customer desires, and we’re glad we have the three lines from which to choose.
C.J. Asher – How do you feel that your work positively impacts the LGBTQ community?
Caroline and Jessica Kaplan – At J. Caress Studio, we strive to design and illustrate completely original greeting cards that reflect what our community is looking for, highlighting an appreciation for sarcasm, sensuality and sincerity. We illustrate and paint pieces that reflect our adoration of sapphic love and the female form. Our pieces of erotica and LGBTQ-themed greeting cards are designed expressly for people like us—those seeking that special, very personal item that you can’t quite find anywhere else. We hope we are providing an important source of the pride we should feel as a community. And we want our allies to feel welcome, because without your love and support we could not be where we are today, so in a way, we feel we are helping to bridge a gap in society.
C.J. Asher – Who is your typical client base?
Caroline and Jessica Kaplan – Our typical client base would be the LGBTQ and allied community looking for greeting cards and artwork that represents their lives or the lives of the people they love in a very heteronormative society.
C.J. Asher – Tell us about some of the commissioned works you’ve done. Which ones have been your favorite?
Caroline and Jessica Kaplan – One does stick out–a lesbian couple who discovered us by receiving a free card we handed out at an event in Brooklyn during this past Summer. They are so sweet and in love and the commission was a complete surprise drawn from a favorite picture of their time at Pride NYC that year. We went to dinner with them and weren’t so successfully graceful with the “suite case swap”, but nevertheless, it was received better than either of us could have hoped. And, we’ve actually remained friends with them.
C.J. Asher – How do you feel that adult novelty items – including cards and prints such as yours – help couples to enhance their sexual activity and their relationships?
Caroline and Jessica Kaplan – We love the fact that our cards either get to the point with sexiness, make you laugh from lewdness, or hit you with rare sentiments you don’t find everywhere else. We appreciate the need for all types of sentiment–serious, funny, sexy, etc. Which is what sex should be. Celebrated and not shamed.
C.J. Asher – Where can customers go to purchase your products?
Caroline and Jessica Kaplan – We’ve gotten our product out there by basically going door to door. We researched areas and shops we thought would be interested, and, with only 12 cards available across three lines–this has since expanded–we visited around six of the places to see if we had a marketable product before moving forward. The feedback we received was beyond our expectations, so we worked even faster to develop our lines. We created and then took our larger collection of samples to hit more stores and we got our first order the first day we headed out. This was just last August, and our cards are now being carried in:
Please, An Educated Pleasure Shop in South Slope, Brooklyn
Nitecap Megastore in Staten Island
The Slinky Minx-an online store in South Adelaide Australia who found us through Instagram
Most I Love Excitement video stores in Pennsylvania
And we’re on Etsy and have our own site, jcaress.com.
Social media has been essential, particularly with instagram: @j.caress.studio
C.J. Asher – What sets your company apart from other greeting card and print companies?
Caroline and Jessica Kaplan – We think our artistic style in general is unique and recognizable to our brand. We believe we have product and ideas for future products that themselves are unique because they aren’t readily available at a point in history in which they are wanted and needed.
C.J. Asher – Tell us some of the compliments you’ve received from your customers.
Caroline and Jessica Kaplan – For our commissions: “Thank you!! We love it!!!” and “The closer I look at it, honestly the more amazed I am. You even got my slightly crooked tooth! Lol.” For our cards, things like “Truly delightful for the favorite queer folks in your life” and “Excellent card! Great quality — loved it!”
C.J. Asher – What social media sites can your customers follow you at?