VIDEO: ‘Reels on Wheels’ Premiere

In my last blog post,

I introduced you to my life-long friend, comic book artist, illustrator, and author and all-around awesome human being, Justin Castaneda. One of the reasons we’re such great friends is that we enjoy watching Hollywood blockbuster movies and talking about them.

So we came up with the idea of Reels on Wheels,

a YouTube road show where we talk movie expectations on our way to see it and review the movie on our ride back. Here’s the deal: Justin and I approach our reviews as fans. We ain’t no professional film critics, boo! We’re just your average, nerdy Hollywood film-gobbling movie viewer.

We started with the movie that officially started the 2016 summer movie season*: ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.’

At the time of filming this, we had not yet solidified our rating system, but as of writing this blog post, we now have one: Reels -OR- Wheels? Reels: Go see it! Wheels: [tires screeching and peeling away] Save yourself and don’t see it.

Having been out for over a week now, the ‘Batman v Superman’ is divisive.

If you haven’t seen it already, should you go see it? Should you save your cizzash?

Justin and I weigh in here, but let me know what you thought of the movie by commenting below! And don’t forget to subscribe to Justin’s YouTube channel to keep up with future episodes of Reels on Wheels.

Our next movie? Captain America: Civil War, which hits theaters May 6.

*The summer movie season starts earlier and earlier every few years. We have May-premiering ‘Spider-Man’ in 2002 to thank for starting that trend.

VIDEO: Creatives in a Cafe Getting Coffee with Justin Castaneda

Every once in a while, I go on a POWER LUNCH with Justin Castaneda. Who is this person? Ohhh he’s none other than an illustrator genius, comic artist, author, and most importantly, amazing, life-long friend. And what’s a power lunch? Well, both being independent creatives, Justin and I know it’s important to step outside of the ever-so-cozy and sometimes-isolating box that is the home office. Our favorite place to catch up and share our creative process is Creative Cakes in Tinley Park. In the video above, Justin and I share our creative processes and laughs.

You also get to see a terrible, terrible sketch for one of my t-shirt designs for Snort Monster. (I hope my drawing teachers aren’t watching…!) Enjoy, and be sure to subscribe to Justin’s YouTube channel to get more of his creative process, hyperlapse sketches of his famous #cardBOREDsketches, and keep up with his comic con adventures.

Bless me, Internet, for I have sinned. It has been 3 years since my last blog post.

Pain, Vin, Fromage, April 2015. There's a lot about life you can realize and appreciate drinking wine in a Paris dungeon.

Pain, Vin, Fromage, April 2015. There’s a lot about life you can realize and appreciate drinking wine in a Paris dungeon.

OY. VEY.

No one likes excuses or apologies when someone hasn’t posted in forever. We all get that life happens, so I’ll just sum up the last 3 years in the following:

Berlin.
Munich.
Adoption.
Snort Monster.
Cancer.
London.
Paris.
Dublin.
Lola.
Veganism.

Cool!

The beginning of 2016 has me at a moment where I’m going back to my roots yet experiencing rebirth. I feel like a child again yet I’ve never felt more adult. And I’m not talking about “haaayyyooooo, I can do what I want, bitches, wanna see my ID??” kind of adult; I’m talkng about “oh MAN, so THAT’S what Mom and Dad always meant when they did that or said that.” I’m understanding and appreciating the nuances of true adulthood yet getting back in touch with what sparks my creativity and inspiration to share with the world without fear of judgement.

I also used to pride myself with how busy I was, but now I value time management, truly being present, omitting guilt-ridden obligations, appreciating the power of asking for help, and shutting off and refueling at the end of the day so I’m mentally ready to take on tomorrow.

Smile & Say Hello to Twin Sisters Who Get It DONE

Aerial Ardour Header Image: Smile & Say Hello

You can have it all.

As twin sisters Edmarie Marcos and Elmarie Jara have proven, you can manage a full time day job, families, and your own blossoming paper goods business all in this lifetime. All it takes sisterly support, the love for your craft, and some darn yummy doughnuts to help achieve your entrepreneurial dreams.

Two years ago, they featured me as a guest on their website, and it’s about damn time I feature them on mine.

Elmarie Jara and Edmarie Marcos at the One of a Kind Show Chicago 2011. Image by Samantha Photography.

Elmarie Jara and Edmarie Marcos at the One of a Kind Show Chicago 2011. Image by Samantha Photography.

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ed and El about the rewarding and challenging aspects of running their business. Ed designs your environment while El is a print designer. Together, they are Say Hello Creatives who own an online paper goods shop called Smile Lifestyle Boutique. Ed is a mom to two young kiddos and had her second child just this past October. El just had her first child in April. So they are busy, to say the very least. Ever since I met them over 10 years ago, I’ve been in awe of their talent, discipline, and creativity. They are also a couple of the sweetest and smartest ladies I know. I’m honored they call me a friend.

Tomorrow, Ed and El will be at the DIY Trunk Show at Broadway Armory Park 5917 North Broadway Street, Chicago, IL 60660, where they will be selling their latest collection.

The DIY Trunk Show is a diverse gathering of creative talent to showcase, sell and promote handmade arts, crafts, goods, and endeavors of all kinds. Yours Truly will be there to support all of Chicago’s local artists, so stop by the show!

One of infinite reasons why I admire these sisters is that they not only talk about their goals and dreams, but they get it done. Ed and El share their secrets to success with us below:

1.) The DIY Trunk Show is coming up fast this Saturday. How have preparations been going?

ED: I’ve been preparing differently from my sister this time around. This show will be the first time I’m leaving my newborn for that long. It’ll be hard, but it’ll be good to go back and be in “Smile” mode.

EL: With babies and our busy schedules at our day jobs, we had to take a break from some shows this year. We really enjoyed the DIY last year and decided it was important for us to do it again. It took a lot of careful planning, lack of sleep and other sacrifices to really prepare for the show without taking too much time away from our growing families.

DIY Trunk Show image

Visit Say Hello Creatives at the DIY Trunk Show tomorrow!

2.) The Trunk Show isn’t your first rodeo. You’ve been in showcases all around the Chicagoland area. How do you prepare for these shows?

ED: Preparing for shows can get really stressful, but we love going to them. We do procrastinate at times, but I think that’s also the fun of it. Let’s just say, sometimes we get even more creative when under pressure… what artist doesn’t?

EL: I agree. We come up with our best ideas towards the end when we really should be finalizing everything. We’ve been in local shows in the south and west suburbs, the One of a Kind Show in Chicago, and The 2011 DIY Trunk Show.

Smile Lifestyle Boutique DIY Show

3.) Tell us about your latest collection.

ED: We decided to concentrate and expand our signature line. We have received so many great compliments on them, and we really saw how much people really enjoyed them. We loved creating them, so it wasn’t a hard decision going in this direction.

EL: I think one of the most gratifying parts of doing this is really hearing our customers’ feedback. They really are the inspiration behind the creative decisions we’ve made. Their feedback drove us to focus on our signature collection. We both enjoy designing our patterned cards and coming up with those puns. We didn’t think anyone aside from our families would find them entertaining until the collection started selling!

Smile Lifestyle Boutique's 2012 Collection Preview

Smile Lifestyle Boutique will feature new gift wrap and greeting cards at the DIY Trunk Show tomorrow. Be there!

4.) Did you ever see yourselves working together in this capacity? How did you both decide to go into business together? Sometimes it makes sense to go into business with someone you know very well, but as you might know, there are pitfalls. As the old adage goes, “Never go into business with a friend…” ;P

ED: El and I have always worked well together in the past. We are one of those who always have to have a project going, whether its going to be a dance crew (don’t ask) or a magazine. The paper goods line was El’s idea. I, however, didn’t know anything about the paper industry, but as she brought me along, I began to love the industry and am currently learning more about it.

EL: You don’t wanna know half of the business ventures we come up with, but luckily, our families and closest friends have always been supportive. We knew eventually we’ll end up with one big hit. Smile isn’t there yet, but we like where it’s going and are very hopeful things will work out in the end. I think business works with us because we both have the same aspirations. We’re both hardworking and determined. We do it for ourselves. We do it for our families.

5.) Have you two always gelled aesthetically?

ED: We’ve always had our own individual style. Our individual style was more prominent in our first collection. But the more we work together, I think our individual style is starting mesh together.

EL: I also think that we have our own strengths which is very beneficial to our partnership. We learn from each other. Art comes easy for me on screen, where as with my sister, she’s very good with her paintbrush or pencil. In the end, you get two different styles, but we work together on how we can marry the two into one brand.

Smile Lifestyle Boutique Cards

A beautiful variety of graphic prints and illustration comprise the collections of Smile Lifestyle Boutique.

6.) You’re both twins. I don’t know many twins, but I can imagine there’s that desire, as there would be in any sibling dynamic, to separate yourselves from each other and form your own identities. I think you’ve done that well in your bio. (On your blog, you say, “ELMARIE IS A PRINT DESIGNER; EDMARIE DESIGNS YOUR ENVIRONMENT.”) How did you decide to use your being twins as a selling point in your business?

ED: We never meant to focus on being twins as a selling point, however, the more shows we do, customers who have followed our shops and our shows have been intrigued with how well we work together and have just gotten to know us not just as designers but as sisters.

EL: People really appreciate the relationship we have. When we highlight each of our talents or interests, we are doing so to enhance our partnership. The more skills or ideas we offer to the business, the stronger this partnership becomes.

7.) Edmarie has beautiful illustrations on your cards, as well as wonderfully abstract paintings on canvas. Elmarie focuses on print and graphic design. Have you two ever thought of switching roles for a collection? Edmarie doing some graphic work and Elmarie doing a painting or illustration?

ED: Oh, we’ve had sessions of me in front of a computer learning to lay out something on the screen. I’m still learning, but I can’t say that I’m a graphic designer yet.

EL: I tried to paint and draw. I’ve got paintings and sketches hidden in storage to prove that it just isn’t my greatest skill. If I can’t UNDO something by pressing a button, it really drives me crazy (Aireen, you probably know what I’m talking about). I like working on the computer and I really think my sister could be a phenomenal graphic designer. The only thing I do with our illustrative collection is some color adjusting and making sure the art is centered on paper.

Edmarie Marcos Exhibit at the Aurora Artwalk 2011

Edmarie was featured in her own exhibit at the Aurora Artwalk last year.

8.) You’re both mothers of your own beautiful young children now. How do you manage a day job, Smile Lifestyle Boutique, mommyhood, and your families without losing your minds? Do you get negative hours of sleep a night? Is coffee your friend? Do your husbands do a lot of heavy lifting as well?

ED: Ha,  I think it comes down to losing your mind once in awhile. But for me, it’s just about breaking things down one at a time. Being a mommy and a wifey are my number one job. Everything else depends on what is a priority and what comes next. Smile is something I’m always willing to sacrifice sleep for, because I love it. I love it not just because it’s ours, but it’s what defines me as well, besides being a mom and a wife.

EL: My sister probably manages better than I do since I’m a new mom. I remembered making a list of tasks I wanted to do while on parental leave. I’m happy to report that nothing on that list got done. A child really changes you. Sacrificing the small stuff isn’t hard. I don’t really need 6 hours of sleep. Being a parent makes me want this business to succeed even more. Right now, my schedule is a blur. I love being a mom, and I also love my day job, Smile, and growing my own design studio. Doughnut and coffee have become really good friends of mine. It’s not healthy at all, but my husband, who is always promoting healthy living, encourages me to workout and to eat healthier. I don’t always listen, but it’s good to always have that reminder. And, he knows there’s no stopping me once I have my mind set on a doughnut. My sister and I have always shared the goings-on with Smile to our husbands. They know almost every detail—the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Doughnut Vault by Say Hello Creatives

Doughnuts help the medicine of hard work go down a little easier for Say Hello Creatives.

9.) How does your creative process go? Is it always linear, or perhaps you have a certain number of items you know you want to launch for next season and you try to hit that? Or perhaps you decide on a theme and run with it?

ED: Since our products are celebratory, it’s easier to determine what comes next for the upcoming season.

EL: We actually should have a schedule of when items are launching. We’re still learning to hold off launching some great ideas until the best and most opportune times. Scheduling is still a learning process for both of us. We know it’s important. We really just need to fit in “scheduling” projects and launch dates into our annual schedule.

Smile Lifestyle Boutique DIY Trunk Show prep wall

Here is Smile Lifestyle Boutique’s prep wall for the DIY Trunk Show last year. Dang, are these ladies organized, or what?

10.) Your Patterns ‘n’ Puns greeting cards (not sure if you have a name for that yet, but I figured that made the most sense! ^_^) and gift wrap have become a signature design for Smile. How do you come up with those ingenius puns? Also, do you ever have fans suggest ideas for you? I know sometimes I’ll be folding laundry (oh yeah, glamourous!) and then a pun will hit me, and I’ll think, “Ooh, maybe El and Ed would like this one!”

ED: Just like you, our ideas come from anywhere. It could be while I’m tucking my son into bed with his robot PJs, and all of a sudden, “Ha…ppy…Bot…day” is created. Really random. Any ideas we get, we text it right away to each other followed by, “Did you get it? Does it make sense?” because sometimes our sense of humor may be different from others.

EL: I’m constantly thinking of ideas. I do a lot of conceptual designs at work, so I’m used to brainstorming on my own wherever and whenever I can be by myself. We’ve had friends and families suggest ideas, and we love hearing them. It’s nice to witness them having fun with our wordplay, too. Yes, my sister and I are constantly texting, and usually I’d ask my husband for his feedback right away. There was one pun that just didn’t jive with anyone but me—it was something with “oregano.”

Smile Lifestyle Boutique: Happy Bot Day

Happy Botday. Seriously, how cute! Perfect for you cutesy robot lovers out there. ^_^

Smile Lifestyle Boutique: Fantachetic Man

How perfect is this for Movember?

11.) Your colorful insect collection from Spring 2011 was very inspired and one of my favorites. (One of your prints is hanging on my inspiration wall!) Marrying insects and bold colors and patterns isn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill trend. What inspired that collection?

EL: That was sort of a personal experiment that actually turned out well. Again, I’m not an illustrator, but I’m very good on the computer. That whole collection was done on the computer, from the initial sketch to the final piece. I wanted something fun, whimsical and graphic, yet incorporating simple patterns such as lines and dots. When we brainstormed about the insect collection, we wanted to merge these critters in a bizzare environment of patterns. It didn’t work so well with the complexity of some of our pattern designs. In the end, the simple line pattern was enough to create an illusion of these critters crawling over and under these bold lines. I think I spent weeks illustrating the collection when my sister could’ve done them in a matter of minutes.

 

Smile Lifestyle Boutique: Neon Insects

Creepy critters have never looked cooler.

12.) How far in advance do you start planning your collections? You just launched your Christmas items. Are you now planning your Spring 2013 collection for Smile?

EL: We actually decided to move some of our finished new designs for the Spring collection. We’re currently working on adding to it with other celebratory cards fitting for the upcoming holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, etc. Look out for those in January.

13.) Where do you find inspiration for your collections in general?

EL: I love going to Paper Source or even just perusing the web. Looking at some of the best collections in the market helps us come up with ideas that haven’t been done before. Competition inspires us.

14.) Who would you say has been your biggest influence in art and design?

EL: I love the design philosophy of John Maeda. I’m a smarter designer now than 5 years ago, and part of this professional growth was due to his teachings. There are other creatives I admire for their designs and business-sense like Jessica Hische and Margo Chase.

15.) What are your favorite types of projects to work on?

ED: Definitely the pun cards. The creative process from beginning to end just makes me ‘smile.’

EL: I love working on our collection from beginning to end, whether it’s our signature collection or new designs. It’s a high-pressure position we’re in, but we enjoy the thrill of it.

Smile Lifestyle Boutique 2012 DIY Preview

I can see why the Patterns ‘n’ Puns are a favorite for Smile Lifestyle Boutique – there’s a pun for everyone! ^_^

16.) What has been the most challenging aspect of running your own business?

ED: The most challenging part is [deciding] what is more important to invest on. From the beginning, I think we decided on a lot of stuff too fast, because we were so excited. Now, we are more conservative on our decision-making and making sure that any decision we make aligns with our long term goals.

EL: We are definitely more conservative now than before—maybe too conservative sometimes. We are still learning how everything works. There is always a decision to make and risks to take. It’s very challenging juggling the logistics and the creative, but that’s part of being a business owner. You have to wear many hats.

17.) What has been the most rewarding aspect of running your own business?

ED: Definitely meeting some of our online customers in person and also seeing some of them in every show!

EL: I agree! Meeting with our Etsy customers and interacting with new customers in person is definitely my favorite.

Smile Lifestyle Boutique at the Artisans on Canal show 2011

Ed and El got the chance to meet more of their fans and followers at the Artisans on the Canal show last summer.

18.) What kind of future aspirations do you have for Smile? Do you see yourselves opening a brick-and-mortar shop?

ED: I hope that Smile can expand to home goods. We have already started to talk about that, and I will be super thrilled when that finally happens. But lots of work still needs to be done. As far as an actual store, I’d like to stay as an online business, but El can tell you otherwise on her wishes.

EL: This goes back to us constantly thinking of new ideas. It’s just a matter of getting them done. We WILL definitely add home goods to our collection and even going into baby products. Even before Smile came about, my sister and I knew expanding beyond paper was something we wanted to pursue. We still want to stay small, but opening a shop someday is definitely something I always have in mind. We both enjoy interacting with our customers, and a shop will allow us to do more of that.

Smile Lifestyle Boutique Card Collections

Right now, you can find Smile Lifestyle Boutique’s products on their online shop, but maybe some day, you can walk into their store to purchase their latest and greatest!

19.) On your blog, it says that together, you are Say Hello Creatives. We’re pretty familiar with your online shop, Smile Lifestyle Boutique. Does Say Hello Creatives have any other projects in the works, outside of Smile?

ED: I’ve done a few interior design projects outside of Say Hello Creatives, however, with our busy schedules, it’s hard to include that part into my projects right now. Not that I don’t enjoy interior design, but Smile is currently something I enjoy  more.

EL: I love working on Smile, but I started out as a commercial designer working for small businesses. To do both is definitely a goal of mine. I took a break from Say Hello Creatives this past year to focus on growing my family. Now that my little one is over 6-months old, my schedule is getting a little better. I’m at a good place right now to be bold and chase after my ambitions. By next year, you might see more of Say Hello projects on the blog.

20.) What kind of advice do you have for aspiring creative entrepreneurs?

ED: Just go for it. Your talent could be a one-of-a-kind treasure to someone else.

EL: Only you can define your success. Listen to your heart, and do what makes you happy.

Smile Lifestyle Boutique Doughnut Worry Wallpaper

Happiness is a consistent theme in Smile Lifestyle Boutique’s collections, which include desktop wallpaper. Their latest wallpaper features… what else? Doughnuts. 😀

Thank you both so much for taking the time to tell us all about your latest collection and the brilliance behind Smile Lifestyle Boutique!

For more information on Say Hello Creatives and Smile Lifestyle Boutique, visit Ed and El’s blog.

Find them on Etsy here.

Like them on Facebook here.

Follow them on Twitter here.

Email them at info@smilelifestyleboutique.com

Aaaaand don’t forget to say hello to them tomorrow at the DIY Trunk Show, November 17 from 10AM to 5PM! I’ll be visiting them myself (and doing most of my Christmas shopping there), so meet me there!

 

All photos courtesy of Say Hello Creatives.

UPDATE 031316: Edmarie and Elmarie are still doing wonderful, creative projects in their day jobs and have since moved on from Say Hello Creatives. You can still contact them through their Etsy shop. Also, sadly, in 2014, the DIY Trunk Show ended its 11-year-run, which they explain in their post here. It’s a bummer, but as they say in their post, the DIY Trunk Show was a labor of love, and “love doesn’t pay the bills.” However, I’ll always fondly remember seeing the spark of excitement in the vending artisans’ eyes and love of supporting local.

I Met Brand Master Johnny Earle, CEO of Johnny Cupcakes!

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_jeffjohnnyme01

Look at that cute lil cupcakin’ family. ;P Here’s my hub-hubs Jeff, Johnny Cupcakes CEO Johnny Earle, and me.

As a longtime fan of cupcakes and t-shirts, my world changed 5 years ago when I found out there was a company that sold t-shirts with cupcakes on them. Not just any cupcakes. But COOL cupcakes. With his iconic cupcakes-and-crossbones logo, Johnny Cupcakes CEO and “Head Baker” Johnny Earle brought this cutesy little frosted pastry to the masses by integrating bold and rockin’ design with humor and playfulness.

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The Johnny Cupcakes van. According to the video they posted on their site, they slept in it when they arrived the night before.

If you haven’t read his story, I strongly encourage you to read it on his website here. It’s extremely inspiring, and it will put a smile on your face. Johnny Cupcakes is a company that values high quality products and loves its customers. Despite his phenomenal international success, Johnny Earle continues to give the brand a homegrown feel by taking the time meet and chat with his fans. So he hits two of the basic elements of a successful business: great product and great customer service.

So years ago, I bought my first Johnny Cupcakes t-shirt and was hooked. Ever since then, my husband has been giving me a steady stream of JC gear as wonderful gifts. ^_^

As a part of Johnny’s tradition (and genius brand formula), he does tours of pop-up shops around the country. Since he only has stores in Boston, L.A., Martha’s Vineyard, and London (haha, “only”), this is quite a treat to his fans around the country and the world. To celebrate Halloween this year and promote his latest line, he’s doing what he’s dubbed a “coffin tour” called Cupcakes From the Crypt.

I was so excited when I saw Chicago was one of the stops on his tour!

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_tourlist01

Chicago! Yaaaaaay!

I was even more excited when I found out he was setting up his Chicago shop in one of my favorite stores in the world, Rotofugi, a designer toy store and art gallery in Lakeview. Having never been to a JC tour, Jeff and I were anxious to see how it went down.

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Rotofugi’s signage. According to their site, the name comes from a combo of the owners’ beagle-shihtzu puppy (his name is “Fugi”) and the vaguely Asian-sounding word, “roto.”

Having heard that there are usually lines for Johnny’s tour stops, we decided to get there early, and it’s a good thing we did! There was quite a line already, at one hour before the official event start time. But the line system was well organized. To avoid petty line fights, someone behind the counter at Rotofugi handed us each a ticket with a number on it, which represented your place in line. (Jeff was #85, and I was #86, which I was excited about, due to my fandom for ‘Get Smart.’ :D)

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My line number: 86. As in, Secret Agent 86. ;D

It was a chilly wait, because this was the day Chicago decided to officially click into fall weather. Oh yes. We endured wind and cold for about an hour. But Jeff and I and everyone in line were in good spirits! That’s what we noticed about Johnny Cupcake’s fans. Everyone was there to have fun. No stressin’.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_lineoutside01

It’s a good thing we got here early. Check out the line the formed behind us!

Jeff and I developed a playful kinship with a group of girls next to us who were cracking jokes during our wait. “Let’s all play a game!” one of them chimed, “Maybe it’ll help us warm up!” (We didn’t end up playing a game, though. Maybe we were just too excited to get in.)

The event organizer was letting in people from the line, ten at a time, so we had fun counting down to our turn. “Oooh, we’re getting closer!” someone would say.

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It’s cold as heck, but we’re happy as clams! (Speaking of which, who determined that the default state of clams is ‘happy’?)

When we finally made it inside, we were greeted with a menu of our t-shirt choices. It was literally a menu! Ah, another one of Johnny’s great attention to detail and strong branding. It was also a smart idea to keep the line flowing smoothly, so by the time you got to the pop-up shop, you knew what you wanted and could order right away.

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Menu cover for the freshly baked goods.

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The menu presented a fun array of different Halloween-themed designs, but Jeff and I had our eyes on one particular design, which proved to be quite popular.

It was another hour until the line took us to the actual pop-up shop and we were able to make our purchase, but it was a fun experience, which is what I imagine Johnny wanted for his fans. There was excited chatter amongst those in line, so good spirits and camaraderie continued inside.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_lineinside01

Line inside. We were happy to be in from the cold… and to see Johnny, of course!

Also, Rotofugi’s gallery displayed a wonderful exhibit with fun, colorful pieces, so we kept ourselves occupied by pointing out the various works of art.

When we finally got to the pop-up shop, we saw each of the t-shirts were on mannequins that seemed to have risen from their coffins, and each mannequin head was covered with a creepy mask, which really pushed the creepy Halloween feel and more importantly, kept within the theme of this tour. Love!

Every aspect of Johnny’s brand oozes with creativity and consistency. I was delighted at every turn. The friendly lady behind the coffins took our orders, and I was psyched to have gotten the last t-shirt design of my choice in my size. Whew! The checkout process was smooth as well. I added a limited edition Coffin Tour Pin Pack and Johnny Cupcakes Brand Book to our purchase.

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Great display presenting the t-shirt design of our choice. The display was decked out in Halloween-ness, complete with fake webs, that kept getting caught in my jewelry. 😛

Then we hopped back in the line to actually meet Johnny himself. But then I was starting to get nervous. I’ve been such a longtime fan, that I started to worry about whether or not he was actually as nice as his press portrays him to be. What if he can smile and be playful for the cameras as his website shows, but what if he’s actually aloof and annoyed and tired? (While on a 21-city tour with back-to-back days, wouldn’t you be tired? Wouldn’t that be hard to hide?)

Other worries popped up in my mind. If you’ve attended a standard meet and greet before, you’ll know that your time with the featured person is usually rushed (although understandably so), there’s a bodyguard that tells you not to touch anything or anyone, there’s a limit on how many times and what items the person can sign, and there’s a limit on pictures… if you can take pictures at all.

Basically, I was worried that my pristine and childlike view of the Johnny Cupcakes brand would be tarnished. (I know, maybe I have issues. 😛 But you can see where I’m coming from, right?)

After a little more of a wait, it was finally our turn! When Jeff and I stepped up, Johnny was the first to say hi. My first thought, “He’s so cute and little!” With a soft spoken demeanor and baby face, it was crazy-awesome to think that he’s the grand master – ahem – Head Baker 😀 – of an international retail company.

He asked us our names and shook our hands and asked where we were from. We told him how big of fans we were of his, and he thanked us graciously with a sweet smile. Then his eye caught my pinup tattoo, and he was wowed by the detail and was lavish with his compliments. I thanked him, and then he noticed I was wearing a Johnny Cupcakes t-shirt, which he expressed appreciation for with a smile.

He also noticed I was wearing my Johnny Cupcakes dangly silver earrings, and I told him Jeff gave them to me for Christmas a couple years ago, which he enjoyed hearing.

Then I told him how much we love his designs and how inspiring his story and his brand are, and how much of an inspiration he’s been to Aerial Ardour. I told him I make it a point to work with clients who value their brand and brand look, and I see he does that with Johnny Cupcakes.

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Johnny was so cool and signed my shirt from a previous printing!

He then asked about my design work and gave me some great advice about working with more clients I want to work with. I responded with my own thoughts, and then in the midst of it, I realized, “Holy crap, we’re talking about business right now! There’s a whole line of people waiting to see this wonderful guy who’ve already waited 2+ hours, and he’s taking the time to talk to me about what makes a successful business.”

Wow.

I then offered him my business card, and he was impressed with the heft of the paper weight. (Yay!)

Then he said, “Ooh! Let me see if I have mine with me, so I could give you one.” (Double yay!)

His business card also had some nice heft. 😀 And of course, it was impeccably designed. He also presented the card in the great Japanese tradition of presenting with both hands, card facing me, and with a slight bow. Wow. This guy knew his stuff.

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Johnny’s designs are spot on, right down to his business card. LOVE.

He also took the time to sign the shirt I was wearing, as well as the JC brand book we had purchased. He wrote our names and had a great message to go with his signature. (There was a slight slip-up with the spelling of my name at first since, you know, my mom decided to spell my name as “Irene” but with an “A.” 😛 But Johnny saved it and made a great font from it.)

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Here are all our goodies, including the Johnny Cupcakes Brand Book that Johnny signed. “Keep positive,” he signed below our names and his signature. He keeps his overall message consistent in every touchpoint of his brand.

Then we took a picture with the help of the person who was next in line, and it took a couple of tries to get it right, but we finally got a great shot. Johnny even took the time to change our position in order to get better lighting.

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Johnny took the time to shift our positions so we could get the best lighting. His attention to detail and consideration for his fans are just two of the infinite elements to his success.

Feeling we were taking up some time, Jeff and I started our good byes, and even as we were leaving, Johnny stopped us to offer me more words of wisdom for my business. Wow. This was surreal! I thanked him graciously, wished him luck for the rest of his tour, and he gave me a hug and we were on our way. Wow.

So all my worries were unwarranted.

Mr. Johnny Earle IS as sweet and IS as genuine as everyone says he is. Jeff and I walked away feeling so special and even BIGGER fans of Johnny Cupcakes.

THIS is why Johnny Earle has sustained a successful business. He really truly absolutely values his fans. He invests his time with his fans, and they give back tenfold.

For the rest of the day, I had such a great high from the experience. I felt special, and I felt happy, which is what Johnny wants his fans to feel when they experience his brand. (Note that I said, “experience his brand,” and not merely, “buy his t-shirts.”)

And from this, I have resolved to buy even MORE Johnny Cupcakes products.

And THAT is why Mr. Johnny Earle is a brand master.

What do you think are attributes that a company must possess in order to be a brand master? Share your comments below!

Thanks for reading!

And go buy something from Johnny Cupcakes! 😀

P.S. In Johnny Cupcakes’ video from the Chicago stop below, you can catch a glimpse of me and Jeff behind the window at 2:18 when Johnny takes the time to high five some fans walking by Rotofugi.

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‘Lichtenstein: A Retrospective’ at The Art Institute of Chicago

Over Labor Day weekend, my hub-hubs and I had the thrill of seeing the exhibition of the art of American modern artist Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) at The Art Institute of Chicago, running from May 16th to September 3rd. The exhibit was a remarkable event because, according to The Art Institute’s website, “It was the first major retrospective to broadly examine his art since his death.”

A museum-goer gazes at the exhibit entrance.

Much to our surprise, the line outside the museum was about an hour long. (Then again, it made perfect sense; we waited until the last minute to see the exhibit.) But then it was another hour wait to get into the exhibit inside! I didn’t mind one bit, though. I was thrilled that so many people would come out and wait just for the chance to gaze upon the works of one of the greatest modern artists. There is hope – culture lives!

The long line for Lichtenstein’s exhibit allowed me to stop and behold the grand entrance of The Art Institute of Chicago.

I got chills up and down my arms and tingles in my head as I looked around the ‘Pop Art’ portion of the exhibit. It was surreal being surrounded by such iconic pieces like, Ohhh… Alright…, Whamm!, Masterpiece,  and Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But… There they were, all in one room!

‘Oh, Jeff… I Love You, Too… But…’ – Jeff and I got a kick out of this one. ^_^

I felt like a groupie, but I couldn’t scream. (Museum courtesy and rules, go figure… :P) So there I was walking around, snapping pictures of what I could, my excitement quietly bursting with each successive rockstar masterpiece that I had only before then seen with underwhelming and anemic injustice of my Art History books in school.

(And yes, you could actually take pictures! But only of certain pieces. We learned from a museum guard that the photo permissions are contingent upon each artwork owner’s requests.)

‘Masterpiece’

If you take a quick look at my Work, you’ll see that Lichtenstein is an influence. I’ve been razzled and dazzled by color and bold lines since birth, that when I was first laid eyes on Mr. Lichtenstein’s work, I knew I was in love for life.

I was excited to get even more inspiration seeing all of his work in the canvas (as opposed to flesh, haaaa).

‘Keds’ – Pumped up kicks.

‘Alka Seltzer’ – Heartburn never looked sexier.

The exhibit was very informative. As much as I knew of him, I still learned more. For example, I didn’t know he paid homage to several different artists by applying his own style to well-known works of art.

‘Frolic’ is a piece that shows Lichtenstein’s take on Picasso.

I also didn’t know that he concentrated on the topic of mirrors for a while.

‘Mirror #6’ – Lichtenstein had a period where he studied the illustrative cues that indicate the object is a mirror. Check out the minimal lines on this piece that do just that. Genius.

He also studied nudes for a time near the end of his career.

‘Two Nudes’ – Walking into the nudes portion of the exhibit, there was a little girl about 5-years-old who made her thoughts known on the subject: “Eww!”

What was really fun was getting a peek into his process. There was a part of the exhibit that displayed sketches for several of his famous pieces.

‘Ohhh… Alright…’ – Diptych I made of Lichtenstein’s sketch and then the final piece. You’ll see the sketch is pretty close to the final. Wandering through the sketch portion of the exhibit, I wondered if Mr. Lichtenstein would’ve appreciated us looking through them. I know I would be horrified if people saw the sketches to some of my pieces. I’d imagine people would think, “That girl went to art school?? Yikes!” 😛

If you missed the exhibit in Chicago, you can still head to Washington, D.C. to the National Gallery of Art from October 14th, 2012 to January 13th, 2013. And then if you miss that, you can hop on a jet to London and can catch the exhibit’s last stop at Tate Modern from February 21st to May 27, 2013.

And if you happen to have $50 million dollars laying around, maybe you can buy one of his pieces. ;P I recently learned that Ohhh… Alright… sold at Christie’s in November 2010 for a little over $42 million big ones, setting a new world auction record for the artist. Wowza!

Mr. Lichtenstein, I certainly hope you’re proud of the vibrant red, blue, yellow, and Ben-Day dotted legacy you’ve left behind. ^_^

LIchtenstein’s exhibit kept the Modern Wing abuzz.

Did you get to see the Lichtenstein exhibit? What did you think of it? Leave a comment below, and let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading!