Melissa Egan finds design success by diving in, asking questions, and learning by doing

Portraits by Ashley Poskin

When I met Melissa Egan of Pistols in 2016 at a Minted artist paint-and-sip meetup in Chicago, I immediately sensed her creativity, down-to-earth spirit, and ability to laugh off the small stuff. She had recently relocated to the Windy City from Portland, and was settling into a pretty packed life that included a full-time job as an art director, freelance design work, and a burgeoning body of work on Minted.

Fast-forward to now to 2018, and Melissa has recently added another piece to the the brimming pot of life: her first child, Henry, whom she can’t wait to see every night after work. “One smile from him, and I’m dead,” she says, attributing much of the hustle and bustle to the support of her husband, John, her son’s primary caretaker. “I’m trying my hardest to enjoy Henry while he’s so little, and not worry too much if I’m not able to do it all,” she says.

When we dug into how Melissa learned her craft, she described landing on design after dabbling in a few other fields (Maybe business? Why not try enironmentalism?). Her try-and-see career approach also extends to her view of the design discipline. “In my opinion, there really isn’t a ‘right’ way to do design,” she says. “I try to design around an idea, rather than a particular style. My designs are most successful when they come from a concept I’m really excited about.” She loves illustration and most enjoys creating characters with personalities, like “Cakeasaurus Dinosaur” or her award-winning “Party Sloth.”

In this interview, Melissa talks about her experiments in environmental activism, creating Anthropologie store displays, and how cool dads don’t get the credit they deserve.

In 2017, Melissa Egan won a prestigious Louie Award for her “Party Sloth” children’s birthday party invitation. Melissa’s stationery designs are fun, attention-grabbing, often including winks of humor and whimsy.

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Sandra Picco attributes success to creative risk-taking, the Minted community, and evolving with the Digital Age

With a graphic design degree from Montclair State University in hand, Sandra Picco ignited her career on the production side of things and spent many hours in press rooms before actually focusing on design. She even walked the famous halls of Vogue magazine, working as a production manager for a spell. “It was humbling but also made me question every fashion choice I ever made,” the New Jersey Minted designer says with a smirk.

Sandra Picco works on her Minted designs at home in Barnegat, New Jersey, a small shore town located on the Barnegat inlet off the coast of New Jersey. “My husband and I just built our home here and moved in about six months ago,” she says. “The best thing about this area of New Jersey is that we can be at the beach in minutes or get in the car and be in New York City or Philadelphia in under two hours.” Portraits by Born Rival Cinema.

In addition to those humbling moments, Sandra attributes much of what she learned in her early production days to her refined skills as a designer and typographer. Ultimately, I discovered I was not cut out for magazine publishing and chose to pursue design over continuing in print production,” she says. “I did learn a lot about the inner workings of magazine publishing—and maybe a thing or two about what not to wear.”

Sandra also attributes her growth as a designer to Minted. She joined the Minted artist community of independent artists in 2010, when the company was only two years old. Eight years later, Sandra says she looks to Minted to provide room for creativity that her day job as a corporate designer doesn’t always provide. “Stationery design and being a part of the Minted community have given me reasons to push myself to take more risks and try new things creatively,” she says. “The support of the community cheering me on has also saved me from design burnout on a few occasions. It’s been pretty amazing to watch other designers, who I now call friends, grow alongside me as well.”

“Subtle Statement” save the date card by Sandra Picco

Though Sandra can’t quite put her finger on her design style, we call it “cheerful classics with a twist.” “I tend to have ‘shiny object syndrome’ when it comes to sticking to one look, but I usually favor a clean, modern aesthetic, and I love using type as the main focal point in my work,” she says.  

Here Sandra talks about her creative evolution, the art of being receptive to constructive criticism, and more.

“Burst of Happy” holiday photo card by Sandra Picco

How have you continued to learn about graphic design since college?
I’m going to date myself big time here, but I studied graphic design before computers were commonplace. It’s hard to even imagine that now. I was taught how to “copy and paste” the old-fashioned way—with a blade and adhesive! I didn’t really learn how to design via the computer until I started my first job after graduation, and with the pace of technology, I feel like I’ve been learning ever since. Needless to say, a lot has changed over the years, but I’m happy that I entered the field when I did because it gave me valuable insight into both worlds.

By day, Sandra works full time as a graphic designer for a small design and print company in New Jersey, where she designs everything from logos and brochures for small businesses to banners hanging in professional sports arenas. “It’s never the same from one day to the next, which keeps things interesting,” she says. “Stationery is my ‘side hustle.’”

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From retailer to designer: How Bethan Lumb built her career through hard work and Minted Challenges

Bethan Lumb sits in the ‘Basket of Dreams’ in Queenstown, New Zealand.

When you look at Minted artist Bethan Lumb’s body of work—clean, minimal stationery designs with carefully crafted typography—you might assume she’s been working as a graphic designer for many years. In actuality, the English artist has been a self-described steady “work in progress” who’s designed her own path.

“Golden Pines” wedding invitation by Bethan Lumb

At 18, Bethan went to Manchester School of Art to study Embroidery—which she describes as “more like fine arts and textiles”—followed by a stint at Bergen Academy of Art and Design in Bergen, Norway. “I thought maybe I wanted to pursue a career that had something to do with printed textiles or interiors, but I wasn’t really sure,” she says in retrospect. Upon graduation in 2012, Bethan landed a job in retail. “I worked for a few different companies but most recently L’Occitane, helping to manage one of their boutiques. It’s a great company with lovely products, but I was keen to do something more creative again,” she says.

Examples of Bethan Lumb’s work while studying Embroidery (aka “fine arts and textiles”) at Manchester School of Art, and briefly at the Bergen Academy of Art and Design in Bergen, Norway.

With that “keen” thought in mind, she coincidentally discovered Minted in 2014, and even with a lack of knowledge about design programs such as Adobe Illustrator, Bethan dove head-first into entering Minted’s competitions, learning as she went along. After achieving 98 wins with Minted—and with a growing creative itch needing to be scratched—Bethan decided to go back to school in 2016—this time to design school. She registered for classes at Shillington, a graphic design college with campuses around the globe.

I’ve always enjoyed being creative, but feel like I only really started to understand design properly after going back to college,” she explains. “I love that design consists of so much more than making things look nice; it challenges you to think creatively to solve problems, consider the end user, and learn from your mistakes.”

Long story short, after graduating from design school in 2017, Bethan is now following her dream of working full time as an agency graphic designer by day in Manchester, and moonlighting as a designer for Minted by night.

Here, she shares more about her story and what she’s learning along the way.

Of all her Minted designs, Bethan’s “Watercolour Stripe” wedding invitation is the most meaningful to her because she originally designed it for her sister’s wedding. “The feeling of knowing that someone has chosen this invitation for their special day never gets old,” Bethan says.

How did you discover Minted?
I honestly can’t remember where I discovered Minted—I think through a design blog. I remember seeing the design challenges and thinking, “This would be a great way to learn to use Adobe software.” I remember my first pick was in the Holiday cards, and I was so slow in Illustrator, the file prep took days! But seeing my card for sale on minted.com, and seeing people choose it as their holiday card amongst so many amazing designs was worth all the hours of work.

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In the thick of a global journey, Minted artist Shari Margolin feels braver, inspired, and slightly homesick

Minted artist Shari Margolin floats in the geothermal mineral water of the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, Iceland. (Photo by Josh Meister)

“We have no clue where we’re going next or how long we’ll be in Colombia—we’re flying by the seat of our pants,” says Shari Margolin, a Minted artist who’s on a stopover in Los Angeles for a few days before embarking on the final leg of a global trek culminating in Latin America. The graphic designer and her husband, photographer Josh Meister, have concrete plans to meet up with Shari’s sister and brother-in-law in Nicaragua in a few weeks, but the rest is sort of up in the air.

After spending eight months trotting around Europe and Asia as part of a “year-long experiment,” the couple’s not too concerned about the unknowns of Latin America. Which isn’t to imply that they embarked on this journey with a completely laissez-faire attitude. They began “loosely planning” and daydreaming five years before they set sail in June 2017 from their home base in Atlanta, Georgia. Shari and Josh saved money, minimized their stuff, found tenants to rent their home, researched the heck out of everywhere they wanted to go, and launched SocietyofEverywhere to document the trip. The impetus? “We’re both slightly obsessed with travel and, technically, we can work from anywhere in the world,” says Shari. She’s a self-employed graphic designer, and Josh is a photographer.

With three months left to go, here’s the story of what they’ve seen, how they’re feeling, and what they’ve eaten so far.

Skógafoss, a waterfall in Iceland that Josh Meister shot at midnight. “We had light almost 24 hours a day when we were there during the summer of 2017,” Shari says. (Photo by Josh Meister)

Minted: You just spent about four months in Europe, four months in Asia, and now you’re about to explore Latin America for the next four months. If you could do it again, would you do anything differently?
Shari Margolin: I’m glad we started with Europe because it eased us in to full-time travel—a lot of people spoke English, and it felt comfortable because we’ve traveled there before. But it was the most expensive region, and if we were to plan the trip again, I’d spend a little less time there and also visit more of Eastern Europe, for the cost savings and to get off the beaten path a bit more.

I’ve heard super good things about Sri Lanka and am bummed we didn’t make it there. A year seems like a crazy long time to travel, but somehow it’s just not long enough, and inevitably, we’re going to miss some good places.

A view from above of a section of falls at the stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. (Photo by Josh Meister)

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What’s it like to be a Minted artist for 10 years vs. 10 months?

Minted has come a long way since the company’s humble beginnings in 2008. What started as a bud of an idea—and Founder Mariam Naficy’s quest to unearth hidden creative talent everywhere—has blossomed into a marketplace that now surfaces the world’s best emerging artists.

We invited two Minted artists with similar—and yet, distinctly different—paths to interview one another.

First up is Amy Ehmann of Design Lotus, a pioneering Minted artist who joined the community 10 years ago during the dawn of the company’s crowdsourced design competitions. The Colorado artist ignited her freelance design business with fellow stay-at-home mom and best friend Tina Furjanic.

The second artist is Stacey McCarney, a newer community member who entered her first Minted design competition only 10 months ago. Stacey is an Irish designer, mom (who’s seven months pregnant with her second child), and lifestyle blogger. She worked in business for years before becoming inspired in a fabric store to teach herself design.

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Leah Ragain’s start in design is very Pinteresting

Talk to creative types, designers, artists—heck, anyone who loves pictures—and they’ll likely tell you it’s nearly impossible not to get sucked into the eye-candy rabbit hole that is Pinterest.

Leah Ragain, a 37-year-old Minneapolis mom of four, was no exception. Every day during her kids’ naptime, she got into the routine of holing up on the couch and Pinning her favorite photos of food, home decor, and fashion, including those from her faves Smitten Kitchen and The Fauxmartha. But with the thought of earning supplemental income at the front of her mind, one day in 2015 her outlook completely changed. “I distinctly remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to spend my life just pinning other people’s ideas. I want to be the one creating something beautiful and have people Pin my work!’” Three years later, the rest has become history for hers in the making.

“It was like the light clicked and started a shift in my thinking,” Leah explains. From there, she purchased fonts, learned Adobe Illustrator, starting dreaming, and began entering Minted Design Challenges. “I decided to really go for it,” she says. And though Leah still loves Pinterest, she now uses it as a tool instead of an obsession. Here she tells more of how her life and creative path are evolving.

Love to You” Valentine’s Day card by Leah Ragain

Minted: Did you tell anyone about your a-ha! moment to become a designer, or did you keep it a secret to yourself?
Leah Ragain: I talked to my husband and a couple friends—it wasn’t really something I wanted to announce to the world in case I wasn’t good at it. My husband has been so great from the very beginning and has always encouraged me to keep moving forward. I don’t think he realized how much of his life would be listening to me talk about fonts, color palettes, and Christmas cards! I’ve also had a few friends cheering me on and have encouraged me every step of the way.

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How Minted artists around the world express their creative independence

Minted celebrates the strength, vision and resiliency of independent artists around the world, and the vast majority of our artists are women. They are business owners and stay-at-home moms, lifelong artists, and those just discovering their creative identity for the first time. Our artists live in all 50 states and more than 90 countries. They share a deep love for creative expression, personal growth, risk-taking, and most importantly, paying it forward by helping each other.

In celebration of International Women’s Day—and the empowerment of women every day—we’re honored to share some of the stories of the many remarkable women in our global community of artists.

Lauren Packard of New York City
After overcoming brain cancer, the teacher rediscovers her passion for abstract art

I used to come home from elementary school, play my record player, and make art. From then on, art has been a love affair. After college, I drifted away from art because of the demands of being a new teacher and the constraints of New York City apartment spaces. Then, in February 2014, I unexpectedly had brain surgery to remove a large tumor. During recovery, word communication was difficult, and I suddenly had this urge to make art—I had to paint. I think for some reason that part of my brain felt more “alive”—it was my form of communication. Painting is what made sense at a time when a lot of things didn’t. My surgery also put a lot of things in perspective for me, and I knew there would never be a perfect time to start making art again. If I wanted to make art, I just needed to do it, so I made it a priority. I was no longer inhibited or insecure as I was in my younger years. It was just something I needed to do for myself, by myself. In a lot of ways, I feel lucky for that brain surgery.

How Minted fuels my independence
My work celebrates an independent way of seeing and thinking, which I hope to engage the viewer in. Creating work for Minted also has helped fuel financial independence, allowing me greater freedom to create art. Minted Design Challenges encourage me to keep pushing myself as an artist to create unique work.

Read more of Lauren’s story



Zhi Ling Lee of London, England
The IT consultant strikes a balance between the financial world and the arts

If you had told my younger self that I would have tens of thousands of my cards sold around the world, I wouldn’t have believed you. But that’s exactly what’s happened since I began designing for Minted in 2014. Minted has been the biggest driver for me to improve my skills and experiment with new approaches and techniques.

While I’ve always had an interest in art, I took a more traditional path, majoring in software engineering. After graduating university, I started a corporate IT career, and I now work in the financial services industry in London. I’m glad I took some time to learn design, and my mantra is “Never stop learning.” I’m always trying new techniques by following online tutorials, and if I’m participating in a Minted challenge, I set out specific hours after work to research, sketch, and complete my designs.

How Minted fuels my sense of independence in life
Minted gives me the freedom to pursue design while keeping my day job. So many of us have varied interests, and Minted has allowed me the opportunity to celebrate my creative side. Independence for me is living without the constraint of pursuing only one path, as having two tracks to run in life is much more interesting and fun.

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Behind the Design: ‘Urban Sophisticate’ wedding invitation

Minted artist Carol Fazio, who’s based in Philadelphia, shares the vision and creative process behind her bold and modern brushstroke wedding invitation “Urban Sophisticate.”

Minted: What was the inspiration behind “Urban Sophisticate”?
Carol Fazio: I always say, “You never know where a doodle will end up,” and that’s exactly where this design began. The original drawing was pink! I knew the feelings I wanted to convey: energized, painterly, abstract. I also had some tear sheets on my inspiration wall that influenced me. The juxtaposition of the hand-painted artwork with very clean typography appealed to me. It felt organic and sophisticated at the same time.

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London artist Francesca Iannaccone credits her style to details and the ‘10,000 hours thing’

They Flew At Night” and “Lined Abstract” by Francesca Iannaccone

Some artists have a hard time putting their style of their work into words, but not Francesca Iannaccone. The London artist and illustrator easily sums it up in a sentence. It’s about bright color palettes, layered textures, and sharp, clean graphics with a Mid-Century influence—breaking down the detail into shape, color, and pattern. Her process is distinctive as well—she usually creates by hand and colors digitally, although recently she’s been drawn to traditional methods, including paint and paper collage to create abstract works. 

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Former actor Mary Gaspar revisits her childhood dream of making art

“If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be a professional artist, I would have said, ‘shut the front door.’”

That’s how Mary Gaspar responded when we asked how she became an artist, as she recalled the twists and turns that preceded her current career path. The Minted painter—whose popular “Plant Cell” series has made an impact in the design blogosphere and led to commissioned work for The Property Brothers—used to work as an actor.

Of “Plant Cell 1” (shown above) and the other prints in the series, Mary calls them the “little plant cells that could” because they’ve been featured on a number of blogs.

In a nutshell, Mary landed her first acting gig at age 13 by singing in the choir in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Chicago Theatre. In high school, she was immersed in both theater and fine art, and grappled with deciding which one to focus on in college. Although she worked diligently on her art portfolio as a teenager, Mary never submitted it to universities and decided instead to study theater at the University of Illinois.

After college, Mary moved to Los Angeles for a few years to pursue acting and worked doing commercials while maintaining a long-distance relationship with her then-boyfriend, Derek, a fellow actor who stayed in Chicago. He later joined Mary in L.A., but long story short, after marrying Derek, getting pregnant with their first daughter, Mary and her young family returned to the Chicago area to be near family in 2008. Fast-forward 10 years, and their family has expanded to three daughters (ages 2, 7, and 9); both Mary and Derek are on the up and up with newfound career paths—she as an artist and he as a restaurateur. But it didn’t happen overnight.

“After I had my girls, my husband was busy with work and school, and I was working for my father doing legal research while being at home all day with the kids,” she explains. “I felt like I needed to make something.” She naturally scratched the itch to paint once again, following her childhood passion for art.

In this interview she tells how the rest is history in the making.


Mary holds the original of “Blue Hearts” painting, which Minted repurposed into a fabric for home decor, such as the “Blue Hearts” table runner below.

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