An envied artist, mother of two, and small business owner, Dionne Christiansen has an impressive resumé of passions. In addition to garnering acclaim for her much-followed Instagram, Christiansen is also a graphic designer, watercolorist, calligrapher, teacher, and one-time photographer.
Her artistic talents at her design studio Nib and Pixel have afforded her opportunities like teaching calligraphy to the staff at the Menil, instructing parents in calligraphy at Jessica Biel’s child-friendly L.A. restaurant, and designing wedding invitations for Dancing with the Stars pros Emma Slater and Sasha Farber.
But what does she love to do most? Tell her clients' love stories through eye-catching, wildly creative wedding invitations. “I love the stories," Christiansen says. "I love to hear how the couple met, why they love each other and where they see their future taking them, because everyone’s story is so different and it helps me come up with new ideas every time. I’m so eclectic that I want my ideas and invitations to look different from each other.”
After recently moving into her new studio at the spacious, light-filled Creative Chateau, Christiansen sat down to discuss Nib and Pixel, what she misses most about her native Australia, and how she's become a nationally-renowned designer from the comforts of her Houston home.
On how Instagram has catapulted her business:
“My first year of business, I wasn’t really on Instagram. Most of my clients came from word of mouth. But now with Instagram, I get about half of my business from places like Los Angeles and New York. With these clients, I start working with them via email and sometimes I talk to them on the phone. Very rarely do I Skype or FaceTime. As the digital era continues, people are buying everything online without going into the store first. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of buying something online without trying it out or seeing it first. Now, people trust the internet to lead them to the right product.”
On Houston's perks:
“I love the food. My husband and I started a foodie club years ago, so all of us would get together and go to a different restaurant from a different [global] cuisine. Since we’ve had kids, it’s become a lot harder, but our kids are such foodies, too.”
On how the recession actually helped her resumé:
“When I moved to Houston in 2008 [from L.A.], the economy had just tanked. I could not find graphic design work anywhere. I had just planned my wedding back in California before I moved here, and I loved the process. So I originally took an internship here at a wedding-planning studio and they gave me a job. I got to meet all these different wedding professionals, and while I wasn’t doing graphic design or calligraphy, I was exposed to all the different personalities of brides. I loved it so much, and it turned out to be a blessing.”
On her career before calligraphy:
“I heard about this company BHLDN [Anthropologie's wedding brand] before it was in Houston, and it was only online at the time. I decided that I wanted to work there, so I sent these little notes to the creative director over a period of months. Just these little mailings, but I had no idea they were intending to open in Houston. One day she emailed me and said, ‘We are opening in Houston and we would love to meet you.’ They hired me, and I helped them open the store. I was a stylist there and helped them plan events, and then I had a baby. I really couldn’t juggle both of those, so that’s when I taught myself the modern style of calligraphy that I do now. In 2013, I taught my first calligraphy class and people kept coming back. It wasn’t meant to be a monthly thing, but people really loved it, and I’ve taught it ever since.”
On the detail in her work:
"I had a couple get married in the Austin area, and [the bride] showed me a picture of a rug they were going to stand on when they got married. I asked them if I could create that rug in watercolor on the back of their invitation. It wasn’t something they were originally going to ask me to incorporate, but I just loved that detail. It was a rug they were going to keep and pass down in their family, so eventually it would become an heirloom. No one else might know that that watercolor on the back of their invite was the rug, but those two will know it, and that’s all that matters to me."
On her own love story:
"I met [my husband] in Laguna Beach, and I asked him to build a sandcastle with me."
On calligraphy’s surge in popularity:
“I think people missed snail mail. I remember in 2008 people started talking about having digital invitations. I think people were trying to be eco-friendly and accommodating, but I feel like it comes in waves. I think people love something, then they get tired of it, and then they miss it again.”
On coming to the U.S.:
“My parents moved to the United States, and I did not intend to live here. I visited Pasadena, California and just fell in love with it. I feel like it’s one of those things that’s just meant to be. I saw this brick building with rose vines growing all over it, and it said it was a letterpress shop [called Krost Pressworks]. I was straight out of college and never had a big-girl job. I just walked in, introduced myself, and made them a little magazine about me. They told me they didn’t have any openings, but that they would create a position for me. I was on a tourist visa, so I had to tell them I couldn’t start for three more months until I got my visa, but they said, ‘That’s fine. The job will be ready for you when you get back.’ Years later, a bigger company bought them out, but I'd have to stay working for them or else I would have to go back to Australia. So they told the company they would not sell to them unless they sponsored me as a condition of the sale. That really meant a lot to me that they were looking out for me. I get emotional just thinking about it.”
On what she misses most about Australia:
"I miss the landscape. Noosa is one of the rare places where you have a beach 10 minutes in one direction and a rainforest 10 minutes in the other direction. Only 30 minutes away are the mountains. I definitely miss some of the traditional Australian foods, too, like meat pies and pavlova."
On her favorite Houston wedding venues:
"I love anything that incorporates natural light. I love The Dunlavy and how it’s got all those windows and the trees right there. I think that’s also because I’m from Australia. I can’t be too far away from greenery or else I feel out of place. Also, Houston Oaks is a beautiful country club, and McGovern Centennial Gardens because it has a lot of beautiful natural elements."