Interview with Diane Dempsey

Interview with Diane Dempsey

Diane, thanks for taking the time to share a bit about your work and story with us. Can you start by telling us how you first got started in illustration/design?

From childhood through high school, it was my natural inclination to draw and make things. I was art editor of the high school yearbook. Then I graduated (twice) from the Ringling College of Art + Design- Sarasota, Florida (Graphic Design + Illustration) and had some continuing education at the Portfolio Center- Atlanta.

From the start, I illustrated my own greeting cards. It's actually kinda funny, I was offered a job at Hallmark when I graduated Ringling, I turned it down. Now I illustrate and design for my own Christmas Card Company.

Cards from The Retro Christmas Card Company

You describe your style as "Retro, Vintage, Mid-Century", can you share with us how you developed this style?

My style has always been influenced by my interest in history, classic movies, vintage ephemera and retro Americana.

One of my first jobs out of college was art director at the Cabbage Patch Kids. This was educational as it opened my eyes to a world of marketing, licensing and product development.

Early in my career my freelance clients were many of the blockbuster museum exhibitions that traveled the USA. I enjoyed researching these historical periods that were displayed in the exhibitions.

I think my love of research and the combination of these experiences resulted in my Retro Christmas Card Company style. Of course everything we experience in life, and what we love contributes to the style of work we do.

Many designers and illustrators struggle to find their style. What's your best advice to help other designers find their style?

The act of creating for a specific target audience and expressing visually that intangible "something" that that audience is seeking will help you find that style.

More than expressing myself, I wanted to find a style that appealed to who I wanted to sell my work to. I was educated as a commercial artist. I am endeavoring to create a desired product more than to express myself.

I also think you have to be more than enthusiastic about what you are doing. It helps to be a part of that audience. You have to have the dedication and scrappy attitude to put in the hours and hours to get it right. You also have to stay the course, not waver and switch horses in the middle of the stream.

Cards from The Retro Christmas Card Company

What's one tool that you couldn't live without and why?

For my work on my vintage style designs I always start with research. I have an extensive collection of ephemera that helps me go to that place in history where I want to begin my next design. I have added to this collection by haunting local antiques stores and just by having many things that belonged to my Mother. Relics from the actual mid-century (like my childhood). It helps that I live it too. We live a vintage life style.

You mentioned that your favorite piece of software to work in is Illustrator. What makes this your favorite piece of software?

The thing that I like best about Illustrator is the fact that all my work is vector based. Since I create for products I want the freedom to create a Retro Christmas Card that I can after finalizing the illustrations, then pick up the elements and create matching gift wrap, hang tags, tree skirts, even wall art.

By working in layers I can organize the elements and making new products from one of my completed Retro Christmas Cards becomes easy for me. I also control my palette so that my colors remain very consistent, which I feel is important to my brand.

Cards from The Retro Christmas Card Company

You mentioned your favorite RetroSupply product(s) is Organic Line work Brush, Organic Scatter. Can you share what you like most about it? How do you prefer to use it? Please be specific.

Retro Supply vector brushes helped me add texture, interest and even patina to my designs. More so than I ever had been able to achieve on my own.

I was spending lots of time scanning textures before I became a Retro Supply devotee. The shader and scatter brushes help me work in vector software but create an illustration with a much more tactile result.

I use them under my drawings as a base texture and to add dimension in shading too. Sometimes I just add a subtle splatter to make the artwork look like it has had a previous life in the attic. Oh, and I have found many of Retro Supply brushes that make great snow!

Our readers love to hear about specific techniques that great illustrators and designers use. Can you share one of your favorite techniques?

I guess the most important technique I can share is ... When you think you are done, walk away.

Print out the design, stick it up where you can see it for a few days. Then you will begin to see things you didn't see before or opportunities to make the artwork stronger.

Resist the temptation to over work it, maybe even simplify it. Like I was always told in fashion, when you think your outfit is perfect, just before you walk out the door - take one thing off. Less can be more. Or maybe not. Sometimes you need a hat.

Cards from The Retro Christmas Card Company

What advice would you give to other designers and illustrators to help them stand out in such a crowded field?

As I said, be more than enthusiastic the style you are developing. Maintain a scrappy attitude to put in the hours and hours to get it right.

I know it can be especially tough out there freelancing with the rent due. But even if you must waiver your style in the 9-5 grind, be true to yourself in your personal work. One day you will have the opportunity to take that personal work and build something all your very own.

What advice would you give to other designers and illustrators to get more work?

Things change constantly in this field. I would have to say to stay true to your style and stay connected to the people that will appreciate what you are doing.

Show your stuff to the right folks that have a need for what you are good at. Find a niche that has a need. If you can share that niche and build your own work around it, you may be able to create a future for yourself.

Cards from The Retro Christmas Card Company

Thanks, Diane, for taking the time to share a little bit about your story and work. Anything else you'd like to share with us?

When I started The Retro Christmas Card Company, I was mainly focused on my boutique ad agency Diane Dempsey Design Studio.

The whole Retro Christmas Card thing was a fun hobby that my husband and I did for a lark. That was 13 years ago. Now The Retro Christmas Card Company is how I make my living. People said, "'s just Christmas, it's seasonal at best..." and "...You cannot just do vintage style artwork, you won't be able to make a living".

Come to find out, people love Christmas year 'round, and yes "Virginia", you can make a living at focusing on what you happen to do best.

I invite you to stop over and visit us at The Retro Christmas Card Company. Keep the Christmas card sending tradition alive and not let it fall into history. Come by to see my work and catch the Christmas spirit. Cheers!

Diane Dempsey of The Retro Christmas Card Company

About the Designer

Diane Dempsey is an illustrator, designer, and entrepreneur. She is the founder of The Retro Christmas Card Company. The company provides retro and vintage Christmas cards designed to invoke nostalgia and good memories. Learn more at The Retro Christmas Card Company or follow them on Facebook.