PROfile is a series of interviews with artists and creative souls who have built businesses around their craft and passion. We’ll dig deeper to try and find out everything you could want to know from seasoned pros who have experienced the full gamut of highs and lows that come with running a creative business.
This week we interviewed Mixed Media Artist Samantha Russo, who’s work is full of colour, energy and positivity. She’s a perfect example someone who might seem quiet on the surface, but who’s work exposes an exuberant and colourful inner life. I just love that art has the power to make us seen!
What was your first ‘proper’ job and how did you land it? Was it what you intended to do as a career?
My first ‘proper’ job was as an ESL teacher at a community college in Queens, NY. It was what I had intended to do as a career and what I had gone to school to study. I had always been fascinated with languages and the language learning process so I felt that being an English Language Instructor was a good practical job for that.
Has art always been in your blood?
I do think that art has always been in my blood, though I was always someone that I admired artists rather than being the person making the art. My mother was an oil painter and she had her own studio and showed in galleries so I grew up surrounded by art and going to museums. In college, I took a lot of art history courses, though I was too afraid to take a studio art course. I just assumed I was never good enough.
What’s your main creative discipline and how did you get started in it?
My main creative discipline is mixed media painting. I started as an illustrator and dabbled with the idea of going into surface pattern design. I was self-taught and took some classes here and there. Eventually, I felt that pattern design was not satisfying my itch creatively. I began exploring mixed media painting and embarked on a #100dayproject of just creating in my art journal every day. That project is what got me into focusing more on mixed media work, which is what I continue to focus on today.
Do you see yourself as introverted or extroverted, and does being either affect the way you work?
I am a hopeless introvert. I love to work best in my own quiet space, but with two small children around that is not always possible. I’m learning to work with the sounds of children in the background and constant interruptions since that’s the stage of life I’m in right now.
What is your favourite kind of commission, and why?
My favourite kind of commission is one where I can collaborate with the client. I like the idea of creating something together and we can join ideas to make something truly beautiful for them.
How did you know you were ready to have your own business?
I wouldn’t say that I was ever fully ready to have my own business. It just seemed like a natural next step after I had accumulated a small body of work that I wanted to share with others. It was something I was afraid of doing and sometimes that’s a signal to me that it’s something I should definitely pay attention to.
How did you go about starting your own business?
I did a LOT of research. I took some online classes on how to start a small business and looked at what my contemporaries had done to see what the best path to take was for me. I then applied what I had learned, experimented with different platforms, cried some, and then eventually landed on the decision to create my own website. It is an ever-evolving process. Right now, for instance, I’m taking a break from my website to really take the time and focus on what values I want to guide my business and reassess my goals.
How did you secure your first clients?
Word of mouth and Instagram marketing were my main paths to making my first sales. I had a lot of supportive friends and family that helped to get the ball rolling.
What is your typical daily routine like?
Oh, that I had one! It changes every day. In general, I like to get most of my creative work done in the morning while the kids are in school. The house is quiet. It’s delicious. That way, when they come home, I can focus my attention on their needs and on being mom.
What traits do artists have that help with running a business?
Creative problem solving is the first thing that comes to mind. That is crucial in business as the unexpected is always happening and business owners need to find ways to meet those challenges and come up with solutions. Artists are also innovators, which makes running a business ever new and exciting.
How does being an introvert (or an extrovert) help or hinder you when it comes to business?
I would say that being an introvert is a challenge when it comes to the face-to-face side of business. For instance, wholesaling and selling at art fairs can be a part of the business, but it’s something that I’m also terrified of since it would mean approaching potential buyers in person and making a pitch. That can be seen as a hindrance to an introvert, but it’s something that I know I can overcome once I just get myself out there and try. Sometimes, as in building my website, it’s just getting over that initial fear. Once that’s out of the way, it’s easy to learn and move forward.
Do you have a favourite medium or technique?
My favourite mediums are acrylics, paint pens and oil pastels. I love the richness and vibrancy of those mediums.
What’s been the most beneficial business decision you’ve made?
The most beneficial business decision I made thus far is to just start. I could have gotten lost in the cycle of always having to do more and more research, but at some point, I just said enough is enough. I have learned far more about myself and about running a business by just doing the work instead of waiting for the ‘right' answers to come from an article, course or book.
Artists and writers often describe the compulsion to work – do you experience an overwhelming desire to create something new?
Definitely. If I hadn’t created in a while, I get terribly antsy. Part of why I create in the morning is because I can’t stand to wait to get to my supplies and start cranking things out!
Do you ever feel alone in your work?
Always. I don’t really have many in real life artist friends, so it can be terribly lonely. Part of what is beautiful about the internet and social media platforms such as Instagram is that I’ve been able to meet other makers and we can share our process together.
How do you relax?
I relax by reading a good book and by journaling. My other love aside from art is writing. It is always so therapeutic and I come to a lot of clarity by journaling daily.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere. Right now, my main source of inspiration is my kids and their artwork. I love the freedom and intuitive style in which they create and it’s something that I strive to embody in my own work.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Listen to your gut. Don’t waste your time trying to people please and make others like you. You are an artist. Don’t be afraid to listen to that voice and follow your dream.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered as someone who loved deeply. Loved life. Loved her family. Loved to create.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
The best moment of my career so far was being able to donate profits from my holiday sales to the International Rescue Committee. Giving to causes I believe in is so important to me in this day and age and it was incredibly rewarding to be able to use my art for good in that way.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is being able to spend my day doing that which brings me incredible joy, which is making art. Simple.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your business and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I face right now is trying to find a balance between making art and running a business. At the end of last year, I felt that I swung too far in the direction of running a business and was missing time that I wanted to spend creating. I still haven’t quite figured it out, but I decided to start off this year slowing the business side of my work down so that I can go back to just making art. I can’t say that I have a good answer to that just yet since I’m still in the process of learning.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Listen to your Intuition.
If you could have dinner with any inspiring person (past or present), who would you choose?
Easy. I am obsessed beyond measure with Lin Manuel Miranda. I have a million questions for him about his creative process and how he manages to stay so grounded and focused creatively in the light of all his success.
Want more? Head this way for more PROfile interviews.