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Go Ask Mom

Made by Mom Gift Guide: Artist Laura Kelly builds business creating personalized gifts

Posted December 4, 2012

Laura Kelly spent her childhood creating.

While waiting at restaurants, she'd doodle on the backs of checks that her mom ripped out, creating people by tracing coins for their heads. Her dad helped her build her own version of Little People - the old-school kind with small wooden peg bodies. She'd create little families and then scatter them across her house - one family under the china cabinet, another in the corner of room, for instance.

"I just had a really vivid imagination," said Kelly, now the mom of two teenage sons and two stepdaughters in Apex.

So it was just natural for her to doodle on a note that she passed to a fellow seventh grade boy years ago. She had a crush on him and she'll never forget his reaction. He said it looked like a kindergartner did it.

She didn't draw again for more than a decade, fearful she'd face that kind of rejection again. Laura Kelly Made by Mom Gift Guide: Artist Laura Kelly builds business creating personalized gifts

But that all changed when she was pregnant with her first son. Frustrated that she couldn't get any service at a local stationary store, she created her own birth announcements. Her friends and family loved it and, before she knew it, her career as a highly successful licensed artist began.

Kelly is today's Made by Mom Gift Guide featured mom.

When Kelly began in 1995, she tells me that she was the first artist to create personalized stationary with family people on it ... those kind of stick-like figures that you might see on bumper stickers, address labels, coffee mugs and so many other products.

The first licensing agreement came in 2003 for Checks in the Mail. Unlike those original childhood doodles on the back of her mother's checks, Kelly's art appeared on the front of them. The deal turned out to be pretty lucrative.

"I started thinking this could be a career," said Kelly, a former Wake County school teacher.

Today, she has 17 licensing agreements and counting with companies that put her artwork on everything from ornaments and auto decals to address labels and educational products to calendars and puzzles.

Her Me and My Peeps line has been one of her most popular creations. Customers can personalize their own items using the many faces that she's drawn.

The business takes her on the road. She travels to shows a couple of times a year and, this week, is in New York with four close friends as part of an all-expense-paid marketing campaign for a new line of Me and My Peeps products sold through

The group will carry around life-sized, cardboard versions of themselves that Kelly has drawn. They'll take them to see "Wicked" on Broadway, to go ice skating in Rockefeller Center and on other adventures. As part of the campaign, Kelly will be writing all about her experience on her Me and My Peeps blog.

She's also made connections with other businesses, including Sharpie, which has named her a Sharpie ambassador. She uses the markers to do her work and, has been known, to pull one out, on the spot, to draw somebody she's just met.

Kelly's creations extend to charity work too. She often helps schools, breast cancer groups and other non-profits by donating items. She's drawn complete sports teams and classrooms of children and loves giving back in this way.

Today, even Kelly is surprised about how far she's come. She's able to work from home, doing something that she absolutely loves.

"My kids are all very proud," she said. "The biggest gift I give to them is the freedom to create and express themselves in a really loving environment."

To see all of Kelly's products, which make great gifts for friends, family, teachers and yourself, check the Laura Kelly Designs website.

Go Ask Mom is featuring a dozen local moms as part of our Made by Mom Gift Guide. Check back on Friday for our next featured mom!

1 Comment

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  • than Dec 7, 2012

    I love giving and receiving personalized gifts as well. The best gift ideas are personal. You don't have to spend a lot of money; just show you actually took the time to think about what the recipient would value. I like gift baskets because you CAN include a variety of little fun gifts.
    Than Nguyen