Watercolor dreams – Mount Angel artist leads bustling business

September 2022 Posted in Arts

By Brenna Wiegand

Kimberly Shaw began painting individual greeting cards for friends as a labor of love and a satisfying counterpart to her work as an architectural draftswoman in Southern California. 

She’d been with the firm for 17 years when she quit her job and grew her card business into a national concern that supported her family for the next 30 years.

For a long span, Shaw enlisted the help of her kids who, in the process, learned entrepreneurship and now have businesses of their own.

2022 Oktoberfest poster by Kimberly Shaw

2022 Oktoberfest poster by Kimberly Shaw

Shaw relocated from California to Mount Angel 10 years ago, knowing she could continue her successful card business from anywhere. She bought an older home on the outskirts of town and carved out a bright studio at the rear of the house that overlooks her backyard with its mature trees and veggie garden.

Then COVID-19 hit.

“All my stores; all my tearooms shut down,” she said. She began scrambling for new ways to keep her business afloat.

She began corresponding with established customers and opened her business to retail and wholesale customers online using various platforms. She also established a website so people would know where to find her.

At the same time, Shaw had been making friends in the Mount Angel community which led to the opportunity to keep her work on display at the Senior Center, which in turn receives a portion of the profit.

“My initial goal was just to help the senior center, so it’s been a win-win for us both,” she said. “Being able to manage that makes for a good testing ground for my designs, which now include canvas prints.”

“Currently I’m trying to test the market,” Shaw said. “I’ve been doing teacups since the ‘90s and there’s a part of me that really wants to do something different.”

Her teacups start as watercolor paintings that are then reduced to size. Inspiration can come from any number of places – an antique plate; hollyhocks in her garden…

Kimberly Shaw at her Mount Angel studio. Her brisk greeting card business is expanding to watercolor paintings that may be seen at Mount Angel Senior Center.

Kimberly Shaw at her Mount Angel studio. Her brisk greeting card business is expanding to watercolor paintings that may be seen at Mount Angel Senior Center.

Shaw’s paintings are often inspired by her surroundings – country roads and the Oktoberfest, for instance.

“The cards are my bread and butter and I’ve always painted canvases for fun, but I started painting little ones and making cards with local scenes just to see what bites and then a couple of them sold at the Senior Center,” she said, adding that the center has moved Shaw’s work from a little rack of cards to a wall that can accommodate her new canvases.

Feeling out the market reminds her of the early days when Kimberly Shaw Graphics was just starting out.

“There I was… making hand-painted, original cards that were specific to each person until a woman asked me to come up with 25 original teacup designs,” she said. “That’s where the idea to include a teabag with each card started.”

That led to large trade shows and from there her business took off.

“My original cards were just hand painted and very simple until I met a printer who told me I could add more detail to the designs and have them printed,” she said. “I just started creating different little cards but have been reluctant to put out money to have them printed when I don’t know what was going to be coming in.”

Shaw has had some success with online print-on-demand sites where people can choose an image they like and have it reproduced on anything from stickers to T-shirts to phone cases to laptop covers – even furniture.

Through this platform, Shaw’s hollyhock images have been reproduced as prints – both for full-size walls and in one instance a mini print of a blue and white teacup to adorn the dining room of a dollhouse.

This favorite flower of hers also ended up being blown up and printed on tiles that now encompass the front of a two-story home in New York.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but the shock of finding out – more than once – that a couple large companies had infringed upon her work led to court cases in which she prevailed.

Now, Shaw is happy to report that business seems to be picking up again, which makes her glad that she has continued to create new designs so she would be ready when this day came.

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