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Boo, Who? Tag Team Tompkins!

Written by in Profiles

 

Diane (mom) and Madeline (daughter) are known in the Etsy.com World as Tag Team Tompkins (http://www.etsy.com/shop/tagteamtompkins) “make paper art that centers around word play.”  And, boy-oh-boy, do they do it well.

Diane and Madeline say their hand-lettered and paper cut original designs and letterpress art prints let them express their love of paper, ink, and a healthy bit of Midwestern wisdom or humor. ”We blend Midwestern sensibility with a global itch. Travel near or far lights our imagination. Having two sets of eyes is a real plus in our personal designing.”

That’s eight eyes, counting their eyeglasses. After seeing them on the How blog and marveling at how great their work looked on CRANE’S LETTRA®, we asked them to take a moment to share a little more about their work, their lives, their motivations and their passions.

A sense of place, especially family and friends drives their passion for life and work. Both have long histories with Hallmark.

Diane: My home is in midtown Kansas City, Missouri — where I’ve lived most of my adult life — I live in a 100 year-old house on a busy city street close to art galleries, art supplies and creative retailers. This urban setting, along with my close family and friends, inspire me and are the glue to my world. I knew when I was a child that I’d become an artist.  I paid more attention to my Crayolas than to math.  Still, I tried to be a scientist once; majoring in biology at Texas Woman’s University in the early 60’s but Art grabbed me and pulled me back into her embrace. I’ve never left her again.

Madeline: I’ve worked at Hallmark Cards for the past 13 years and have held many different job descriptions there over the years. Recently, I have a new job there designing Baby Congrats, Thank You and Sympathy cards (along with many other captions.) And before this new opportunity, I designed 3-D gift product.

Diane: In my 26-year career at Hallmark, I wore many hats. Some fit better than others.  I designed gifts in Asia, where I was fortunate to learn from vendors and our product development team.  I wasn’t a good studio manager because I hated telling my staff bad news.   I was in my mid-60s when I retired from Hallmark, still loving my work there.  But I heard a tiny ego clock ticking inside me, saying ‘what about me?’”

 

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Working as a mom and daughter “tag” team is intriguing. We asked Diane and Madeline to tell us about how well it works from  each of their perspectives.

Madeline: I won’t sugar coat it, working with my mom can be tough. But I can’t think of anyone I’d rather partner with. We approach our working relationship as equals (not that it differs from our mother/daughter relationship… There’s a family story of me telling my parents, “I am the boss of my own self!” when I was 4 years old.)  Neither of us holds back our opinions, and we tend to think of this a huge positive.

Diane:  Working with my daughter is like moving to great music — we throw out ideas, then we slide into a work tempo together.  I tend to want to twirl off in 4 directions, but she reels me back in, makes me stick to the beat of our idea.  I design the silhouettes, she does the hand lettering, I collect good quotes and we hold copy meetings with our separate points of view aimed at finding just what rings true to us.  Since it’s our own business, we get to speak our own truth.  In the workplace, I focused my skills on developing someone else’s truths, learning much but wishing for more.  It’s important to say that we also listen to our customers.  And without them, there’s no business.

 

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Diane cuts silhouettes.

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Madeline hand letters.

Both gain inspiration from many sources and interests. We asked them to share some.

Diane:  Inspiration?  Mountains of Reading, Travel, Gardens, Fleamarkets, and, as I said, my neighborhood, my family and my friends.

Madeline: I concur with Diane: reading, travel, family, etc.  And I’ll add that I am totally hooked on Pinterest.com right now.  What a great research sharing vehicle!! You can look at my boards at: http://pinterest.com/tagteamtompkins/. I’m also a huge soccer fan so having to wait another four years for more World Cup is torture! I’ll fill that void with watching my other favorite sport and team, the University of Kansas Men’s Basketball. (Go Jayhawks!). And, I have the cutest and most talented Scottish Terrier in the world. His name is Bruce and  when I take him for long walks on weekends, I love to look at all the old houses in the neighborhood while Bruce sniff all the old trees.

We asked Diane how important paper stock effected Tag Team Tompkin’s creative decisions.

Diane:  Ah, paper!  I’m a paper snob.  There, I said it.  When we designed our first six prints last year, our fine printer, Bob Atkins, owner/proprietor of Skylab Letterpress, suggested a few different stocks but we both knew CRANE’S LETTRA® was the perfect paper for our one-color work. CRANE’S LETTRA® color and texture lend quality and beauty to our prints – maybe it’s our 4th partner.

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Both Madeline and Diane have extolled the virtues of their printer. Madeline’s connection with Bob Atkins and Skylab Letterpress is more personal.

Madeline: I met Bob through his wife, Ana, who is a co-worker of mine at Hallmark.  Ana and I first became friends when we were both working in the Humor Cards department several years ago. She had just moved to Kansas City and we discovered that we shared a great love of typography, hand lettering and knitting. And when her husband, Bob, began his letterpress business, Skylab Letterpress, a few years ago, my mom and I started brainstorming ways of design something that could be printed with his company. Thus, The Shadow Family Letterpress Art Prints were born!

We also asked Bob Atkins how he characterized his relationship with Tag Team.

There are some shops where printers demand to be involved in the design process, but that is not my approach. I believe my role is to help bring the client’s vision to life. It’s imperative that a clear line of communication and real-world expectations are established before any work is done. Often, this means making paper and technical suggestions. Designers don’t see paper reps weekly like they did years ago, resulting in more limited knowledge of paper. I find many are sheepish about their paper knowledge. That can limit their design inspiration.  Printers are obligated to share any technical or design ‘warning signals’ with their clients that might help or hinder their goals. Working with Madeline and Diane is easy and comfortable because they have solid commercial experience and a taste for finer things. CRANE’S LETTRA® was a natural fit to their needs, and we’ve all been happy with the results.

Both women love to travel. But life brought to Madeline, Diane and husband Wayne a lasting international connection through their brother/son Ben who lives and works in Japan, is married to a Japanese woman with whom he shares three children. The grandchildren are, according to Diane, her “Fountain of Youth.”

 

Diane: For fun, Madeline’s dad, my husband Wayne and I are traveling to Japan to visit our son Ben, his wife and our three grandkids.  Ben became the scientist I once thought of being – he’s a translator of technical and scientific Japanese to English.  Our Japanese daughter-in-law has helped my world become much richer, and being with my 3 grandchildren is like sipping from the Fountain of Youth.  Through them, I see again all that’s fun, good and interesting in the world.  Also, for fun this year, I’ve helped a local arts group, Westport Center for the Arts, set up their visual arts gallery model – stepping out of my most comfortable place to do this.  And I’ve been part of our family team that helped my sister create a new retail venture, Main Street Goods and Goodies, in Liberty, Missouri.  Busy year!”

Madeline: While I’ve lived my entire life in midtown Kansas City (excluding getting my BFA at the University of Kansas and a year of study abroad in Götene, Sweden), I jump at every chance to travel. No sooner do I return from one trip (my last one was to Santa Fe in August for my cousin’s wedding), than I start planning the next trip (Christmas and New Years visiting my brother and his family in Fukuoka, Japan.)  In the past 10 years, I’ve been to London, Paris, Lyon, Berlin (three times, including for World Cup in 2006), Dresden, Liepzig, Tokyo (three times there, too), Kyoto, and Fukuoka (twice in the past two years.)  And I’ve pretty much laid out a plan for all my vacation time for the next three years (of course Japan again, maybe Germany next summer for Women’s World Cup, and back to Sweden for my high school reunion.) While traveling, I like to go to any museum or bookstore that crosses my path. But I also make a point of getting out of the cities to take long hikes in the countryside. My brother is already planning for us to climb a mountain near his home on New Years Eve so we can see the sun rise on the first day of the New Year. I just hope I can stay awake.

We asked them to name their “Dream Project.” What would that be?

Diane:  When Madeline and I began creating our silhouette art, we amused ourselves by naming each character. We called them The Shadow Family.   Last year, while in Japan, I found time to sketch out their world.  My notes hold some promise, but I’m out of my comfort zone as to how to make The Shadow Family and their world into a book.  My dream is to have The Shadow Family catch the eye of an enthusiastic acquisition’s editor at Rockport Publishers or Chronicle Books.

Madeline: I love what I am doing now at my day job at Hallmark and my nights and weekends with Tag Team Tompkins. But, if the world were wide open, I’d love to take a sabbatical from work and live in Japan near my brother and his family and maybe study Japanese calligraphy, or maybe I could even find a way to work for Hallmark Nihon (based in Tokyo.)

 

OK. All artists all have their little habits and secrets. We asked them to name three things they had to have every day.

Diane:  Three things I cannot get through the day without – looking at our work with my fresh morning eye, coffee, and my MacBook Pro. Whew!  That’s more self-reflection than I usually indulge in – must get back to cutting silhouettes for a new round of letterpress!

Madeline: My Apple products (MacBook Pro, iPhone) to get all my digital work done.  But to start the design process, I need my favorite pen nib and a bottle of Higgins Calligraphy black ink. However, my day cannot start without a hot cup of coffee in my favorite Muji thermos — it keeps it super-hot ALL day!)

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Tag Team Tompkins. Rocks.

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