Since thortful was born back in 2016, we’ve helped over 4,000 independent Creators achieve their dream of selling unique greeting cards. People who have been able to quit their boring desk job and become a full time illustrator; people supplementing their full time job by creating as a side hustle; mums, dads, students – the list goes on.
One of those independent Creators has recently hit a huge milestone. Thea, from Bold and Bright has just reached 1 million cards sold with her iconic Jeffrey and Janice card range!
Thea started her card journey with thortful and has since gone on to sell in both online and brick and mortar stores, as well as having gift ranges such as mugs, calendars, and notebooks.
It was a no-brainer to invite Thea into the thortful office to celebrate this huge achievement. We got to sit down with her and ask a few questions about her creative process. Read all about it below!
What is your process for designing a greeting card?
When I first started doing the cards, I used to just take a load of pictures and then try and think of the jokes after. But now, I think of the jokes beforehand so I know what props I need to buy. I have a very childish brain, so there’s no real process. If someone I’m with says something funny, I’ll make a note of it. I have a massive note list on my phone! Sometimes I have to buy some very odd props.
Can you tell us about how you started out selling cards?
I was approached by thortful just when they were starting out to join and sign up, so thortful was one of the first places I sold my cards with. I’ve been here pretty much since the beginning and it’s still my best platform for selling cards online.
Can you tell us a little bit about the production of the shoots?
It’s very low key because I work from home – it’s done all in my bedroom. I wonder what my neighbours think when they see all the camera flashes going off! I have a very small scene by a wall and have the lights around them. I set the scene in and have to balance it all very carefully, sometimes the props and dolls fall down and I have to set it all back up again. I often have the dog running in and out, so it’s quite unprofessional at times!
Are Jeffrey and Janice based on a real life couple?
I wouldn’t say it’s based on them, but the names are actually my dad and step-mums names – spelt a little bit differently however! At first they were like, “why have you named these after us?!” But actually now they’re quite proud of it and hand the cards out to all of their friends. But my parents are not like the cards in real life, they don’t live such a wild life!
Do you notice a difference with the cards that sell well online compared to in a shop?
Yes, there’s definitely ones that are more popular online and not as popular in shops. Maybe people are more brave sending the rude cards when they are ordering online, compared to having to hand it to a cashier.
What are your top tips for designing a greeting card?
Oh, I don’t really know. I think I’ve been very lucky to have such successful cards so I’m not sure I can think of any amazing tips. I guess an important one is trying to be original. Try to do something that’s different and not out there too much already. I find it very difficult because I’m such a wordy person, so I try to condense the copy and have fewer words to get the same point across.
What is your most popular occasion?
Probably Birthday. Those sorts of cards always do the best.
Do you make your own props?
All the time! I make loads of things out of clay, it’s difficult to buy things for the scale of the dolls. So lots of little handmade bits! Tiny bunting and things like that.
What is the strangest prop you’ve made or had to buy?
Some of the cards are quite rude so I have bought some strange props. I remember one of the first rude cards I did, I won’t say what the card said, but it did have a cockerel ornament that I bid on on eBay. The people selling it must have been thinking, “who is buying this disgusting ornament?” but it’s now featured in quite a lot of my cards.
When was the moment that you decided you wanted to make a card range using the dolls?
Probably because I was surrounded by kids at the time, they were quite young when I came up with the idea and my daughter had a lot of dolls. My husband used to put the dolls in quite rude positions in the dollhouse and I just thought that would be really funny on a card. The cards look quite sweet and innocent at first, but they’re actually not.
As you become more popular, is it hard to manage the work/life balance?
It has been, but then my kids have gotten bigger at the same time, it would have been a real struggle before. But now they’re 14 and 16 so it’s a lot easier to manage now.
Do you ever get any kind of writer's block?
I only normally do two batches of photography for the cards per year, so the times in between I just come up with the ideas and then buy the props as I go along. I never put too much pressure on myself to sit down and think of the ideas then and there, I’ve already got the ideas and have been thinking about them for months. I would find it really hard to try and think of the ideas then and there.
How long does it take you to do the shoots?
I normally photograph for 2 to 3 days. I have it all set up, all the props cause such a mess, and I think, “I’ve got to get this all done or I actually can’t go to bed because the props are all over my bed!” It’s quite intense.
What are some of your favourite greeting cards that you've designed?
One of my latest favourites is the garden centre card. That was all of us in lockdown wasn’t it? As I get older, I love a garden centre. Probably also the one in the little yellow and red car with the driving test. I think we have all grown up and had one of those little cars ourselves, so that’s a favourite.
What do you think it is about Jeffrey and Janice that has led to their extreme popularity?
I think because they look quite sweet, and the cards are not that sweet. It might surprise people when they think it’s going to be one thing, and it’s completely different. They can be rude cards at times, but they often say what we’re all thinking.
What do you love about Jeffrey and Janice compared to your other ranges?
They’ve always been more popular, they’re the biggest sellers. All my life I have collected miniature dolls so I really love to incorporate things that I had in my childhood. Some of the dolls I use on the cards I’ve kept hold of probably since I was about seven. My true passion is being able to use things I actually collect and love in my cards.
When did you realise you were onto such a unique idea with the dolls?
I thought we might as well put them on for a laugh to start off with – you don’t really think anything of it and then obviously they start to become quite popular, so it was a really pleasant surprise!
Did this start off as a side hustle for you? If so, how was that time and do you have any advice for others in that situation?
It pretty much did. I wanted to find a job that would fit around my kids. I thought no one would want to employ me, being off sick or taking half term off and all the other holidays, so I thought, I need to find a business that allows me to work from home and be able to spend the holidays with the kids. But it works brilliantly because I don’t have to find holiday camps in the summer for the kids which can be stressful when you’re trying to also get work done. I have had other businesses that I tried doing before the cards. I started off at the markets, and I did ok, but it was never as successful as thortful. You have to keep trying these things and if the first one doesn’t work, just keep trying. Don’t give up.
Working from a home studio/setup, do you face procrastination? If so, how do you overcome it?
I constantly face it working from home because I don’t have an office; I work from my bedroom. I do a million other things that are not actually working. I sometimes think, I’d better do my washing quickly, or take the dog for a walk. It’s just so easy to do these things, there are so many distractions working from home – I’m a constant procrastinator.
What are some of the challenges you've faced and how do you overcome them?
A big challenge is working from home, especially now that I have two teenagers. Their bedrooms are just down the hall from mine, and the days are short. Sometimes they come back home from school and they’re online with friends screaming and playing games, so it can be a challenge. It would be nice to have a separate, proper office, but then it’s also really handy to be at home and being able to deal with everything.
Do you think a separate office or studio could be in the future?
Maybe, but I would still like to work from home as much as possible. I don’t think I want to rent a space, it’s just so nice being able to work in your pyjamas!
What advice would you give to other card designers?
I’ve had lots of other ideas in the past that haven’t been that successful, so my advice is to just keep trying. Your first idea might not be that popular, but you might come up with other ideas that are. It’s all about perseverance really.
Have you received your own card from someone not realising you’re the Creator?
I haven’t actually, but I think my husband has! Someone the other day said they bought one of my cards in Australia but sent it to their brother who lives in the UK. They knew my husband and said I can’t believe these are your wife’s cards! So that was quite random. But never to sent to me, I can’t give them out to my friends or family now either because they’ve had them all so they’re sick to death of them!
What’s your proudest moment as a greeting card designer?
To start with I would say when I hit really high sales on thortful. Obviously today is a big achievement too, which is very exciting because I actually didn’t know until very recently how close I was to this many card sales. Also, I’ve managed to stock shops who have found me on thortful. So, there’s been quite a lot of little achievements along the way like that.
What are your plans for the future?
We’ve got quite a big range right now but probably every now and then I’ll take out some cards that aren’t selling as well and put some new ones in. I’ve always got lots of new ideas! There’s always something new.