Happy Valentine’s Day!
Whether you have a special someone, celebrate “Galentine’s Day,” or perhaps are a conscientious objector, the American holiday celebrating romance is here. Many of us feel that there’s no better way to share the love than by giving a greeting card — but what if you could give something more personal, more clever, more funny, or more meaningful than the generic cards you might find at your local drug store / pharmacy?
That’s what Paige Latuff, co-creator of the Queer Store with their wife Nikols, thought — so they grabbed their Wacom Intuos pen tablet and got to work. The Queer Store sells a variety of products, all designed by Latuff — mugs, cards, stickers, and especially greeting cards — with a focus on creating cards that celebrate pop culture, include humor, and affirm under-represented groups in the greeting card industry.
Their Valentine’s Day cards are especially popular — because so much of the greeting card industry focuses on heteronormative relationships, LGBTQ+ relationships have few affirming greeting card options.
We spoke with Latuff about how they got started, what inspires them, how they design their products using a Wacom tablet then prints and distributes them, and what’s in store for the future for Paige and the Queer Store.
Have you always done both traditional and digital art? And do you have a preference?
Yes, I have always used a variety of methods to create my work. For my personal projects I still use a lot of clay, embroidery, and painting. For The Queer Store, I do mainly stick to digital illustration, as I find it to be a quicker process and I can see easily how my style is evolving over time, which is quite satisfying. Also, since I live on a boat, I don’t have the space to keep lots of physical art.
How did the idea to create an online store come about?
I have always illustrated since a young age. I previously worked as a freelance illustrator, and also worked a retail job to cover rent — but I was very unhappy. I left that job, and then COVID-19 lockdowns happened.
During that time, my wife Nikols and I had our wedding anniversary. I was looking for an anniversary card — but everywhere I looked, nothing suited us as a queer couple. I mentioned it to her, and she suggested that if I couldn’t find out, I could create one to suit us! I did — and that’s when it started.
Many of your cards focus on pop culture, humor, and LGBTQ+ identity. Was that always the case, or did it take a while to land on that “niche?”
This has always been the case. I only illustrate people I’m a fan of — I don’t really think about what is marketable, I just do what I’m passionate about and try and make space for people who aren’t always represented, especially the LGBTQ+ community.
Have your LGBTQ+-affirming greeting cards been successful? What kind of feedback have you received from customers?
The Valentine’s cards have been very successful! This why we started the shop in the first place, to help people in our community feel seen and represented. We often get thank you notes from customers saying they have finally found a card that fits them! This is so wonderful; we feel such gratification to know that hundreds of people out there feel represented and are using our cards to show their queer friends and/or partners love.
How do you come up with ideas for cards, and what is your workflow like?
I start with something funny someone has said to me, something or someone on TV that I’ve enjoyed, or someone who’s inspired me. I then find at least three different reference images — if it’s a person, for example, to really capture who they are. I then always start with a very rough sketch and layer from there like I would when I paint with acrylics.
My illustrations aren’t massively realistic or accurate, but I like that because they reflect my style and interpretation of the thing or person. I use Adobe Photoshop and their brushes, and my Wacom Intuos Draw pen tablet. I have used Wacom tablets and Adobe Photoshop since I was about 15 years old, so I am very used to this way of working now!
How do you actually get your cards into the hands of customers?
We use a UK-based printer that is a sustainable, ethical business and works hard to mitigate their impact on the environment — that means vegan inks and more-sustainable paper. We send cards in bulk to our boat, and mail them out from there. Being eco-friendly is extremely important to us, so we think hard about where we source our products. We would print from the boat, but we just don’t have the room! We also offer wholesale on a selection of our products for stores in the UK, United States and Europe.
What are your hopes for the future?
I mainly hope we can keep doing this for the foreseeable future, because it’s been my dream to illustrate as my career since I was about six years old. I’m incredibly proud! With my wife’s business brain, and my creativity, we are working hard to keep this dream alive. Last year I joined The London Studio, and having an agent who sends briefs and opportunities is fantastic. Hopefully The Queer Store will continue to grow and succeed!
When I was 15, I got my first Wacom tablet with the little bit of money I’d saved up, and my art teacher took time after class to help me learn how to digitize my illustration and use Adobe Photoshop. So I am extremely proud of what I have achieved so far, though I’m also looking forward to even more success!
About Paige and Nikols
The Queer Store offers a unique collection of greeting cards and gifts for all occasions. Our products are inspired by pop and LGBTQI+ culture, which we showcase through various fan art illustrations. Every card is made with love and genuine admiration and passion. From birthday cards to anniversary celebrations, we have a card for it. As a family business, we continuously make a wide variety of new well-made, high quality greeting cards, from classic to trendy! To follow them on social media, check out their Twitter and Facebook.