Students look to market art online

Students+look+to+market+art+online

Francie Johnson

Working while in college can mean anything from interning at a relevant company to asking, “Would you like fries with that?” and everything in between. For some students, though, a day at work doesn’t involve folding clothes, answering phones or waiting tables. It involves painting, carving wood and melting crayons.

Many University of Alabama students sell custom artwork on Facebook in order to do what they love and make a little extra money at the same time.

Sarah Day, founder of Rags to Riches Artwork, developed her love of painting while taking art classes in middle school. Her passion for art continued to grow, and in the summer after her freshman year at the University, Day said she found her artistic purpose.

“You can be good at something your whole life and not know why,” Day said. “The summer of 2011, I began transforming pieces from an antique store in Fairhope, Ala., into beautiful restored pieces. I began to see Jesus in this as it so closely mirrored my life.”

Day said her faith both inspires and enables her to paint.

“Just five hours ago it was a white sheet, and now, if it inspires one person, it is worth it,” Day, a senior nursing major, said. “Jesus gives me a way to just be a vessel for my paintings. I am able to see their beauty and know that it may be my hands, but it is His life in me.”

Like Day, Huiying Zheng, a recent UA graduate originally from China, said she has loved art ever since attending painting classes as a child. After taking a five-year hiatus from art to focus on school, Zheng started painting again in December.

(See also “Creative Co-Op to display, sell student artwork“)

“I do it as a hobby, and people can support me to do that because all the canvases and paints [are expensive],” Zheng said. “If people can support me and I can practice, it’s a good idea.”

Zheng founded her business Acrylic Blends and Colors Designs in January. Her artwork depicting Nick Saban and the Alabama football team will soon be on display at Swen on the Strip, but her most popular commissions are portraits painted from photographs of people and their pets.

“[I paint pets] because I love animals,” Zheng said. “I had three cats and one dog in China, and so many people here love pets.”

Jordan Cowie, a senior majoring in criminal justice, also paints, but rather than working with canvas, she paints on wooden pallets she creates from scratch. To make these pallets, she carves and sands plywood and then uses nails and a drill to connect the pieces together.

“I hand-paint and draw everything, including the letters,” Cowie said. “I have never used a stencil, so none of my pieces look exactly the same.”

Cowie founded her business, Wood Ya Look at That, after her friends started asking her to make them artwork.

Color Me Creative founder Beth Barnes also creates her artwork using an entirely different approach, tape and melted crayons.

Barnes’ first venture into crayon art involved gluing crayons to a canvas, blasting them with a hair dryer and letting the colors drip down the page to create a version of the Internet-famous crayon-rainbow piece.

“I always liked the idea of crayon art,” Barnes, a junior majoring in history, said. “I just thought it would be a cool idea. Everyone can do quotes with paint, but crayon creates a whole different texture. The colors are a lot brighter. There’s a lot more options.”

After experimenting with her roommate’s birthday present, Barnes developed a method for incorporating quotes into her artwork. She fashions letters out of masking tape, places them on the canvas and melts crayons over the entire piece. Finally, she removes the tape, leaving behind white letters in a sea of color.

Barnes started selling her work on Facebook at the end of fall semester as a way to financially support herself during dead week and finals week. She sold four pieces in those two weeks, but said she hasn’t received any new orders this semester.

“The only difficult thing is trying to find people to buy [the art],” Barnes said. “I could make the stuff all day, but if no one’s gonna buy it, it’s a little bit harder.”

Barnes, Cowie, Day and Zheng all use Facebook as their primary advertising method, but Zheng said she also relies on word of mouth to attract new customers.

Cowie has only sold a handful of pieces so far. She said she will keep her business small-scale, local and cash-based for now. However, she said she hopes to eventually create a PayPal account, which would let her sell to more people and expand her business beyond just Tuscaloosa.

(See also “Student artist expresses personal experiences in paintings, prints“)

“I love painting and crafting, so it does not feel like a job,” Cowie said. “And since I am just doing local jobs and accepting cash, the business side is not a hard task at all.”

None of the four artists relies on art as their primary source of income. Instead, they view it as a side project, a way to make a little extra money doing something they enjoy.

“The business side is not too hard,” Day said. “Because this is just a supplemental income, it’s never something super stressful. When someone needs a painting, and I have time, I do it. It’s that simple.”

Depending on the month, Day sells anywhere from five to 20 paintings. She said she uses the money to support charities and cover some of the minor expenses of college life.

Even as a side project, running a business can often be time-consuming and challenging to balance with school, work and other activities. Barnes and Day spend anywhere from an hour to a day on their pieces, and for Zheng and Cowie, a single piece can take from a couple days to a week.

“It’s very hard to manage school and my love for art,” Day said. “I am in my last semester of nursing school, and I’ve made a few bad grades due to a study night that turned into a painting night.”

Besides making a profit, artists often find other, generous uses for their artwork. Barnes said she likes to give her melted crayon pieces as gifts.

“It’s unique,” Barnes said. “You’re not gonna be able to find anything exactly like it. No two are the same. And because you can customize it, you can make it say anything you want. I think it’s more special than just going and buying a gift card or something.”

For Day, creating art provides an outlet to give back to the Tuscaloosa community. Last year, she held Remember Art Show to support Alberta Baptist Church’s efforts to rebuild after the April 2011 tornado. One hundred bracelets and 75 canvases later, she raised $3,500 for the church’s tornado relief fund.

At the end of the day, art is more than just a business for these four students; it’s a way of life.

“Even if the business side of things does not pan out, I will always paint and craft for myself and friends,” Cowie said. “I will never buy a piece of art or something that I think I can do myself. I love the challenge and satisfaction of being able to do it myself.”

(See also “Student art gets time in spotlight“)