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Featured Shop: Emily McDowell

Jan 20, 2014

by Emily McDowell

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

My name is Emily McDowell, and I live in Los Angeles, California. I write and draw greeting cards, art prints, dish towels, tote bags, temporary tattoos and whatever else I can come up with.

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My line is inspired by universal, relatable human truths and observations. Why we do what we do, how weird and flawed and awesome we are. Design-wise, I’m always into different things. Some constants are folk and outsider art, traditional African and South American patterns, and the hand-painted renderings of common household products that decorate the bodegas in parts of Los Angeles.

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I’m always writing down ideas in one of about 50 notebooks I have going at once, or even in my phone. This often means I end up with undecipherable phone lists that say things like “Cave people. Christmas pudding. Joy?” It’s a flawed system. The best of those ideas each get their own Post-it on my studio wall. From there, I’ll do sketches on paper, and when I’m happy with the final wording and design, I’ll finish it in color on the computer using a digital pen and a Wacom Cintiq.

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There are a lot of pretty cards and gift products out there, and a lot of things that make me laugh, but my work is designed to live at the intersection of funny and beautiful. My favorite cards speak to the relationships we really have, not the ones we want to have. The goal is to make work that makes strangers feel like I must be reading their diary, but not in a creepy way.

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I don’t know if I can pick an all-time favorite, but right now I’m pretty into the two cards I made for giving to your (unhappily) single friends on Valentine’s Day. I know what it’s like to have a bummer of a single Valentine’s Day, when it seems like everyone around you is rolling around on a bed of rose petals with their true love, so I wanted to make some cards that spoke to people who might be feeling left out. Before I had a product line, I always wished these existed, and now they do, because I made them. Which is super gratifying.

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Even though my business is technically not even a year old, I feel like I’ve been doing this for a long time. I worked in advertising as a copywriter and art director for ten years before launching my line, and there is a huge amount of mental overlap between working as an agency creative and doing what I do now. I love writing and drawing, of course, but I get most excited by uncovering the universal truths that connect us and finding new ways to express them.

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Etsy has played a gigantic role in the success of my business. Last January, an Etsy staffer put my Awkward Dating card on the Etsy Facebook page, and from there, it ended up everywhere: BuzzFeed, the front page of Reddit, Glamour, Daily Candy – seriously too many places to count. I ended up shipping over 1,600 of that one card in eight days from my Etsy shop last year, and that represented the push (and the money) I needed to launch my wholesale line last May. My life and business looks 100% different today than it did a year ago, and Etsy was the catalyst that started the whole thing.

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Having this business feels like stepping fully into who I truly am – like moving into a house the universe built for me. (Not to go all woo-woo on you, but there you go.) For the first time, at 37, I feel like I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I mean, I have no idea how to run a company – my business card should really say “Educated Guesser” – and I have infinitely more responsibility today than I did in my former career, but I experience so much less daily stress now. Of course, there’s still stress, but it’s different: it’s the stress of growing and learning, versus the stress of spending my life doing something that didn’t quite fit. I am tremendously grateful.

Maker and studio shots by Lehua Noelle.

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