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  • Kate Lentz

{Just Call Me The Holiday Card Elf}

Four years ago, if you had told me that I would be designing holiday cards for friends and an architectural firm, I would have laughed and told you to get lost. First, because I am a known GRINCH when it comes to Christmas. Second, I am not a designer. Not even close.

When I started my art journey, and I mean SERIOUSLY started it, I wanted to paint grotesque pieces of art that made people uncomfortable. I wanted to explore my nightmares and make them come to life so I wasn't the only one who had to see these things every night. I wanted people to be faced with fears and the things people are too scared to admit. How very...emo.

These are the things I insisted on exploring during school. Looking back, I kind of want to slap myself and say, "Grow up. You're the oldest person here and no one gives a shit about the kind of art you are making in school." All part of the process, I guess.

Over the years, I have branched out a lot with my style and subjects. It's interesting to see the influences of life and change impacting my work. I sleep a lot more because I'm exhausted at the end of the day. So...less insomnia, less weird dreams, less weird art. We have moved into a gorgeous home that makes me feel a LOT older than I am. I can see my art becoming more detailed. I don't want to rush on a piece because otherwise it looks like shit. I really don't want to hang shitty art on these walls. I also work in my sketchbooks more than I ever have since I work full time now. Less time to create big pieces--although I'm starting to change that. I've also gone back to my roots a little bit--patterns. Patterns are what I started with because I didn't have any technical skill at the time. So I found something I COULD draw or paint, and I did it over and over again because I knew I wanted to create something. Now I work on patterns because it allows me to slow down and zone out. Very meditative.

Anyway, somewhere in the middle of disgusting shrunken heads and rabbit patterns, I one night decided to play around with hand lettering and holiday motifs. I had been seeing a few pretty watercolor cards on pinterest, so I thought I'd give it a go. I ended up making a wreath with "Happy Holidays" in the middle. I remember feeling really proud of it, even thought it was far away from my usual style. I posted a picture of it I think before Thanksgiving...and I ended up receiving a TON of positive comments about it. I even had about four people asking me to make their holiday cards. I laughed it off saying, "Yeah, sure, okay." And I went back into my dark basement studio to paint more monsters. Little did I know, these people were serious. And I ended up having several commissions that year.

I'll be honest, I was completely freaked out. I had really never done a commission before, especially for designs I didn't really enjoy all that much. It was fun to experiment, sure. But did I really want to become an artist who made designs for other people instead of myself? I was able to get through that time just fine. I was stressed, but I created a few holiday designs that people seemed to enjoy. And as always, I undercharged. A lot. I put in hours and hours of work, used a ton of supplies, and got just a couple of bucks. In the end, I vowed to never do that again.

But then...last year happened. I had just started my new job in February so I was feeling excited to be working in an office during the holiday season. One of my friends in marketing new I enjoyed painting, so she casually asked if I would come up with a few rough drafts for a holiday card--no pressure.That weekend, I ended up painting about 8 ideas. Silly me, I posted them on social media again. And so...back to commission requests. Thankfully I only offered designs that had already been done. Yet here we were again---people only really seem to like my work when it's designs I don't particularly enjoy. My watercolors tend to be rushed, pretty and kind of cutesy. Exactly the kind of "art" people want to buy. And apparently put on a holiday card for an entire company. My design was printed and mailed out to clients all over the country. My cold Grinch heart still cringes thinking about it.

Well I think we all know where this is going: A total repeat of the last two years. But this year, I just embraced it. I managed to work on a ton of designs BEFORE NOVEMBER. With plenty of time, I felt a lot less stressed. I have kept all of the designs I've made over the years and I nearly gasped when I saw the first design I had ever made. It was...AWFUL. Even last year's were bad. I feel really good about the things I painted this year, but I'm wondering how I will feel about them after another year of hard work and practice has been.

Even though I am not a huge fan of Christmas, I still feel so grateful that my friends, family and coworkers have supported my art this way. Yes, it's out of my comfort zone, but I literally have a drawer full of watercolor paintings over the years that prove I am growing and improving as an artist. For fun, I thought I'd show you a few pictures of the things I've done over the years--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The first card I ever made. A cute attempt, but....SO sloppy. Circa 2017

And here is this year's design for the company I work for. I'd say I could make a few more edits to make it more clean and vibrant, but overall, I'd say it's much better than three years ago! From 2020

This was a commission. Why I agreed to paint animals when I had never painted them before, I will never know. From 2017.

And here is the one from this year! Okay, I love this one.


Ah, much better. This year's design....I really took my time with this one.

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