Hi friends! For those of you who weren't able to make it to the Tech & Hustle event that I spoke at this past Monday, I thought you might enjoy reading what I talked about! Here's my talk, and at the bottom you'll see pics from the event. It was a fun night, and I was so flattered to be picked to talk about my work alongside three other creative business owners + Weebly, Google and Square!
Hi everyone! My name is Mandy and I’m a painter based in Richmond, Virginia, I graduated in 2012 from VCUart school, and I specialize in abstract and figurative work – some of which you can see behind me. My work is sold through consignment or wholesale to multiple stores local to Richmond, I use Square to sell my art at pop-up shops, and I have an online inventory of my work that I am constantly updating which is available for purchase through my Weebly website.
I have been a commissioned artist since 2007, but it wasn’t until roughly 3 years ago when I began blogging about my work consistently, that things really took off and I was able to go full time. From 2014-16 I blogged Monday – Friday each week, including on Christmas, and vacations – I was obsessive about it. For a long time it felt like I was talking to myself, but eventually people started to take notice of my little corner on the internet and it paid off. I wrote about the work of artists I admired, I reviewed supplies, interviewed entrepreneurs and posted about upcoming art-related events. In 2015 I was named the Visual Artist of the Year for Richmond, VA by the indie arts organization, RAW: National Born Artists. I attribute this completely to the votes I received from loyal readers of my blog. My posts continue to grow in views each month, which has led to sponsorships with some of my favorite companies granting me an additional source of income AND enough free paint and brushes to last a lifetime!
My blog and my art are driven by the main goal: make art more relatable. One of my biggest pet peeves is the exclusivity and intimidation that surrounds much of the art world, especially in many gallery and museum settings. When my work is in shows, people are so hesitant to ask me questions about my work, apologizing for not knowing how something is made. I want people to feel comfortable talking to me, and other artists about their work – because one of the main reasons why we artists create is to share it with each of you!
Now for how it all started -
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be an artist. When I was about six years old, I went with my mom to my big sister’s cheerleading practice. On the bleachers, I faced the opposite direction and drew pictures. Another mother in the stands offered me one dollar for one of my drawings. With my capitalist father’s genes fiercely coursing through my veins, of course I was sold. I was just a little kid and already I knew that was what I was meant to be doing. Art + money = validation & happiness!
10 years later, I was 16 and armed with my very first website “FitzyFace.com”. I created custom portraits, mainly of babies. Back then, I didn’t know about Weebly and website templates were ROUGH and I had no knowledge of online checkouts. There was no Square. Customers would mail cash or a check for me to buy supplies along with a print out of whatever they wanted me to draw – because Google Drive was not a thing and emailing digital photos was not common practice. I would create their drawings based off of their crinkled edged 4 x 6” Walmart print out, and then I’d send them the finished drawing and receive my final payment. Progress shots was not a thing unless you could meet me in person, which wasn’t allowed because I was 16 years old and they were strangers. It was not the best process, but I worked like this for a while and even though it wasn’t ideal – I was still making money for doing art, and that was the whole idea –right? Plus, I loved how excited people would get when I’d complete something they recognized.
I went to art school hoping for the same approval. But VCUarts isn’t going to give you what you don’t deserve. Rather than the encouragement and positive reinforcement I was showered with for being a big fish in a small pond at my high school, in college I’d sit in critiques, with my work hanging on the wall and my classmates surrounding it – saying nothing. This was far worse than any insult, my teachers and peers didn’t think my work was worthy of even talking about. That was when something finally clicked for me. They wanted more, they wanted to know my inspiration – they wanted the work that I created to have depth – to not just exist for the purpose of looking pretty, and when I was honest with myself – I wanted the very same things. I had stories that I wanted to tell, but it took until then to realize that others wanted to hear them. That was when I started experimenting with abstraction. I researched color theory and learned that certain colors can evoke certain emotions, and I dug deeper into my own heart to find the purpose of why I felt the need to create in the first place. My style continued to evolve after that – I gave up drawing babies and moved on to the figurative series that I’m focused on today – which explores my own personal struggles with mental illness. It’s not always pretty, but it is the most genuine, and the work I am most proud of.
So now you’re all caught up to about a month ago when I received the email from Dana asking if I’d talk about my work and the biggest struggles I have as a small business owner -
I thought to myself, I’ll talk about time management…or…no I’ll talk about how having an inconsistent paycheck each month can be frightening… no, there’s something bigger – that I think once you figure out – you’ll be set for life.
Something that I discovered from an unlikely source, a Japanese tidying expert. Now i’m going to go off topic for a bit here to bear with me – who here has heard of Marie Kondo? Her book “The life-changing magic of tidying up?” Well for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about – Kondo is a tidying guru. She teaches her clients about the importance of removing the items in your home that no longer spark joy. She insists that every reader pick up each individual item in their home – and while holding it in their hands, ask themselves “Does this bring me joy?” If the answer is yes, you keep it. If the answer is no, you donate it, or trash it.
She talks about how after reading her books, clients have left abusive relationships, started a new job that their passionate about – and made other life changing decisions after completing their home transformations. When I read this book, I thought “this chick is nuts”. But my sister told me that since she’d been reading the book her infamously messy kitchen was cleaner, so I got started.
I quickly realized that here was a lot of validity to what this tidying expert was talking about – and it applied not only to my worn out t-shirts, but to my business as well. I took a close look at my process and realized I was doing so many things that did not bring me joy, when I went into this career with happiness as my goal.
I felt guilty for not loving each part of my job – when I’d spent so much time working to get to this place.
The in between space before you become full time – I think that is when your mind is clearest. That time when your current job is driving you nuts, it’s so easy to say that once you’re full timing it doing XYZ you’ll be happy. When I was just starting out, drawing babies was not paying all the bills so I had about a half dozen random part time jobs that I did throughout college to keep my head above water. From teaching drunk women how to paint flowers at “Wine and Paint” parties, to filing, to the most glamorous of all of jobs – getting paid by a busy working mother of two to clean out her refrigerator once a week. It was disgusting. Of course it was easy then to say “This strawberry scented goo sticking to the vegetable drawer does not bring me joy. Creating art that I’m passionate about brings me joy”
But what happens once you’re “there” once you’ve “made it”. You have enough clients, enough savings to leave the tipsy daisy painters and expired dressings behind! You’re a full time small business owner! Yay! Are you happy now? Does every aspect of the marketing, the photographing of your new work, the branding, receipt tracking, do all of those tasks bring you joy? If so – good for you! For me, that wasn’t the case and that surprised me a lot more than it should have. That once I “made it”, there were parts of my job that just plain sucked – but they weren’t “refrigerator strawberry goo” kind of suck, so I kept doing them. What I didn’t realize is that I was sabotaging my own business by not delegating these tasks to others who would not only do a better job, but do it quicker – so that I would actually be saving money. Which is why I hired a professional product photographer [Rebekah Brunson Studios], who now comes to my studio each month and takes images of my new work. I hired a branding specialist [The Routine Creative] who created my new logo, business cards, and helped me create a palette to draw from each time I update my website.
Then there’s the more subtle helpers – and
That’s where Weebly comes in – because blogging is such a huge part of my business, having a site with user friendly templates and even better customer service– is essential. I’m able to insert text, photos, videos, and even my own coding into each post – saving me time. The added bonus of having the Weebly app on your phone – means that each time a customer makes a purchase, I hear the satisfying “caching!”
That’s where Square comes in – being able to easily sell my work at pop up shops with just a swipe of the card, OR when I forget my card reader, I can simply type the card numbers into my Square app and “voila!”
That’s where GSuite comes in – being able to send massive files through GoogleDrive has been a huge help, especially when I’m creating content for my sponsors and I have to share multiple large files with them. It keeps everything organized and easy to navigate.
By taking full advantage of each of these sources – I’m able to spend more time creating and more time marketing to the audience who appreciates (and purchases!) my work the most.
Allowing yourself to evolve and hone in on what is most important to you, are the biggest game changers you can make when you’re an entrepreneur. – when I started, I drew babies and cleaned refrigerators. Now I get sent boxes of free paint in the mail and I’m paid to create art that helps others feel less alone. Always remember to check in with yourself and make sure you’re doing the best you can not only for your business but for your mental health. Because if you’re not happy, then what’s the point? Remove the things in your life that no longer bring you joy. And Remember that it’s progress for your goals and dreams to change, as long as you’re always pursuing happiness – you’ll be moving in the right direction.
Hi friends! Welcome to the blog! I'm Mandy and I'm an artist, blogger & founder of the "Artists to Know" interview series. Here you'll find photos of my latest art adventures, furniture makeover projects & advice from successful artists!
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