A blank tumbler, challenge lead to MD Leonard Designs

Featured Sliders / Food & Drink / HER Profile / Home Essentials / Stories / November 12, 2019

Story by Madeleine Leroux
Photos by Sally Ince

Misty Embrey Leonard had no experience decorating tumblers and no plans to start.

Then, her daughter gave her a blank tumbler, one she had leftover from her own project. When Leonard said she didn’t want a blank tumbler because it was ugly, her daughter’s response was simple — figure out a way to add glitter to it.

“I’m like OK, off to the Googles,” Leonard said with a slight chuckle as she added glitter spots to a leopard tumbler in her home workspace. “And sure enough, there was a way you could do it.”

Leonard did some research on methods and tips, and decided to give it a shot.

“I made it. It was not the prettiest thing in the world,” Leonard said.

But it was pretty cool, she said. So she posted a photo of her finished project on Facebook. Soon after, the comments began to roll in from friends and family who each wanted one of their own.

And MD Leonard Designs was born.

Leonard creates a leopard print design with glitter for one of her custom tumblers.

“It just kind of grew from there,” Leonard said.

She created a Facebook page for her business at her husband’s suggestion. The page began to grow a following, even from people Leonard didn’t know. Then she started taking orders, “after people kept hounding me.”

It wasn’t until earlier this year that her business officially launched, about one year after she posted that first tumbler to Facebook. She’s opened a shop on Etsy, in addition to her business page on Facebook, where the majority of her custom orders come from. All of her work is for custom orders; Leonard said she doesn’t keep any tumblers ready and stocked.

“I don’t have any in stock, I don’t keep a shelf full of stuff,” Leonard said. “Pretty much everything is custom.”

The only exception to that this year has been from her participation in the JC Holiday Mart, held in early November. It’s her first year participating in the event, which features local vendors and donates admission prices to various nonprofit organization in Jefferson City. For it, Leonard said, she had to get a stock built to have at her vendor booth where people could shop and buy one on the spot.

Leonard shows some of her most popular tumblers.

Leonard said customers typically see an example of something she’s done on her Facebook page and will request some changes to it for their own custom order. Her biggest seller lately is a hand-painted plaid tumbler. But what’s popular changes quickly — for a period, her striped tumblers were the most popular. Some of her tumblers that have sayings on them, such as “Working on my six pack” with an image of six doughnuts or “This coffee tastes like you should shut up until I finish it,” prove to be very popular, as are her custom lids for wine glasses. (Who hasn’t thought at some point that wine glasses need lids?) Another very popular one has been a tumbler with the words “Wake Pray Slay” on it.

“I can’t figure it out, there’s no rhyme or reason for it,” she said.

The majority of her tumblers have some type of glitter on them. In her workspace, she has drawers of different colors of glitter for all occasions. Leonard jokes that her home has become “the glitter house,” as anyone who has worked with glitter knows that it gets everywhere and is impossible to get rid of.

The majority of her business comes from word of mouth. And at this point, the business is not exactly profitable. For Leonard, the purpose is a creative outlet — it’s something she enjoys doing that allows her to dabble in design. In fact, Leonard said, about 90% of designs on her tumblers are created by her. She noted that she has purchased a couple of images that she uses, but tumblers are typically featuring a design she came up with. Each tumbler can take from four to six weeks to complete, as it’s a labor intensive process. (She noted that if she did nothing but the custom tumbler, she could probably get that down to about one week.) Leonard said she hopes she’s breaking even, as supplies are costly. That means her tumblers aren’t cheap — but between supplies and time, the prices are relatively low compared to her costs.

Some of Leonard’s custom tumblers on display.

“I’m never going to get rich off of it,” Leonard said. “It’s a very expensive side hustle … This really is a slow process. I’m putting a lot of time into it.”

Leonard still has a separate full-time job as a surgical assistant for oral surgeons. After work, she spends about four to five hours on average on her tumblers, with more time spent on them over the weekends. Some weekends see the majority of Leonard’s time allocated to tumblers.

For Leonard, each tumbler starts with that ugly, blank one, like the one her daughter first gave her. She purchases blank tumblers in bulk and then begins her designs. She makes the designs on her laptop using different computer programs before starting work on the tumbler itself. After she’s finished a design on a tumbler, she begins to apply her mixture of epoxy and then places the tumbler on a custom turner built by her husband and a family friend. The turner ensures the epoxy on the tumbler dries evenly, and it takes about four to six hours to cure before it can be moved and another 72 hours for it to be completely cured and ready to use.

“I pride myself on making a good, quality product,” Leonard said.

Check out Leonard’s tumblers at Facebook.com/MDLeonardDesigns.

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Molly Morris

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