Emily McDowell is an illustrator, designer, and truth-teller. She taught herself to draw bubble letters at the age of six.

After spending nearly a decade working as an advertising art director, writer and creative director, I decided to quit my fulltime agency job at the beginning of 2011, in order to start making more things that weren’t ads. At the time, I wasn’t sure what those things would be, but I knew I needed to try to figure it out.

I took some wise person’s advice, and started with going back to what I most loved to do as a kid. For me, that was drawing — specifically, lettering — and writing stories. I began to put my drawings up on a posterous blog and share them on my personal facebook page as a way to keep me motivated, and people started to ask if they could buy them. (I was as surprised as anyone.) So I made an etsy shop to sell my illustrated prints.

The shop grew, and I made this website, and I started doing commissioned illustration work in between freelance advertising jobs. I’d always wanted to have a card line, but I’d successfully talked myself out of it until January 2013, when I decided to do an experiment. I had 100 copies of one Valentine card printed that I’d written, based on what I felt was a universal experience all of us have had at one point in our lives. I put it in my etsy shop, not knowing what would happen, figuring I’d sell a few. Etsy put it on their Facebook page, and I hate using the phrase “went viral,” but it went viral. I shipped over 1,600 individual copies of that card to customers in 8 days, turned my house into a Kinko’s, put the 8-year-old to work in ways that certainly violated several child labor laws, and came out of the experience with the decision to create my own line.

I launched my line of 45 cards at the National Stationery Show in May 2013, and every day since has been an adventure. An amazing, crazy, learning-curve-tastic adventure. And I have a feeling things are just getting started.

There’s a reason why I’m sharing this whole long story with whoever’s read this far: for those of you who feel stuck, or unfulfilled, or like things could just be better if only XYZ — I want to remind you that so much can happen in just a few years. If I can do this, you can too — whatever “this” is for you.

My work reflects our shared human experience, in all its different, messy forms, and I feel most satisfied when something I made helps somebody feel like someone else out there gets them. I’m also inspired by letters, nature, folk art, geometry, cultural quirks, and the crazy urban landscape of Southern California.

When I’m not working, you can find me hanging out with my partner Seth and his 8-year old son, searching for the perfect taco, having tragically unprofitable business ideas, and overcoming the constant guilt I feel for not tweeting enough.


You want a wholesale catalog. You want to license something. You want me to draw your ad campaign. You’re a publisher. You’re an illustration agent. You’re a sales rep. You’re Target. You’re Oprah. You just have a random question. You went to high school with me and you want to say hi.

Regretfully, I am currently unable to take on custom illustration/logo projects for individuals, due to there not being 32 hours in a day.

Photo credit: Sarah Deragon of Portraits to the People Photography

Photo credit: Portraits to the People Photography