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Blending Colors and Business: Iris Scott’s Path

Written by:

Esther is a business strategist with over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, executive, educator, and management advisor.

Blending Colors and Business: Iris Scott’s Path

Today, we are thrilled to have with us Iris Scott, a distinguished artist renowned for her innovative finger-painting technique and vibrant artistry. Iris’s work, characterized by its vivid colors and dynamic textures, has carved a unique niche in the fine art world.

Her entrepreneurial journey, from the inception of her distinctive style to the establishment of her successful online gallery, stands as a testament to the fusion of artistic passion and savvy business acumen.

In this interview, we delve into the insights and experiences of Iris Scott, exploring the interplay of creativity and entrepreneurship in the art industry.

Developing a Distinctive Technique

SBS – How did you develop your unique finger painting technique, and what challenges did you face making it accepted in the fine art world?

Iris – I didn’t like finger painting as a child. I thought it was messy and annoying. I wanted to work with pencils and erasers — a lot of erasing, a lot of practice. As a self-taught, intrinsically motivated little kid, I was interested in getting how-to books from the library because YouTube did not exist. I would bring them home and study them on the floor of my bedroom. I would go through the exercises. I was so determined to be a good drawer and painter. I just wanted it from the get-go: motivation was not a struggle at all. This momentum just grew and grew.

By the time I was in high school, I was starting to get these warm fuzzies from my parents and peers, so I did it some more. Then, by the time college came around, I decided I better study it. I studied for a basic bachelor of fine arts degree at a run-of-the-mill four-year college, no fancy art school. After I graduated, I took a gap year and went to live abroad to be a teacher. I went to Taiwan because I had read that your dollar just goes so far in Taiwan. In my memory, I had $4,000 saved, and I needed that to go all the way — and it totally did.

I lived like a queen in Taiwan. I was very happy. I had a lot of friends. It was a very warm country. It was so inexpensive. But then I became bored, and I remembered I love painting. What a great time to be a painter! There were paint stores everywhere, so I got a bunch of canvases, oils, and brushes and began painting every day. It was the first time in my life I was painting every day because I did not have to go to school and I did not have a job. I was teaching a little bit of English, but I didn’t have a job, and I had a lot of time. 

I started painting eight hours a day, and I started getting good at it. I started being proud of my pieces, so I posted them on Facebook, and people started showing interest. I was so excited, so I painted some more. So again, it’s this theme of attention because I’m doing a good job, and I just do it more and more, even though I’m already pretty motivated. I personally need that feedback from the outside world that says it’s good and I should keep going. In general, the culture of Facebook was extremely supportive.

One day, I’m in my very inexpensive $ 100-a-month Taiwanese apartment that overlooks the ocean. Granted, it didn’t have air conditioning or its own kitchen, but it didn’t matter because I was 26 and painting eight hours a day. I was in a state of heaven, and I ran out of clean brushes, and I just didn’t want to go down this very long, sweaty, smoldering communal hallway to a communal kitchen that was gross and had lots of spiders. So I just didn’t stop and do the right thing, which was to clean the brushes so I would have fresh brush tips to make fresh color changes on the canvas.

I didn’t have gloves, so I picked up a little paint with the tips of my fingers, and I dabbed it on, and it looked really good. I did it a little bit more, and then I finished the painting quite quickly, and I was struck by the strokes. I knew enough about art history at the time that there wasn’t a finger painting artist of any real fame. I also knew that these strokes, to some extent, were mimicking what Van Gogh did, which I knew was very popular, and I knew I liked it, liked doing it, and liked the way it felt. I thought, “Oh man, that’s a great shtick!”

I visualized this entire marketing idea around it on that night, and I almost didn’t pick up a brush in the next twelve years. I completely dedicated myself to that. So, it sort of found me. It was an accident, but I had enough stubbornness to go all the way with this.

I also should note that I didn’t actually believe I could be a professional artist. I had gotten a fourth-grade teaching degree because I had never seen anyone do art full-time, so it wasn’t a viable career. My ultimate desire was to be an artist, which was not even a realistic desire, so my fourth-grade teaching degree was my backup, my huge cushion, and it was a career I knew I could be very happy in. I wasn’t terribly stressed about pursuing art because I knew I could try it and see what happened (if it didn’t work, it didn’t work), and my plan B was great. Love plan B — I think that’s important. 

From Artist to Successful Business Owner

SBS – What was your journey from being an artist to becoming successful in the art business? 

Iris – How do we get finger painting to be taken seriously? Baby steps! The paintings can be as much as $48,000 now, but they didn’t start that way. I was very excited to make $48 on the very first ones. I was making small, very sellable works. I was painting them 100% in one day, from start to finish, and selling them online back to people in the United States, and they were very happy to pay the $30 in FedEx because they were getting a good little original at an amazing price.

I’m a minimalist. I hate stuff. I hate things around me. It’s just very cluttered. For me, getting rid of paintings has always been something I enjoy. I love it when I’m making it, and I’m so happy to see it go away. First they were $50, then $60, then $70. I didn’t raise those prices unless I could not keep up with the demand. If a painting was out for sale for over a few weeks, I would either give it away or just fire-sell it. That is how I managed to make back money so that I could keep buying materials. 

My cost of living was so low ($100 a month for an ocean-view apartment). I was spending maybe $3 a day on food. I had a moped, and that plus gas was maybe a dollar a day. I had so much time and friends. It was a recipe for success to feel rich basically right out of the gate because I was being profitable at $50 paintings. So, at the time, I thought I’d just live in Taiwan forever and sell $50 paintings. That was such a great plan. I didn’t even foresee that the prices would go up, that I would move, that I would buy more things and then make more money to buy those things. Then it’s like a vicious cycle of the more you make, the more you spend, and now you’re maintaining that. But at the time, I just thought I would live in a backpack, sell $50 paintings, and be very happy until I die. That was my plan. Everything that came up after that was just icing on the cake. 

Return to the US

SBS – What happened when you moved back to the US?

Iris – Well, I already had a ticket home, so I worried that the magic would be over once I arrived. There were certain challenges. All of a sudden, gas was so expensive. I had car insurance. Food was now $25 a plate, and everyone thought it was normal to go out for $25). Now I wish I could go out to eat for $25. Now, it seems like it’s always $60 to eat out. At the time, I was spending $3 a day in Taiwan.

My mom, my wonderful mother, who’s so brilliant and supportive, said, “You should stay in the basement and keep working. Don’t get a job because it’ll be too expensive. See if you can get this art thing to get off the ground and try to find an online gallery.” I said, “Mom, there are no online galleries. Don’t be ridiculous.” 

But there were online galleries. She didn’t know it. I didn’t know it, but there was a gallery called ugallery.com, and it was catered mostly to university-level artists, which can be very good and well-priced art. They had a niche of mostly $5,000 and under ($5,000 was so much to sell a painting). I was still at the $200 level for selling art, and I was so excited when a painting would sell for $200 online (and it did). I launched myself even more from the basement of my mom’s house. A painting would sell for $200, and we would just jump up for joy. If they weren’t selling, we would lower those prices. That is how I kept creeping up the prices and the sizes of the work.

All the while, I’m getting better, and my social media is starting to grow. As it grows, I have more eyes. If I have more eyes, I have more revenue. If I have more revenue, I get better paint. If I get better paint, I get better paintings. This cycle was very slow and very organic.

The key is that I was very comfortable with poverty. I was at ease with spending almost no money, making almost no money, and being very happy in that lifestyle. I said, “I’ll just live in the basement forever. If I can paint for a living, I’ll just live in the basement forever. I can have a little house down here.”

My mom had little dollar signs in her eyes, like when she saw artwork selling for $200 that took a few hours to make. She said, “That’s great money, Iris, keep going!” She was so supportive, and she continues to believe any outrageous dream I tell her to this day. 

Marketing Strategies

SBS – How have your marketing strategies changed as you progressed?

Iris – Actually, not as much as you would think. The strategy has almost totally remained the same. I post as much as possible and don’t post things that aren’t painting. Initially, I just painted and took photos of the experience every day. People started finding a habit in themselves to check on me. In recent times, I haven’t been like that, but I should be posting something every single day.

Over time, it became clear that the best way to sell art was to show it selling for dollars. So, when something is sold, make sure that people online know it is sold. If people are considering buying your art but don’t feel like anyone else’s buy, they won’t pull the trigger. But if right before they were going to email you, it sells (or maybe they weren’t going to email you), they just saw it sold, and it piques their interest and makes them think that maybe they do want that. When I’m in a store, and someone buys something I was just holding, I immediately think I did want that. We think like a group in that way. We like what’s popular. It’s just a natural human trait.

I was advertising that things were selling even to the extent that, in the beginning, I would give paintings away and announce them as sold to friends. That was just to build a buzz. Then that buzz became real, and I had to start raising prices very slowly because paintings were selling faster than I could make them. A waitlist for paintings was beginning to form.

The best way to market has always been video, much more than photos. I wish I did more of that. But to anyone who’s listening, make videos. Make short, concise, fast-paced videos. People love that it flies over the internet. It takes on a life of its own, and it’s incredibly good advertising, and it costs nothing except the time to make the video.

I haven’t paid for advertising all these years. I think it’s important not to because I don’t think the paid advertising works nearly as well and sustainably as the real stuff. I also never applied to galleries. They’d come to me. I don’t know if that’s the right way to do it. I don’t know if I even recommend that, but that’s how it’s been. If I were to crunch the numbers, I would find that nearly 95% of sales originate on the Internet.

Balancing Consistency and Experimentation

SBS – How do you maintain a consistent artistic identity while experimenting with new ideas and everything that comes with it? 

Iris – That’s an interesting question. I’ve only really made any breakthrough with that question in very recent times. For twelve years, I finger-painted exclusively, and the experimentation was mostly just the subject. I experimented with the subject by teaching myself Photoshop and using digital collage to break out of my same old kind of boring work, and that was very helpful. I highly recommend digitally collaging to get ideas for your next paintings.

Twelve years went by, and I looked at my body of work, and I was very bored and unhappy with the entire thing. I was in tears. I have a confidant, colleague, friend of mine, an artist friend, and she was very supportive through this time. It lasted a whole year. We talked about my need to branch out, but I was afraid because I had marketed myself so heavily as one thing.

However, I didn’t want to be just that one thing. I didn’t have that natural drive to keep doing it. I needed to find that original wonder and experimentation that created the thing in the beginning. I had some ideas about what to do, but I wasn’t sure. I felt lost and unhappy, but I continued doing my commissions, knowing that I should be very grateful for everything I had and that people wanted my work. It’s hard to complain when things are, in a way, so good. But deep in my core, I needed something way more insane in my artistic life to feel good again — and nothing happened.

Then, one day, I was in the studio, and I had gotten a bunch of dust into a painting. I needed to clean it, but it was just tacky enough that I shouldn’t use a brush or a paper towel but hit it with compressed air from the shop air compressor as it would be the cleanest way. I was blowing it off with high-pressure air, and it popped a cell into some wet paint. A little cellular pattern formed, and I just had that same epiphany “Aha” moment that I had had in Taiwan twelve years ago. What if I just did this? What would happen? What can be built out of just this single unit of technique? I think that was 2020. Since that day, I’ve been playing with it. I haven’t even released it much online because I’m honing it. It’s semi-public, but it’s so interesting to me, and I know that if it’s really interesting to me, it will work in the long run. I just need a little bit of time to develop it.

Being stubborn and sticking to finger painting was a great benefit because you developed the technique. I was sticking to it because I wanted to. I was naturally motivated to do so. But then, once that motivation went away, I couldn’t force it. Just because there were tears about that didn’t mean that was bad. That was just a blessing in disguise. 

Customer Feedback

SBS – How much does customer feedback play a role in your process or decision-making?

Iris – I do not operate in a vacuum. From what I have seen, I think that art school wants you to operate in a vacuum, ignore the audience to some extent, and just go deep, deep, deep into what you want to do. I think that’s all fine and dandy, and I get to do that a lot now, but it doesn’t pay the bills, and you end up having to get a job anyway. And if you have a job, you don’t paint eight hours a day. So, you might as well make art the job and then, on the side, be very selfish and experimental and do things that you don’t think anyone will like, but you like it just to see where it goes. On the other side, you should still have something consistent and safe that people love. Try to, as much as you can, find something that you love and they love — it’s a negotiation that you make with yourself.

For me, it hasn’t been that difficult to decide that I would much rather paint eight hours a day than do any other job. Doesn’t sound as fun. So, while there have been a few paintings that my heart wasn’t totally into, I have loved making most of them and have been very excited about even commissions. Some of the commissions that I thought I couldn’t do and wouldn’t be good have ended up being my favorite pieces because I had to think so far out of my little box and reach for something. Some commissions that I think will be so easy because that’s what I do all the time don’t push me hard enough.

The audience has influenced me in a wonderful way, and I’m very grateful for it. After all, aren’t we all one? If they’re in love with the work, I’m in love with the work. It’s not too good of a direction to be too selfish and separate from those outside the studio.

Entrepreneurial Advice

SBS – What advice would you give someone who wants to transition from just being an artist to becoming a businesswoman or businessman?

Iris – If you want to be an artist, you go to galleries and see very high prices. It seems like a great career; you can price your work as high as you want. No, don’t do that. Even if you think your work is better than the works in the gallery, your prices should be way lower than what’s in the galleries. It’s hard enough to sell art pieces even when they are ten times lower than they should be.

It’s very hard to get an audience. So get an Instagram or Facebook (or both). Get TikTok. I don’t even use TikTok, but I’m sure it’s very important. Get a website, try to find threads that are sort of similar, and put them together (it just looks better than you bouncing all over the place, so separate them into collections).

Go to museums and contemporary art fairs and look at what the art market is. Otherwise, you’re going to inevitably paint really amateur-looking stuff. I did. You have to go expose yourself to taste. You need to blend things you love. So, if you love Jackson Pollock and you love Alex Katz, take those two artists and try to blend them. Photoshop them into completely unique things, and then try to start painting in that style because that’s the style you love. Look for things you love and morph them so people can’t see it’s a copy. You need to start changing it.

If you then start to find a style that you love, sell small works of it; don’t sell big works, that won’t work. The people you know can barely afford $50 to $100 when it comes to disposable income. In the beginning, only those you know are going to buy this. Then, eventually, it’s who they know, and then it’s who they know — and that’s when you start to grow the size and the prices. 

If your work isn’t selling, it’s because it’s too high priced. Simple as that. I don’t care if it’s $200 and it’s not selling; it’s because it should be $100. That actually does buy a lot of supplies, so don’t feel bad about it because you made like $3 an hour. At least you get to buy more paint, and you get to get rid of that canvas. At least it’s out of your life. Or paint over it and say it’s old.

The next advice would be to take a lot of photos and especially videos of your work and post them constantly (not annoyingly, but regularly), and let people know that it’s for sale. Have them inquire about the prices and discounts to close a sale. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Just sell it. It’s slow organic growth.

Also, you better have a backup plan and something else you can fall on. That’s a second-choice career that you also really like. That’s much more safe. That way, when nothing is selling, and you need to pay bills (and it will happen), at least you can have a job for a time and maybe try to creep back into art.

It’s very hard to make a living as an artist. It’s very hard, and then, suddenly, not hard. It goes from super difficult and squeaking by to making a few sales to a downturn, and then there’s an upturn. Then, all of a sudden, everything you make sells for prices you never dreamed would happen. It is like you touch things, and they turn to gold. It is an incredible career eventually, but you better be cozy with the idea of poverty, be very comfortable with that, and have a backup plan on top of it. That’s my advice. 

Determining the Value of Your Art

SBS – How do you determine the prices now?

Iris – Everything I make is the same amount per square inch, which is $7. So if it’s a 36 x 36 inch painting, it’s around $9,000. Five years ago, it was $6.25 a square inch, and two years before, it was $5 a square inch. It worked up to that point, starting from $100 per painting. I’ve never gone backward once I really started. Once the paintings went over $500 a piece, I never brought the prices back down.

I let the prices plateau for a little while as the art market changes or my work becomes more or less popular, and then they would start to rise again. So, it’s just plateau, rise, plateau, rise, plateau, rise. Right now, it’s at $7, and I’m up against another moment where I will have to raise the prices again because I don’t want to be booked for more than a year because this is unnecessary. It’s just raising the prices again.

Logistics Challenges

SBS – Is it difficult to find people or the right partners for shipping? 

Iris – I have a few gallery partners that I’ve worked with for years, and that’s been great. I’ve also had a few that didn’t work, and that was okay to shake off. That online ugallery.com, in the beginning, was a wonderful gallery to start with for a while.

As for shipping, I have found that UPS and USPS are not trustworthy and that you should probably work with only FedEx. FedEx is the most expensive of the three, but they don’t lose things and rarely damage stuff. However, they can ship artwork up to a certain size. After that point, it’s better to use a courier or a freight company. It’s really hard to box art. If you can do it or pay people to do it for you, good for you.

Couriers are amazing. That’s just a guy with a van door-to-door service. A lot of times, that’s even cheaper than building a crate and shipping it as freight. They’re out there; you just have to find them. Finding a courier has been a huge blessing in my business. 

Once in a while, something goes wrong. For example, the other day, I stretched a canvas too tight, and it arrived with a popped corner, not because anybody who shipped it did anything wrong, but because I stretched it too tight. I recognized that as soon as I saw the photo. No questions asked I flew to Boston, and I fixed that corner by touching it up with paint. I turned it into a fun little trip for myself. But that’s insurance. Sometimes, the only way to insure your work is to go and fix it.

FedEx will only insure art up to $1,000. Even if they let you insure your box up to $10,000 if you read the fine print, they won’t actually insure it beyond $1,000 if it’s art, so don’t pay that extra insurance money for no reason. I’ve learned the hard way that $1,000 usually is just enough to fly out there and fix it. It’s not really worth having it shipped back and all that nonsense. Just fly out and fix it. 

Future Outlook: Professional Journey, Motherhood, and Artistic Expression

SBS – What do you see as the future for yourself and your professional journey? You’ve just become a mom, which is another special chapter in your life that may also show in your work in the future.

Iris – Yes, I’m sure it will. I gave birth to a little girl eight months ago. It’s taking a lot of time to be with her because this time is moving quickly, and I don’t want to miss it. My work is changing into more of what I previously mentioned, although I’ll continue to do finger paintings.

What I have discovered about myself in the past year is that I am not just one artist; I don’t wear one hat. I’m happiest when I have five hats hanging in my closet, and each morning, I get to wake up and put a different one on. That, I’ve discovered, is actually what makes me happiest. Sometimes, I want to come out here and bust out a little painting with brushes. Or sometimes I want to make a huge finger painting commission with money that I know is coming in with a skill I know I’m good at, that has a saturated look and texture and looks nothing like the brush painting. Sometimes, I want to come in here and do air compressor abstract paintings; sometimes, I want to do air compressor doodles. Sometimes, I want to work with clay. I can’t stop myself from wanting these things, and I shouldn’t.

However, I’m very glad I focused on one thing for as long as I did because it built a brand and a following, allowing me the luxury of all of this freedom. It has also allowed me the luxury of not working for a year because I have the income security from being stubborn, sticking to a look, and being consistent for the audience. So, like I said, it is a balance to do it in a way that doesn’t burn you out, but it does pay off to have something consistent for eyes to see. People respond to that really well in our society. That’s just how it works.

But yes, branching out makes me happy, and, eventually, this air compressor painting will become the website, and I’ll develop this into collections. Someday, I’ll get sick of this. But at least for a good chunk of time, this will be what feeds my soul. This will be what I advertise, and this is what will eventually be what people want.


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Blending Colors and Business: Iris Scott’s Path