Image: Rachel Adams

By Veronica Penney

Apart from the holiday season and the occasional family member’s birthday, some people hardly spare a thought for greeting cards. Not so for Denver artist Paul Michel, the man behind Mountain vs. Plains.

If you’ve visited a Denver Metro gift shop in the past year, chances are good that you have come across some of the comical Mountain vs. Plains cards and prints, distinct in their witty statements paired with simplistic drawings.

In an increasingly digital world, starting a business based primarily in paper goods seems one step shy of a slow, Dunder-Mifflin-style downward spiral, but Michel explains that he did not start with a dream of making a living creating cards. After earning his graphic design degree from Colorado State University, Michel pursued several jobs before turning to art full time.

“I was working at a little shop called Pandora on the Hill,  it’s right next to City O’ City,” he says. “When I was working there, I just saw a bunch of people buying gifts in general, especially greeting cards. I thought I could make some, so I started making, just funny little comic strips and cards.”

Paul Michel.

Michel started with the Fancy Tiger Holiday Fair in 2011. After receiving a good reaction, he built a handful of accounts with local businesses. The cards took off from there, and Mountain vs. Plains products can now be found in shops across Colorado and the Midwest (plus one shop in Australia).

“I guess I just sort of fell into it,” explains Michel. “I always liked to draw so, you know, the comedy mixed with the pretty simple line illustrations lent itself to greeting cards or comics.”

Denver is home to a thriving arts scene, boasting several distinct cultural districts, dozens of galleries, and exhibition spaces like RedLine, designed to support artists as they build their portfolios.

More pivotal in the success of Mountain vs. Plains, however, was the role of Denver’s art community. Denver’s creative scene can be incredibly encouraging for artists pursuing their own projects—at least, this was the case for Michel.

We feel this one in particular. 

“I think Denver is nice for artists in that it’s not super competitive, or that’s how it feels,” says Michel. “There’s a pretty good community of artists that are up for going to each other’s events and supporting each other. While most cities kind of have that, Denver does have a really good, loving community.”

For all the people who might struggle balancing their passions and their livelihood, Michel has some sound advice.

Image: Rachel Adams.

“I think you feel a pressure as an artist, well, you feel pressured in general, to only do things to make money or you think, ‘Why would you do that, isn’t there something better you should be doing with your time?’” reflects Michel. “But that’s not how you looked at things when you were a kid. It’s unrealistic to think that you can be playing all the time as an adult, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that you have to keep playing, you have to keep making things and keep recreating, and just keep having fun.”

“It’s fun to just make art for a living. The greeting cards are rewarding because you’re watching people laugh and pass them out and it does brighten people’s day. It’s just neat to see that.”