How a Slovenian former journalist won top prize in Minted’s 2018 Holiday Photo Card Challenge

Written by Amy Cuevas Schroeder

When an Elvis impersonator busted out “Viva Las Vegas” at the tail-end of Minted’s 10th Anniversary Awards Ceremony at Camp Minted, Minted artist Petra Kern had no idea that roughly four minutes later she’d be presented a gigantic $10,000 check. But that’s exactly what happened. With The King at her side, Minted Founder & CEO Mariam Naficy approached table 14, holding the check facing inward to hide the name on the payable line. “I think you’re probably realizing,” Mariam said to the audience of nearly 200 Minted artists. “I am holding a $10,000 check. Right, Elvis? I’m here to award the 2018 Holiday Card Challenge winner. … My heart is pounding. I’m very nervous. I’m going to approach… and the winner is: Petra Kern.”

As you might have guessed, Petra was nearly speechless in the moments after Mariam presented the award for winning top prize in the What a Bright Time Holiday Photo Card Challenge. In a follow-up video interview with Mariam the next day (August 8), Petra said she was shocked and overwhelmed. “I am so thankful because we are currently living in a really small apartment and building a house,” explained Petra, a largely self-taught Minted artist who traveled nearly 6,000 miles from Ljubljana, Slovenia, to attend Camp Minted in Las Vegas. “This is like a fairytale, and the prize money will go toward building my artist studio.”

View a video clip of how Mariam Naficy surprised Petra Kern here.

Camp Minted photos by Stephanie Rapp

In the 11th year of Minted’s Holiday Photo Non-Foil Card Challenge, independent artists from around the world submitted a total of 6,868 entries through Minted’s unique crowdsourcing modelfurther reinforcing why this challenge is considered one of the most competitive contests in graphic design. And rightfully so: The first-place winner goes home with $10,000 in cash, a trip to San Francisco, and commission on every sale of his or her winning card design.

Similar to a decade of winners before her, Petra is humble about her success. She is neither an overnight success nor a lifelong designer. At age 19, Petra initially embarked on and built a thriving career in journalism, having worked for leading publications in Slovenia. It wasn’t until she became pregnant with her second child in 2011 that she set aside time to learn design — in her words — “from scratch.” She recalls Googling “How to make money from greeting cards” and landed on Minted.com. She joined the Minted community in 2013 by entering a Holiday Challenge.

“Evergreena” by Petra Kern is the 1st place winner of Minted’s What a Bright Time Non-Foil-Pressed Holiday Photo Card Challenge.

Like many of Petra’s other works, “Evergreena” was inspired by nature. “I live in a country where we are spoiled and surrounded with mountains, forests, sea, meadows, and clear rivers,” she explains later via email. “Ljubljana won the title of the greenest European capital in 2016. I’m a big nature lover and am always observing plants — their shapes and their colors, which amaze me. I constantly feel like a child in a candy store on my walks and hikes.”

Petra Kern lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia, named Europe’s greenest city in 2016.
(photo by Jurij Struna)

Philadelphia artist Kristy Kapturowski of Hooray Creative was one of about 50 artists who watched a live broadcast of Petra being surprised during Camp Minted. “She’s so talented and totally deserves all the success and recognition coming her way. It’s been amazing to watch her work evolve over the last few years,” Kristy says of Petra, who became friends through Minted’s buddy program. Petra attributes much of her success to Kristy, a Minted artist veteran who shared design advice and encouragement. “I’ve been rooting for her in the design challenges ever since!” Kristy adds. “I enjoy helping others when I have something of value to offer, but now I’m pretty sure Petra could teach me a few things.”

In the following interview, Petra answers our questions about the impetus behind her career change, how she built a name for herself in the design world, and overcoming her fear of “computer monsters.”

Minted: What was your former career as a journalist like?
Petra Kern: I started working for a teenage magazine when I was 19, and later worked with that magazine publishing company for 10 years, until 2004. At that time, we were a new country — Slovenia became an independent state in 1991 — and our company had just started publishing women’s magazines. When I outgrew teenage magazines, the natural transition was to cover women-related stories. Our staff was doing a bit of everything. I wrote articles about health, beauty, and interesting professions, worked as a fashion stylist, edited photos, and lectured coworkers because I was a student of Slovenian literature and grammar.

When I started to think about leaving the company, I received an invitation from one of the biggest e-newspapers to cover similar projects. Luckily, I was also asked to write about travel — my happy place! On top of that, I’d just started to date my now-husband, Uros Zagozen, who is a photographer [and also a Minted artist], so we reported together and traveled mostly to Austria and Germany. At the same time, I started to work with the company that licensed Cosmopolitan, Elle, and Elle Décor.

During my time as a journalist, I wrote for Smrklja (a teenage magazine), Eva (a magazine for women between 18-30), Jana (a general women’s magazine), a Lepa in Zdrava (beauty and health), and Siol.net (an e-newspaper).

This photo of Petra and Minted artist Meagan Christensen was taken at the start of the awards ceremony dinner — before she was surprised.

Though you worked for many years as a journalist, when you were a child, you actually dreamt of a design career, right?
Yes, I loved to draw, and we lived with my grandparents. My grandfather didn’t hear well and didn’t talk much, but he loved to draw. We could sit in silence for hours and draw together. I dreamed that I would be an illustrator when I grew up and later a fashion designer — which sounded so cool back then, and frankly, these were the only two professions I knew about in which to do something creative.

How did you transition from journalism to a career in design?
Though I loved being a journalist, a nagging voice was always in my head, saying, “There is something you haven’t tried and you want to.” My design dreams were always somewhere under the surface. In 2009 my firstborn was 2 years old. We were in the middle of the recession and the salaries in journalism dropped tremendously. I was so disappointed how the things turned out in my industry, plus I was constantly tired. I remembered the trip to Provence with our friends. I don’t know why I bought a pack of cheap markers on that trip, but it was then that I started doodling flowers. When I came home, I started to paint flowers with gouaches, but nothing really happened in that direction.

Then my daughter was born in 2010, and I just knew that I didn’t want to go back to journalism. Luckily she was a very uncomplicated baby — she basically just ate and slept. My son was in kindergarten and during my daughter’s nap time, I took advantage on my maternity leave — 11 months in our country — Googled a lot, and discovered two books that changed my life: Kelly Rae Roberts’ Taking Flight: Inspiration and Techniques to Give Your Creative Spirit Wings and Kim Parker Home. Kelly’s book was about mostly mixed media artists; I’d never seen that kind of painting before, and I was totally enchanted and curious — how did they do it? Kim’s book just brought me to heaven. She was a woman who also loved to paint flowers and botanicals, which encouraged me to keep painting.

In 2011, you traveled to Minnesota and showed your art to big names in the textile design, paper, and gift industries. What was that trip about?
I read Kelly Rae Robert’s blog and ran into an article where she announced she would be a guest at The Creative Connection, an event organized by Jo Packham, the editor of Where Women Create Magazine in St. Paul, Minnesota. That was an exciting opportunity to meet Kelly Rae in person.

The event was a retreat with lots of workshops and panels, but also as a showcase for artists. There were pitch slams where you had 10 minutes in front of the big names in a certain industry. I remember Tim Holtz, Lilla Rogers, Margo Tantau, and people from Demdaco, Robert Kaufman, etc., were there, and I challenged myself to participate. First of all I hate, hate flying; second, I hate performing in public; and thirdly, my English is not phenomenal, and I knew nothing about Photoshop or Illustrator. I submitted my paintings — which were very basic hand-painted patterns — and got picked for pitch slams for paper, textile, and the gift industry. That was a sign. I had to go. The juries were so kind and encouraging, and the textile jury was the tough one. I remember Lilla Rogers looked at my portfolio and said, “There is really something going on here, and there are some designs with potential. But, girl, you should do better! And most importantly, if you want to succeed in this industry, you should learn how to use the computer!” That was a wake-up call. I didn’t know which path to take — I just knew I wanted to license my designs.

Through that experience, I gained some self-confidence, met Kelly Rae, and got a little insight into an industry I knew so little about, and gained hints of potential collaborations if I learned computer skills.

How did you learn how to create customizable card designs for Minted?
After The Creative Connection, I started to learn Illustrator; I actually waited until January 2012 — it was like postponing a diet. I was terrified of those computer monsters. I cursed like an old sailor because it seemed like I’d never achieve what I wanted. I used Lynda.com, took Rachel’s Taylor pattern design course and a million other e-courses via YouTube — for design and the business. That was a huge learning curve for me, and it took me a year to gain confidence in Illustrator. I started to post some designs on Facebook, and the first sign of success was when a little studio called A Fresh Bunch contacted me that they work with designers mostly on card designs and asked if I wanted to join. I joined, though I didn’t really know about designing photo cards, which seemed like a big thing in the USA; we do not have a tradition of photo cards in Slovenia. So I did first steps there and learned as I went with it. A Fresh Bunch reformatted to a licensing agency, and I am still part of it.

What was it like to go home after Mariam Naficy surprised you with the first-place win at Camp Minted?
Right after the announcement, I texted my husband because it was too early in the morning in Slovenia to talk on the phone. He texted back: “Whaaaaat? Honey, I am proud to Venus and back of you. I bet you do not know what to do right now!” He knows me very well, plus he knows exactly all parts of my work, so he understood exactly how huge this is.

The family reunion was sweet. That Friday my kids returned from their vacations with the grandparents and they came with my husband to the airport. There was a lot of hugging and jumping. I had exactly four days after Las Vegas to celebrate, then we left for a family vacation. My husband took me for a lunch on a little mansion where we married and it was a perfect afternoon. The next day I invited my sister and my girlfriends to a cocktail party. They brought me princess color book and crayons to take next step in my creative life — it was so good to celebrate with my troop.

How did you create “Evergreena”?
Along my design journey, I was introduced to watercolors, which somehow became my medium. But for the Holiday designs, this year I wanted something stronger, so I bought acrylics, which gave a stronger feel to everything. I loved how green and white mixed on a surface of the leaves, but after putting my greenery together, it felt too monochromatic. So I kept the acrylic base and added a watercolor greenery for variation. Though I like to embellish photo cards, it is very important to me to not overpower the photo. Plus, I wanted classic white, green with a little red color palette.

During your interview with Mariam, you thanked your first Minted buddy, Kristy Kapturowski of Hooray Creative. How did she help you through Minted’s Buddy program?
I almost fell off my chair when I was paired with Kristy. I love her elegant designs, and she is always so good with typography, which I struggle with. I was surprised when she emailed me to introduce herself. I had a million questions about my Minted submissions, about her submitted designs, some Illustrator dilemmas, and of course, how to gain success on Minted. Sometimes I was losing my faith that I would ever gain a decent income, that I wasn’t good enough, that my skills are too poor. She really was an encouraging mother figure, telling me to keep going.

VIEW THE MINTED 2018 HOLIDAY WINNERS COLLECTION PAGE >>


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 September 20, 2018

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