Who & Ware

Artist gives items offbeat personality

CorrespondentFebruary 2, 2013 

  • Details Who: Amanda Wright Ware: Paper goods, rubber stamps, dish towels, pillow covers Location: Cary Contact: witandwhistle.com Prices: Paper goods, $4 to $18; rubber stamps, $7 to $25; dish towels, $20; pillow covers $38. Where to buy: From the artist directly, and at Designbox, Raleigh, designbox.us; and Escazu Artisan Chocolates, Raleigh, escazuchocolates.com.

Amanda Wright didn’t waste any time declaring her life’s calling.

“As soon as I learned to write, I made a little card with my name and ‘writer’ on it. I think I was confused between a business card and a license because I wanted it laminated, so my mother wrapped clear packing tape around it.”

These days, Wright, 28, makes cards of a different sort – a series of stylish and clever greeting cards sporting her hand-drawn designs under the name Wit & Whistle. From her home in Cary, she ships them to shops across the country and as far away as China and New Zealand, as well as to thousands of online retail customers. Wright’s paper line also includes small notebooks she calls jotters and rubber stamps.

Recently, Wright expanded her offerings, imprinting her contemporary patterns on dish towels and covers for throw pillows.

“I’ve always been interested in home design, and pillows are my weakness, so making pillow covers was something I’ve wanted to do.”

Her mother, Shawn Nichols, will lend a hand again, this time by sewing the cases from her North Raleigh home. Wright credits her crafty mother and her writer father, John Nichols, with championing her drawing skills and creativity, which blossomed during art classes at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh. Wright graduated from N.C. State’s College of Design in 2006 with a degree in graphic design instead of fine art.

“I didn’t want to be a starving artist,” she said.

In the end, though, the graphics work didn’t sustain her creative side.

“Mostly, I was doing things like making logos for law firms and building websites,” she said. “But it did give me real-world experience, and what I learned about Web design has been instrumental to Wit & Whistle.”

In 2009, as a way to share her pen-and-ink drawings, Wright made cards and posted a few on Etsy, the online site for handcrafted goods. Her husband, Daniel, a programmer for Epic Games, encouraged her to start a design business. She took him up on it, but with trepidation.

“I felt kind of silly going from having a good job with skills and clients to making cards in my basement,” she recalled.

Wright initially used a computer-based drawing program, but switched to free-form pen and ink for a more organic, homemade look. She takes inspiration from textile designs, hints of which can be seen in the patterned cards, towels and pillows.

The cards come with extra challenges – hand lettering and clever messages. Sometimes she employs puns or just pokes fun, such as the greeting “You make mom jeans look hot,” while a birthday card reads: “I am so freaking glad you were born.”

“I think about what I would actually say to my friends instead of the cheesy stuff you see in Hallmark cards,” she said.

Wright has a large selection of romantic cards in time for Valentine’s Day, one of which is in 3-D. Looking at it through the accompanying glasses, the heart pattern pops out and anything written in black ink on the pattern inside will appear to hover above the surface.

Wright printed and cut her own cards until January 2012, when she was tapped as a featured artist on Etsy’s homepage.

“When they told me, I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” she said. “I had a month’s notice, but had no idea what to expect.”

The extra supplies she bought still didn’t cover the more than 1,000 sales she made in one week.

“I was so overwhelmed I was crying. My mom had to come over and help me.”

Since then, her sales have remained healthy enough to afford outside printing. For that she turned to her former employer, Chuck Underwood of Metro Productions in Raleigh.

“When Amanda started working for us as an intern and then a designer, right away you could see the great creativity in her work, which of course you can’t always express with business clients,” Underwood said. “She has a great eye for design and her cards are so offbeat. Our pressman gets a huge laugh every time we send them down because he never knows what he’s going to get.”

Wright ships the towels north for printing, but the pillow covers are done at Spoonflower in Durham.

To complement her Etsy presence, Wright writes a blog, illustrated with her own enticing photographs, that focuses on home design and do-it-yourself projects. It now draws 15,000 to 18,000 visitors a day, many linked from Pinterest. The blog has led not only to the wholesale accounts but to editors hiring her to write DIY articles, including an upcoming one for “Better Homes & Gardens.” Wright’s passion, however, remains her artwork.

“More than anything, I like to spend time in my sketchbook.”

Send suggestions to diane@bydianedaniel.com.

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