Priscilla Weidlein on capturing the holiday spirit

We met Priscilla Weidlein to talk about her inspirations and capturing light and joy in her work.

Priscilla Weidlein handwritten note on postcard

The holiday season is a busy time for any freelance designer, and Priscilla Weidlein is no exception. Based in Rhode Island, Priscilla’s arresting illustrations have been commissioned by clients including Terre Magazine, TED Talks and Revolver New York. Her aim is to explore our connection to one another, and to capture the light she sees emanat[ing] from all things.

The result is a lively portfolio filled with colour, each piece telling a story within a moment of action or contemplation. The scenes captured in her work, including a unique holiday piece on the theme of peace, love and joy, are honest, authentic, and full of life.

We met Priscilla Weidlein to talk about holiday greeting cards, staying inspired, and capturing light, joy and colour in her work.

Portrait of Priscilla Weidlein in her studio by Greta Rybus
Photo credit: Greta Rybus

Tell us a little about your business and your visual aesthetic.

I’ve always found great solace and joy in creating pictures, and I’ve made a business out of it because it allows me to share this joy with others. My work comprises part commercial illustration, part fine art – mostly painting portraits. My aesthetic is joy, and I draw inspiration from our colourful world.

Watercolors of women by Priscilla Weidlein

How did you set up a studio space that keeps you inspired as an artist and card designer?

I work from my nice home studio, where for me, it’s all about light. I find it freeing. I’ve positioned my draft table to be surrounded by four large bay windows, which face the street. Sometimes I draw inspiration from the people walking by – I love it when I see a dog and their person looking identical to one another. This happens often, have you noticed?

Priscilla Weidlein working in her studio

You’ve recently switched from using watercolours and pencil to digital illustration. How has that switch helped you explore your personal style?

The biggest benefit to digital work is being able to do it anywhere. I’ve made the switch commercially, but on the private commission side, I stick to watercolour and pencil. I really like switching between digital and paper landscapes.

Watercolour is fun because it’s permanent, while digital is fun because it isn’t. It’s great to be able to take risks without wasting precious paper. Also, I can use the digital medium to mock up the work I later want to do by hand.

Priscilla Weidlein creating a digital illustration on the iPad

How long do you give yourself to research and conceptualise before starting your new pieces?

It really varies. If it’s personal work, I’ll often have an idea and rush to get it on paper (or iPad). If it’s work for a client, I like to collaborate to create a vision and, if I have the luxury, sit with the idea for a week or so before I physically get started.

As a freelance artist, what’s the holiday season like for you?

It is exciting! It is a busy time, mostly on account of receiving private commissions destined to be gifts for clients’ loved ones. I also aim to produce at least one holiday product every year, be it a Greeting Card, wrapping paper or prints.

I’ve been producing holiday greeting cards with regularity since 1993 – it was a childhood pastime that I’ve continued. I’m pleased to say the print quality has improved since then, though! The first cards I managed to convince a shop to carry were Xerox copies on coloured paper, and I don’t think I sold a single one. Then around six years ago I started getting serious and had a batch printed on the letterpress.

Since then, I’ve been experimenting with different techniques, and this year I’m releasing a couple of Greeting Cards myself, that will be printed by MOO.

Stack of holiday greeting cards by Priscilla Weidlein with two women wearing crackers crowns and eating whipped cream in their pyjamas

How do you choose the imagery you use on your greeting cards?

I want my cards to evoke joy and to be all-inclusive. I’m interested in exploring the general themes of celebration, gratitude and togetherness that the holidays represent. In general, when considering a new greeting card design I like to start by thinking about different types of relationships that one could portray, then I choose one and flesh the scene out front there.

What was your inspiration for your cards this year and how did you start brainstorming the designs?

I designed two greeting cards this season — one for public consumption and one for personal use (which features a portrait of my partner, our dog and me). For the more, ahem, broadly appealing card, I came up with the design by considering the relationship of sisters, then thinking of joyful rituals unique to the season that capture the hygge of the holidays.

I started by sketching out the vaguely irreverent can-to-mouth whipped cream character, was sufficiently amused, and so built the rest of the scene around her. After choosing content, I consider the colour scheme — what captures the essence of the season I am portraying? For both cards I chose to go heavy with pinks and reds, which I find enlivening, joyful and warm.

Priscilla Weidlein holding her holiday greeting card wrapped in a sleeve and closed with a round sticker

Once colors are chosen, I consider the planning phase complete and spontaneously assemble the card from there. For me it is important not to plan out every step in advance — it creates a more authentic product, and I can rest easy knowing that if I spoil it somehow, I can always start over.

What advice would you give to other designers and artists who are looking to design a limited-edition holiday greeting card?

In terms of design, my best advice is to imagine the most wonderful greeting cards you have received or given — and why they were such a hit. In my experience, the best cards are those that sincerely express love. That is the centre that I move from.  

In terms of production: this may not come as news, but the holidays have a way of sneaking up. My best advice is to start your designs before you are authentically feeling the holiday spirit, around October so that by early November you can get them into production without it being a mad dash to the printer. My direct customers typically don’t begin purchasing holiday cards until around Thanksgiving, but I want to be sure I am stocked and ready for them.

Priscilla Weidlein writing on a thank you card, surrounded by her holiday greeting card designs

For marketing, I find Instagram very useful. When selling cards “direct to consumer”, I mostly sell through my online shop along with a series of prints and a rotating collection of originals. I announce the greeting cards on Instagram once I have placed my order with MOO — listed as a “pre-order” item — then post again once they arrive at my studio for shipping.

I also typically participate in some local events, selling cards at independent gift shops and galleries. I recommend this — it’s really fun and rewarding to connect directly with customers in the community, and is a great way of learning what it is that people are drawn to in your greeting card designs. If you’ve never done this before and are wondering how to do it — visit shops you’d like to be featured in, introduce yourself as a card designer, and make friends. You may be surprised how eager shop owners will be to collaborate with you, now or down the line.

Bring your own Greetings Card designs to life with MOO this holiday season. Try MOO Printfinity and print as many designs as you like, at no extra cost.

Originally published on Oct 22, 2018

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