Emily McDowell is the founding artist, writer, and former CEO of stationery brand Em & Friends (formerly known as Emily McDowell & Friends), founded in 2012. The brand is best-known for its honest, insightful observations on the human experience, including its “Empathy Cards” for people experiencing major illness, loss, and grief, offering a more authentic and supportive update to traditional “get well soon” or sympathy cards.
In 2018, Em & Friends merged with Knock Knock, a fellow Los Angeles-based brand in the gift publishing space, to create a joint company called The Who’s There Group.
Between the Knock Knock and Em & Friends brands, The Who’s There Group employs a full-time staff of 28 people. Its products are distributed worldwide via wholesale channels, direct-to-consumer online sales on its own platforms, and Amazon. Emily is an equity partner at The Who’s There Group, after happily relinquishing the CEO role to her business partner, Knock Knock’s founder Jen Bilik. Emily now serves as co-creative director of Em & Friends and Knock Knock, and helps to lead company strategy as part of the executive team.
Emily started Em & Friends with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, a half-finished Master’s degree in spiritual psychology, and a decade of working in advertising, but no business experience. She used to joke that she had an MBA from Google — great, in that it was free; but also terrible, in that half of what she learned turned out to be wrong. These days, along with having written and illustrated over 500 products, her MBA equivalent is nearly ten years of experience building an artist-driven brand from the ground up, doing every job at the company along the way, from customer service, to manufacturing, to marketing, to figuring out how to build a warehouse in a different state.
Emily is also the co-author (with Dr. Kelsey Crowe) and illustrator of the book There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love. Emily’s work has been featured in hundreds of media outlets, including Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, and NPR’s All Things Considered. In 2015, she was named one of Slate’s Designers Who Are Changing the World. As a recovering perfectionist and formerly unreasonable boss to herself, Emily is especially passionate about helping artists create sustainable businesses and livelihoods that also allow them to thrive as human beings in the long term.
Lisa Congdon is an internationally known fine artist, illustrator and writer. She works for illustration clients around the globe, including Target, Amazon, Method, Comme des Garcons, Crate & Barrel, REI and MoMA, among many others. She is the author of ten books, including Art Inc: The Essential Guide to Building Your Career as an Artist and Find your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic. She is the host of the podcast “The Lisa Congdon Sessions,” and she teaches Creative Entrepreneurship at Pacific Northwest College of Art.
Lisa is self-taught and didn’t achieve momentum in her career until she was nearly 40 years old. Despite her untraditional path, Lisa has achieved recognition, not just as an illustrator, but as a leader in the industry for her work in fundraising and teaching. In March of 2021, she was named by AdWeek as One of the 50 Most Inspiring People and Companies According to Industry Creatives.
Lisa’s practice is based on the intersection between her art and her commitment to sharing industry knowledge, social justice and mental health. Much of her work is used in campaigns for causes or for brands who have a social mission. In addition to client and publishing work, Lisa has an active personal practice where she makes original works, experiments, and plays with new and different media.
Lisa’s knowledge is wide-ranging, from illustration and licensing, to managing time and employees, retail, public speaking, teaching, and social media. Supporting other artists in their path is one of her passions, and mentoring is one of her favorite pastimes.
Daren Todd is a Portland, Oregon-based creative whose artistic practice focuses on painting, murals and digital design. Daren owns Art Larger Than Me, a fine-art and art merchandise business that supports his creative practice, and also works as the curator for The Downstairs Gallery, an art gallery in downtown Portland that seeks to provide support for BIPOC, LGBTQ+ artists, and artists with disabilities. Born out of necessity in 2020, The Downstairs Gallery hosts quarterly art shows and is open to artists of all disciplines, showcasing visual art as its main avenue of expression. Daren’s work currently focuses on abstract expressionism and graphic portraiture, and emphasizes the juxtaposition of both styles into cohesive paintings and designs.
Jen Hewett is a printmaker, surface designer, and textile artist. Depending on how you look at it, artist is either Jen’s second or fifth career. With a degree in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, she started her working life in education and educational nonprofits. She then briefly ran her own stationery business, took a few detours through business operations, human resources and consulting before becoming a full-time working artist (again). She partly credits the success of her experience running her own creative business to her non-linear (but always interesting) career path.
Even though she’s now decidedly a professional artist, Jen still keeps things interesting by engaging in many different types of projects. She works on personal projects just because she wants to. She runs a successful online shop through which she sells directly to her customers. She writes books. She licenses work to large and small manufacturers and retailers. She sometimes creates illustrations for very large companies.
Jen’s first book, Print, Pattern, Sew: Block Printing Basics + Simple Sewing Projects for an Inspired Wardrobe, was published by Roost Books in May 2018. Her second book, This Long Thread: Women of Color on Craft, Community and Connection, was published by Roost Books in November 2021. Her clients include Unilever, Anthropologie, Cost Plus World Market, Moda Fabrics, and Yelp. Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Uppercase, and MSNBC. She also loves talking on podcasts about the very practical business aspects of being an artist, and the challenges (and opportunities) of being an artist of color in a fairly undiverse industry.