Emily McDowell on Making Greeting Cards for Real and Awkward Relationships, Why She Left the Ad World, and Starting a Business

Emily McDowell: master of illustrations and everyday interactions
Emily McDowell: master of illustrations and everyday interactions
Courtesy of Emily McDowell

There are certain things in the world that connect people in often unspoken ways. With her honest greeting cards, Emily McDowell has discovered that wanting to simply lie in bed and look at your phone next to that special someone is one of those things.

These kind of insights about modern relationships set McDowell and her beautifully lettered, humorous yet deep greeting cards, mugs, tote bags, prints, temporary tattoos, and pretty much anything else you could think to put letters and pretty drawings on apart.

Phoenicians can catch a glimpse at her creative process as McDowell will be meeting and greeting with guests and doing quick, custom lettering illustrations from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, November 8, at Frances.

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"It's been really fun for me to be able to do this," McDowell says. "I feel like I get to be myself for a living, and that is really cool."

It was just a year and a half ago that McDowell launched her business in May of 2013. Ever since, it has been a whirlwind, to say the least.

"My life does not look anything like it did a two years ago," McDowell says. "It's very strange. It's been just a constant, super, super steep learning curve. It's been exciting, it's been challenging in ways that I just couldn't have ever foreseen."

Despite this hectic year, McDowell says she wouldn't want to be doing anything else. But McDowell also says she never thought she would ever be an artist since her mother and sister has already filled those roles in the family. McDowell entered advertising after college as a writer and later a creative director, where art, design, and writing overlapped, but not in the way McDowell wanted.

In 2011, McDowell was working at an independent ad agency that had Lexus as a client, having to park around the corner when she went to the car company's corporate headquarters because she drove a "shitty" Honda and the company only allowed their own cars to be parked in their lot.

"I was a creative director for Lexus, which if you talked to me for five minutes, you'd know that was a ridiculous job for me," she says.

Additionally frustrated with the separation the advertising world required between her writing and art, she quit and set out to create cards full-time, something she had been doing throughout her life but only for family and friends.

McDowell was not about to make your stereotypical Hallmark cards, though. She says she saw a need for cards that spoke to our modern day truths, and was compelled to create something that filled that.

"When I launched my card line, what I felt was missing from the world of cards was there were a million cards out there that were beautiful and that were representative of the kind of relationships that we want to have, but I felt like there were not enough cards that were representations of the relationships that we actually have," she says.

It's that honesty that caused McDowell's "awkward dating" card to go viral, as McDowell hates saying. But it's true. That card put McDowell on the map and was the start of what would become her first card line.


Since she started her company in May 2013, McDowell has expanded beyond stationary.
Since she started her company in May 2013, McDowell has expanded beyond stationary.
Courtesy of Emily McDowell

But despite these universal truths that she tapped into, McDowell says that her brand of stationery has not been universally accepted, especially by wholesale buyers in the Midwest.

The buyers who do get what McDowell does, though, really get it. Those are the people McDowell is catering to, whether they're individual buyers who stumble across her cards while browsing for that card they feel they have to buy but really don't want to or more mainstream wholesalers.

"There's a certain amount of seeing something like that in the world and feeling so relieved because it's like, 'I'm not the only one,'" McDowell says. "That's really what I try to do is just emotionally connect with people, in an unexpected way you don't normally see on a card."

Now as the company prepares for 2015, a few changes are coming. After getting caught up in the frenzy of starting a business and just "going for it," as she says, McDowell and her team have decided to pull back on products such as dish towels and mugs in order to focus more on their paper products.

So if you've had your eye on the "If at first you don't succeed, try bacon" dish towel, better get it while you still can.

"I made the decision with the full support of my staff to really in 2015 to pull back from introducing new product categories and really focus on honing in, strengthening, and broadening our offering in the stuff that we are good at and that we have the manufacturing down and that people like from us and that I like to make."

But don't mourn the loss of these amazing items too much, because McDowell says she has some new cards in the works, like some more Valentine's Day cards for your single friends "who maybe feel like shit because they're single," some Mother's Day cards for the moms in your life you aren't biologically related to, and some cancer cards, as she puts it.

But until those come out, you can get your Emily McDowell lettering fix at the meet and greet event at Frances, 10 West Camelback Road, on November 8, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during which McDowell will do her first ever public live lettering. Guests are asked to bring just one sentence max so things don't get too crazy. Visit francesvintage.com or call 602-279-5467 for more information.

Editor's note: This post has been edited from its original version to clarify that McDowell did not work at Lexus. She worked for a company that had Lexus as a client.

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10 W. Camelback Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85015



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