An entire industry has grown up around Mary Engelbreit, but it all began with a young girl who just wanted to draw pictures.
"My mother and father were always very supportive of anything my sister and I wanted to do. When I was about 11 years old, I decided I needed a studio. My mother cleaned out a linen closet and my father put a table and chair in there for me and voila! I had a studio! Since my parents seemed to value what I was doing enough to go to all this trouble, I took it very seriously and worked non-stop. At first I would copy my favorite illustrations from the old books my mother read to us each night, but slowly I developed my own style.We had a wonderful, idyllic childhood—playing in the woods and the creek, building forts, playing kickball after dinner with all the neighborhood kids. The only thing I wasn't crazy about was school. As soon as I finished high school I wanted to start my working life! My first job was at an art supply store, where I met lots of working artists and learned about all the tools of the trade. My second job was at a small advertising agency, where I learned a lot about the business side of art. Those two jobs provided an amazing art education that I don't think I would have gotten at college. I've never regretted for a moment not going."
In 1977, she took her portfolio to some well-known publishing houses in New York, hoping to get work illustrating children's books. She received a "mild reception" and a suggestion from one art director that she try her hand illustrating greeting cards. It wasn't what she'd hoped for, as she'd already illustrated several hand-drawn lines of cards for local shops, but Mary took the advice and quickly found that the single-frame illustrations for greeting cards were ideal for her style and sense of humor.
Once Mary focused her talent on greeting cards, success came quickly. As her card line grew in size and popularity, it drew attention from other companies anxious to license her artwork on a wide range of products including calendars, T-shirts, mugs, gift books, rubber stamps, ceramic figurines, fabric and a list that's grown to include nearly 6,500 products over the years, with more than $1 billion in lifetime retail sales. Mary was also editor-in-chief of the award-winning creative lifestyle magazine, Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion for 11 years.
Mary Engelbreit & Company continues to add new licensees and product categories. Nearly 30 years after that first trip to New York, Mary fulfilled her dream of illustrating children's books, and is now one of a select few artists with three New York Times children's best sellers. She is now returning to where she started with her own line of products—It's an ever-growing line of blank cards, boxed cards, coloring books, with new items being added all the time. It's all available for purchase at her online store along with her many other licensed products. Her own line of products is also available wholesale to independent shops everywhere.
"I plan to drop dead at my art table. I can't explain to you the pleasure and true happiness I get from drawing! I'm just so glad other people like it, too!"
Mary lives with her family in St. Louis, MO.
Download Mary's story in her own words here.
*Photo by Barbara Martin