Couldn't resist this blog entry.
More Artist interviews & Book Reviews next week!
I recently discovered the book Mary Engelbreit: The Art And The Artist, that was first published in 1996. It is about her path into art licensing and greeting card design. She is now a successful licensor, her career spans over decades, and she was awarded "best art license of the year" by LIMA.
Mary's book is one of the more encouraging and practical books I've read in awhile. She confirmed my inherent belief that if someone tries to impose rules and prerequisites on entering this career, someone else will come along, break all the rules, and become successful. Here are some things I learned from reading her book:
1. Don't believe everything you hear.
While I'd seen her cards over the years and admired her work, after reading her book I realized I had been completely misinformed about her personal journey. I'd heard that she first got into greeting card design because she had extensive financial resources to experiment with. Boy was that wrong! In fact, it was quite the opposite.
2. Rock stars are people too.
Mary did not have resources for college, she didn't attend art school, and her husband worked as a social worker, all the while she struggled with the financial risks of trying to be an artist. In a lot of ways, she was no different than most people. She couldn't take expensive business risks. She doubted herself. She was even discouraged from being an artist by high school teachers. And she did not have thousands of dollars to lay down for a print run, just to see if something would sell.
3. Create your own show
Some stories she shared were painful, like when she bought a booth at the New York Stationery show and only had 12 cards to display. She was mortified to see all the other vendors, who had hundreds of cards. She also toted her portfolio all around New York only to be rejected by everyone she met. Other stories were heartwarming, like the day she felt sad because couldn't go to art school and have a "real" art show, so she decided on a whim to just to make her own art show happen at her job, in a retail store. All her work sold out.
4. Forgive yourself for mistakes
She had many hard knocks. She got into a bad business partnership, lost some of her art, and had emotional challenges of deciding whether being an artist was realistic.
5. You don't need to go to art school.
It was amazing for me to learn that she doesn't know how to paint, and she learned to draw simply by recopying old children's books and using colored pencils and markers. Later she developed her own imaginary characters. This made me wonder if the reason she became one of the top illustrators in the country, is because she "didn't" go to art school.
6. Draw what you like, not what you think will sell.
She emphasized how incredibly important it is for her to draw things she likes. Only later will she think about adapting the drawing to a product. She said if she instead tried to develop a design based around a product as the starting point, it was always a failure. Instead, she decided to hire other people to adapt her drawings to products, and she focused on drawing what she really loved, often things in her daily life.
7. Make new rules.
She breaks rules I'd come to accept as gospel from the licensing world. In fact, what I learned is that while it's important to trust your heart, you also need to trust your own intelligence. There are people who may try to impose their own rules on you about the "way things are" in the market place, with stores, with agents, with manufacturers, with your credentials, with demands, etc. But Mary made her own rules, not out of protest, but out of a gentle kindness towards herself.
See Also 32-page Booklet
See Also 18-page booklet
How did you become the editor of Greetings etc. Magazine?
I helped to launch Greetings etc. magazine in May 1999. At the time, I was on a committee with several members of the Greeting Card Association whose mission was to find a publisher who could produce a trade magazine that would reflect the artistry and creativity of the dynamic greeting card and stationery industry. I had a friend who worked at Edgell Communications, which presented a proposal and ultimately was chosen as the publisher of this successful, now 10-year-old publication. Previously, I had worked as an editor on several leading trade magazines covering the gift industry.
I've always been impressed that Greetings etc. is willing to feature small independent artists. How do you decide what cards to feature in your publications?
I have always been an advocate for the small, independent card publisher. It's great to find new resources, and I'm happy to be in a position in which I can help companies with quality lines that are just starting out. I do make sure that, before I give a new company editorial coverage, I inspect the quality of their paper stock and printing (I won’t include people printing cards on home computers). I also make sure that they’re currently selling to retailers nationwide, and not just to consumers via their own websites. It's not helpful to the card publisher or to the retailer if a line is not quite ready to launch.
What resources do you rely on to keep your eyes on trends?
I attend as many trade shows as possible, and of course always the National Stationery Show in May in New York City, to find trends and new resources. I also receive many press releases from companies regarding their new products. Additionally, I subscribe to more consumer magazines than many doctors' offices, and I check various design-oriented websites, in order to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening trendwise in fashion, home accessories, consumer-buying habits, etc. -- all of which translates into trends in the stationery arena.
As independent artists, what themes should we be concentrating on, if we want to get "ahead of the game"?
I believe the "green" theme is here to stay, including printing on recycled papers, using wind-power credits, and being eco-conscious both in how products are manufactured and how companies do business. Technology will also continue to propel card sales; e.g., sound cards have been a success for Hallmark; and LED-lighted cards are also gaining popularity (they’ve been quite popular in the U.K. for a while).
Do you have a story about an artist you featured, who later thanked you for helping them "make it"?
I don’t have a particular story to recount, but I have been thanked by many people whose products have been featured in Greetings etc. It's definitely gratifying to help new companies, as I mentioned, but it goes both ways: running good products in our magazine and online makes Greetings etc. a better resource for retailers.
What's the biggest mistake you think card designers make?
There are probably several: Not having a distinct look, not launching a line with enough designs, and not doing their homework to find reps who can sell their line nationwide.
What's the biggest mistake you think card text writers make?
Having written many card verses for various publishers over the years myself, it’s hard to say. Some cards work well with just a simple "Happy Birthday" greeting; while others need that unexpected twist or humorous message to play off the card’s image. It is said that the card's design helps the consumer to pick up a card, but it’s the verse that seals the sale.
What has been one of your most popular articles with readers?
The article I probably received the most response about was actually an editorial page I wrote about spelling the word “stationery” correctly; this is such a pet peeve in our industry! Many people wrote to thank me for that column; others wrote to apologize for having sent me letters and e-mails with the misspelling.
What do you think stores want these days, that there isn't enough of?
Well-priced, well-designed items.
Between ecards, consolidation of card companies, loss of younger customers and some retail stores closing, if I was an artist just starting out today, what would you recommend I focus on?
There’s always room in this industry for new talent. Again, be sure you have a distinct look, a wide range of card designs (at least 40 is usually the recommended number), and a day job to support your new card company. I would also suggest testing the waters with local retailers to see if you have a product line that will sell, before launching nationwide.
What do you think the biggest seller might be down the road? Birthday, humor, pets, giftwrap, characters?
You’ll have to read my 2010 Trends article in our next January/February issue!
How does someone submit cards to Greetings etc. for review?
We ask for hi-res jpgs (at least 3 inches big and 300 dpi), along with product details and retail pricing. A clickable "product-submission" link can be found at the bottom of our website, www.greetingsmagazine.com. If you’re a brand new company, a few actual samples of the cards should be sent to me at the editorial address, which can also be found on Greetings etc.’s website.