Brianne Larsen carves her own fluid path toward a life in design

Written by Jenny Griffin

Flashback to 2012. Brianne Schipman was going to school by day at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska, and working at a local pizza place on nights and weekends. The day after she graduated with an associate’s degree in Visual Publications, she married her college sweetheart Caleb Larsen, then an ROTC cadet at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Busy week. Brianne wasn’t sure what was coming next, or how to use her newly minted degree. She thought she might be able to land a full-time job in graphic design, but that didn’t happen.

Flash forward to 2018. Brianne Larsen is happily moving 442 miles east on I-80 from Cheyenne, Wyoming. She’s heading back home to Lincoln, Nebraska, with Caleb, their extroverted daughter Sylvee Ruth, age 17 months, and their photogenic Italian greyhound Indigo, age 3. Adding to the excitement is the impending arrival of a new baby to their growing family. A whole new chapter is soon to begin.

Brianne Larsen Minted card designs, clockwise from top center: “Tall Love,” “Elegant Angles,” “Simply Abstract,” and “The Highest.”

A whole lot of cool stuff happened in between those years, including Brianne finding her designing rhythm with Minted and the realization of her capacity to carve out a designing life for herself independent of location, well suited to the peripatetic nature of the Air Force family lifestyle. Brianne and Caleb began married life in Lincoln while Caleb finished up his two remaining years at UNL. A five-month stint in Lompoc, California, for Caleb’s Air Force training came next, followed by four years in Cheyenne. Caleb is currently a captain in the Air Force, but is transitioning out of military life into a civilian computer programming job. He’s considering joining the Reserves in Omaha, an hour or so from Lincoln.

Brianne’s fluid, flexible trajectory was launched, ironically, by not getting a full-time graphic design gig. Instead, she landed a part-time photography job with a local clothing boutique. This turned out to be a surprise boon, as her part-time hours allowed her to embark on a path as an independent artist with Minted. She submitted her first design to a Minted Stationery Gifts Challenge in July 2012 after first hearing about Minted through a friend. “Looking back, I’m so thankful I didn’t get a full-time job,” Brianne says. “I really believe everything happens for a reason.” Underscoring her retrospection and her embrace of her path is her faith. “My faith is really important to me and shapes every part of my life, including my love for art,” Brianne says.

Success didn’t come instantly; it took nine months for Brianne to get a design pick. Her work developed as she continued to submit designs. She’s now secured 74 awards through her Minted Store: Peony Papeterie. We asked Brianne some questions about being part of an Air Force family, her creative approach, and what might surprise people about her.

“Elegant Angles” by Brianne Larsen of Peonie Papeterie

Minted: Peony Papeterie, the name of your Minted Artist Store, is such an evocative name. Fun alliteration too. Where did you come up with the idea?
Brianne: My wedding bouquet was made up of peonies, and I love how detailed they are. When trying to come up with a name for my shop, I was going to do “Paperie,” but it was already taken. So I did a little research and found that papeterie (pap-uh-tree) is the French word for stationery or a box of stationery. I thought it was perfect!

Often where an artist comes from — where home is — really matters. It informs their work, their influences, their values. You’re from Nebraska. How does that come across in who you are and the art you produce or in your aesthetic?
Some people think that Nebraska is just corn fields and open prairie, but Nebraska really is “The Good Life.” It’s everything from the passion and sportsmanship of Husker fans to the strong Midwestern work ethic. I’m proud of my home and the people who make it great.

Your husband Caleb has been a nuclear missile operator with the Air Force. How has the Air Force lifestyle impacted the choices you both make in your work and life?
Being an Air Force wife certainly has its ups and downs. I’ve made some really great friends, but having to say goodbye is never easy as you never stay in one place. What’s great though, is that wherever we go, I’m always able to continue designing for Minted. I love the flexibility of being able to design from home, regardless of where we live. And the introvert in me loves the fact that I can work independently from the comfort of my home without having to talk to people (or leave my house). But I still want to have friends, and it’s a constant struggle. I still do desire some adult face-to-face interaction from time to time! I’m really excited to transition out of the Air Force so we can move back home to Nebraska and be close to family.

“Penguin Party” children’s birthday party invitation by Brianne Larsen of Peonie Papeterie

Why do you do the work you do? Or more specifically, what attracted you to graphic design?
I’m a very visual person and have always looked for ways to express my creativity. I didn’t even know exactly what graphic design was when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to study in college, but graphic design sounded much more interesting than anything else I could have studied. I just love making things look pretty, whether on paper or in my home. Our house here in Cheyenne needed a lot of cosmetic updates, and it was a really fun (and time-consuming) design project to make our home live up to its potential! I’m so thankful for a handy husband who was able to make all of my house renovation dreams come true. We make a great team!

“Simple Giraffe” baby shower invitation by Brianne Larsen of Peonie Papeterie

You work on wedding stationery, birthday invitations, holiday cards, and thank you cards. Do you find differences in their challenges and opportunities?
I typically consider myself to be better at designing photo cards (be that Save the Dates, birth announcements, or holiday cards), but some of my highest-voted designs have been designs without photos. They just take so much more time, and ideas don’t come as easily for me in those categories. It just goes to show it can be a good thing to step outside of your comfort zone.

Whether I’m always successful at it or not, I try to think outside of the box and design things that stand out and offer something different to customers than what they typically see when they’re shopping for stationery. I try to be different, but oftentimes designers can unknowingly have similar ideas, so it’s always a challenge.

“Framed Peace” holiday card by Brianne Larsen of Peonie Papeterie

How do you start to work on a new design? Do you have a routine or set of steps?
I don’t really have a specific routine for how I start a design. Sometimes I’ll draw chicken scratch thumbnails if an idea pops into my head, and other times my mind is blank until I start messing around in Illustrator. I’m not a skilled “by-hand” artist, so I heavily rely on fonts for inspiration. And I always try to put myself in the shoes of buyers and think about what I, myself, would actually be interested in buying.

Because my primary job is being a stay-at-home mom, I have very limited time to actually sit down and design. Naptime and bedtime are pretty much all the time I get. I prefer to work in a clean space with no unnecessary clutter; plenty of natural light (with white walls, ideally); and complete silence. Music is too distracting, and even if no one else is around, I have to shut the door just to help me focus. I’d love to get more into watercolors and illustration when I have more time.

What’s something that might surprise people about you?
Some people in high school thought I was a nerd because I once recited 800 digits of Pi from memory for a school competition. I simply have a detailed, photographic memory and am actually not even that good at math!

Brianne Larsen’s Top Design Tips

  • “Sometimes newer designers (like I was at first) are scared of white space and often think ‘go big or go home.’ But small type and wide margins can have just as ‘big’ of an impact as large, bold type. My motto is ‘bigger isn’t always better (but sometimes it is).'”
  • “Don’t overthink a design. I’m definitely a perfectionist, and can spend way too much time fiddling with spacing and fonts, but there is a point where you just need to let it go and just ask the Minted community for help!”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenny Griffin is a freelance print and broadcast journalist and the founder of Silverplume Press. An avid art lover, she’s also a museum educator at SFMOMA in San Francisco. She lives with her husband, three kids, and two cats in San Francisco. A rescue dog named CeCe has just joined the family.

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