Mar 11, 2024 | Featured Entrepreneurs

Miranda Vitello: Sharing the Enjoyment of Art

Miranda Vitello
Etsy Shop Owner, MirandaVitelloArt
Logo for Miranda Vitello
Miranda Vitello

Etsy Shop Owner, MirandaVitelloArt

Logo for Miranda Vitello

Miranda Vitello has always had a passion for art. “It goes back as far as I can remember,” she smiles, “In nursery school, I loved the coloring table.” She recalls early art activities, such as tracing a cat stencil and then coloring it in. When she was only four years old, she received further encouragement, winning a Care Bears™ art contest. Vitello continued to draw throughout her childhood and teen years for enjoyment and chose to study art in college: “I majored in art history, mainly because those were my favorite classes.” She finished school and started a career in nonprofit development, but always found ways to follow her passion for art.

Studying the Masters
Vitello wanted to see the world’s greatest art in person, so she saved her money assiduously and traveled to see the master works in the acclaimed galleries of France, Italy, and beyond. “Since I studied art history, I appreciate a wide variety of artists.” Pressed to choose a favorite style, she says, “Impressionism has influenced me the most – the colors, the brushwork. When I first started oil painting, I did some of my own copies of famous Impressionists like Monet and Renoir. I find them inspiring.” Given that influence, Vitello’s style is less realistic and more colorful and whimsical. “Even if I’m painting from a photograph,” she explains, “I’m not worried about copying everything exactly as it appears. When I paint a city like Paris or Prague or Santorini, I do try to make landmarks recognizable, so people who have been there can immediately identify the city or the scene. But other than that, I’m trying to capture an impression – a feeling.”

Evolving and Improving
For Vitello, exploration is an important part of her artistic practice – she experiments with many media including drawing, watercolor painting, oil painting, and collage. “I’ve also started – just this year – doing more digital art in an attempt to use less paper.” She enjoys trying different styles and studying a wide variety of subjects. She paints flowers, birds, animals, architecture, and scenes. “It’s a learning process,” she explains. “I think most artists would say that their current work is their best work and what makes them most proud.” She likes to create art on location or paint scenes of places she would like to go. “I feel like art is definitely an evolving process and you’re always improving as you continue to create.”

Zoom Life Drawing Sessions
In working to improve their skills, many artists focus on learning to better paint the human body. (The level of difficulty has been illustrated recently by the bizarre attempts by new AI tools to generate usable images of human beings.) Artists who wanted to work on their “life drawing” skills used to have to take art classes at schools, where models would pose on site, often in the nude. However, during the pandemic, new online “life drawing sessions” appeared over Zoom. Now, nude models can offer their own posing sessions online, providing artists with many more chances to paint live human subjects.

Vitello says that she still attends these sessions at least once a week, commenting, “I’ve now done hundreds of these life drawing sessions, and that has really helped to improve my drawing and painting of people.” One of the challenges of this kind of art is that the model’s poses change: “Typically, there will be a variety of pose lengths, so a model will start with shorter poses, maybe five minute poses, and then work up to longer poses about 20 minutes,” Vitello explains. “You see rapid improvement as you learn to draw faster.” She participates in a vibrant online art community, posting her latest work on Instagram and sharing and commenting with other artists who are working on their craft.

Piles of Paintings
Vitello explains that her path to small business was driven by necessity. “I love to paint, and now that I’ve been painting seriously for more than a decade, I have just piles of art in every corner of my apartment.” She began to sell because she was running out of space. “Even now, I have over 100 oil paintings in my apartment. I paint on canvas boards; they’re not as big as a stretched canvas, but they still take up a fair amount of room.” So, she started looking into a way to find new homes for her art, sharing her paintings with others who might enjoy them.

Art as a Small Business
As Vitello explored ways to sell her art, she discovered several viable sales channels:

Gallery Show
Living in the Boston area, she has access to a variety of galleries that offer group shows, where an artist may be able to get a few paintings put up for display as part of a show with several other artists. Each artist would typically attend the show to discuss her work in person. “If you’re a more established artist, you may be invited to do a solo show.” Either way, this is an expensive channel. She comments, “It does vary by gallery but the commission is often about 50%.” While she has sold paintings this way, Vitello sought a sales channel that was available more often.

Open Studio
An “open studio” event is organized in a particular city over a weekend. Artists and studios open their doors to visitors and sell their art in person. Vitello participates in open studio events in her area once or twice a year. “I make a nice display in my apartment for people to look at my paintings. The downside is that your audience only includes the people in your immediate area who are available on that weekend.”

Website
Many artists sell their work to a global audience over the internet, via their own website. Vitello explored this option and discovered that it was more complicated than one might think. The artist needs to pay one vendor to build the website, possibly another to host the site, and perhaps yet another to process payments. Shipping may be complicated and add additional costs, as well. And, just because you have a website doesn’t mean that anyone will visit it and buy your art.

Online Selling Partner
Vitello chose not to develop her own website, selecting Etsy as her online selling partner. “They make it very easy to sell your art, so that was the main reason that I chose Etsy.” In addition to providing a user-friendly process, the partner was more economical than other options: “They take a small fee for each item that you list in your store and also for each sale that you make, but it is a fairly small fee. It’s not the 50% that you would often give to a gallery.” She noted that there are several online selling partners, but she felt that most people have heard of Etsy, especially if they’re looking to buy art. So, that provided a chance that a person who was searching for something specific might run across her store.

Brand Considerations
One thing Vitello discovered as she started to sell her work was the need for brand consistency. While she explores all kinds of art, she selects only a specific set of paintings for her Etsy store. “I do differentiate the work that’s part of the brand for the Etsy store. MirandaVitelloArt on Etsy is specifically my oil paintings that are family friendly, appeal to all ages, and could be placed anywhere to hang.” She shares her other work on Instagram and other art communities.

A Theme: Paintings for Children’s Rooms
Over time, Vitello has discovered that the work in her Etsy shop is attractive to parents of young children. “A lot of people who have bought my art have told me that they put it in their children’s bedrooms. I didn’t paint with young children in mind, but that has been a theme of my art that it does appeal to children.” She feels that the bright colors and universal subjects (flowers, birds, animals, landscapes) engage a broad audience, speaking to all ages. She does seek an upbeat mood in her oil paintings: “When I paint animals, I always try to make them look a bit happy, so people will be happy when they look at it.” She continues, “I hope that my art adds color and beauty to any room that it’s in.”

Commissioned Work
While she generally chooses her own subjects, Vitello has completed some commissioned works, usually as variations on work she has already created. For example, during one of her open studio sessions, a particular painting attracted a lot of attention: It was a little girl holding up two donuts in front of her face as if she were looking through them. “I got a lot of comments on that painting,” Vitello remembers, “and I ended up selling it that day. Then, later, someone who had seen the painting before I sold it, asked me to do two new paintings of her children holding donuts in a similar way. So, Vitello says that she does sometimes choose subjects that she thinks will appeal to the Etsy audience.

Entrepreneurial Challenges
Vitello describes some entrepreneurial challenges that are unique to her business. For example, she has to wait six months before she can sell a new painting. “Because of the type of oil paint that I use, it doesn’t fully dry for about six months. Even though it will feel dry to touch, it’s still a little bit soft and doesn’t fully harden to the point that it can be safely shipped for quite a while.” She says that this is one factor that is influencing her exploration of digital art.

Also, she explains that there’s a lot more to selling art than setting up an online shop. While some buyers may end up at her shop as a result of searching on Etsy, she mostly needs to do her own marketing. “It is hard to get to the top of the list. You can see the number of views your shop receives and where those views are coming from, whether it’s driven by Etsy or driven by your own promotion. The majority of my traffic does come from me, from links that I share.”

“However,” Vitello says, “the biggest challenge in being an art seller is that most artists just want to focus on creating art. That’s what we like doing. We don’t enjoy the sales aspect as much.” She explains that it is typical for artists to have creative skills and far less common for them to have training or interest in marketing. “You definitely have to be a marketer if you want to sell art, and I am not personally interested in marketing at all.” She recalls that she had to do a lot of research to set up her shop, and she is still learning how to improve her sales.

Advice for Other Artists
Asked what advice she would give others who want to sell their art, she recommends that each person do their research, since what works for each artist is a little different. And, in general, she advises constant promotion: “Just share the link with everyone you know; post it on every social media site that you use.” If you choose to work with a partner like Etsy, she explains, any traffic that you drive to your shop will increase the probability that the algorithm will select it for new searchers. Finally, she says that it is important to continue to create new art and post it to your shop. In Etsy, for example, people who like your shop will get a notification whenever you post a new item, so it’s important to keep making posts to keep your shop in people’s minds.

Art as Enjoyment
While Vitello’s art has become a business, the art is still the best part. “The most fun for me is creating the art. I think that’s true for most artists.” For her, art is more than an object – it’s a feeling: “I think art is important for a lot of reasons, but for me it is about enjoyment. In my apartment, I hang my own paintings and paintings from other artists. I work from home, so I see art all day, and I really enjoy it.” Her Etsy shop is an extension of that, sharing art with people who appreciate it. “My biggest hope for people who would buy my art is that they would just be able to hang it somewhere where they can enjoy it or give it as a gift to someone who might find it fun.” While she occasionally paints with an eye toward something that will sell, her main focus is painting topics that she finds fun. “I want to enjoy painting, so that guides my choices. I would recommend to people who want to sell art that you focus on the subjects that you enjoy because those will be pieces that you can be proud of, and I believe that will reflect in your success with selling them.”

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