Gift Shop Plus Winter 2023
On-par humor: Subpar Parks advocates for national parks using one-star reviews By Carly McFadden

Subpar Parks takes a cheeky approach to promoting the nation’s most magnificent parks

Who would’ve thought one-star reviews could help to promote national parks?

The designs find humor in negative online reviews of national parks while promoting their beauty.
The designs find humor in negative online reviews of national parks while promoting their beauty.

Amber Share, owner of Amber Share Design & Illustration, did just that. Her brand, Subpar Parks, pokes fun at the negative online reviews visitors leave national parks and actually uses them to share more about the parks’ beauty and offerings.

Share began Subpar Parks in 2019 as she was looking for a project with enough structure that she’d be illustrating regularly. Being an avid outdoors-lover, creating the brand was a fitting next step.

“I’m out in parks as much as I can be, so it felt like a really natural project for me to draw all of the national parks,” Share said. “But I wanted something that I could add to it that would be maybe kind of funny or just show a little of my personality, too. I ended up stumbling upon some one-star reviews somebody had shared, and it was just like a lightning bolt — I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what I want to do.’”

Share’s bright, crisp designs portray the beauty of national parks with a funny phrase derived from a real one-star review. Examples include: “Goes on Forever” (Blue Ridge Parkway); “OK If You Like Cactus” (Saguaro National Park); “Fleeting Glimpse of One Bear” (Katmai National Park & Preserve); and “Too Many Mountains, Trees, Snow, Etc.” (North Cascades National Park).

The Subpar Parks book is a New York Times bestseller.
The Subpar Parks book is a New York Times bestseller.

In 2020, Share left her former job and committed to Amber Share Design full time due to high customer demand. Since then, she has released dozens of new designs and debuted her book, “Subpar Parks: America’s Most Extraordinary National Parks and Their Least Impressed Visitors,” a New York Times Bestseller.

At Subpar Parks’ founding, the product offerings were stickers, postcards and prints. While those remain the main merchandise categories, Share has also released puzzles, calendars and greeting cards, as well as an annual planner.

Subpar Parks products are available at ambersharedesign. com, and Share recently embarked on a wholesaling journey.

To create her designs, Share draws everything on her iPad using an app called Procreate. She said some designs are much more time consuming than others, namely the puzzle she created, featuring prints of all 63 national parks.

Share has visited about a third of the parks in person. When she’s designing a product based on one of those parks, she draws on her own experiences and photos. When illustrating a park she has yet to visit, Share finds the “iconic” landmarks and implements her own interpretation and design style.

“The puzzle was a huge undertaking because it was figuring out how to arrange 63 park posters, which is such an odd number of have, into rows that look nice and also would make a good and challenging puzzle,” Share said.

Subpar Parks products include stickers, prints, greeting cards and more.
Subpar Parks products include stickers, prints, greeting cards and more.

Share’s overall goal is to provide a laugh and entertainment for people who love and appreciate the national parks. Additionally, she plays a role as an educator, teaching people about the various national, state and international parks that they may have not heard of.

“It’s been really fun to share little snippets and facts about those parks,” Share said. “I’ve had so many people tell me, ‘I added this park to my list of places I have to visit because I learned about it on your account.’”

She added: “People are actually learning and getting more excited about parks through this project. I think it’s really cool that I can turn those negative reviews on their head and help people fall even more in love with parks.”

In addition to bringing awareness to the nation’s parks, Share said she hopes customers find some humor in her designs and go easier on themselves in their personal lives when they face critique.

“If a national park can get a one-star review, you don’t have a prayer of pleasing everybody,” Share said with a laugh. “A lot of them are protected because they are incredibly unique or beautiful or have something really important that the world needs to keep. I mean, these places are objectively kind of the best the planet has to offer — and there are still people that do not like it.”

Carly McFadden

Carly McFadden is the editorial director of Gift Shop Plus, Stationery Trends and Lawn & Garden Retailer.

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