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Brush with Genius

Meet artist and entrepreneur Happy Menocal

Written by Sally Finder Weepie

Talk about overachievers. A friend asked Happy Menocal, then a commercial storyboard artist, to design her wedding invitations. But what Happy created was a whole new means of personal expression: the modern coat of arms. Her whimsical art expresses who a couple is—maybe with a crown or banner, maybe with a doggo and a slice of pizza.

“I started riffing on the ancient idea of aristocracy. I took an old idea—the coat of arms—and invented a new idea,” Menocal says. “I build a symbol that a couple can take with them through their life. It’s whimsical bits of what they’re into. It’s telegraphing their identity visually without the pomposity of the heralds of the past.”

At this particular wedding, in 2009, about 18 young brides-to-be were in attendance. “They were all like, ‘What’s this?’” Happy says. And her new enterprise, a full-service stationery and design business was born.

Based in New York, Happy specializes in creating beautiful central pieces of art for engaged couples. The custom hand-painted heralds she shapes are used for the entire wedding experience, from save-the-date cards, to invitations, to table runners, place cards, and thank-you notes.

With the time each of these in-depth projects consumes, though, she hasn’t been able to say “yes” to all prospective brides. Until now. Happy recently introduced a collection of five personalizable medallions.

“In making these medallions, I envisioned five different people,” she says. “One loves the tropics and Slim Aarons, one is cosmopolitan and paints her fingernails red. Another is the classic blue-and-white type.”

Customers can pick their medallion and then add their monogram to it. Because it’s a readymade product, there’s no waiting. Buyers receive a high-resolution digital file with their emblem and monogram. They can use it to on invitations or stationery, or have the design embroidered on linens or a robe—whatever they imagine.

Until the end of the year, Happy also is doing a 30-minute call with customers who buy a personalizable medallion. “I want that interaction with them that I have with my other clients,” she says. “I brainstorm with them how they might use the design—like maybe on pale pistachio cocktail napkins with a dark blue British racing stripe.”

Happy also partners with Paperless Post to offer readymade digital invitations—including a new holiday design—and bring her stylish creations to a mass audience.

The artist pulls inspiration for her works from everyday excursions—a day at Coney Island with her 3-year-old daughter, the typography on old storefronts glimpsed as she emerges from the subway, an exhibition of Wayne Thiebaud drawings at the Morgan Library. “Inspiration is everywhere,” she says.

She loves artists from Manet and Grandma Moses to Cecily Brown and Henry Taylor. She’s enamored with the work of fashion designers such as Cecilie Bahnsen, whose dresses look like sculpture.

Would she snap up the chance to create a herald for any of these luminaries, past or present? Sure. But a different type of dream project really gets Happy’s creative juices flowing.

“I’d love to design official U.S. items like stamps and money,” she says. “Now that would be amazing.”