Karly Depew of Oscar & Emma gets real about work-life balance and the ‘buckets of life’

Portraits by Christa Kimble Photography 2017

Minted has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2008, and Karly Depew of Oscar & Emma has been right there since nearly the very start. The Columbus, Ohio, graphic designer entered and won Minted’s first Holiday Photo Card Challenge, which at the time had a total of only 110 entries and a grand prize of $1,000. Fast-forward to 2015, and Karly won first place again in the annual Holiday Photo Card Challenge—by then, the submissions grew to 4,661, and the prize amount increased to $9,000.

As an active community member, Karly has become somewhat of a Minted celebrity over the years. Not the mysterious, intimidating kind of celebrity, but the well-liked, down-to-earth variety. Karly’s one of those genuine, kind people you immediately warm up to and respect. As a designer, “talented” is an understatement, and as a human, she’s Midwestern-friendly and very real; she’s open to saying, “I’m still figuring out this whole work-life balance thing—who isn’t?”

In this interview, the busy mom talks about how her life has changed since she’s transitioned her business as an independent graphic design company into a full-time Minted artist—with Karly defining “full time” on her own terms.

“Lovely Beginning” wedding invitation by Oscar & Emma

Minted: How many hours per week do you usually work work?
Karly Depew: I average about 20–25 hours per week right now, which is a drastic change from the 50–60 I used to work before my children were born. Before my children were born, I worked for myself, so I never stopped—weekends, evenings … all the time. Now that I focus on designing for Minted, “work” for me is a process of getting inspired and researching ideas for current challenges, creating many rough drafts, playing around with fonts and drawing or painting illustrations.

What’s a typical day in the life for you?
A typical day in my life starts at 6:30 a.m. when my children wake up. Once the morning routine is complete, my husband and I go our separate ways to Kindergarten and daycare drop-offs. By 9 a.m. I am usually off to a fitness class or run through my neighborhood. After a few errands and house chores, I am usually able to be at my desk by 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. I try to stay focused on work until 3 p.m. when I leave to pick up my daughter from school. Once all the kids are home by 5 o’clock, we have our family time, dinner, and bedtime routine. I am lucky if I get to work an extra hour in the evening after the kids have fallen asleep. Usually, by that time I just want to spend some time with my husband on the couch while we watch Netflix.

How do you balance personal life with work?
I honestly don’t know if it is possible to have a true work-life balance. It is something that I am constantly striving to accomplish. Once I became a mother, the “mommy guilt” came full force. If I spend time focusing on work, then I feel guilty about neglecting my family, and vice versa.

I saw an interview with volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings on the TODAY Show and she talked about her “three buckets” in life. If she ever feels off-kilter or grumpy, she knows she needs to re-evaluate and find the bucket that needs to be filled. When I heard that interview, it was an A-HA! moment for me. My buckets are 1.) Family 2.) Work 3.) Self. It is a constant balancing act, but when I am stressed I know it is because one of those buckets needs to be filled.

After my twin boys were born, I knew I had to shift the focus of my business. I’ve put the custom design portion of business “on hold” and focus on Minted at the moment. It has allowed me to have more time to invest in my family and myself.

At home in Columbus. Karly’s twin sons, Ollie and Parker, are 2 and a half, and her daughter, Maeve, is 6 and a half. “The struggle to find a work-life balance is real!” she says. “However, I do my very best to make sure that when the kids are home I am not working. It is family time only.”

What’s your approach to raising young children and developing your career?
Over the last few years, I’ve really had to learn to say “no.” When it comes to Minted Challenges, I try to focus on my strengths and realize that I just can’t submit to every challenge like I used to.

What’s an interesting thing about you that most people don’t know?
I grew up on a farm in rural Ohio, and I was a college athlete. I played volleyball and lacrosse my first two years in college.

Did you study art or design formally in school?
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in Black and White Fine Art Photography from Ohio Wesleyan University. I spent many late nights working in the darkroom developing film and printing negatives. I also took metalsmithing classes and focused primarily on jewelry design. Attending a small liberal arts college really allowed me to explore a variety of arts.

“Precious Petals” birth announcement by Oscar & Emma

What is your specialty as a designer?
Typography. I can spend hours trying to perfect fonts and spacing within a design. I also tend to shift around with design styles. In a given day, I can go from designing something simple and elegant to bold and graphic.

How has your design style evolved?
In the past year, I have started to work with watercolors. I don’t have any formal training, so I am really just trying to develop my own style within my own limitations. I would love to take some classes and learn new techniques, but don’t have the time right now.

Meet Oscar

And Emma

You named your company after your cats: Oscar and Emma. What are they like?
Oscar and Emma are now 15 years old. My husband and I rescued them from shelters when we lived in Boston. Emma is still healthy as can be and loves to chatter at birds through the window or curl up on my pillow any chance she can get. Oscar has definitely gone through seven to eight lives by now. He has battled diabetes, congestive heart failure, and many other ailments. You can usually find him at his food dish or curled up on my lap while I try to work.

There are a number of talented Minted artists who live in Ohio. Do you connect with the other Ohio Minted artists?
I definitely don’t connect with them as much as I would like to! Hopefully, we will have another meetup soon, because it is so inspiring to spend time with each other. Yao Cheng and I try to get together for coffee once a month to chat about work and motherhood. Also, she and another local artist have formed a monthly creatives meetup group called “Rise and Design.” I love going and meeting other Columbus creatives when I have the chance.

Karly Depew won first place in Minted’s coveted Holiday Photo Card Challenge for this design, “Embellished.” Read the story of how we surprised Karly here. “I spent countless hours perfecting the details of that design,” she says.

Do you have a particular “strategy” when it comes to entering Minted Challenges?
I really try to think about the consumer and what would appeal to them. Before I start designing, I created a list of all the design styles I want to submit to the challenge. For example, I always try to submit something classic, something modern, something bold, and something vintage. I really want to reach all consumers, so I often feel a bit “all over the place” with my submissions.

You joined Minted in 2008, shortly after Mariam Naficy founded the company. How did you discover Minted, and what’s it been like to experience the company’s growth?
I discovered Minted after I received an introduction email from some Minted employees in 2008. I had a booth at the National Stationery Show that year, and someone from the company visited my booth and asked if I would be interested in submitting to their first Holiday Challenge. At first, I thought it was a great concept, but didn’t know if I would have the time since I would be fulfilling NSS orders for my own company after the show. When I got home from NSS, I looked up the site and saw that $1,000 was the first-place prize for the Holiday Challenge. I pulled together a few submissions and crossed my fingers. There were only 110 submissions, but I won first place! I was officially hooked after that!

It has been incredible to see how Minted has grown over the years in terms of size and product categories. I remember visiting the Minted office in San Francisco in 2011, and the company was so much smaller at the time. I would never have imagined it would become what it is today. With all the change and growth, there is one constant that has always been so important to me and the reason I love working with Minted: Mariam. From the beginning, she has always been dedicated to having a personal connection to the community, and while I know things are much busier now for her and the company, I will always be thankful for the fact that she genuinely cares about the community and our feedback.

“Winter Harvest” foil-pressed holiday card by Oscar & Emma

Which Minted Design Challenge has been most challenging for you?
The wedding challenges are most challenging for me, because I feel this category is very trend-oriented. With Holiday and Baby, there are endless possibilities for themes and illustrations, so I feel my creative juices are always flowing. With Wedding, I always feel it is much harder to pinpoint what a bride might want for her wedding day, so I tend to go with a “safer” type-driven designs. Florals are very popular and there are so many Minted designers who really excel in that area, so I tend to shy away from them.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Minted artist community?
Definitely the camaraderie and friendships I have made with other designers. I really wish I had more time to comment, critique, and take part in discussions. Hopefully, someday when I figure out my work-life balance, I’ll be able to be more active in the community! It is such an important part of Minted.

What’s your favorite Minted design or art that a fellow Minted artist created and why?
I Love Boston” wall art print by Jordan Sondler. I love Jordan’s playful and bold illustration style, and Boston will always have a very special place in my heart. My husband is from Massachusetts, and we lived in Boston for six years together before we settled in Ohio. I am planning to order a very large version of this print for our kid’s playspace.

What’s your advice to up-and-coming artists and designers?
Try not to get discouraged if you aren’t successful right away. The Minted Community has grown drastically over the years, so I can imagine it is a bit overwhelming to newcomers. Also, I really believe typography can make or break a design. If you aren’t yet confident in your abilities to pair multiple fonts together, keep it simple.

“Darling Mermaid” children’s stationery by Oscar & Emma

Karly Depew’s Inspiration

Who inspires me: My children, and other designers. I am  hoping to collaborate with my daughter on some fabric patterns. I adore her animal drawings, and she always wants to “work” with me, so I am hoping we can come up with a few designs together.

Favorite recent discovery: Bananas, almond milk, peanut butter and honey make for a delicious smoothie!

Favorite place in the world: Bali. My husband and I went there for our honeymoon.

Favorite song, musician, or type of music: I listen to pretty much anything, but my I am definitely enjoying The Chainsmokers Pandora Station right now.

Number of stamps on your passport: If we are counting since I was young, 15.

Favorite blog or website: Pinterest. I’m obsessed with pinning home interiors.

Favorite font: Mrs. Eaves has been a longtime staple font for me over the years.

Favorite color: Deep navy and white

More About Karly Depew of Oscar & Emma
Oscar & Emma’s Minted Artist Store
Oscar & Emma’s Website
Instagram @oscarandemma
Oscar & Emma on Pinterest
Oscar & Emma on Facebook

About the Author: Amy Schroeder, Minted’s Community Content Manager, founded Venus, the magazine about women in the arts and DIY culture, and has written for Etsy, West Elm, Pitchfork, and NYLON. Connect on Instagram @thevenuslady.

Published June 6, 2017

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