There are two things that will always catch my eye: beautiful illustration and a solid pun.
That explains why the first time I saw the line of cards by Eileen Graphics, designed by local artist Eileen Pollina, I was hooked. During the pandemic, when I wasn’t in any hurry to pop into the drugstore for birthday, new baby, new home and graduation cards, Eileen Graphics became my go-to.
In my large extended Irish family, there was a long standing joke that my mother singlehandedly kept Hallmark in business. She sent cards to family and friends to lift their spirits, acknowledge their accomplishments, celebrate their birthday or other milestones, or “just because.” I never knew how much that meant to people until she was gone. I can’t count how many people told me they still have a card from her tucked somewhere special, or how those little cards came at a time they needed encouragement the most. Recently, a family friend sent me a picture of the entry of their new NYC apartment. In it hangs a framed card my mom sent her more than 25 years ago. Said my friend, “It came at a time when I needed it more than she could have ever realized — or maybe she did. It gave me hope and lifted me during times of deep despair. It still does.” So you never know what a little card can deliver: hope, inspiration or just a little dusting of much-needed joy.
And beautiful cards are the house specialty at Eileen’s brick and mortar shop on Newport’s Thames Street, which she opened this spring. It’s pretty awesome, as is she. Get to know her:
1. How and when did you start designing cards and products?
I painted my first watercolor greeting card design as an adult in 2017, but always enjoyed making homemade cards for my family as a kid). I needed a creative outlet after working my day job, and when I received positive feedback from friends on my art account (@eileengraphics) I printed up my first dozen greeting cards. I started selling them on Etsy, at craft shows, and wholesale to stores. Eventually, I began to apply my artwork to higher price point items like art prints, magnets, and keychains. Since then I’ve turned my designs into notepads, coffee mugs, and shirts — with more to come!
2. Tell us how the idea for a storefront came about?
During the pandemic, I was laid off from a graphic design position that I enjoyed. Luckily, I had my side hustle to fall back on. When I started to put 100% of my time into my own business, that was when I realized its true potential. The outpouring of support was overwhelming from our island community, so I put the time into developing my website into a fully functioning online store and started to network nonstop with other local businesses and influencers on Instagram. After my busiest holiday season to date, word of mouth about a small storefront down the street from me on Thames came to my attention. I decided to go for it!
3. What can people find in your shop?
In my shop you will find over 100 different card designs (available as single cards and boxed sets) stationery sets, notepads, art prints, shirts, dish towels, candles, coffee mugs, magnets, keychains, ornaments, and stickers (all with my own artwork!) Additionally, I sell art supplies like watercolor pencils, brush marker sets, sketchbooks, pens, crayons, and buckets of chalk. I also carry gift items with nautical flair, like earrings, decorative pillows, and large-scale local photography.
4. How has social media played a role in your business development?
Social media is a very big platform for new customers; I utilize the link between Instagram shopping to my website whenever I post to stories or on my feed. Collaborating with bloggers and influencers has also heightened awareness for my brand!
5. Tell me about your custom work: wedding correspondence, commissions, etc.?
Over the years, my portfolio for invitations has steadily grown; from birthdays, baby showers, and wedding showers, to save the dates (and more recently, “change of dates”) and wedding invitations. I love creating something entirely custom that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I’m proud that my work has a handmade look and feel to it!
In addition to invitations, I have experience creating handmade signage like drink and dessert menus. The most popular request I get are custom watercolor maps of Newport that showcase icons representing a couple’s favorite places, which are great to give as a wedding or anniversary present.
5. I understand you’ve designed some familiar signs around town?
Yes! I designed Atlantic Grille’s new logo. It will always be one of my favorite projects since I used to waitress there throughout college (I graduated from Roger Williams University with a graphic design communications degree in 2016). The logo originated as a watercolor painting, which I then adapted it to vector art. The design can now be found on their shirts, coffee mugs, pint glasses, stickers, and I also redesigned their menu. Local signmaker John Liptak (who also made my Eileen on Thames sign) made my artwork come to life for Atlantic Grille’s sign, seen on Aquidneck Ave.
6. Anything else we should know about? My goal is to make sending a card mainstream again. It makes me sad that kids aren’t learning cursive in school anymore. By incorporating script or “faux” calligraphy in my designs, combined with vibrant colors and creative puns, I hope to reignite the exchange of snail mail. I also owe a big thank you to my parents, Cathy and Jim, who always encouraged my creativity and helped big time with getting my store ready, my wonderful art teachers over the years, and the support of my husband Brett.
Eileen on Thames is located at 452 Thames Street. Visit in person or virtually via www.eileengraphics.com (store pickup also available).