This week, I'm giving the spotlight to Marissa Huber, a Philly based artist with a love for color and a lot of heart. We've been pals on instagram for a little while and I've really loved watching her work develop over the last few months - I'm excited to see more from her! Read on to find out all about her shop and her plans for the future.
Being a small business owner myself, I love to hear the origin stories of other makers. When and how did you decide to start your own business? What is your creative background?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have an urge to draw, paint, and write. I was similarly obsessed with working in an office, and would read about kid entrepreneurs, and create fake forms with copy paper. My parents encouraged us creatively, and I was fortunate to take art classes throughout my life and visit art museums whenever we travelled. Though art was always a constant, in school my priority shifted to competitive platform diving and water polo, which I was very involved in. Senior year, I questioned if I was a true artist, since my life did not revolve around art and I lacked focus. I ultimately decided to pursue Interior Design in college instead of Fine Arts. It was the perfect blend of artistic sense with creative problem solving, analytical reasoning, and business.
Over the years, I would create illustrations and art for others, but I didn’t take myself seriously yet, or have the confidence needed to put myself out there. When I was 27, my younger brother, Andrew, passed away at 24. He was one of the greatest people I ever knew, but suffered from bipolar disorder and was a recovering heroin addict. During this pivotal moment in my life, it helped me through my grief to paint, and draw, just like we did together as kids. I felt so sad that he didn’t have time left to pursue his own dreams, and I felt that I owed it to him to make sure I did everything I could do to take my own dreams seriously for both of us. It was my way of bringing him with me through my life. My ultimate goal was to someday have a percentage of sales to go to the scholarship fund that my family set up in his name, aimed at students who needed a second chance.
My first try at an official business was my Etsy shop then called “Mariss + Drew”. It wasn’t successful at the time, but I was proud of myself for being scared and still putting myself out there. I had a knitting blog at the time, and my art gradually took over. My close group of knitting friends and blog friends were so supportive of my artwork, and I believe it was a major factor in my path. My Etsy shop may have not made a ton of sales, but through my knitting community, I had commissions to create cards for special projects, house portraits for move announcements, and illustrations for a published pattern catalog. Every small step along the way gave me more confidence to say yes to the next request.
After I sat back and really thought about how to make a business successful, I decided that I needed to shift my focus. I started a new website and blog under my name. I changed my Etsy shop to my name also so that it was not confusing for customers. I had always wanted to try oil paint, and my husband (who happens to be a phenomenal oil painter and art professor), really encouraged me. He suggested that I start with color studies to practice mixing the paint. I decided to start a color study project, where I would paint whatever colors that caught my eye that day, and it would be in watercolor, oil, cut paper, whatever, but on a 5”x7” paper. Having limits really helps me creatively, and I made almost 100 color studies over the next year or so. When I was done, I put them all in my Etsy shop and posted it on my blog. Some of them sold and to people I didn’t know. I thought more about what I wanted to do as well as what people wanted to purchase.
In 2013, two major things happened. I had a baby boy, Henry Andrew. At the same time, I got the opportunity to create watercolor interiors for an up and coming designer. We agreed that we’d see what we could get done for her deadline, but I was game to try. Having my mom to help for 5 weeks and being off of my day job helped. I found that having to work between Henry’s naps/feedings made me more decisive and much faster. I didn’t allow myself procrastination excuses like my area needed to be cleaned first. I ended up getting all of the work done, but of course made sure that my son and my own wellness was the priority first, since you have to be realistic. Not to scare anyone off, since I love being a mother, but it was a bit overwhelming for me at first to have this awesome responsibility. In those 20 minutes here and there that I would paint, I felt like I was still myself, and not just the caregiver to this little human. Art made me feel like I was not losing the Marissa part of myself as my life was changing in those early and intense days.
There was something about having a child that made me want to be the best role model I could be to him. I thought, if I want to be an artist and sell stuff, why not? What is the worst that will happen? The worst things in life are when you lose people you love, not when you think you look stupid. I care less about what others think about me as I get older. I am not here to be the exact same type of artist that my husband is or our friends are, but it doesn’t make me less of an artist, just different. There is room for all of us.
How did you decide to focus on your medium & style?
My style is instinctively loose, sketchy, and fast, and I used to create the drawings in black ink first and fill in with markers or watercolor after. In the past year though, I’ve been limiting my use of black ink as a way to define shapes and dimension, so that I can become better at doing that through color itself. I think my style will always evolve and change as I learn more and grow, but there is a common thread throughout.
I’ve always loved watercolors because they’re easy to use in regards to clean-up. It’s a medium that feels natural to me. When I worked in the world’s best independent art store during college (Pygmalion’s in Bloomington, IN), I learned so much more about watercolors, and used my store credit to upgrade to a Schmincke 12 pan set. From there, I never looked back, and it’s the medium I always reach for first. Once I had my son, watercolor was my medium of choice because it requires minimal set-up, you can stop and start relatively easy, and there’s no fumes to worry about. I have a huge porcelain palette with 32 wells that I fill with my tube watercolors. I will refill it and work with that for months at a time, in addition to my pan set. Watercolors last for a long time, and it’s a great investment.
Other mediums and techniques that I’ve also used and love include gouache, watercolor inks, acrylic & oil paint, colored paper collage, gocco/screen printing/linocuts, and ceramics. I basically want all of the colors of any art supplies I can get my hands on!
Have you set any exciting goals for yourself or your business for 2015? What can we look forward to seeing from you!
Yes, I am so excited for 2015! I decided that this is the year I’m really going to focus on growing my art business. I had a brainstorming session with Caitlin Bacher of Little Farm Media (http://www.littlefarmmedia.com) for tips on using my Social Media better to market my business. I started selling prints on Society 6, and have offered painting commissions of people’s sentimental items as well as house portraits in my Etsy shop. I am participating in Elle Luna and The Great Discontent’s #The100DayProject, which is my favorite thing right now. I would love to one day paint watercolors for interiors in a book or magazine, so decided to do a daily watercolor of home vignettes for this project. I am fascinated by seeing how other parents of small children can carve out time for art, and asked other artists to share their tips in a blog series I’m kicking off in May. Lastly, I think it would be really fun to offer some type of monthly watercolor subscription package, where you sign up for 4 months, and I mail you something. I’m still figuring it out, but I was inspired by finally signing up for a CSA farm share at work! Maybe it’s a collaborative effort? If so, I’m calling you, Bianca!
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their own self-made business?
First of all, we all believe in you! The wonderful community of artists/makers is so supportive, and most of us want you to succeed. Find your people in this community and don’t listen to those who doubt you. If you want it bad enough and do the work, you can achieve something. Maybe at first it is fulfillment creatively from a boring day job, or just earning extra spending money. Your success does not have to be the same as someone else’s success, so try not to compare yourself too much. Just keep going one small step at a time.
My advice on one thing that would make the most impact is to create a great feed on Instagram, post your work daily, and use relevant hashtags to find your people. Also, be supportive of others starting out like you!
Start a blog, create a website, start telling people what you do! One thing I started doing is to keep 3 things. I have a list of future ideas so I don’t forget them, a list of big dream goals, and a list of Holy ---- Moments. Add to those lists, and refer to them when you need a boost or want to remember why you’re working on a side business after a long day at work, or your kids are in bed.
When you're not creating, what do you love to do?
These days, I try to spend as much time as I can with my young son and husband. When the weather is nice, I love being outdoors to play outside and meet up with friends. I’ve become obsessed with Marie Kondo and Minimalism in recent years, and KonMari’d a lot of my apartment to eliminate chaos from my daily life so I can focus on my family and art hustle. When I have time, I like to read, knit, cook, bake, and watch more TV than I should these days!
Lastly, can you share three of your favorite artists?
I have to list my husband, Mike East (www.mikeast.com) first, because he creates huge cityscape paintings from life and is phenomenally talented and the hardest worker I know.
Something in my heart bursts when I see illustration in watercolor and gouache. I love the work of Virginia Johnson http://virginiajohnson.com. Her beautiful style inspires me to be looser with my own. I have been a huge fan of Penelope Dullaghan’s (http://penelopeillustration.com) work for years, and really enjoy her daily patterns she’s creating lately. A newer artist to me is Monika Forsberg (http://www.walkyland.com) Her style is unique, I like the flatness in some of the colors, and her palette is unusual in the best of ways.
Follow Marissa in her artistic adventures here:
Website & Blog: www.marissahuber.com