What It's About
A bartender-turned-artist sees opportunity in spilled ink.
Words of Wisdom
Ursula quickly realized the work she was creating, and the work collectors wanted to buy, weren’t the same. “Instead of figures and hands, they had landscapes and surreal pieces,” she said. “No one wants to look a painting in the eye.” But instead of giving up and walking away defeated, she drew on her experiences in high school and art college to help her update her style and bring it more in-line with what customers wanted.
Moral of the story—when creating something that you'd like others to buy (whether artwork or a product) make sure that it's something your customer is actually wanting to buy. Sure, you can make something that you need, but if you're planning on making it successful, make sure that it's useful for others as well.
Ursula Barton has built her entire art career on spilt ink. During a particularly trying period in her early 20s, she found herself broke and in the middle of a creative dry spell. In a fit of desperation, she spent the last $100 she had to her name on expensive ink and watercolor paper hoping to gain control over her creative muse. Unfortunately, disaster struck when she knocked her new ink all over her brand new watercolor paper.
She was completely devastated, but then some Portland skyline images she had snapped during her daily commute caught her eye, and she decided to overwrite her error with buildings. This unlikely incident gave rise to her first three drip-works featuring the Steel Bridge, the Hawthorne Bridge, and the Portland skyline. “It took that moment of spilling the ink and rolling with it,” Barton said. “That made me surrender.”
Notes from Chris
Ursula Barton always knew that bartending wasn’t her calling. Although she’d been in the service industry since she was 19, using it to fund her way through art college and her many travels, she believed that a more creative career was beckoning. On her bicycle commutes to her job, bartending for high-end catering companies in wealthy houses, she found inspiration in the cityscapes and rainy landscapes of her hometown of Portland, Oregon. The bridges, the skyline, and the not-always-sunny weather worked as a muse. But Ursula didn’t just want to create the work that she likes, she wanted to create work that people wanted to buy, which is when she had a great idea. She would use the access her job gave her to the houses of Oregon’s top echelon of earners, study the artwork they were buying, and use it to influence her own work. She took notes whenever she could on her shifts, snuck off for a glimpse at their pieces, and “painted” a picture of what would make her work profitable. What she found though was that people were looking for landscapes and cityscapes—paintings they didn't have to look in the eye. Naturally, she started catering to that Before investing all of her time and energy into bigger pieces, she started out running some tests on smaller pieces of her new work. Ursula put together some small postcard prints of her cityscapes and asked some of her favorite shops if they would sell them on consignment, where the shop takes a piece of the profit from each card. Once she got her first few sales under her belt, she knew she was onto a profitable side hustle and began to look to grow it. Ursula admits she’s not done a lot of marketing for her work. Instead, she focuses on keeping her work featured in different coffee shops and stores every month of the year, as well as word of mouth was more than enough to keep her business afloat. These prominent placements in stores also led to Ursula landing work creating murals for businesses and events around Portland, too. Murals also proved to be a successful marketing technique, and the exposure from them has allowed Ursula to quit her job and work full-time on her art. Right now she averages between $4,000 and $7,000 per month in revenue, of which she takes home around $2000 to $5000 in net income once all of her bills are paid.
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
- UrsulaBarton.com: Check out some of Ursula's landscape pieces on her website!
- Travel Portland & Trimet: Two of the local Portland businesses that commissioned some of Ursula's work
- Pottery Barn Commissions Art from Independent Photographer: How an independent photographer ended up creating a hustle that brings in a third of her total income
- Real Estate Consultant Fills Apartment Buildings with Original Artwork: How a woman in Seattle who works as a real estate project manager during the day started a side hustle that literally appeared in front of her. After making $12,000 from that first year-long hustle, now she’s building it into a mid-sized business that she hopes will replace her day job income
- Freelance Illustrator Helps Other Artists Sell Their Work: A successful illustrator creates a side business earning more than $25,000 a year by helping artists sell their work online
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