Out of the Darkness Comes Light

Through faith and a creative passion, watercolor artist Kyle Sommer overcame a season of depression, and out of it Sommer Letter Co. was born.
Nov 3, 2022
Janet Patterson
Jeffrey Crane

The luscious oranges, rich greens and vibrant reds in Kyle Sommer’s artwork belie the depression that sparked her creation of Sommer Letter Company. 

Sommer started her business as a way to answer people who asked what she would do when she left her teaching job. “It was basically my cover-up story.”

But making the leap from teaching Spanish at Carroll High School to creating the colorful artwork that adorns her greeting cards, notebooks, planners and stationery was a lifesaver. 

“I was always kind of artsy growing up,” Sommer recalls. Her father was an art teacher at Fort Wayne’s Northrop High School, and she says she spent her Christmas and spring breaks dabbling in the art supplies in his classroom.

But, when it came time to choose a major in college, Sommer wasn’t sure how she could make a living in art. “I majored in Spanish language and literature, thinking I would work for a nonprofit.”

After graduating from the University of Indianapolis, she fell into teaching by accident when she was invited to teach Spanish at Carroll High School. “I had no training for teaching, but I really loved the students and the Spanish language. I loved feeling like a mentor to these young people.”

Very quickly though, her work became an obsession. “I didn’t know when to stop working. If I was awake, I was working, grading papers, preparing lessons. My mental health declined quickly.”

Sommer says she had experienced episodes of depression and anxiety during her high school years, but hadn’t had a major mental health crisis for a long time. 

“I would have panic attacks at night and then be at school ready to teach at 6:00 a.m. I was really good at pretending things were normal.”

Although she became an expert at showing her best face to those around her, Sommer’s husband, Josh, recognized that she was in trouble. 

In 2015, she turned in her letter of resignation, told everyone who asked that she had always wanted to start a business, and created Sommer Letter Company in the basement of her parents’ home.

But first, she and her husband headed off to backpack in South America for a few months. They hoped that the fresh air and spectacular scenery would open Sommer’s eyes to the beauty in the world and in her life. 

“It turns out that traveling the world does not cure depression,” says Sommer. When they returned to Indiana, her husband and her mother redoubled their efforts to get her the help she needed. 

“I was resistant because I honestly didn’t care. I finally went to counseling out of guilt for my mom and my husband.”

Progress was slow. Sommer not only resisted counseling but didn’t like the idea of taking medication.

“I was afraid I wouldn’t feel like myself.” When her counsellor asked her if she felt like herself as she struggled with the depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, she began to reconsider. 

“I was really stuck, and while medication is not a cure, it can lighten the load. Every day we have to make choices, and with the help of medication, it is easier to do the right thing mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.”

Her art is one of those right choices. She says she sees her artwork as an act of hope. “I can create beautiful things to remember and to celebrate. It’s a way of meditating on the beautiful.”

Sommer describes her watercolor designs as having a “colorful, scribbly style.” Her greeting cards carry kind and heartfelt messages like, “Beautiful days ahead” and “You show me strength.” She says her bestseller during the pandemic was, “We need each other.”

Sommer says creating art has been only a piece of her journey as an entrepreneur. “I had no idea about manufacturing and didn’t have a lot of startup funds.” Realizing that they needed to cut expenses, she and Josh gave up their apartment and moved in with her parents to save money for a house with a studio space.

“I made a lot of mistakes, like investing in products that I probably shouldn’t have and stocking too much inventory,” she recalls. 

In addition to selling her art online, Sommer began taking her wares to shows in Chicago, Nashville, Louisville and Grand Rapids. The business started to grow.

Her customer base has expanded to all 50 states and numerous countries around the world. Sommer Letter Co. now has two part-time employees who take care of the administrative work and shipping. 

“I don’t have any aspirations of being a mogul, but I would love to do a licensing deal with a company like Anthropologie and maybe create some wallpaper designs,” she says.

And that dream of a house with a studio space has come true. “I have a lovely studio with lots of windows,” she says with a smile. 

Sommer Letter Co.

Phone: (260) 338-9397

Website: sommerletterco.com

Email: hello@sommerletterco.com

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