With such an exciting collection in the works, we just had to take the opportunity to sit down with Morgan and ask alllllll the questions. Not just about the Real Stories Collection, but about things like her creative process, her gift for putting feelings into words, and her amazing capacity for empathy. Read for yourself!
Behind the Scenes of Morgan Harper Nichols’ New Real Stories Collection
Even if you haven’t heard the name Morgan Harper Nichols, it’s likely that you’ve seen her work. Because, well, it’s everywhere. It’s popping up in Pinterest feeds with its bright colours and soothing words. It’s shared on Instagram in moments of joy or sent when someone needs messages of hope. And starting January 2022, you can find it exclusively at Hallmark Gold Crown stores in the form of her Real Stories Collection.
Covered in words of comfort and support, and splashed with colours that soothe or energize, this collection of cards and gifts brings together Morgan’s unique talent for empathy and Hallmark’s mission to help people connect with the ones they care about. And if you ask us, it’s a match made in heaven.
Can you tell us why you felt like your art and your message found a space at Hallmark?
“Yes, of course! I’m really excited about my partnership with Hallmark because it was such an opportunity to be able to bring the heart of my message, which is positive and encouraging, into real spaces. It was just something that was like, I have to say yes to this because it’s so aligned with the heart of what I do!”
Let’s talk about empathy and connection because they’re a huge part of your work. How did you develop such a robust ability to understand others?
“I will say that the roots of that come from my childhood. My parents were ministers and local leaders within our community and I saw them literally open up their door to people to come in and sit and talk and have dinner. And I saw them just be present for people around them in different capacities in different ways. The artwork that I make today, it’s still rooted in the empathy that I saw my parents model before me, so they get a lot of credit for that, for really showing me what that could look like.
“But it’s interesting though, because when I was a kid—and honestly, to this day—I was more on the introverted side, and I struggled with it. I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, like there’s so many people around!’ It took me a very long time to recognize that I had my own way of opening the door to others, and that was through making art.”
How has your work changed over the past few years, as people may have begun to feel more isolated and lonely?
“I’ve had a big shift in my art over the past couple of years. I was getting a little bit overwhelmed with social media and being on the Internet. I was like, ‘I’m going to just focus on traveling and going out and meeting people and doing events.’
“So we planned a bunch of stuff and it obviously didn’t happen, and it brought me back to ‘Here I am, scrolling on my phone.’ And I had this thought—especially in those earlier days in 2020—where I was like, ‘You know what? As discouraged as I am, this is my reality right now. And there are a lot of people out there who are dealing with that same thing.’
“And I began to recognize—maybe it’s not a coincidence that I’m an artist in a time where these platforms exist. Maybe that is an opportunity to say, ‘What would happen if I just decided I’m just going to go all-in with sharing hope and encouraging messages on the Internet?’”
Speaking of which, how on earth do you create such broad messages that resonate with so many people? It’s magical!
“Thank you! When I write, I write for a lot of different kinds of people and in different phases and stages of life. And I’m no expert. I don’t have the answers. But one thing that I do have is a heart that beats and is sensitive a lot of times to what is going on in the world and what I see on social media.
“And when I get ready to press publish or share, I think about all the different kinds of people that might encounter this. I think, ‘What if someone sees this message while they’re sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office? Or what if they’re in the hospital bed for week three? What if they were waiting for somebody to call them back with some news that would just change everything?’
“I mean, even as I say that now, I feel it in my body, and I think that that’s the beauty of tapping into our sensitivity and our empathy.”
What kind of messages do you find get the most love from people?
“One of the main phrases is, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ And I’m not the first person in the world to say that! There have been a few others that say something like, ‘Breathe.’ And I’m not the first person to say that.
“So a lot of times it’s things that people have already heard before. It’s just that they needed to hear it again today. They just need that reminder. Those things matter. They really do.”
Morgan's advice for putting feelings into words
“It’s a word that you’ve heard before a million times. And that’s ‘practice.’ One of the main ways that I personally love to practice—and I’m grateful that I’ve had this practice in my life since I was eight years old—is by keeping a journal.
“And I’m telling you a lot of that stuff I wrote is very cringe-worthy, at least to me. But what I see is a young girl practising using her voice. I see a young girl who was years away from having a platform where people would listen to her. It’s something that I’m still practising.”
How have your own experiences as a Black woman, a Christian and an artist informed your work and the kinds of stories you tell?
“When I think about my story as a Black woman and autistic woman, a daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher growing up in the South, a Christian—I think about all of these different things that have made me, me. And then I look at my work. I’m really grateful that I do see a connection there.
“I recently realized that I’m really drawn to writing short phrases. And I realized it’s inspired by gospel music and how that’s ingrained in me. They’re like these short phrases that you just kind of repeat over and over and over again. Like the last part of the song—before the song fades out. I was like, ‘Oh, I see that in my poetry!’ And it’s interesting because if you study gospel music or you listen to it, you can hear people who were learning to live with the tension of facing unknowns and facing oppression, while also trying to define what joy looks like and what hope looks like. And when I think about that, reflect on that, I can see that in my work.”
If someone asked you how to create a more connected world. What would you tell them?
“I believe that we can create a more connected world one connection at a time. I think it’s really easy to get overwhelmed by all of the disconnection. And that’s valid, but at the same time, the connections that we make each day are significant. They matter. They’re valuable. We remember the times in our lives where someone took the time to make a connection with us. And I believe that it’s just so important that we continue to pass that on and find different ways to connect with others.”
Tell us a little about how your cards and gifts fit within the Real Stories Collection.
“Empathy played a huge role in the Real Stories Collection. When I’m writing, I am thinking of a real story. I’ve lost count of how many poems and pieces of art that I’ve created with real stories in mind. I can’t write without thinking, ‘Who is this for? Where is this story in the world? Who, what are they going through? And if I were sitting there with them right now, what would I say?’
“And sometimes it’s a few words with a few colours. Sometimes it’s bright colours with like a full sentence or two. It varies, and I think that that just reflects the realness of our stories. There’s so much diversity in our stories. So why not bring in diversity in colour and in poetry and in words to just help illuminate what’s already there?”
What is Real Stories?
Real Stories is a unique collection of personal stories about caring through life’s ups and downs. With topics including friendship, loss and healing, mental health, divorce and more, these stories demonstrate how critical it is to reach out to the ones we care about, not just in happy times, but hard times, too.
The cards and gifts inspired by these stories are meant to help you show up in meaningful ways when it matters most.
What do you hope the cards and gifts in your Real Stories Collection will make people feel?
“My hope is that when people are experiencing these things, they feel seen. That they feel inspired to share the message and the heart of what’s there with someone else. I think that creativity can be such a gift that we can share with others.”
What was your thought process like when deciding which messages or art would go on different items in your collection?
“When it comes to sharing my messages and my art on different things such as a water bottle or a pillow or a greeting card, I’m always thinking about that particular thing and what that experience is like.
“So for a water bottle, I am thinking about a message of being refreshed, or it’s something that you’re going to be reading when you’re active. [With] a greeting card, you’re sitting down, you’re reading, you’re taking a moment to take something in. I think about every little thing and what that experience is going to be like when you encounter it—all these different places and moments within your story.”
You can find cards from Morgan’s Real Stories Collection in Hallmark Gold Crown stores. Gifts will be available in March 2022.
© 2022 Morgan Harper Nichols. Used under license. All rights reserved.