Artist Spotlight: Paper Raven Co.


People have long looked to nature to find calm, peace, and harmony in their lives. Erin McManness lives by that mantra, and has learned to bring the spirit of nature indoors with her botanical illustrations.

Erin founded PAPER RAVEN CO. in 2014, working out of her home nestled among the peach trees of Atlanta, GA. What started as a small greeting card line has grown to include wallpaper, fabric and home decor, all with an illustration-first focus. Each design starts with pen-to-paper, in a real sketchbook, drawn by Erin's loving hands. It is her mission to share empowerment, love and gratitude with you through her designs.

Below Erin fills us in on how she stays motivated and productive, kicks the "hustle" mindset, and maintains a healthy work/life balance:

Erin McManness of Paper Raven Co.

Did you always want to be an artist, even in childhood?

Yes. Bob Ross was a mainstay on my grandmother's TV as a child, and the greatest piece of advice my dad ever gave me was that if you make a mistake on canvas, you can always cover it in gesso and start again. My dad is a hobbyist landscape painter. He has an incredible eye for draftsmanship. And my mother is so creative. She worked as a Preschool teacher when I was young, and I was the fortunate guinea pig to try out all of her craft ideas and science experiments before her students. In my younger life, I doodled in my sketchbook constantly, worked on set designs for plays and musicals, taught at summer Art Camps, rebelled and painted a mural on my bedroom wall (Mom wasn't even that mad), started my undergrad as a Musical Theatre Major and then changed to Fine Art; and eventually moved to Atlanta to earn a Master's Degree in Illustration. I grew up with two parents who were extremely supportive of my love of the arts, and gave their time and energy for me to succeed in a creative career. Now, I have been in business full-time for myself since 2015. It is the achievement I'm most proud of, and humbled by, in my life.

Erin McManness of Paper Raven Co. drawing floral illustration with Tombow MONO Drawing Pen

What is your favorite medium to create with?

I work in a ton of different mediums, but I always come back to the good old inking pen. It's easy to use, not messy, portable, and familiar. Most of my designs in my regular workflow are created with my favorite, the Tombow MONO Drawing Pen. I work with these pens eveyday, and they're my go-to choice. I start by doing a pencil sketch, then I ink over it. After erasing the pencil lines, I will scan the black linework, bring it into Photoshop, and do all of my coloring there. This summer, however, I am really looking to break out my gouache paints and have a go of it.

Paper Raven Co.'s Erin McManness - floral watercolor illustration

What does a typical day at your studio look like?

I love working from my home studio in Atlanta. In the morning, I'll take my sweet dog Patty for a walk (which for me is a form of meditation), and have a cup of coffee while I answer emails. Then, I spend the morning working on any client work or projects that have upcoming deadlines.

This morning, I am working on licensing work for for some of their Holiday Challenges (yes, in June!). It's very important to me to take an hour break for lunch at noon, and give myself mental pause as well. I never eat in front of my computer.

When I was first starting out as an entrepreneur, I felt this insane pressure to be working all the time to "front load" as many projects as possible, so money would be coming in. I did it partially out of my natural tendency as a Type-A person, partially out of (a healthy) fear, but also partially because I was hungry to prove to everyone that I could be financially successful on my own. Now entering my 4th year in business, I realize that that hustle isn't sustainable, nor is it desirable. I want to work in a way that is effective, but affords me white space in my life.

After lunch, I will take Patty for another walk to clear my mind, and then I will either finish projects that are due (usually illustrations, card designs, patterns), and then look ahead to the rest of the week to see what I can work ahead on. At the end of the day, I'll also respond to any emails that came in. I typically work 9am - 7pm, and after the day is done, I have dinner with my boyfriend Daniel, and relax in the evening.

Paper Raven Co. Mother Nature Greeting Card

What inspires you?

What inspires me most is being out in nature. It's a constant reminder that life is always revolving, that our stresses and pains are smaller than we realize, and that life is vibrant, mysterious and resilient. I am also endlessly inspired by folk art, by textiles and bright colors, by symmetry, and by interior design and typography.

Do you ever get “creative block”?  If so, how do you combat it?

One of my favorite adages from my grad school professor Rick Lovell is that professionals don't wait for inspiration, they show up and do the work, even when they're not inspired. Creative Block comes for every artist, and when I encounter it, it's frustrating, but I work through it. Sometimes I find that when I'm not inspired, it forces me to think outside of the box and come up with new approaches to the work.

When stress or creative blocks are really bad, I will try to get that spark back by watching Miyazaki films (Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo, Spirited Away), because I am so inspired by the beautiful way those films are animated! Another tried and true method is to get outside and go for a walk.

Paper Raven Co. Hand Lettered Maya Angelou Quote

What do you enjoy doing in your “free time?”

My boyfriend Daniel, our dog Patty and I love to hike and be outside. We have so many nature trails around Atlanta, it's easy to find peace in nature. For a while, we lived by the Chattahoochee River, and hiking there was a favorite past time. I also love to cook, especially new dishes that are inspired by different cultures. In 2017, I found out that I was mostly German, Scottish, Italian, and Lebanese, so it's especially meaningful to cook meals from those parts of the world. When I cook a German meal, Daniel will make sure our musical dinner selection includes yodeling!

Paper Raven Co. Wedding Cards

We hear you are working on your first book! Can you tell us a bit about it?

Yes! Art Starts with a Line is officially being released on July 3rd, 2018! Published by Quarto and Walter Foster, it is available for pre-order on Amazon now

Art Starts with a Line is a how-to book with 128 pages of advice, tips and tutorials for how to hone your line art skills. I have broken the book down into 5 key chapters: Lettering, Borders + Banners; Plants + Flowers; Architecture; Animals; Everyday Objects. I also include instructions on how to convert traditional work to digital work, recommendations for artist supplies and tools, and a bit of coloring technique as well. The book is designed for those who want to learn how to draw more complex objects, and strengthen their drawing muscle. It's really fun, and I am very proud of the work that went into its creation.

Erin McManness Art Starts with a Line how-to book

What would your dream job be (other than what you are doing now)?

Honestly, I have two dreams: Either I would be a lady version of Indiana Jones, scavenging for buried treasure with cool theme songs playing in the background. Or, I would be a pastry chef in a small cafe, making danishes all day, always smelling like flour and jam.

Paper Raven Co. 2018 Illustrated Wall Calendar

We noticed that you design calendars too. Tell us more about your process to create those.

Wall calendars have become a favorite in my retail line-up! Every year I give my Instagram followers the reins and let them vote on the theme. My 2019 Wall Calendar with the theme "Folk Art Florals" will be released later this summer. I have been enjoying researching folk tales from around the world that incorporate botanicals into their stories!

We love that you reward your loyal fans by designing free printables each month. How can we get our hands on these beauties??

For the past few years I have been creating an original illustration for email subscribers to download and use for their enjoyment. Things like desktop wallpaper, art prints, wine labels, cake toppers, and other printables. Subscribe to my email list to get the free downloads each month!