Capitol Communicator is running “Up Close and Personal” profiles of communicators in the mid-Atlantic. In this profile, we feature Christine Coffey. Photography for the series is by award-winning Cade Martin.  Wardrobe, hair and makeup by Michelle Torres.  Wardrobe, hair and makeup by Michelle Torres.


Christine, please tell us a bit about yourself.

My dad is an ex-military engineer and my mom is a new-age artist at heart—and both sides war equally in me. It took me a while to learn graphic design would be my perfect outlet to be the Type A hippy, the creative calculator, the unplanned planner, the visual problem solver, the I’ll get to it eventually multi-tasker, the measured risk taker… I went to Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications for no other reason than I liked talking to people and thought it was as good a start at what I wanted to do as any. I fell into a class for this new major called graphic design and the rest is history.

After college I ran away, traveled Europe, interned in London, came home when the money ran out, moved around a lot, and landed in Washington, DC, at a small firm where I really had my hand in every aspect of the creative process. I started teaching design classes, got my masters in design at VCU in 2008, and because I am clearly awful at following The Plan™  decided to go back into business, partnering with a friend from graduate school to create Karnes Coffey Design in Richmond. We are a branding and creative marketing firm. What’s neat about us is that we are small, but nimble, allowing us to work with large national corporations down to small startups. I’m the owner and creative director.

Are you involved in any other organizations?

I’m involved in supporting more personal interest non-profits in my spare time—mostly Ronald McDonald House, and the American Heart Association. While I adore meeting and working with other creatives, professional organizations give me hives, mostly because I’m an introvert.

What are the things you are most proud of?

Personally I’m most proud of staying true to who I am and who I want to be for others. I’m proud of the family I have created with my two spunky girls and solid, supportive husband. Professionally, I’m most proud of the way we set up our firm so that we are always directly involved as the designer on every project we accept. I wouldn’t want to give up the making part of what I do.

Who are your personal role models?

I tend to find inspiration in most people I meet. It’s the beauty of us. When I look back at who has had the most positive impact it is most surely my dad, who raised me and my brother as a single father. My dad with his always gentle approach, but unwavering support. My dad who always made me feel he had time for me. My dad who sat me down at 15 with a spread sheet explaining how I’d be saving for retirement from then on. My dad who taught me every card game in the Polish and American book and would play with me anytime I asked. My dad for tearing apart my high school papers with red pen carnage everywhere. My dad who gave away all my bedroom furniture one day because “someone else needed it more”. My dad who didn’t bat an eye as I flipped from PR to biology to sports training to graphic design majors in college. My dad who let his 18-year-old just go off and travel Europe alone before cell phones. And on and on.

As an artist, a huge role model was a childhood friend’s mom. She was a multi-media artist and jewelry maker who worked from home. She was disabled during childbirth and developed MS as a result of being wheelchair bound. I’d sit with her for hours helping her with detail work on her pieces when her hands were too shaky. She had an infectiously positive personality, wicked sense of humor, and no nonsense attitude. She influenced heavily not only my interest in making, but also my outlook on life.

Did others offer professional advice that helped you in your career?

I’ve been lucky enough to have people who show, not tell. And I’ve been smart enough to learn from it. I’m an observer and an absorber. A lot is going on in my head. I do clearly remember the moment I decided to accept my first full-time position as a designer. I was interviewing with my future boss and he said “We like to work hard while we’re here, then we like to go home.” I’ve always worked hard to maintain a passion for work, and a passion for home life as well.

What professional advice do you have for others?

Be yourself. It’s cheesy, but people work with me because I am who I am. Work hard. Take responsibility. Nurture and follow your intuition. Think about the whole. Do what’s right for you, not everybody else. Go travel. Collaborate with other experts in their fields. Connect with people in meaningful ways. Slow down. Teach others your secrets.

What’s on your Spotify and Pandora playlists?

I have two daughters—9 and 5—and we always have music on. I continue to grow a badass, but clean, “women singing about anything but boys” playlist that we listen to mostly. Messages matter. So it’s a lot of Alicia Keys, Pink, Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Beyonce, etc. 

When I’m on my own I vacillate wildly between all sorts of genres—singer songwriters/alt country folks like Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Old 97’s and Ellis Paul to Broadway musicals like Les Miserables, Wicked and Rent to Top 40 radio with Lizzo, Imagine Dragons and Post Malone to pretty much anything but jam bands – sorry jam bands!

What’s your favorite restaurant?

That’s not fair. I love eating food more than many things. Whenever my family travels, we make a point to find the local places to try them out. We’re rarely disappointed.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

I’m a hugger, so when the coronavirus ends, look out.


About The Author

The only child of a university art professor and freethinker mother, Cade Martin grew up surrounded by shapes and images. His love of art grew out of summer vacations filled with trips to galleries, museums and art studios. At home he often found himself around the dinner table with an eclectic cast of characters – sculptors, writers and painters. They paraded through his childhood, shaping his art foundation and forming his appreciation for the candid beauty found in people from all walks of life. Cade’s been chasing characters ever since. He seeks out their stories-told through the architecture of their faces or the costumes they wear-whether he’s on a commercial production or setting up an Avedon-like photo booth at Comic Con. They are the heroes in his pictures. His thirst for capturing adventures took its hold while shooting stills on movie sets and then as a photographer for National Geographic covering the railways of India. And it is that sense of adventure that Cade brings to his productions elevating the ordinary to the extraordinary with a cinematic touch. It’s not just a picture. He’s committed to the experience, building beautiful environments and, sometimes for his portraits, simply building trust. A talented storyteller, Cade splits his time between the East and West Coasts creating images for editorial, advertising, fashion, and lifestyle clients

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