Meet a Mintie: Dish & Spoon

Carrie of Dish & Spoon broke records with Robot Friends, the highest-scoring design in Minted design challenge history. It scored a 4.12 out of 5 in the Make A Wish Birthday Party Challenge and won over voters with its whimsical yet modern illustrations of robots. Carrie’s design style is a mix of illustrative and modern, with a touch of handicraft and fun. Looking at her body of work, you get the sense that she is a smart, sophisticated, and deliberate designer who crafts her designs with the utmost precision and thought — an observation verified by our production team, who swears that her art files are always immaculate and a breeze to work with. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since she submitted the so-adorable-it-hurts design “You’re a Blast” to the Be Mine Valentine Challenge and was excited to catch up with the creative genius behind Dish & Spoon in this week’s Meet a Mintie.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a traditionally schooled graphic designer.  I went to school and studied that and never changed my major, which is pretty rare. At the time, I wanted to get into web design, so I took a lot of classes like Flash and Animation, thinking that it’s what I wanted to do. Luckily there were a lot of other classes in fine arts, so I took a bunch of those.

In hindsight I’m really glad I took all of the classes. The knowledge is all there, and it helped in the end, but just not the way I thought it would.

When I had to get a real job, I looked for entry level jobs in web design, but they did not interest me.  I found an entry level design in exhibit graphics, and the more I learned the more I wanted the job. I laid myself out there — I worked for 5 years being an exhibit designer, doing museums, zoos, sports shows, trade shows. I loved it and I learned a lot.

My first job was all about production, so I had to design something, print it and then actually build it. My second job was project management. Eventually I ended up working with one of my clients and I said sure I’ll work for you. I did logos and some other things and thought, “Alright so this is what it’s like to be a graphic designer.”

I ended up getting into corporate events, so I got into branding event planning, theming and things of that nature.

About a year ago, almost today, I quit my job and went out on my own.

How does it feel to be self-employed?

Both scary and thrilling. Luckily I had friends who had been freelancing for awhile, and they helped me through this. I didn’t know, for instance, that at the end of the year clients slow down and there weren’t going to be as many projects.  They said don’t worry about it — in January it’ll turn around. And it did.

Overall, I’ve had some really interesting and amazing projects. Working from home has been an interesting experience and a whole different set of time management. I spend a lot of time in my sweatpants. I usually get up with my husband, so I start work at 6:30, then I’ll walk the dog. I’m also a stock illustrator, so having the flexibility to do that is great.

I know a lot of parents worry about their kids declaring at the table “I want to be an art major.” For a long time, I wanted to be a vet, and I went through the entire program and did all of the advanced science classes, and literally at the last minute, I said I wanted to do art. I scrambled and with the help of my guidance counselor, I found someone to shadow, and I proved to myself to my dad.

You may have to do some things or find an alternate solution temporarily and eventually it all does work in the end if you stay true to what you do. There may be some bumps and jobs that aren’t so sexy…if you stick with it, everything will work out.

How do you promote your work and find clients?

Knock on wood, I’ve been really lucky. People find me through my website or word of mouth, a friend, a former client. There’s a natural flow. It seems that soon after I finish a project, another client comes around. Most clients are not local. I have 2 maybe 3 local clients and I have a lot of clients all over NJ. I had a guy in London find me based on a logo I did and another woman in the Netherlands.

For the longest time (as an exhibit designer), I just did it to be viewed by a large number of people. To do logos, or wedding stuff, or pamphlets, it’s so cool to see it work in all of these different sizes and different functions.

What is the story behind your name?

My husband calls me a spoon, and it stems from that. My cat is the thimble. My husband is the dish. My dog is the teaspoon.

Homer aka "Teaspoon"

Shelby aka "Thimble"

Where did you grow up?

I moved here from Dayton, Ohio but I grew up in Greenville which is a farming community in the middle of nowhere. My husband is from St. Louis, MO, but lived in San Diego, CA for 8 years prior to moving to Kansas City.

The first exhibit design gig was in Dayton, and I just wanted to try something different. I happened to find a job in Kansas City, so I sent my application in and they called me the next day. Two days later they flew me out. They really wanted to talk to me, and I interviewed on September 11 — I remember that clearly. I was living here (in Kansas City) 2 weeks later. I packed up my car and drove to Missouri, and about a month later, my parents drove all of my stuff out here.

I have kind of made a career at being the new kid. I didn’t go to the school for more than two years up until high school. We moved so much because my parents changed jobs or schools were redistricted. I always thought,”Okay, let’s try it.”

I was a really shy, extremely shy and socially awkward kid and it didn’t even occur to me to miss friends. It thought, “Alright, as long as I have my family” then I didn’t seem to mind. I’m one of 4 kids. I have an older bro, Matt (30), a younger bro Sam (21) and a younger sis Cassidy (25). By the time I got to high school, my parents were done moving. I think it’s really funny that my older brother and I have been around to so many schools and my younger siblings have been to the same one their whole lives.

What is it like living in Kansas City?

It’s really easy to live in Kansas City. It’s got enough to keep you entertained and busy. There’s a great art community, sports, and a culture of dance troupes. It’s so cheap to live here –too  gas, food, cost of living. I’m definitely open to wherever we can go though.

My husband is project manager for a construction company. Specifically he builds schools, and they are building them all over the place. If the opportunity goes, we’ll go, if it doesn’t, we’ll stay.

What are some other ways you express yourself creatively?

I like craft in a more traditional way, I crochet, napkins, and just recently made our bed skirt for our first kid. Making things for cribs. Half of our office is being converted into a nursery.

Carrie and Jane aka "Spoon" and "Saucer"

Ready and waiting for baby Jane

So I do enjoy doing the handicraft and I also love to draw. My husband requested a drawing for his desk. He wanted an elephant with a monkey on his back, smoking a cigar…

Are there any special events that you especially like to design for?

I like the idea of weddings and babies — they are recent things in my own life. They are exciting times for people and I feel like when you design for people for their wedding or new child, they are so excited.  It’s fun to design for people who are really excited.

What was it like planning your wedding?

Planning my wedding was great most of the time. I had plenty of time, lots of great local resources and a very supportive and helpful fiance/husband. Sometimes I did get a little hung up on the details, but I think that happens with creatives! I got a lot of the big stuff done early (venue, food, photog, florist, dress) and then just worked month to month off a master job list. Luckily, I left my full-time job 4 weeks before I got married, so I had more time to wrap up all the loose ends.

My invitation was inspired by the type of old advertisements and books…there are lots of great samples at the Library of Congress.

My husband and I both have MAJOR sweet tooths. All the sweets come from local places we frequent – Babycakes for the cupcakes and Donut King for the donuts. The best are the red velvet and carrot cake cupcakes and the pumpkin or Oreo donuts. Yum.

We honeymooned in Italy – a week in Venice and a week in Florence.

I’d love to hear about some of your favorite things.

Old clocks, pretty books, new magazine issues, red shoes, the Apple Magic Mouse, Amy Butler fabrics, large coffee mugs, Bee Things prints, small dogs and freshly-painted toenails.

Love clocks and have an ever-growing collection. This is one of my favs. None of the clocks in my house are set to the same time and most of them are very wrong…it is a form over function issue that drives my hubby nuts!

Meadowlard Limited Edition Screen Print by Bee Things

I have this image hanging in my living room.

Part of my official uniform, preferably a long, boyfriend style cardi.

Oklahoma Joes

Zman Sandwich from Oklahoma Joes

This is my fav restaurant. It is a BBQ joint inside a gas station. And the Z-man is my sandwich of choice. MMM….

Orla Kiely Mug

I prefer drinking my beverages from a mug…this one is my fave.

Junzo Terada Notes

My mom sent me these. Love the animal illustrations. You have to be pretty important to warrant a note on one of these pads.

What kind of music do you listen to? What blogs do you love checking out?

I am a big fan of Pandora because I can cater my music to my mood. I have a bunch of different stations ranging from 80’s rock to mellow singer-songwriter. A few bands and musicians that have been making the list as of late – Mumford & Sons, Glen Hansard, Paul Simon, Modest Mouse, Cyndi Lauper,  Spoon, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Cat Stevens and of course, Lionel Richie.

A few blogs & websites I visit weekly –

Design Sponge, Dooce, PostSecret,, Design Mom, Young House Love, Apartment Therapy, OrangeYouLucky, Babble, Shorpy, Pitch.

Take us through a typical day.

I roll out of bed, put my sweatpants back on, and get my meal, get my beverage, sit in my office and ease myself in, making a list, checking my email for work purposes. Things that are most important rise to the top. Then I look around, finish reading a magazine, look at blogs, and try to spend rest of morning working because I’m most productive in the morning. I take the odd break, but now that I am pregnant I take more breaks. Eat lunch, let the dog out, hang out, do laundry, think about dinner. Then I get back to it, and work as long as I can, then lose focus around 330 and then try to find another way to be productive. Can’t help it, end up at the computer at night, I like to come back and write it all down. I have piles of scribbled drawings and scribbled notes, I keep this stack.

How has your background in exhibit design affected your design work today?

Exhibit design really did influence me; specifically there are certain guidelines when you have things viewed by the public. ADA and just common sense. You don’t want the type to be too low or too high because people can’t see. There are certain point sizes for fonts for different needs. There are rules that have to be made good use of to get what I want creatively.

As far as production, when you are literally the one producing something, you become a lot savvier about getting your files ready. Craft is so important to me. If you ever cut your own vinyl, you realize how important your vectors are. In a way, a lot of it helped me become a more simple, clean designer. I’m not very “designerly.” I’m very organized. I do like things to have order and intention. Sometimes people don’t design with intent. People talk about pet peeves and they point out typography a lot. That’s an easy one to point out. When I think about other people’s things, I think that people aren’t always intentional with their layout and spacing, and that’s what makes design look bad. They are not thinking through where they are placing things. Not saying things need to be centered and straight, but they should be designed with intent.

Take us through the creation of Robot Friends and You’re a Blast.

Earlier this year, I did a little illustration of a robot after seeing some robot stickers while out shopping. He sat alone in my folder of many (and I mean, MANY) unfinished and unused illustrations until I saw him while perusing for an image and I knew that he would be perfect for the Make a Wish Birthday Challenge. So, I made him some friends and viola!

“Robot Friends” Birthday Party Invitation (available for sale this fall)

When I found out about the Be Mine Valentine Challenge, I knew that I wanted to make one of those cheesy, cute cards with a silly pun. And I wanted it to have an animal illustration. I sat around listing animals and trying to match them with sayings, like a squirrel saying “I’m nuts about you.” Eventually, I thought of a whale (maybe I was going alphabetically!) and put it together with “You’re a blast!”.

“You’re a Blast” Valentine’s Day Card

What are your design necessities?

Aside from sleep, I would say my personal key commands. I like to change the key commands in my design programs…it just makes me so much faster!

What do you do when you hit a block?

I think it’s just walking away from something; I’m guilty just as much as the next designer of overworking a design. Self editing is really important the ability to let things go if they are bad, to walk away. I live by a rule of 3, it made me think more. I look through my image bank on my computer, or I go for a walk, and it does occur to you at strange times, a new form of inspiration. I don’t like to force things, it doesn’t feel genuine.

There is a quote on your website by Mary Lou Cook, an artist and citizen activist:  “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” What does this quote mean to you?

I think that people sometimes don’t credit themselves enough for being creative or artistic. There is so much more to being creative. Some people have an eye for putting together colors, or have really great handwriting. Creativity is so fluid that you just have to accept any idea that occurs to you and mold it. Some people are so hard on themselves and I want to say, “You are being more creative then you think.”

There are very few artists who are capable of drawing something.

I used to call myself a design illustrator because much of what I do involves illustration and has in the past and will in the future. It’s all an art, and it depends on who’s calling it.

Mary Lou Cook is not traditional. This quote is coming from someone who wore many hats, so it’s even more inspiring because of that.

Who you admire in the design world and Minted world?

I really admire the Minted community as a whole. Amid a bevy of amazing and diverse designers there is so much great design, unflagging support, and constructive criticism. I think one of things that I love seeing is the growth and development designers experience as they continue to participate in challenges. Even if you don’t win, odds are that your latest designs are improved over the last challenge. I see designers becoming more studied with their font and color choices and also spending more time considering trends and the needs of customers. I know that I have come a long way from my first designs!

In the design world, I have admire Charley Harper and Paul Rand. They have influenced so many and helped to evolve modern design and illustration. A friend send me a quote from Paul Rand that I think describes my thoughts some days!

Wise words from graphic design extraordinaire Paul Rand

via Door Sixteen

What have been some of the major milestones in your career?

One major milestone in my career was my first job out of college. It was out of my comfort zone and qualifications, but I really I loved the idea of being an exhibit designer. My first week, I worked 70 hours to complete a scale model for a museum presentation. My boss told me later that he was surprised when I showed up at work the second week!

Another milestone was changing jobs again and moving to KC. Aside from moving to a new city where I knew no one, I was also going to be stretching my skills yet again. I would not just be the designer on all my projects, but I would also be acting as the project manager for each…meaning now budgeting, production schedules, construction documents and client management were all things for which I was now fully responsible. The first time I finished a project on time, within budget and with a client that still liked me was a big day!

And a third milestone was striking out on my own as full-time freelance designer and illustrator. I spent many months planning for the transition, but I was still sweating profusely the day I walked into my boss’ office to give my notice. Thanks to my wonderful husband’s constant support, my first year has gone very well. I still have good days and bad days, but there are so MANY more good days!

What advice would you give to designers new to Minted?

Learn to edit yourself…select only the best of the best. If you aren’t sure, ask someone or step away for awhile to return with a refreshed perspective. Practice good craft – pay attention to the details of your layout, illustrations, text and everything in general about your design. It is the little things that can have a big impact. And read all the rules…twice!

Where would you like to be and what would you like to be doing in 10 years?

Hmmm…I would like to be the person that names paint colors. Or still working for myself and having a grand time. All of this needs to take place in a bigger home that I will share with my husband, kids and assorted animals.

Find more of Katherine on her blog.

  1. Kellie

    I’ve always admired your designs, such great style. Loved reading more about you and am now even more inspired. Thank you 🙂 I totally love that Paul Rand quote, by the way. When I start panicking about a design, it’ll be a nice reminder to calm down.

  2. Paige

    Great interview Carrie! I’ve always loved your cute name Dish & Spoon. It’s very fitting! 🙂

  3. Sydney

    I’ve always loved the name “dish and spoon” as well. It’s good to know that you have other company at the table. I am quite a cardigan girl myself!

  4. Laura

    Great interview! Add me to the list of “dish and spoon”-name-lovers and cardigan girls 🙂

  5. Meg G.

    So fun to get to know you Carrie. You are quite an inspiration. Your Valentines day card might be one of my fave Minted Designs. 🙂

  6. annie

    great interview! your designs are always fantastic – and i have that same orange clock in my kitchen 🙂

  7. stacey day

    love your interview, carrie! i have always adored your illustrations, and it is great to get to know you a little better.

  8. Yolanda

    Wonderful interview… I am a big fan of your work… I love the bed skirt you made… so beautiful 🙂