Born from passions of art and philanthropy, Pen + Pillar is owned and operated by illustrator, Taylor Mahlke. After teaching art in the Middle East, Taylor returned to the US and began her online storefront in 2015 to sell paper goods inspired by her travels, bold textiles, vibrant colors, community, and warmth. Art should bring joy and light to your life, and it's Taylor's aim to create pieces that evoke a sense of life and adventure.
Taylor’s heart and passion in life is to serve refugees and to do so, Pen + Pillar gives 10% of all proceeds to help local refugees get settled into their new lives. Pen + Pillar holds firmly to the belief that everyone deserves to feel safe, and should be afforded the opportunity to succeed. Art has an amazing power of influence, and she believes that should be used boldly and as a force for good, and encourages a community that believes the same.
We are thrilled to welcome Pen + Pillar to the shop! To learn more about Taylor, read below. After, be sure to check out the beautiful collection of paper goods here.
What is your background? Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in North Carolina, but always had a desire to travel. I grew up in a fairly creative family (my mom paints pottery, and my grandparents ran a photography studio) but I was never really in to art until I was a teenager. I sat down one day to draw, and was like, "hey, I really like this", and it went from there! I only took one art class in High School, but drew a lot on my own. I studied Studio Art for a semester in college, then switched to International Relations, but left college my sophomore year to move to the Middle East. I got a job there teaching art at an International School, and I met my (now) husband who was also a teacher there. Teaching is where I really fell in love with art in a "real-world" sense. We moved back to the States in 2012, got married, lived in Minnesota for 3 years, and moved back to North Carolina in February of 2016.
In a few words, how would you describe your work?
Fluid, Imperfect, Whimsical. Before I started Pen+Pillar, all of my art was very detailed and realistic. It's been surprising to me to see what happened to my style when I traded in a pencil for a paintbrush.
Why did you start your own business?
I never finished college, and jobs are hard to find nowadays- degree or not. I was unfulfilled in the jobs I had to work, and my husband came to me one day in late 2014 and suggested the idea of me selling my own work. I took some time to think about it, and decided to just go for it. I first started by selling my fine art, and quickly realized that I wanted to sell a product- build a line. I chose stationery because it gave me full creative control over the artwork, and it was very inexpensive to produce (I started my business with whatever we had left in our account each month from my husbands job). I launched in 2015, but don't feel like I really got a handle on my business until early 2016. From the beginning, my desire for Pen+Pillar is to not only be a source of income for me and my family, but my goal is to employ and support refugee women in my area. My husband and I had the opportunity to work with Palestinian refugees while we lived overseas, and that experience changed my life forever. That's always been the foundation of my business- empower and uplift others. I believe that's the purpose that art should serve in my life.
What's the best thing about running a small business?
That's so hard- I love all of it! I would say my favorite has been watching it grow; getting to experience all it's "firsts". Working as an entrepreneur can feel lonely and it's easy to feel insecure about your choices for your business, so to see it growing is the best feeling.
Dream project / future plans?
My dream project is to be able to create and paint ceramics. I love the idea of creating an object with my hands, and have always wanted to learn to throw pottery. More attainable dream project: planners. I am planner obsessed, and itching to create one!
Favorite artist(s) in any field, living or dead?
Mary Blair. Her story is fascinating, and her style instantly spoke to me. As far as my industry, I am obsessed with Moglea. Everything that Meg does is brilliant.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Take time to find your style and build your line. Work hard, make bold choices for your business, and put yourself out there. I truly believe that hard work and a desire to keep learning can get you anywhere.