By Matthew Whitelock
Special to The Toronto Sun
We get them all the time. Some are funny, some are serious. Some are downright obscene. I'm talking about greeting cards. Striking the right balance can be a challenge. Who are the imaginative people behind the cards that inspire a sentimental glow? What kind of career experiences led these makers of cards to their current livelihood?
I went to Valhalla (823 Queen St. W.) where I inquired about up-and-coming Toronto card companies. Owner Janet Moniz was happy to direct me towards two fabulous contenders: clayboys and yoyoga. Each has a unique and artistic approach to designing cards, and each has a singular philosophy behind their enterprise.
Partners Michael FitzGerald and Regan Morris established Clayboys in 1985 as a supplier of custom ceramics. Both "clayboys" had a background in art.
FitzGerald attended McMaster University in Hamilton and the University of Guelph, emerging with an honours degree in art and art history. "I originally went in for engineering," he recalls. "But over the course of my university years, I realized that I was far more interested in art."
On the other hand, Regan Morris knew from the outset what he wanted to do, attending the Ontario College of Art (OCA) and obtaining an Alumni diploma, which is the college's equivalent of an honour's degree. "It was a great experience," Morris says, "because I was able to produce my art independently, and be judged every few months by a panel of instructors."
From OCA, Morris went on to enjoy a highly successful career as an artist, widely known for his 85-piece series called "Moat," and for his depiction of "Oscar Wilde's Last Words," a gargantuan mural 54 feet by 10 feet.
His work garnered extensive acclaim, but throughout his artistic heyday, Morris had other aspirations. Upon partnering with Michael FitzGerald, these aspirations were realized. "I never forgot the fun I had doodling cartoons as an eight year-old," laughs Morris. "And when Michael and I got together, I got to return to this lighter, more amusing art form." His cartoons were put upon ceramic tiles and became a hot commodity.
Their foray into greeting cards was a natural evolution. Upon displaying their wares at the San Francisco International Gift Fair, they were approached by dozens of agents eager to distribute their cards internationally.
Today, you can find clayboys' irreverent line of cards in Australia, England and the United States. The boys have even heard of their merchandise surfacing in Helsinki. "We eventually see ourselves in New York or Los Angeles," FitzGerald says.
"Some place where the climate isn't so punishing."
From guys to girls, Leonor Mowry and Stacey Hill are the force behind yoyoga, a company which embraces a holistic approach to life. Mowry founded the business after washing her hands of the hectic and demanding corporate world in which she experienced much fiscal success but little spiritual fulfillment.
Her seven years of study in I-Ching and Taoism gave her the broadness of mind to see beyond material gain. She went on to train at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, N.Y., where she obtained her certification to instruct yoga and became registered with the Yoga Alliance.
A dabbling in the practical applications of feng shui for private clients led her to the doorstep of Bill Sharpe, partner at the Sharpe Blackmore advertising agency in Toronto. Mowry told Sharpe of her interest in creating a line of yoyoga greeting cards, and he connected her with the creative department at his agency.
Enter Stacey Hill, art director at Sharpe Blackmore and Mowry's partner in greeting card excellence. Hill graduated from OCA with a diploma in advertising and describes her education as a rewarding one. "My first two years at OCA were quite generalized," she remarks, "but the last two were directly related to advertising, and gave me a practical grasp of the business I wanted to pursue."
After OCA, Hill went to work at the firm of Ranscombe and Company as a junior art director. There, she learned the way the various facets of creative advertising fit together. She worked with such clients as Sporting Life, Healthcare Ontario and Toronto Works.
It was her creative director at Ranscombe who eventually brought her to work with her at Sharpe Blackmore, the agency she now calls home. Here, her career really began to blossom as she gained work on her first television advertising campaign for Home Hardware. "The Home Hardware campaign was one of the high points of my career," she says, quickly adding with a laugh, "aside from my work on yoyoga."
Together, Hill and Mowry have worked hard to make their line of cards reflect the spiritual philosophies that yoyoga embraces. A portion of all profits go to the War Child Canada charity, which gives aid to children affected by war all around the world.
Yoyoga and clayboys are examples of what is possible when artistically-minded people put their creativity to good use.
(Matthew Whitelock (email@example.com
)is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)
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