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


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.


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!


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.


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)


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’.


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.


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.


Menu cover for the freshly baked goods.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.)


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.


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.


Meet Me at Social Media Week!

Social Media Week 2012 Header

As one of my resolutions to amp up my skills, connect with more great professionals this year, and become a better asset to my clients, I’m attending Social Media Week (Sept. 24 – Sept. 28)!

Social Media Week is a fabulous opportunity to bone up on the ever-changing trends of social media. It also gets me to increase my network and see the faces of fellow social media fans. Additionally, SMW gets me to take in the fresh city air that I love so much… And show off my brand new business cards. ;D

I’m an avid Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest enthusiast, but I figured I can learn to target my audience more effectively. (I want to keep you engaged – not enraged – or worst yet, yawning. :D)

Here are the events I’m attending this week:


Pinning and Winning: Activating Social Contests

I already attended this since this was yesterday, and I enjoyed it very much! This event was comprised of a panel that knew their stuff. I’ve already connected with great social media masters like Ana Fernatt (@AccidentallySxy), Curalate (@Curalate), and CMP.LY (@CMPLY). (Great job, guys!)


Emerson Spartz: Creating Viral Websites


Translating Your Digital Brand Personally


Keynote: Matthew Adell, Beatport, ‘Think Small, Go Big: The Importance of Engaging a Community’

I hope to see you there. Comment below and let me know, and/or tweet me at @aerialardour and we’ll meet up and expand our social media minds together!

Thanks for reading!

‘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.)


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!

VeeV®, VitaFrute™ & hum Available at iPic Theaters!

When the amazing people at VeeV Spirits asked me to check out this video clip, I watched it with tingles:

There, on one table, were all three bottle design projects I had the immense honor of working on, all of which were handled brilliantly in this video featuring another fabulous client, Chicago mixologist/genius/hum Botanical Spirits creator, Adam Seger.

In the video, he shows us how to make the Spa-Mopolitan, using VeeV®, hum, hibiscus, agave, and lime juice. YUMZ.

He also pours some VitaFrute™ Lemonade for Casey Messer, also featured in the video.

I feel so wonderfully blessed for these opportunities, and this video is another reminder of how thankful I am to have these amazing clients.

VeeV®, VitaFrute™, and hum are all available at an iPic Theater near you!

Farmhouse Co-owner Nora Gainer in ‘Today’s Chicago Woman’

Congratulations to Farmhouse co-owner Nora Gainer for her feature in Today’s Chicago Woman magazine’s September 2012 issue!

I’ve had the honor of working with Nora on various projects for some time now, and she is both a pleasure to work with and one smart, sharp woman.

Today’s Chicago Woman… fantastic choice for your feature!

Read Nora’s entire feature on Farmhouse’s website here.

Cheers to you and your continued success and inspiration, Nora!

Help Flood Relief in the Philippines

As a Filipino American, I had to post this one.

On August 6, Tropical Storm Haikui wreaked havoc into the capital city of the Philippines: Manila. My awesome mom was born and raised in Manila, and a lot of my family still resides there. Tropical Storm Haikui brought massive flooding and landslides, over 800,000 people were evacuated from their homes and 250,000 people have moved into emergency shelters. And still, an estimated 2 million people live in informal settlements in high risk areas along river beds that are prone to flooding.

Threadless is selling a t-shirt design in which 100% of the net proceeds from the sale of this tee will go to Architecture for Humanity’s Philippines Floods Response Program.

Yes! 100%! When was the last time you heard that in regards to a proceeds promo?

Their goal is to raise at least $100,000 to execute a disaster resiliency and reconstruction program and provide communities with the skills and training needed to mitigate the impacts of future flooding.

On their blog, Threadless featured the t-shirt artists, fellow Filipino designers Feanne and AJ Dimarucot, and their beautiful t-shirt design that incorporates elements of the Filipino flag and culture.

Even the title of the design is beautiful: “Bayanihan,” which is a word that refers to the spirit of a community that unites to achieve a goal. How appropriate and perfect.

I’m particularly a fan of this design, because I find that it’s easy to have the elements of a design featuring the Filipino flag come together and look hokey. (That, or I’ve seen way too many ill-designed Filipino-themed tattoos. :P)

This is a design I would proudly wear both for the aesthetics and even more for what it stands for.

I got my t-shirt.

It would mean a lot to me – and the several thousands of others in Manila – if you got yours too.

You can purchase the Bayanihan design from Threadless here.

Salamat (thank you) for reading!

A Brand-Spankin’ New Website

As I smattered all over the Facebook and Twitter on Friday, I am BEYOND EXCITED for the launch of my new website!


What was my old website like? Before Friday, it was simply a Tumblr template redirected to a vanity URL. No diss to anyone who uses that method. It certainly worked for me! (It was free, and it took zero time to put it together.)

However, at the beginning of this year, I had a rash of requests for proposals that ended up with the potential clients not taking me completely seriously. They had found me through my website, and after great initial meetings and phone calls, when it came time to reviewing a proposal, they would be shocked – hell, even borderline insulted – when it came to the sticker price, despite my experience and portfolio containing work for fairly large and reputable companies.

It also strongly struck me when I lost out on a particular project earlier this year. I was so sure I had it in the bag. I had asked the potential client why he chose not to go with me, and said this: “You need to toot your horn a little louder.”


He was right. I was too meek for my own good.

Clients want someone who is confident in their work. I am confident… but I needed to SHOW it.

My old site didn’t fit what I wanted to communicate to people. It was clunky and amateurish. It didn’t accurately and fairly represent the services I could offer to potential clients, and it didn’t fairly represent the work I had already done for so many of my amazing clients.


I did some soul-searching. I looked at my branding, my language. Ah HA! There it was.

I had resolved that my website was… not a real website – at least for a designer who was expecting to be taken seriously. I realized I had been wearing boxer shorts and a flannel shirt to interviews with Fortune 500 companies and then was shocked when the hiring manager asked me to work for less than minimum wage.

Essentially, I wasn’t representing myself the way I wanted to be treated. When I first started freelancing, I had quickly put together a website, naively resting on my laurels, thinking that my portfolio would speak for itself. Boy, what a cocky and foolish thing to think. A portfolio will only take you so far. The right clothes can take you further.

So I got serious and, with a pep talk and the help and dedication from a very talented developer, I got it done!


Getting the website done was also quite a feat, because after taking this project to a handful of developers already who couldn’t take the project home for me, 3 years later, my custom website is now a real thing. I had always intended to have a custom designed website, but I used my busy workload as the eternal excuse for not getting it done. This whole story is the classic cautionary tale that I relate to potential clients. How ironic that I didn’t heed my own advice.

But now, here I am, excited and proud to refer people to my site, instead of mumbling an apology/disclaimer.

The site was developed by my great friend and fellow lady entrepreneur, social media maven, and WordPress queen, Laura Oldham of El-Be Social Marketing. She brought my vision to life!! 😀 THANK YOU, Laura, for making this magic happen! (Seriously, as I was going through my list of custom plug-in requests and sent her my design, I was sure Laura would come back and tell me that I couldn’t do a couple of things. But no. She told me I could do all of those things. And better.)


As you can see, the website features a little bit about me, large images of my work as well as comments about each project, social sharing buttons on each project, a blog, and the ability for anyone to contact me directly through the website.

I’m also excited about the widgets at the very bottom of the website that connect you to my Instagram feed, Twitter feed, and also showcases friends’ and colleagues’ websites in my industry whose work I admire. (Laura did an AMAZING job with those widgets.)

I’m excited about this, because after years of slacking on a decent website (hey, clients get taken care of first!), I am excited to finally have myself look like a legit company. ;D I’ve been blessed with having great clients, and I’m excited to showcase them all on my website. I look forward to many more years of working with fantastic clients.


In January, when I was lamenting to Laura about the pitfalls of not giving my own branding enough attention, we had determined that we both are naturally inclined to hesitate talking too much about ourselves. Humility is great, but not when it’s detrimental. So we resolved to do better this year. As Laura awesomely put it, 2012 would be The Year of Swagger. Laura has been fulfilling her end of the bargain by working on more exciting projects with great clients… and I’m now finally happy to have begun fulfilling my end of the bargain.

Farmhouse Chicago: “Draughts for Drought”

I am happy and excited to announce that I’ve signed on a new client, and it’s a company I’ve been raving about ever since they opened in September last year: Farmhouse Chicago! 

I am proud to be working with this wildly successful Midwestern tavern in River North (which has been getting great reviews across the board on Yelp and Open Table, by the way… check ‘em out!), but not just because of their success, but mostly because they stand by keeping everything local.

Farmhouse works very closely with farms and breweries in only Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana to comprise their menu, and they even salvaged all the interior from an old furniture warehouse. They are so serious about how local their food is, that on their menu, they even list how many miles the food and beer traveled to get to their kitchen. (Those numbers are pretty low. That’s a good thing.) 

I’ve always been a fan of Farmhouse’s whimsical and smartly irreverent brand design, and I am excited to be taking the reins in cultivating the brand look from this point forward, while working with the ever-amazing El-Be Social Marketing, who does a fabulous job on the social media and web development front.

My first project with Farmhouse was to design an invite/poster for their week-long-promo-culminating-into-an-awesome-party event: “Draughts for Drought.”

From August 6 to the 12th, Farmhouse took 50% of the dollars from a select list of local beers and donated it to Harvest Moon Farms. With the terrible drought this summer, our local farmers could really use the support.

“Draughts for Drought” event invite. (“Whoosh!” is what I think when I see it.)

When I first heard the idea from Farmhouse owner and general manager Ferdia Doherty, I thought, “Of COURSE he thought of a way to have a good time for a good cause.” He’s always been one one to do that. So I wanted to find a design concept that would come close to doing justice to the event idea.

As my husband and I were driving to get some really good sushi over one weekend, BAM! I got an image of a beer glass pouring beer-turning-into-water into an old farm water bucket, so I quickly started sketching.

“Draughts for Drought” invite concept sketch. Good thing I double checked the copy, because for some reason, I started writing “SEPT” for the date.

It’s a ridiculously literal idea, but it quickly and boldly communicates what the promo is about.

I then followed that design up with another that focused more on the D4D party on the 12th:

Follow up invite design, focusing on the D4D party on August 12.

For the look and feel, I wanted to retain the wonderful textured look that Farmhouse already has, but I also wanted to give it a breath of fresh air. I feel pretty great about accomplishing that here, and I hope to continue to achieve a comfortable familiarity yet freshness with the rest of the Farmhouse projects from this point on.

I hope you came out to support the cause!

Awesome giddiness alert: Even Stephanie Izard – Top Chef Season 4 winner and owner of Girl & the Goat – came out… and she even tweeted a pic of my design!! Then I dorked out, squealed in delight (and in the process startled my Boston Terrier, Angel), and tweeted about it out of unbridled excitement. :D!!!

If you did come out, maybe you and I were enjoying Farmhouse together on Friday, when the hub-hubs and I enjoyed some D4D brew (and snuck in their new gin cocktail, the Gin Claude Van Damme too). ^_^

And if you couldn’t come out, that’s okay. With Farmhouse always willing to step up and help a neighbor, no doubt you’ll get the chance to enjoy a brew for a good cause again soon.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!