Planning & Getting New Commissions | An Interview with Watercolor Artist, Grace Manning

Updated: Nov 28

Today I want to introduce one of my new favorite watercolor artists, Grace Manning. A friend of mine shared her work with me through Instagram and I've since fallen in love with her watercolor work. I reached out to see if she'd be open to sharing her creative advice on the blog and she said YES! Without further ado... here's Grace!


"Hello fellow creative, I am so honored that you're reading this. I hope that something I've experienced can help you in your own creative journey! "


Where are you from and what's your background? How old were you when you realized you were creative?

"So, a little background on me is that I was born and raised in Nashville, TN and am thus thoroughly tired of country music. I am almost two years into a wonderful marriage to my best friend, Cody. We now live in the Chattanooga area.


Like most creatives, I have always been the "artistic kid." I doodled through most classes and was always the one who decorated the hallways on homecoming weeks. It wasn't until my junior year of High School that I really gained any confidence in my artistic abilities."


What situation made you realize you were creative?

"My junior year English teacher entered me into an acrylic still-life painting competition without asking me beforehand.


The school was entering into the state-wide Beta competition (an honor society club for High School students) and needed someone to represent us in each subject area, including art.


Long story short, I had no idea what acrylic still life painting was a week before the contest.

I spent that week practicing and ended up placing. I was shocked and incredibly encouraged."


What obstacles have you encountered in your art business and what helped you overcome them?

"Ha, it would be harder to think of an obstacle that I haven't encountered. Honestly though, I didn't intentionally set out this year to "start an art business."


I was a master's student, studying Marriage and Family Therapy, and when quarantine hit, I started painting during all of my zoom classes.


When the semester ended, I decided to take a break from school and actually started to get my real estate license, studying from 6am to 11am most days and painting in the afternoon.


As you can tell, painting slowly started to take up more and more of my days, until it became so full time that I never finished my real estate classes, and here we are.


In that, I didn't really have time to save up a 3-6 month income as many are advised to do when starting their own business. I didn't prepare a website beforehand.


I had absolutely no idea how to actually run a business, or if I needed to pay taxes, or how to gain more than 100 followers on Instagram.


Essentially, I am learning it all by trial and error and by listening to anyone I can who experience in the field.


For watercolor artists or stationers (I am not a stationer, but these people both are) I do recommend the Tipsy Business Podcast by Carley Zuercher or Biz Birthday Bash Podcast.


And that's part of the trial and error. A lot of the advice that they've given is so helpful. At the same time, a lot of it is super overwhelming for where I'm at currently, or it's just not applicable to my specific business.


So it's listening to everyone, because their experience is valid and true for them, but weeding out what isn't relevant or helpful for my business.


The other largest obstacle is money, duh. It's super easy to fall into the trap thinking you need all these great things to make your business boom and you need them right now. But you cannot afford them all right now and you shouldn't go into debt trying to.


That may be bad advice for people who have investors and can make those leaps. But for most people who are starting this all on their own, the only things I suggest that you NEED to get are the materials you need to produce your product (but in bulk if you can), decent packaging materials (they can get better with time, but don't have crappy packaging), and a budgeting system!"


When it comes to planning and getting new commissions, how do you do it and what advice would you give a new artist who wants to follow in your footsteps?

"As far as planning out new commissions, PUT THEM ON THE CALENDAR. Until recently, I was just keeping a note in my phone and without fail I would always overbook myself.


Who doesn't think you can do it all when you're talking to a potential customer, you want to say yes, but you will be regretful later if you didn't really have the time.


I know some artists who open their books every month and take 10 new slots. Once they're gone, they're gone.


And they don't open their slots until the next month for another 10. That model can work, and does work for several people.


I don't know how it would work for people who are planning birthdays, anniversaries, etc. It could be difficult for them to feel secure in getting the piece they want by the date they need it.


So I will always take names, but I schedule them out and give them a realistic idea of their turnaround time. If they need it earlier, we can discuss rush fee options and special dates, etc. But I will always honor my existing orders first.


This is a lot, I know but simplified my advice would be:


- Know what you can produce each week. Realistically - don't over state it. You will pay for that later when you can't put out what you said you could.

- Schedule it out on a calendar. For example, now that you know you can do 3 commissions a week, you can schedule them out and not overbook yourself.

- Leave the weekends free. Do not schedule work on your weekends. First, you need to rest. I learned that the hard way - a stress induced back spasm after working 8 days in a row. But also, you'll likely fall behind on your work schedule and you'll need that weekend to catch up. Leave them free.

- Always respect your existing clients. You will no doubt have someone sneak in at the last moment wanting a product for a quickly approaching date, but they are not your priority. The people who booked with you months ago are. You can work with this new customer to do what you can, but never push an existing client away or neglect their project for someone who ran up at the last second."


What advice would you give someone about growing their audience on social media?

"Girl, I wish I knew. Truly, the only things that have really grown my following (which is still dismal, but I'm so grateful for every one) are giveaways and interactive content.


Giveaways are huge draws, especially when requirements include following your page or sharing your stuff. More people will inevitably see your page, and it never hurts to be seen by more people. But also, be realistic with giveaways. That's real time and money you're giving away, so only do them when you can afford to.


And interactive content is just engaging with people that are there.

- I post polls. I am always responding to dm's. I try not to overload their feed, but I also try to always have something in my stories, so my little circle is always present on their feed.


Other than that, yes, be consistent. But don't be consistent just to be consistent. Post good content. I would rather follow a page that posted something stunning every week than someone who posted something so-so every day."


If you had to choose a favorite, or top 3 which pieces of work are you most proud of creating and why?

"Ah, that's difficult... but okay, these are not ranked 1,2,3 - they are just my top 3 generally. One that I particularly love is this older man I painted looking into a shop window. It was a memorial piece of this girl's grandfather, and this was just a candid photo that she threw me in a mix of potential reference photos for me to work from, and I fell in LOVE. From the colors, to the composition, to the detail in his wrinkles, I love the life that's captured.



Another is probably a portrait I did of my now husband and his older brother, who has since passed away, Hunter. It was a candid shot from their childhood that I painted as a Christmas gift for his mother last year. Again, I really just love the life and laughter that's captured here.



And the third would probably be a couple I painted where the girl is wearing this stunning satin dress that flows down the length of the painting. I had so much fun painting the fabric in this one. It was just fun and I would do it again, ha."



Are you a reader? If so, what books would you recommend and why?

"I am not a "reader" per say, I go through phases, but generally no. My husband is for sure, but we have very different tastes. I can get into some fiction, but most of my favorites are theology heavy. The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen is one of my favorites, along with The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer. Some of my favorite fiction books have just been random picks from small town bookstores with a cover that interested me. One I read recently was called, Between Georgia, and it was a quick read but it put me in a whole different town with vivid characters and I love when a book can do that quickly and well."


If anything was possible, where do you hope your creative gifts will take you in the years to come?

"Oh man, I don't know. I know I don't want to be one of those artists whose work is hung in stuffy museums where fancy people come and glance at them. I never want to lose the joy of creating pieces that will be cherished by families forever. So while my prices may go up, and cliental may change, in some ways, I don't want to look that much different.


A year ago, I was working as a marketing coordinator for a chiropractor, painting when I got home and dreaming of the day that I could quit and do something that felt meaningful. I would have never guessed that I'd be here. So who knows what next year holds, or the year after. I'm along for the ride, and I just pray that everything I do can bring joy, glory and honor to the one I serve, Jesus Christ."


Check out Grace Manning over on Instagram by clicking here.


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