Employers We Love: American Greetings

December 12th, 2011 by Katlin McNally
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American Greetings logo

Visit American Greetings and you could run into as many as 23 CCAD alumni. We got a chance to chat recently with four employees about what it is like to work with fellow CCAD grads in this great creative environment.

The CCAD alumni we talked to were Senior Designer/Illustrator Kelly Grupczynski (CCAD, 2002, Illustration), Senior Writer/Illustrator Erik Flesher (CCAD, 1991, Illustration), Creative Director Mark Harvey (CCAD, 1984, Illustration), and Graphic Designer New Product Concepts Heidi Appel (CCAD, 2001, Advertising & Graphic Design).

American Greetings states that they  hire people who “are passionate about their craft, exhibit engaging personalities, demonstrate very good communication skills, and who have an insatiable appetite for the world and people around them.” The company has nothing but high regards for the alumni who are currently employed there. “CCAD students and alumni stand out in specific ways with a good right/left brain balance—a positive career path since most of our creative leaders are CCAD alumni, and their creative development process stands out.”

Q) What is it like to work with other CCAD alumni?

Kelly Grupczynski (KG): It is has been nice. Starting a new job can always be daunting, and seeing a familiar face or having a common background helps take the edge off.

Erik Flesher (EF): I have worked with dozens of alumni over the years, and I always find it interesting to hear their stories about classes and professors. There is a sense of commonality among us that I think helps build a professional camaraderie as well as a friendship. I also know that being a CCAD alumni means they have mad skills.

Mark Harvey (MH): We are scattered all around American Greetings, and it truly has become a giant melting pot of talent. We even have mini impromptu reunions!

Heidi Appel (HA): I think it is excellent—we all share such rich experiences, and it is wonderful to be able to swap stories

Q) Why do you think American Greetings has so many CCAD alumni?

All: Their past relationship with recruitment and [AG's] proximity to the school.

EF: CCAD’s emphasis on learning solid design skills as well as trying to tap into each student’s imagination is a big reason. Whether they are looking for artists or writers, American Greetings has come to expect a certain level of professionalism and talent coming out of CCAD, so they tend to hire those graduates.

Q) Any advice for current students or fellow alumni who want to become involved at American Greetings?

MH: You need to be open to all possibilities. And have multiple skill sets in each category of art. The best philosophy is to work hard and play hard.

EF:  Develop a strong work ethic. Bring your sketchbooks along with your finished pieces to show the company. It will help American Greetings see how you think and construct. If you are looking to write, bring your own voice! Also, here is a biggie—spell everything correctly in your writing submission, I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but check and re-check.

KG: Take time in your portfolio and put something unique together. Reach out to fellow alumni at the company and have them offer their suggestions and critiques.

HA: Be persistent! Keep checking job boards, and make a website that houses your work.

The Town Square at the American Greetings headquarters

Q) Why do you love your job?

HA: I love the diversity of job positions available. There are also a lot of opportunities to collaborate and work with other areas of the company.

KG: My whole life I wanted to work in children’s entertainment and illustrations and here, I’m able to do just that! Currently, I am the lead illustrator for Strawberry Shortcake, which means pretty much everything and anything Strawberry gets seen by me! It’s an exciting prospect to think that one of my own ideas can get made into a television series or toy one day for the next generation to enjoy.

EF: I have worked here nearly 20 years and I can honestly say I still love coming in every day. Oh sure, there are frustrations and headaches, but that’s going to occur at any company. There is a freedom to be creative here. In many ways, AG is like an art school—you’re surrounded every day by other creative people, all doing amazing work, sharing ideas, and speaking the same language—but, unlike an art school, you get paid to do this.

MH: I have been with American Greetings for 27 years and I still love coming to work every day!

Q) What past experiences do you share and remember from being a student at CCAD? How has this impacted your professional career?

HA: I remember working my butt off! The work ethic has followed me into my professional career.

KG: Ha! For some reason, the first thing I thought of with this question was eating at our dorm cafeteria.  One time, the cooks made chicken cordon bleu and the sauce on the chicken was actually blue … cerulean blue in fact. Sadly, I declined the blue chicken. But what I really remember about school was how enthusiastic and encouraging our instructors were. Bruce Barnes taught me animation. Ron Saks taught me story boarding. I had illustration with Dave Groff, figure drawing with Dennis Drummond, oils and watercolor with Arthur Wang, portfolio class with Evangelia Philippidis—to name a few.

EF: When I think about CCAD, I can’t help but think of me all jacked up on caffeine, trying to finish projects at two, three in the morning. If you haven’t pulled more than a few all-nighters at that school, then you’re clearly not working hard enough! I also remember all the critiques. Sitting through those critiques definitely helped me learn to accept and give feedback—both good and bad.

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