Amber Goodvin: Hallmark Cards
An interview with Amber Goodvin of Hallmark Cards: Designer, Illustrator & Hand Lettering Artist
Have you been creatively inclined since childhood?
We are asked to talk to visiting classes at Kaleidoscope-- it’s one of the things where teachers can justify their field trip there if somebody talks to them about careers in art-- so I always talk to them about how when I was a kid, I didn’t know that it was art that I was into, I was just into making things. I would make weird milkshakes and fashion drawings and would put on plays with my sister and we would make weird videos— so all those things, I felt like were little areas where I was trying to get my creativity out but,a it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school when I was like, “okay, this is art, this is good.”
What / who were your earliest creative influences?
I always loved kids’ books, and so, for me, I think it started with words-- I’ve always loved writing, I’ve always kept journals, and I’ve always loved to read. Roald Dahl was a big one I loved (he’s a children’s book author). Any kind of kids’ book I was just obsessed with (and I still am).
So did you teach yourself a lot about hand lettering?
I think I had a really bad portfolio when I came here, but I had just enough to show that I was interested in learning and experimenting, so everything I’ve learned has been here. I think when people are looking at portfolios, they’re looking for hints that you can try a lot of different styles, that you’re not stuck in one way, and that you want to learn and experiment.
When I was a kid I didn’t know that it was art that I was into. I was just into making things.
When did you start to feel comfortable in your job and what did it take to get there?
I started from college as an intern here in the handlettering department and it was a very similar thing where I was finding ways to work handlettering into all my illustration and design and one of my teachers was like, “Hey, they have this whole handlettering department at Hallmark you might be interested in.” I did an internship here and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve been here for eleven years-- so I haven’t moved around a lot-- but I have freelanced a little bit, so I’ve gotten some taste of what it’s like to be at an ad agency. I would say it took me a year to get comfortable and I think most of it was that I had pictured being in a small firm and then it was really hard for me to get my mind wrapped around being in a bigger place like this. I think it was learning the business, it was learning my craft of handlettering, learning from the people around me, and then just having the confidence to start finding my voice-- and that all happened around a year.
What do you like best about your job?
One thing that’s really nice about cards is that they’re so fast that you can try a lot of different things. You can try and fail and it’s not a big a deal. You’ll be asked to do different styles-- I might be doing a sympathy card and a kids’ birthday card in the same day, so you’re just having to change gears a lot. It’s a lot of variety, so that gives you a lot of chances to explore different styles. I feel like that was a great way to learn. I also really love that we’re all mixed together, having such a huge creative community, you’re constantly rubbing shoulders with people who are doing something totally different than you. One example of that I have is that I work in ink a lot, but I hadn’t done a lot of painting since school when I was doing a lot of illustration—and I was sitting by this guy who was a watercolor artist. He’s been here for 35 years and we had him come sit with us at lunch one day and show us what he does. That opened up this whole area of my work and I just started trying to do watercolor. Of course it looks totally different than him, but it opened up a whole other avenue of my work that I wouldn’t have even thought to try if I hadn’t been sitting next to him. So there’s just a thousand things like that that happen. Once we pick up the same tool, we’re all going to use it in different ways, but just seeing other people and being inspired is really energizing.
How do you deal with creative block?
It’s hard for me to keep a sketch book, honestly, but I keep everything that I do in a drawer. Looking back through all my piles of stuff that I’ve done, especially things I’ve done when I’m on the phone or not trying very hard— just little doodles— a lot of times that will help me get a new idea. Then, also, just doing something that is totally different than drawing is good— so, doing something creative like sewing or something totally opposite. Then I feel like I can come in with fresh eyes and sit down again.
Who are your favorite designers/ illustrators/hand-letterers?
am really inspired by looking at illustration. I like looking at lettering and seeing how that could become illustration or how illustration could become lettering— that kind of cross-referencing inspiration works. Carson Ellis and Christopher Silas Neal’s illustration styles and the lettering that they do with that, I think, is really charming.
Do you have a favorite piece you’ve created?
There was a project that I was asked to do and it was with one of my really close friends. That was really fun because this was a bigger project and we got to collaborate. It was for Studio Ink and they have a younger voice and it feels really fresh and unique. It’s quirky and charming, so I love doing anything for Studio Ink because they’re cards that I would actually send. We did a gift wrap collection for them that was based on something that she had done and something that I had done, and then we merged those things, so that was really fun because we had a lot of freedom and we played off of each other and painted together .
What advice would you give to young designers?
I think one piece of advice that I was given was not to define yourself too tightly. So, thinking of yourself as a creative problem solver. For me, I could only picture myself as a designer in a small design firm and I had pictured late hours and working on really cool photo shoots and things like that. I had one vision in my head, and it was really hard for me to break out of that. When I saw that this little hand lettering niche area was opening up for me, I almost was afraid to take it because I was thinking, “This wasn’t what I pictured for myself,” but it was a great thing for my career to follow that niche and see where it led. It’s good to stay open so that when you find your little niche, you can really lean into that. Kind of counter-intuitive, but just remaining open to the possibilities that open up to you and then learning as much as you can—continuing to be a learner and a creative problem solver in a broadly defined way.