Spokane Journal of Business

Cobenali Creations: Warmest greetings—without the warmth

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-Alla Drokina
Colin Hays says he founded Cobenali Creations to provide alternatives to typical, saccharine greeting cards.

Spokane Valley-based illustrator Colin Hayes prides himself on his aversion to sappy greeting cards. He demonstrates this through his new venture, a line of quirky and witty cards called Cobenali Creations, soon to be available in gift shops nationally. 

Hayes’ inspiration was fueled by his exasperation while perusing a card aisle only to find cliché phrases or overused, saccharine pictures. He decided to make the cards he felt were missing in stores, designed for a number of occasions.

In light-hearted and often irreverent prose, he provides a tried-and-true way to show affection to recipients of the cards—by sometimes poking fun at them. 

The cards use puns, plays on words, and sometimes a picture of himself dressed as a character he created a decade ago named Gil, whom Hayes describes as a loveable idiot. One wedding card appears deceivingly sweet with a ceremonial couple and the word “congrats” splayed on the front, but the inside continues “on finally being able to shut down your misleading online dating profiles.” He conveys that serious occasions don’t always require a solemn message. In fact, Hayes believes that humor can breed authenticity.

“I think there’s enough people who would want to see printed cards that reflect maybe more than just the usual sentiment,” Hayes says.

Hayes had been creating cards for friends and family, and he felt that the public needed the same dose of Hayes’ design. In the fall of 2018, Hayes spent three months preparing to launch the business by researching the industry, designing cards, and securing sales representatives before officially launching on Jan. 2 this year.

After putting cards together and sending out around 300 emails to sales reps all over the country, he ended up hearing from about 17 to 18 sales reps that wanted to work together. Although his work can be purchased online, Hayes says he thinks his main profitability will be through sales in national stores. 

Currently, Hayes has 72 different cards in stock. The business is still in its early stage, Hayes says, as he is working on getting into as many stores as possible. In Spokane, Cobenali Creations can be found in six stores, including White Elephant, Simply Northwest, Made in Washington, and Auntie’s Bookstore. Recently, Hayes made a sale of 48 cards to a store in Houston, Texas. 

“The ball is rolling, but it’ll take some time to build momentum,” Hayes says.

Working independently and from his home office has been a change from his days of deadlines and columns, and the challenge is to manage the varying pace between the occasional lull and receiving an onslaught of projects.

Hayes works with a printer in Great Falls, Mont., Printing Center USA. Being self-employed, he  packages his own cards, handles client billings, and card shipments. The dream is to be a full-time card company and if necessary, get others on board to help with the more technical aspects, so Hayes can focus on the art.

The dry humor showcased in Hayes’ work is influenced by offbeat art and animation he was exposed to in the ‘70s and ‘80s via various drawings, movie spoofs, and parodies, such as featured in Monty Python films and Mad magazine.

“I enjoy doing illustration. I enjoy humor. And I realized that the best way to kind of combine all those things I enjoy professionally into one kind of company was to do greeting cards,” Hayes says.

Hayes’ foray into drawing began at age 4. When he was 13, his father enrolled him into an art class at William Jewell College in his hometown of Liberty, MO. In that classroom, Hayes’ realized drawing was his calling.

“My dad did the Jedi mind trick or something and convinced them to take this scrawny little 13-year-old kid in, so all the models had to keep their clothes on,” jokes Hayes.

In Seattle, where Hayes’ lived for 31 years before moving to Spokane in 2013, he graduated from The Art Institute of Seattle in 1989. 

Close to his graduation, an artist representative who knew one of his illustration instructors hired him to assist with administrator work for her, where he learned about business. The artist rep’s husband, an illustrator she was representing, taught Hayes’ the technological aspects of digital-based illustration. 

It was a lucky amalgamation of two worlds, where the lessons would serve Hayes’ well in his career to come. The real-word application, he says, taught him more than sitting in a classroom. 

As a departure from the comical side of his art, Hayes’ also does portraiture. His older art, before Cobenali, features more elegant work such as the Riverfront Park clock tower, nature and birds, can be found in local stores, such as Simply Northwest and Auntie’s Bookstore. 

In addition to digital tools, he uses other media, such as charcoal and ink, often using a style called stippling, wherein an artist uses small ink dots to create a picture.

Careful detail and precision are evident regardless of the style he employs. 

Hayes says he, like many creative people, works best at night. He gathers ideas throughout the day jotting them down in the “notes” app on his phone.

His process starts with old school pencil sketches which he refines and subsequently scans into the computer. Then, using Adobe Illustrator, Hayes draws on top of the sketches and adds color. The digital program enables him to move and resize images easily.

His earlier works have appeared in The New York Times, Esquire, and Wall Street Journal, to name a few publications.

Cobenali is a combination of Hayes’ name, his wife Becky’s name, and both his daughters Natalie and Lindsey’s names. 

In this fast-paced technological world, Hayes believes that more people are reverting back to tangible ways to express messages, like greeting cards. 

“I think there’s a lot more thought behind it and effort … it’s something you can hold onto for as long as you want,” Hayes says. 

Alla Drokina
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Before Alla started as a reporter with the Journal in 2019, she freelanced for The Pacific Northwest Inlander mostly covering culture and food. A breakfast enthusiast, she appreciates the simple things in life like cozy nooks, mystery podcasts, and 90s sitcoms.

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