Meet a Mintie: Penelope Poppy

Name: Nicole Armstrong
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Years with Minted: 4
Expertise: Watercolor style marker with black line art
Occupation: Elias/Savion Advertising Graphic Designer and Mintie

When did you first realize you wanted to be a designer?
Since I was little, I loved to color and draw. My mom would tell you it all started when I won my first coloring contest when I was 4 years old. It was a Christmas contest, and I won a teddy bear wearing a Santa hat. After receiving the bear, I immediately cut his hat off and thought it would look better on me, though it was too small. I still have “Teddy” (I know, so original), sans hat, to this day!

Throughout my grade school and high school years,, I took every art class there was.
I wasn’t really familiar with “design,” but I knew I loved being creative. Turns out, I was pretty good at it.

When it was time to decide on a college, I honestly hadn’t even considered art or design as an option. Though I can’t even handle the sight of blood, I always wanted to go into the medical field, and thought I’d be a nurse. Clearly I didn’t think that through. My parents, on the other hand, were starting to push me toward doing something creative and encouraged me to look into the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I went to an orientation just to check it out and that’s where I learned what design was. They showed us poster designs, product designs, packaging designs, album covers and all kinds of other things that opened my eyes to the world of design. I remember looking at a soup can label and thinking “Man, someone designed this!” I looked at everything in a whole new light after that and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a designer. I didn’t know a thing about graphic design because I was more into fine arts, and only used my computer for “surfing the net.” Over the next four years at the Art Institute I learned so much about color theory, typography, composition, creating digital art and so much more!

(Nicole uses Prisma Color markers and rubbing alcohol to get the watercolor affect on a lot of her illustrations. )

Tell me about one of your designs for sale on Minted and how it came together.

I feel like I owe it to our lovely Minted community and customers to reveal the inspiration behind Stache + Kiss, since it’s become quite a popular design.

Stache + Kiss was included in my very first round of submissions to Minted during a Wedding Invitation Challenge. I think I submitted five designs. My husband and I had just started a side job helping out with our friends’ DJ company. In addition to DJ services, they offer a wide variety of entertainment options, one being a photo booth. You can see where this is going, right? Of course we had all of the appropriate props: hats, boas, glasses, and the acclaimed mustaches and lips. We had been working the photo booth for a couple of months already at that point and, after doing a few, you could tell which props were favored. Guys loved picking up that hipstery stache and the ladies loved the kissy lips. And of course, don’t forget the shot where you switch so the girl is sporting the stache and the guy has the puckered lips!

Photo booths weren’t as popular four years ago, as they are now. In fact, I remember it being a little difficult to even find good props for the booth at the time. As I sat at my computer brainstorming ideas and concepts to work on for the challenge, the photo booth and props popped into my mind so I went with it. I honestly remember thinking to myself that it wasn’t one of my stronger designs and that it probably wouldn’t get picked.

I was inspired by my everyday…my side job. You can really draw inspiration from anything, you just need to keep your eyes open and look at things in a different way.

How many iterations does it take for a design to become final?
I may fall into the minority on this one but it actually doesn’t take me many. Most of the time it’s about one to three iterations. I feel like more often than not, I go back to my original design. If I get carried away with too many different versions and options it just overwhelms me. I pretty much know in the beginning if something is going to work or not.

I’ve always wished I was one of those designers who sketch out their design prior to taking it to the computer, but that’s just not how I work. I do better if I just sit down and lay it out on the computer to start.

What is a typical day like for you?
From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or usually more like 6 p.m.), I’m a graphic designer for an advertising agency in Downtown Pittsburgh. I get to experience all of the hustle and bustle of the morning and evening commutes into the city (Can you sense the sarcasm?). I use my creativity and thinking in a completely different capacity for my day job than I do while designing stationery. At work, I am normally trying to be as creative as possible while staying within the confines of the client’s guidelines and standards. When designing stationery or greeting cards, I’m usually trying to bust through the “box” and create something completely new and different.

When I get home, around 7 p.m., I try to spend time with my husband. We eat together and usually spend an hour or so recuperating from our work day and relaxing.

Around 8 or 9 p.m. is when I start my “second job,” working on the projects that I love most! Whether it’s Minted or Penelope Poppy, my hands are always full and my list is always growing. This has been my biggest wedding season to date. It’s been a huge blessing, full of opportunity and growth, but it has also been a lot of hard work and devoted time. I usually work until around 11 p.m. before calling it quits for the night. I am a night owl, so, if it were up to me, I would work into the late night hours to get more done, but I would totally sleep through my alarm and be a zombie the next day. So I need to know when to stop. I don’t really drink coffee unless it’s the kind where there’s like 1 ounce of coffee and the rest is milk and fancy syrups (which I only consume on occasion) so I don’t even have that going for me.

Then I wake up and start all over!

How do you balance all the different parts of your life and work?
Shhh, it’s a secret.

I don’t. I can’t. Ha ha. I don’t think it’s possible. I think that a perfectly balanced life is elusive, though it has taken me a while to accept that. Sometimes I feel like I should be able to do everything and give it 100% all of the time, but that’s just not reality and it’s setting myself up to fail. I tend to be an “all or nothing” person so I need to keep that in check. If I can’t give my all to something then I end up not doing it at all. You need to be able to give yourself a little bit of grace.

One thing that really helps me is making lists! If I have a list of everything that I need to do in front of me it helps me stay focused on getting each task completed. I’ve been making lists like crazy…for design projects, events that are going on during the month, birthday gifts that need to be purchased…etc.

Coincidently, I am not the greatest at making a grocery list. You can’t win ‘em all, right?

Find more of Natasha on her blog.

  1. Great to find out a bit more about you, Nicole! And I’m in love with that green bookcase!

  2. Janet Fulmer

    Nicole is a talented artist, love her work!!

  3. Jill Means

    Love to see your work, design space and more about you. I loved meeting Nicole in SF, even if it was only for a day!

  4. Kim Dietrich Elam

    Great read, Nicole! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Melanie Severin

    Great interview, Nicole – thanks for sharing glimpse into your beautiful workspace and what inspires you!

  6. Sheila

    A fellow list-maker, great read Nicole / Minted!

  7. Mom

    Yes, If anyone knows me they know I am very very proud of Nicole!!! And yes the interview made me cry! she Loves her work and it shows, every day she makes me even more proud of her many talents. I Love You Sweet Pea!

  8. Nicole Armstrong

    Thanks everyone! The interview was a lot of fun. Love this community!