By Aliza Baker
Many children beg their parents to take them to get ice cream or buy the shiny new toy they saw on a commercial the other day. But not Mary Grace Whatley. As a kid, she’d plead with her mother to let her browse the office supplies at Staples or Office Depot.
In elementary school, Mary Grace always enjoyed playing around with her handwriting. Every year, she would change her style of writing, turning dreary essays and tests into works of art. It only made sense that she’d develop a knack for calligraphy and lettering along the way. Today you’ll find her in Homewood checking out the latest pens and markers to add to her collection of tools for her online lettering and illustration business, ohmgcreates.
Growing up, though, she dreamed of becoming a teacher—a profession where her love of office supplies would be welcomed with open arms. At Samford University, she majored in education and only practiced lettering in her free time. But something shifted when she began addressing wedding invitations for friends and family. “I started learning how to use a real calligraphy pen,” Mary Grace recalls. “That was the first time that I was doing work for other people. It made me realize that I could find something to do other than my teaching career that could serve other people well.”
She took a teaching position in Leeds after graduating in 2017 but also began promoting her illustrations on social media whenever she wasn’t busy in the classroom. And that’s when the flood of likes, comments and shares rolled in.
Of all the pieces in her collection, her custom prints commissioned based on a customer’s photo get the most love. To bring them to life, Mary Grace sits down in her cozy yet modern studio, surrounded by her most cherished pieces and a rainbow of paints and markers. In all of them she captures special moments in people’s lives with her signature Mary Grace style.
By her third year of teaching, Mary Grace knew it was time for a change. “I just had this whispering in my ear telling me that I could do this, that there are other things out there for me in my plan,” she reminisces. “The whisper kept getting louder and louder, and I knew that it was time to take a different career path.”
With encouragement from her close-knit family and husband, she left her teaching position this past May. Throughout her transition to full-time artist, Mary Grace experienced a roller coaster of emotions: anxiety, nervousness, excitement, hope. She regularly found herself asking, “Can I actually do this?” And though it wasn’t always easy, she could.
The biggest challenge she experienced while getting her online shop up and running was narrowing her focus. Her website offers a wide variety of vibrant items such as prints with inspirational quotes, custom illustrations, decorative stickers and hand-painted Bibles. You name it—Mary Grace does it. But she wants a signature, something she can be known for. And that’s a goal that she’s still working toward.
Right now, that looks like designing a devotional which is being written by some of her closest friends. Her goal is for her devotionals and painted Bibles to become her bestsellers and one day to sell them in stores.
It wouldn’t be the first time to have her work in stores either. Mary Grace created some lettering work and coloring pages for Drew Barrymore’s home décor line through Walmart, since they liked the unique style and vivid colors of her art. Scarlet and Gold, an Auburn-based apparel store, and Magic City Nutrition in Birmingham also teamed up with Mary Grace and used her designs on their products. “I was super honored that these companies would even take the time to message me to see if I was interested,” she says. “I am extremely thankful for the opportunities that they have given me and hopefully will get later on.”
So, what makes Mary Grace’s art grab the attention of these businesses? She thinks it’s the way that her bubbly personality shines through each and every piece.
What makes her art meaningful though, is “serving others well.” Her favorite aspect of running ohmgcreates is receiving an enthusiastic text or direct message from a customer expressing their love for the product. But her mantra of service doesn’t stop there—she frequently uses her earnings from ohmgcreates to give back to charities such as the Equal Justice Initiative, which seeks to challenge racial and economic injustice and protect basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. “I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know as much as I want to about racial injustices,” Mary Grace says. “But I think opening the conversations and wanting to know is a little bit of what this world needs.”
As someone who struggled to find her footing in the artistic industry, she hopes that her story will encourage aspiring artists to just go for it too. “Honestly, this is going to sound so cheesy, but young artists should follow the path and dreams that they want to take,” she says earnestly. “Whether that is going to be quitting your job or coming out of college and taking that leap of faith or making it a side hustle—if the Lord is leading you down that path, He is going to make you able to do that.”
Perhaps one day, as Mary Grace browses the newest collections of pens or planners or devotionals that Staples and Target have to offer, she’ll see something that she designed on the shelf right beside the items she loved so much as a kid.
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