Card and Ad­vent cal­en­dar de­signer, Sally Swan­nell


It’s the most mag­i­cal time of the year for ad­vent cal­en­dar de­signer Sally Swan­nell

‘My mother al­ways made christ­mas so mag­i­cal,’ says il­lus­tra­tor sally swan­nell. ‘my child­hood was full of fan­tas­tic fam­ily christ­mases. my mum was al­ways cook­ing or mak­ing some­thing, and me­mories of it make me glow. i love to cre­ate Ad­vent cal­en­dars – i al­ways made them as a child, then i started mak­ing them for my son after he was born, and i even still make one for my­self ev­ery year. For me, christ­mas is all about re­liv­ing my child­hood!’

sally spent a lot of her youth draw­ing, paint­ing and craft­ing, and at school she spent as much time as she could in the art room. Later, she left home for art col­lege in bournemouth where she stud­ied nat­u­ral His­tory il­lus­tra­tion. ‘it piqued my in­ter­est be­cause of the flora and fauna el­e­ment,’ she says. ‘it was a fan­tas­tic course.’

but once sally left col­lege, she found it dif­fi­cult to find work as a full-time il­lus­tra­tor as, at the time, most com­pa­nies were us­ing free­lance il­lus­tra­tors rather than hir­ing per­ma­nent mem­bers of staff. so for a while sally’s am­bi­tions to be­come a pro­fes­sional il­lus­tra­tor were put on hold, and in­stead, she made the de­ci­sion to move to Lon­don where she worked as a me­dia buyer and plan­ner in ra­dio and mag­a­zines.

then, after be­com­ing preg­nant with her son toby, now 21, she left her job be­hind and re­turned to her na­tive county of Wilt­shire.

‘it was the nat­u­ral thing for me to do as it was where my par­ents were,’ she says.

While toby was nap­ping, sally started to make por­traits and small pieces of work, and once toby started school, she de­cided to try and take on more il­lus­tra­tion work. in 2002 she sent one of her de­signs to Phoenix trad­ing, which they liked, so sally started do­ing more work for them, in­clud­ing lots of christ­mas de­signs. From here, her pop­u­lar­ity grew as she be­came known for her whim­si­cal, of­ten coun­try-in­spired de­signs, with a christ­mas house de­sign that she cre­ated in 2005 be­ing her best­seller.

sally even­tu­ally de­cided to start her own busi­ness in 2010 as she wanted more cre­ative free­dom. ‘it was an ex­cit­ing prospect,’ she says. ‘i could work in dif­fer­ent direc­tions.’ she took some sam­ples of cards, tablemats and can­vases to the spring Fair at the

What I love most about the busi­ness... ‘I love be­ing able to cre­ate Im­ages that may put a smile on some­one’s face, par­tic­u­larly when de­sign­ing for christ­mas, which Is my favourite time of year’

NEC. ‘It all spi­ralled from there,’ she says. When she went to the Har­ro­gate Home & Gift Buy­ers’ Fes­ti­val the fol­low­ing July, things re­ally took off. ‘I re­alised that was my show,’ she says. ‘It was amaz­ing. I took 35 or­ders, and for me, at that time, that was fan­tas­tic. I came home reel­ing. I did the Har­ro­gate show five years in a row after that.’

Sally then en­listed the help of Cathy Con­way who sup­ports small in­de­pen­dent greet­ing card and gift com­pa­nies, as­sist­ing in build­ing their cus­tomer base. ‘Cathy had seen my cards in an out­let and loved them, so she tracked me down and was in­valu­able for in­creas­ing my trade ac­counts.’

Sally also con­tin­ued to ex­hibit at shows such as the Spirit of Christ­mas Fair, the Mary Howard Christ­mas Fair, Coun­try

Homes & In­te­ri­ors Christ­mas and Top Drawer. ‘At one point, I was sell­ing into 150 out­lets, mainly small in­de­pen­dents. It was fan­tas­tic in terms of sales, but man­ag­ing the pro­duc­tion and print runs was a chal­lenge,’ she says. ‘I also got in­volved with the RHS and de­signed Christ­mas cards for them two years run­ning in 2014 and 2015.’

As a re­sult of the busi­ness’s growth, Sally started to find she had less and less time at the draw­ing board and was strug­gling to keep re­leas­ing new de­signs at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son each Jan­uary. Thank­fully, she was soon ap­proached by Wren­dale De­signs, who took over man­ag­ing the trade side, so Sally could fo­cus on the cre­ative.

‘My cre­ativ­ity keeps me en­thu­si­as­tic,’ she says. ‘I did re­ally love meet­ing cus­tomers at trade shows but the pro­duc­tion, ware­hous­ing and stock con­trol had be­come a full-time job. I do still han­dle the re­tail side of the busi­ness, but thanks to Wren­dale De­signs’ in­volve­ment, I can now pro­duce a much higher quan­tity of de­signs.’

Work­ing for her­self had the added ben­e­fit that she was at home with Toby while he was grow­ing up, too. ‘I was able to work at 3am if I wanted to. I also had the free­dom to have an­i­mals at home,’ she says. ‘It’s a bet­ter qual­ity of life – it’s stress­ful some­times, but worth it. You grow as a per­son when you run your own busi­ness – you have to learn to turn your hand to any­thing and you have free­dom in ev­ery area. You do have to be dis­ci­plined to be at your desk first thing in the morn­ing, but, if you love what you do, it just hap­pens.’

Sally gets a lot of her in­spi­ra­tion from the sur­round­ing coun­try­side, and brings her ideas to life in her home stu­dio in a con­verted garage. ‘I can go in there, shut the door and start work­ing,’ she says. ‘I love au­tumn and win­ter, but the Christ­mas pe­riod it­self is def­i­nitely my favourite time of year – it is so im­por­tant for me.’


Sally wrap­ping a present with her Christ­mas wrap­ping pa­per.

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