Interview with Etsy Shop Owner Erica DiPaolo
We are pleased to bring you our interview with Etsy Shop Owner Erica DiPaolo of Erica DiPaolo Designs. Erica is a self-publisher who lives in Columbus, Ohio and who sells her products on Etsy and in various stores.
We love to publish all kinds of blog posts on Northern Cards, including topics such as All About The Forest Stewardship Council, The History of the Greeting Card and The Digital Age: Is the Greeting Card Industry Near Death? However, for our new interview series, we are introducing you to various people in the world of greeting cards.
We'll be interviewing artists, self-publishers, printers and many more people involved in this industry, so that you can learn more about what they all do.
When and why did you decide to design your own cards?
My artwork has always tended to be quite detailed and time-consuming. I was working as a muralist and decorative painter when one of my clients mentioned that I should look into selling my designs in greeting card form as a way to get them out into the mainstream. I have always had a love of paper so this sparked an idea that turned into a whole new avenue for me.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from my love of history and old things. I spent many days as a child at antique stores and visiting historical places as my family moved all around the country. Early on I began collecting old print advertising, vintage greeting cards, illustrations and pretty much any historical ephemera.
Are there any particular publishing companies which inspire you?
Well, I do love all the cards by Umlaut Brooklyn; they are a husband and wife team and they do very funny cards using old photos. I met them both at the New York Stationery Show a couple of years ago and they are just as fun as the cards they design.
What is the typical process you go through when designing a card from scratch?
In my studio I have boxes of varying sizes, each containing images I have cut from old magazines, vintage wallpaper, catalogs, and my own artworks. I typically begin with an idea in mind. Just recently I had a request for a fancy dog house card. As usually happens this turned into six designs laid out all over my work table. I have pieces of glass that I place on top to secure them while I go over and over them, rearranging until I am satisfied with each picture. Once I am happy with the design I have it printed onto card stock which I embellish with glitter and crystals or other tiny adornments.
Do you sell anything other than cards?
I also sell my work as larger prints and every year I do painted Christmas ornaments. Some people collect my 'Flapper' ornaments and I have added some celebrity tribute ornaments over the years. I also paint and decorate other things like boxes and paperweights and the occasional rotary phone which I list on Etsy from time to time.
Where do you sell your products?
I sell my cards on Etsy and they are also available in shops and boutiques around the country.
Do you sell internationally?
Yes, currently my cards are available in England and Japan as well as the U.S.
Do you sell wholesale as well as retail?
Yes I do. For several years I had an artist's representative who marketed my cards for me, taking them to trade shows and showing them around the country. I learned a lot about the wholesale side of the greeting card business over our six years together. After she went into semi-retirement I struck out on my own. Stockabl Wholesale is a new platform I utilize that was created for the high-end boutique market and consists of all handmade goods.
Who is a typical customer of yours?
Funny, I was just working on some marketing ideas and I was looking into this very question. Most of my customers are quirky, creative people with big personalities. Looking at my actual demographics, they are mostly women between 26-60 and it is interesting that most of my sales, retail and wholesale, go to California which is where I was born, though I've lived in Ohio for most of my life.
What do you think makes a card design perfect?
When I am designing new cards and get to a place where not only the balance is pleasing to the eye, but the elements combine in a way that makes the viewer want to keep looking at it, it's done and I can sit back and admire it too. Many times I get to a halfway point and think a design is hopeless but I've learned over time to ignore that impulse and it inevitably turns the corner. I tout my cards as 'little pieces of art for collecting and framing' and that is how many of them end up. Almost 50% of my retail business comes from repeat customers who are looking for new designs to add to their collections as well as to send.
How much do you sell your cards for?
They retail for $10 each in my Etsy shop.
Do you send your own cards to friends and family?
Yes and no. Many of them send my cards out themselves these days so I don't want to get repetitive. I often do special one-offs for my loved ones.
What is the best card you ever received?
When I turned 21 my mom gave me a kid's sparkly pink birthday card with a paper doll to punch out and play with just like the kind I loved when I was a little girl. I still have it. I also still have all my old paper dolls from when I was a little girl.
Who would you love to send one of your own cards to?
I think I'd like to send one of my cards to a teacher I had for a little while in first grade. As I mentioned, we moved a lot and even though I was at this school for less than six months, she had an interest in my drawings that I think about often when I feel stuck or blocked creatively. Unfortunately, I don't even remember her name, just her face.
What's the most difficult thing you have found when self-publishing?
I think one thing that was difficult when I was first selling my designs as cards was staying true to my own style of work, which is comprised mostly pictures. It can be tempting to lean toward something that another artist may sell very well. Many card designs contain words or are comprised of only words, and some, like mine, are mostly pictures and I have found that works best for me and my line.
What would you say is the best thing about self-publishing?
The best thing about self-publishing for me is that I am my company. I do everything from designing to packaging and this lets me work one-on-one with my retail customers and my wholesale vendors.
Jean-Paul Michael has spent his entire adult life in the greeting card industry. He co-founded Northern Cards when he was 18 years old and over the last 3 decades, he has held many varying positions in the company. Today, he is proud to be Northern Cards' Publisher and a lifelong greeting card geek.