I met Beth Gully when I was a little girl. I practically grew up at her house as our parents were long time friends. I looked up to her and I followed her around everywhere. She was so cool and so pretty, and even at my young age, I could see that she was very talented. Our parents stayed in contact over the years, so I would periodically hear about Beth and what she was up to. A few years ago, my mother gave my kids the book, The Other Side of Christmas written and illustrated by Beth Gully. I was blown away by the way her mind could create the upside down images in the book, and the message of the book was extremely meaningful to me.
Fast-forward to 2017 and I have an epiphany! I need to interview Beth Gully for the blog, not only to help her promote her book, but to share her one of a kind talent with you and to share the gift of her story and message as we head into the Christmas season. As we got several minutes into the interview, Beth asked, “Am I allowed to talk about my faith?” How could I say no? I’m so glad I didn’t, because that part of her story is very special. So consider this an early Christmas gift from me to you.
Beth Gully started BT Graphics in 1990, building her business on her core strength of logo design. After successfully running her business for 14 years, she noticed her business was beginning to decline. The September 11 tragedy started to impact the graphic design industry and two years later, after more than a handful of missed paychecks Beth says, “I dropped to my knees in complete submission to God. Business just got really bad and so I just had a moment of surrendering to God and [thought], if this isn’t where you want me, [then] this isn’t where I want to be. Believe me, it was through gritted teeth that I said that because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.” She surrendered the business.
God answered in a big way. It was after her act of “surrender” that business began booming again. New and old clients were coming in from everywhere creating some of BT Graphics’ most successful years. AND…this was the year her book idea was born. “I knew God was in charge and had a new direction for my life,” says Beth. She continued designing logos during the day, and worked on the book in the evenings and on weekends.
She explains that she made a commitment to work on the book every day whether it was for 3 minutes or 3 hours. That way the “space” between her and the book wouldn’t get bigger and become a wall. It took her seven years to finally get the book done. She then took another year to perfect it and make modifications. She did a test drive for that first Christmas and then made more modifications. Beth adds, “I saw that God was really touching people with [the book] and it gave me an opportunity to share some of the other ambigrams that I’ve done.”
An ambigram is a word or art form whose elements retain meaning when viewed from different directions. I mentioned to her that I thought her ability to create images in this manner was incredibly rare. (I’ve never met anyone who can do it.) She replied, “Well, I kind of thought everyone could do it, so I didn’t know any different. Did I tell you how my first one happened?” (No. I couldn’t wait to here this.)
Beth caveated her story by telling me that this experience happened before she “did” ambigrams. She begins, “I was working on my Christmas card that year and I like everything to have an “aha” factor to it. Nothing was really coming to me and I was really disappointed. I thought it’s my Christmas card. I have a deadline. So I thought, I’ll just write “happy holiday” real pretty and make it look like a snowflake. You know, I’m a graphic designer, I could probably do that.” (That alone impresses me as I am NOT a graphic designer and I wouldn’t even know where to start on this.) She goes on, “I wrote it out and when I came back to my desk after lunch, it had fallen on the floor. When I picked it up, I could see how the “y” in “happy” looked like the “h” for “holiday” in lower case. And so I worked on it for about a week and it kind of came together.” (We were talking through FaceTime, so she was drawing as she explained.) She asked if I could see the word “happy” (yes I could) and when she flipped it upside down it became “holiday”. This was Beth’s very first ambigram. It’s through this holiday design that she discovered what this type of art style was.
Since then she’s created about seven more. She describes, “The “worry” changing over to “prayer” [amibigram] is probably one of the most well received designs. When I give one [of the cards] to somebody, whether it’s in the grocery store, or on the street, or at the fast food line, they just start crying and they say, “You have no idea what I’m going through right now. My coworkers don’t even know, but this has really touched me.” Beth shares, “That’s why I feel like I’m supposed to be doing this. [The ambigrams] come to me, I can visualize them. I mean I’m as surprised when I do it as you are to see it, which is really fun because I only do it once, but I get to show it to a lot of people and watch their faces when they see it.”
When working at expo events, her biggest reward is when she notices that someone has fallen in love with her book and they start showing it to all of their friends. She says, “It just warms my heart. They’ve discovered this magical image and they want to show it to others so that they can be the one who delivers this cool awe-inspiring thing.” (Um, guilty! That’s why I did this interview. So I could be the one to share her awesome talent with you.)
Beth talked about a time when she had a huge faith step in her life. Her world had been turned upside down and she realized, as she put it, “Who’s I was on this earth”. And that changed her perspective on everything. So this time when she started to work on her Christmas card, she actually prayed first. She reminisces, “It’s so funny, because almost instantaneously the idea came to do Santa one way [and] Jesus the other way. It wasn’t an audible voice; it wasn’t a picture. It was just a sense. All I kept thinking was, “Well that’ll never work ‘cause Santa has a beard.” So I drew a beard. And then I said, “Well that will never work ‘cause Santa has a hat.” And I’d flip it over and it sort of looked like a medallion. And then the last thing I did, is that I remembered that [in] pictures I’ve seen of Santa, he has this little mustache and his lip is underneath. You know, for some reason it just kind of dawned on me at that time. I’m really not that visual to pay attention to Santa. Now I know why I was supposed to remember that and when I flipped it over, I remembered that every picture that I’ve ever seen of Jesus, his hair is parted down the middle. And then I sort of saw a halo over his head and that’s when I thought, ‘oh my gosh I think this can actually work’.” After finalizing the art, she turned it into her Christmas card that year. (I need to get on her Christmas card list!)
Twelve years later, a friend of Beth’s came to her and said, “You know, I think you should do a children’s book.” Beth describes the same Doubting Thomas reaction happened again. She shares, “We were in a restaurant and I said, “Well, that will never work. How am I going to come up with that many pictures?” So I said, “Well, if we’re doing a book about Christmas, we’ve got to have Santa flying overhead.” So I sketched a picture of a horizon and I put an arc in the sky. That’s all I did. And I could see Santa flying overhead. And then when I flipped it over I could see Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. This is on a napkin in a restaurant, right? We’re like, “Oh my gosh that’s amazing!” And so it occurred to me, you can’t make a book out of one picture, so I grabbed another napkin. On that one I drew the iconic stockings hanging on the mantle and I just did like three stockings and a box. And I flipped it upside down and I could see the shepherds and the manger.”
After those first two drawings happened, she realized that if she could come up with two ambrigram drawings in under five minutes, then God had a book for her to make. She accepted. (I’m so glad she did.)
Beth says, “I remember when the book was still at the printer and I was waiting for the shipment to be delivered. I was with a prayer group and I had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to ask for prayer about it. Not if the book would be good, but I wanted to pray for humility. I was afraid that when [the book] was released, if it did really well, then [the success] could go to my head and then it wouldn’t serve God the way that it was intended to. I just felt so odd asking someone to pray that for me, because I didn’t even know [the person] that well. I thought, “Oh she’s going to think I’m conceited, ya know?””
She talks about how stepping into the new world of being an author is “crazy”. She explains that when you’re an author, suddenly everyone thinks you’re this grandiose person. Says Beth, “I’m still the same person. I haven’t changed. I’m suddenly finding myself in shoes that I don’t feel comfortable walking in.” She shares a sweet story of a time at one of her book readings where a little boy came in wearing a sport coat and a vest. His mother explained that when she asked the boy before they left why he was so dressed up he said, “Because I’m going to meet an author!” Beth says, “I feel like I have to over-convey to people that I’m just another person. You can do this too. Let me show you how maybe you can figure out how to create images that God wants you to make. Or especially how to step out of your comfort zone and do things that God wants you to do that you may not feel that you’re good enough to do.”
That was her whole struggle while working on the book. It took Beth eight years to complete the book because the last five years she didn’t feel qualified to create the final illustrations for it. (Can you believe?) In truth, Beth wanted to hire an illustrator to do all of the art for the book using her sketches as the base. But, she explains, “God just over and over said, “No, you’re supposed do the art”. That’s why I didn’t want to do it for five years. [She felt] I’m not good enough. I’m going to ruin a great concept.” She adds, “I guess I’m still trying to accept the fact that the art is good enough.” Beth continues, “I remember several Christian leaders reminding me after seeing my sketches, that whatever my style is, it’s what it’s supposed to be. I don’t have to worry about what all the other illustrated children’s books look like. God’s doing this one and God doesn’t fit into a mold.” Beth shared how powerful that was for her and how it helped her to find the courage to finish the book. “God can use us all whether we feel like we’re good enough or not. I think that’s a really important message, especially to pass along to children,” concluded Beth.
Inspiration for Beth comes when she doesn’t expect it. For example, her “worry / prayer” ambigram card came to her when she was sitting in church and the Pastor said, “Worry is prayer in reverse.” Says Beth, “Well I didn’t hear anything he said for the next ten minutes. At the time, that was the fastest one I had ever made. What I had found was, [inspiration] came when people would say words. [The words] would resonate with me and then I would start wanting to doodle with it. If I tried to force it, then it didn’t happen. I’ve learned to accept that. It’s almost like at some point between when the person says a word and I receive it, something happens. Like it creates a spark and then it becomes something that I can do something with.”
She shares another story, “Did you ever read the book The Shack? I went to hear [the author] speak and he was talking about how he had a very rough childhood. He said as an adult [he learned] that until he surrendered his fear, he couldn’t find love.” She was listening to the speech again on a cd while driving out of town and all of a sudden found herself doodling on a scrap of paper, on the steering wheel, the word “love” and the word “fear”. The concept that the author had shared, that ‘once he let go of fear then he could find love’, resonated with her. When she finally stopped driving, she worked on her idea a little more. She wrote the word “love” and that looked pretty good, but “fear” didn’t look right. She put it down and returned an hour or so later. She says, “It was sitting on the bed and bing! It just came right together. And that was it. That was [inspiration] that was spoken language that I had heard.”
Two more of her amibrams came while she was reading the book Fifty Days of Heaven, by Randy Alcorn. She explains, “When I put the book down, I prayed, ya know, a little quiet time. And all of a sudden I had the idea to do “eternal / glory” as an ambigram. First of all I’m thinking, ”No! I want to have quiet time!” [LOL.] But it just felt real strong, so I pulled out a piece of paper and I did “eternal / glory”. The next day when I was reading, I did “heaven / new earth”. And those were all inspired because I finished reading a chapter and closed the book and then I did it.” Of course her “Doubting Thomas” returned with her once again thinking, “Oh that will never work because “new earth” has more letters than “heaven”.” She adds, “I always have all of these reasons why it’s not going to work and I don’t know why, after I’ve seen God show up so many times, over and over, why I keep doubting. I guess it keeps me grounded to know that I may not be able to make this work, [but] God can. I just need to always know, “Ok Lord, what are you going to show me today?” Maybe that should be my new motto.”
Throughout her logo design years, Beth has been chasing the coveted Gold ADDY, which is one of the highest advertising industry awards. Beth earned a silver “ADDY” 22 years ago (which she was thrilled about), but it’s not considered an ADDY unless it’s gold. She shares, “So I do this little book, I enter it in the competition, I get a Gold ADDY! The fact that it won that Gold ADDY just blew my mind. I mean the ADDY isn’t even a book competition, it’s a graphic design award.” I reminded her, “So you got what you asked for.” To which she replied, “Which is the way God works.”
Beth still has a passion for logo design. She shares, “When I see the logos I’ve created all around town, it just lights me up. I never had children, so they’re kind of like my babies scattered around the place. I’ve got over 400 logo designs out around the Midwest. That just feels really good to take everything a company stands for and convey that in this small image. To convey their industry, their niche in the industry, and the personality of the owner, and put all that in one thing, I just love doing that. I think that’s why I’m good at creating ambigrams because with ambigrams, every line has to mean something. Nothing is random. Everything has a purpose, just like a logo design.”
A new exciting project for Beth is that American Heritage Girls reached out to her to create a patch for the members to earn. The girls will get to draw an ambigram, answer some questions, and will do different exercises about connecting the Santa-centric Christmas traditions with the story of the birth of Christ. Beth shows me the patch and says, “We’re designing it so that they can put [the patch] on a button if they want [so you can rotate the patch and see the design in both directions] or they can just sew it on as a regular patch. I think that will help the book get some national exposure. But I know that what I’m doing is kind of an organic thing and I just have to let it take it’s ebb and flow and go wherever God wants this to go. I’ve decided I’m not going to push it any more. It takes all the pressure off.”
Beth is going into her fourth season with The Other Side of Christmas and is looking forward to booking events. She loves going into schools and drawing and inspiring the kids. Her next major focus is her new Easter book scheduled to be released in the Fall of 2018. (She begins drawing again to show me the initial inspiration for the artwork.) Beth describes, “So you’ve got the Easter Bunny and the word Easter, (she flips the image over) and now you have the Ascension of Christ and it says, “Risen”.” (GASP! I’m talking a full on audible gasp from yours truly. That image has been imprinted on me in a very important way.) Beth’s parting words, “There’s always more than one way to look at something. You can do anything . . . not only what you think you can do, but anything you even don’t think you can do. You can actually do it. I think it’s just about accepting the gifts that you have and allowing them to take the course that they’re suppose to take.”
To learn more about The Other Side of Christmas – An Upside Down Book, go to www.Theothersideofchristmas.com
To learn more about BT Graphics and Beth’s Flip Over Designs, visit www.BTGraphics.com