Are you curious about transforming your interest in art into a true commitment as an entrepreneur, yet find it hard to believe you can have a successful art business?
Maybe when you were a child and got asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you said you wanted to be an artist. Then, eventually, someone said something that put a damper on your dream, which still exists decades later.
The images of the starving artist, poor poet, or struggling actor run rampant in our culture. And it seems the existence of an entrepreneur who’s bucked that imagery and is making real money as an artist is rare.
Well, let me (re)introduce you to Michelle Capizzi, a current client and past guest on the podcast. Over the last couple of years, she’s taken her love of abstract art from casual interest to unwavering commitment and turned it into a thriving business.
In this episode of Time to Level Up, you’ll learn how Michelle went from interested to fully engaged in having an art business. Through this case study, she’ll teach you the big thinking mindset shifts she’s made, how she earns from commissions, the most important thing to do if you’re thinking about selling your art one day, and much more!
What’s Covered in This Episode About Successful Abstract Art Business
4:57 – How things have changed since the beginning of Michelle’s business
8:19 – Mindset shifts that had to happen for opportunities to appear for Michelle
13:37 – Struggles that Michelle still faces in her business and how she makes money from commissions
16:35 – Who Michelle’s ideal client is and the real magic of what she does
21:32 – How Michelle shifted into bigger thinking while making the leap from interested to devoted
22:53 – The first step to going all-in after being interested in starting your own art business
29:16 – What you shouldn’t worry about when starting an art business and how Michelle defines thinking big
Connect with Michelle Capizzi
Michelle has always looked at the world through her own lens. Getting back into the studio full time has been a whirlwind experience, but now she’s here to stay: paint, create, dance, drink wine, and laugh out loud. Before Michelle’s return, she had been busy figuring it all out and learning to trust herself. Her experience as a Graphic Designer, Art Director, Fundraiser, Stylist, and Volunteer has shaped her into an independent thinker. Being a mother of three sons and wife has given Michelle the gift of a lifetime and taught her about love and appreciation.
Mentioned In How Michelle Capizzi Shifted Into Having a Successful Abstract Art Business
She Thinks Big by Andrea Liebross
Quotes from this Episode of Time to Level Up
“I’ve always wanted abstract art to be something that is attainable for everybody.” – Michelle Capizzi
“As a creative person, the more you do it, the more you crave it. It’s like exercise when you get in the groove and have an endorphin rush.” – Michelle Capizzi
“You’ve got to see yourself as legit like, ‘What I’m doing is worth it. People need what I have. People get what I have. And even if they don’t, eventually they might.’” – Andrea Liebross
Liked this? You’ll Enjoy These Other Time to Level Up Episodes
Andrea Liebross: Welcome to the Time to Level Up Podcast. I'm your host, Andrea Liebross. Each week, I focus on the systems, strategy, and big thinking you need to CEO your business and life to the next level. Are you ready? Let's go.
Hello, my friends, and welcome back to the Time to Level Up Podcast. I am thrilled to be here with you as usual. Today, we are going to have a guest, a client of mine, Michelle. Michelle has been on the podcast before. She was actually on the podcast way back in the day, one of the very first bonus podcast episodes.
She's an artist. But Michelle and I met each other in working. In the intro of She Thinks Big the book, I talk about my previous work experience and what drove me to do what I'm doing right now. In that, I don't want to give it all away, but I describe how I felt like I was inside a box and I know Michelle, because that's how I met her, felt like she was inside a box too.
Slowly, both of us have emerged from our boxes and are doing something that we are passionate about. Now she's an abstract artist, I am not an abstract artist and I have zero talents in that category, and I don't think she wants to be a coach so that's good. We both are doing our own things that we're passionate about.
But what's interesting to me is that even though we were both super successful in our previous careers that I discuss inside chapter one and we are both super successful in what we're doing today, there's still some doubt that pops up and it's still a process.
It's a process and we go through stages in our business where something is really bothering us or we've got one roadblock and we get past that roadblock, then we get to another roadblock, and then we get past that roadblock and then we get to another roadblock.
But Michelle, two and a half solid years into her business now, is really not experiencing those roadblocks in the same way. She is feeling free and it's because she has shifted from just being interested in her business and melding her passion into a business to being committed to it and she's really rocking it, my friends. She's really rocking it.
It's really fun to help her along the way and to watch her as this becomes more and more of an amazing business and people start to recognize what she's doing. If you haven't read that intro to She Thinks Big, go to shethinksbigthebook.com and you can access the intro in chapter one, or if you're listening to this after the book has come out, you can access the whole book.
But you really should read that story so you can get a sense as to both where she and I came from and then it's been my pleasure though to help her emerge from that box right alongside her in a way and grow a business that is an amazing one. Sit back, buckle up, listen in to my conversation with Michelle Capizzi abstract artist.
Hey, Time to Level Up listeners. Welcome back to the podcast. I have today with me one of my favorite people who I don't usually talk to in this format here that we're doing now so this is feeling strange to me, but we're going to do this, I have Michelle Capizzi with me.
She is an abstract artist. She creates beautiful work. I've had her on the podcast before so if you go back to way back in the day, probably with the first 10 episodes, the episode, I think she's maybe bonus Episode 2, don't ask me why but that's what I think it is.
We recorded that in the beginning of 2021 and here we are, two years later, so I thought it was about time I had her back because she has just evolved, her business has evolved, she's evolved too but her business has evolved and I think a lot of it has to do with her just thinking about her business differently and thinking big. Michelle, hello.
Michelle Capizzi: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Andrea Liebross: Tell us about you, tell us about how things have changed.
Michelle Capizzi: As Andrea said, I am an artist and two years ago, I used that word maybe not as confidently as I do today. I was just coming into my own and realizing that I was going to start this business two years ago and I went from a passion to a business. My business I feel legit these days. I don't feel bashful to say I'm an artist anymore. I'm embracing the idea that this is a business and working my way through it every day, learning.
Andrea Liebross: Yeah. So fun. Tell us right now, just tell the audience in the last couple of months some of the amazing things that have happened to you. What pieces of the puzzle or what pieces did you put in place do you think to make them happen? In my brain I'm thinking of Seneca Tower, tell us all about that, tell us how that all happened.
Michelle Capizzi: Yeah. There's a few different components to this. First, I'll talk about some amazing opportunities but then I want to talk about some mindset for me, the change that has brought that to it.
In the past, my gosh, six months, I have a full schedule and I use that schedule as in 12 months. Currently right now, I am booked in commissions up until probably February, March. That means that I have continual commissions going steadily.
I have a show right now that is going on at Seneca One Tower. There's a wonderful workspace called Serendipity Labs and I have my own private show up there of 18 pieces and currently, I have sold more than half of them. I also have been selling many pieces off my website and getting credibility.
I use that word loosely because it's not like you need credibility from other people but it is nice that when people in the community, people in the art community, people that you don't even know are coming up to me and saying, “I'm enjoying your art and tell me more,” whereas two years ago, when I spoke too, I would have people say, “I had no idea you did this. Why are you doing this?”
Now people are actually asking, “Tell me more.” I think that is one of the biggest evolving moments for me because I'm finally at a point where people are looking at the art, they're enjoying the art, and they want more. It's an incredible feeling and a big moment for me because as any artist would tell you, it's a very personal journey, especially the type of art I do.
You don't really look at it and say, “This is that,” it's a story you have to delve in. You have to look at the textures, look at it, and there's a lot of explaining and emotion that goes with it. When someone wants to know more and whether they know me or they don't know me, that's a really big moment for an artist to accept, to move on, and to feel really good about.
Andrea Liebross: What had to shift in your mind for these opportunities to present themselves?
Michelle Capizzi: One is committing to painting or creating daily. Now every day, am I at my studio? No, but if I'm not, I'm writing, I'm creating, I'm taking photos, I'm journaling. My head is always in the game. It's always in the studio. It's always on canvas, whether it's physically with my hands or in my head, really important.
The other is not being bashful to say, “I'm an artist and this is what I do, and more importantly, this is my business, this is my livelihood.” For years, as we talked in the past, I stayed home for many years and raised my children and I did this but I didn't show it, I didn't use it as a business.
Now people understand this is my business, I've taken it very seriously, I've worked myself into the community, and showing people that. Not anymore is just Michelle the volunteer but now Michelle, the artist. Yes, I still do some volunteering but now I give art to auctions, to other things.
I've made it very clear that this is who I am and how I'm doing it. Cute story, this past show I had at Seneca One, they were great about including me in the community and doing advertising because I really have committed and I've said, “This is it. My studio is not in my full-time home. My studio is in our country home,” and I've just said, “This is my hub now. This is what I'm doing.” It's not always as comfortably socially but for me, business-wise and committing myself to this, I had to do it.
Andrea Liebross: I'd call this like shifting. I think when we talked two years ago, you had established your business, you had your website up and running, you were interested in making it a business, but now I think you're committed to making it all the things you want. You're passionate about what you're doing and you love what you're doing so you've been able to better meld your passion with the business aspect.
Michelle Capizzi: Oh, absolutely. But a lot of that comes from confidence, comes from time doing it. If anyone jumps into this and I've talked to some other people, I'm like, “You gotta stick with it and in time you'll get confident.” Nobody is a one-hit wonder here in this business. As you and I have both seen with many other aspects of our life, if you don't say “This is what I'm going to do” and fully jump in, you're not [inaudible].
Andrea Liebross: Because the first thing you said, you said creating daily, so you committed to creating daily like you and all in both feet.
Michelle Capizzi: Yeah. And I don't apologize anymore for “Maybe I can't be there for other things” because I really said this is my business. My husband doesn't apologize when he can't make a dinner or something if he's on trial and working and I'm not apologizing anymore.
I created 18 paintings over two months. For me, that's a lot. These were big-scale paintings and I just said to everybody I know, “I'm not apologizing for I have work to do and this is what I'm going to do and I'm going to get it done.”
Andrea Liebross: I know you're like, “I have to silence all the noise in my head.” What do you think the noise was telling you that you had to quit listening to?
Michelle Capizzi: Me thinking, “What do other people think?” Me thinking, “Oh, she's just doing this on a whim.”
Andrea Liebross: I know one thing, you thinking that there was a right way to do it.
Michelle Capizzi: Yeah. I know other people like, “Oh, is she really going to make a business of this or it's just a short fling?” Then as now as I've had my art out, instead of people saying to me, “Oh, I didn't know,” people are like, “Tell me more about your background.”
It's very interesting how the conversations have changed. If now people ask me more about the stroke and the feeling, it's not just like, “Oh, we're just throwing things on the wall,” they're really understanding I've established more of my style, I've established more of what my meaning is, I've established who I am as an artist and a business person. They do go hand in hand because you have to run a business also, which I don't always love running a business.
Andrea Liebross: Tell us about running the business.
Michelle Capizzi: Oh, it's a daily struggle. I really don't like spending time on my computer anymore. This last show I just did because it's in a space where there's not gallery people wanting it, it's in a space where people who I may or may not know are looking at it so I had to come up in my head, “When someone looks at this piece on the wall, are they going to know what it is? How are they going to buy it? How are they going to purchase it?” So I spent time coming up with QR codes and all that.
The other thing that's really hard and I still struggle with it and I'm getting better is I think in my head a price before I start and I know that. I know all that. I know the formula. I have a formula. It is right. Then I put it up and I say to myself, “Oh, my God, I'm still not charging enough.”
It's a tough challenge. It's a really tough challenge. I think I'm finally getting to a point where people are seeing the value, people are seeing what they're getting for the size, the story, and the quality of my art. The more I'm out in public, the better that is.
Internet is great and people can see things but I think until people physically see your work, they don't appreciate the quality, the time, and what's going into it. After this last opening, it was very interesting that evening alone, I had four people talk to me and commit to commissions for the future.
Andrea Liebross: What does a commission mean?
Michelle Capizzi: Commission means that I make a personal piece for somebody for them. They’re not buying it off my existing gallery, they're asking me to create a piece. Some people are asking me to create a piece for their home, some people are asking me to create a piece for their business, some people are asking me to create a piece for their office space.
Behind me, I'm doing a series right now for a company that is just forming and they basically said, “Can you come up with a piece that will represent our business, our story?” So really, the commission and the way I do it is telling somebody's story, whether it's for business, whether it's for a hotel, and what is their theme, mission, or that kind of thing.
What are they trying to convey? Everybody has a story and that's really what I do on canvas. When I'm doing a commission, I'm doing a personal story for somebody or a business.
Andrea Liebross: I love that. How is your viewpoint on who your ideal client shifted? Because I don't think it's exactly the same person that it was on day one.
Michelle Capizzi: It's interesting because I saw your notes before and that was a question. I thought about it and actually, I don't think I have the ideal person. One of it is because I've always wanted abstract art to be something that is attainable for everybody because I feel as though many people go into galleries and they don't understand it and they don't know.
I don't want to say that my perfect person is the business that wants 20 paintings or the person who wants me to go in and do an eight-foot by six-foot painting. My claim could be anybody from who wants it 12 by 12, it's more about for me the ideal client is about somebody who wants to learn more and have a story.
Andrea Liebross: Ding ding ding, that's what I think right there.
Michelle Capizzi: I like that about my business. I like that I have, I don't want to use the high and the low because that's not true. I wanted to be people who want to tell their story on canvas, being their business, being who they are. That's my ideal person but not the person who says to me, “Can you paint my dog? Can you paint my house?” Those are not. There are lots of artists who are and I'm happy for them but that's not me.
Andrea Liebross: What I think is interesting is a lot of times, when I talk to clients about ideal client, my clients about their ideal client are their ideal customer, it's very demographic like, “Well, it's someone who's 50 years old, who lives here, who does that.” But there's also a component that I always talk about that I call psychographic, so there's like demographic and then there's psychographic.
Really, your ideal client is all about the psychographic. It's the person who wants someone to help them, which is you, tell their story on canvas or whatever the medium is. You're the storyteller.
Michelle Capizzi: Yeah. I did a really interesting commission not too long ago. When I do a commission for a person or a business, a very large part of it is I spend a lot of time getting to know that client, a lot of time. I really get into their head. I send them a questionnaire and I ask them everything from not just the room, not just the colors, I like to ask people where they travel, what they eat, what do they like to do, all sorts of things.
A couple in Florida had asked me to do this commission for them and they are the most lovely couple but they're very different people. The wife was very specific. She wanted these specific colors. She wanted to make sure that it looked beautiful in the room. The husband was all about the emotion of it, the idea of it, and into that.
As they came and they saw it for the first time, because I don't always get to see everybody's reaction because a lot of times, I send it out of town, they happen to be in Buffalo at the time so they came and saw it before they took it to Florida and their face, to just see that I could marriage these two personalities and their story on one canvas, that's the magic.
Andrea Liebross: That's the magic.
Michelle Capizzi: That's the magic, yeah.
Andrea Liebross: It's exciting to see, I've noticed how you're looking to really become involved in someone's story too. It's not just like, “Tell me your story and I'm going to put it on canvas.” You want to be in the story and that's how you create the best.
Michelle Capizzi: Without a doubt. Also, I'm big on music, I love music, I love sound. It's my thing. I ask people too, “What do you listen to?” I'm not a big country Western person but I've learned to learn a lot about country Western music because there's a lot of people.
Believe it or not, I have a lot of people who like the Grateful Dead. I've learned about the Grateful Dead. It's cool because that helps me get the motion, get the flow of them.
Andrea Liebross: How's this big thinking, if I said to you how you shifted into even bigger thinking?
Michelle Capizzi: Oh, I didn't appreciate it before. For me, it had a lot to do about time and appreciating myself and I didn't appreciate it as much two years ago as I do now. I also appreciate my voice much more because it took me a while to say to myself to stop asking my own questions and just say, “This is me. I have a voice. Time is important. Time means everything to me,” and to say, “What I'm doing has meaning. What I'm doing is affecting people, their happiness and joy.
Some people, it's just that moment of like, “Oh, I can look into my painting every day and just see something and feel good.” I have shifted my mindset to understand what I'm doing has purpose and has meaning and appreciate I'm one person and I have one voice, and my voice meaning my time on campus is powerful.
Andrea Liebross: It's super powerful. What do you say to people who are like, “I could never make a living or create a business out of doing something creative” or “I'm super passionate about art and creating art but I could never make that a business, it's just not going to be profitable, or no one's going to buy my stuff,” what do you think about that?
Michelle Capizzi: Interesting. I've had a lot of people talk to me lately about having creativity and whether they were going to use it for a business or not. One of the first things I say is what I go back to before, you have to embrace it and do it every day. It has to be a thread in your life, whether it's going to a gallery, whether it's reading a book about other artists, whether it's painting, drawing, sewing for some woman, it has to be woven into your life, it has to be a part of your life.
I think of it as important as brushing my teeth every day. My creative part is really important. I say to people, “You have to make that a component.” Some people say, “Well, I have kids and I have this and I have that.” If I have one regret, I don't want to use it as a regret.
I did put it aside years ago and I never showed up but I did and I can't go back but I say to people, “It may not be that you can give it all full time right now but give it what you can and when you can. When you’re feeling like you're in a regular groove, then show a little of it.”
I don't say do it when you feel great about it because nobody at first feels great about it. I don't know who does and God bless them if they do right away. But I think a lot has to do with getting that groove and doing it daily, and when you're doing it daily, that's when your magic and your voice start to turn. Then start to show it and then do it slow. Do it slow. This isn’t a marathon. This is not a sprint.
Andrea Liebross: Right. But I think if you're in the daily groove, I hear this all the time with business owners, in fact, earlier today on a call, a woman who's a web designer, if you're listening, was saying that she always feels like she's getting interrupted. She just can't quite keep herself focused for periods of time. I don't even want to say long periods of time, for periods of time.
But what also I think is interesting is that I don't think she's in a groove of committing to herself to, like you said, creating daily. You almost have to commit and get in that groove of committing daily of creating and then the distractions, although they'll be there, don't seem as distracting, number one, and you also get more confidence and boldness to push them out too to say, “No, I can't do that right now,” or “I'll attend to it later.”
Michelle Capizzi: Right. Also, I find especially as a creative person, the more you do it, the more you crave it. It's like exercise. When you get in the groove and you love it, you have that endorphin going from exercising, that's how I feel when I get on the canvas.
I have an endorphin rush, and I don't know if that's the exact technical term, whatever. I get a rush every time I get on the canvas. I get a bigger rush when I get into a new project.
I have a stack right now of commissions. I only go from one commission and I might look at the next one, I don't look at the next five before only because I don't want to get distracted. Because when I'm in, I'm all in and my head is moving and working towards it. I don't want to miss it. I don't want to miss a day on my canvas because I love it.
Now, next week, I'm traveling for a few days. I'll make sure I see a gallery show. I'll read a book and I usually read fiction but then I am always usually reading some kind of book about an artist or something else. I'm always trying to listen to a podcast.
There are other ways than just being on canvas but you got to be all in. My cousin will use that term all in and it's such a good term because my business is me, myself, and I. That's who I am. I don't have a team of a million people, I don't have all this other stuff, so me, myself, and I have to advise myself where I'm going and how I'm doing it. That's a great feeling to think I can do that. I'm doing it.
Is it perfect all the time? No, but it's okay to say, “Alright, the other day, I built somebody twice by mistake. I wrote back I'm very sorry. This is new to me. I'm figuring it out.” How many people in corporate America make huge mistakes?
I think as female entrepreneurs, we feel as though we have to be perfect. We don't have to be perfect. We just have to do what we love and stay in the game and I'm sorry if I make a mistake. [inaudible] the next day, brush it off, and move on. Heck, everybody else does.
Andrea Liebross: It’s totally true. So you gotta keep your head in the game, you gotta be consistent, you gotta create daily, you have to see yourself in a different light. You've got to see yourself as, like you said, “I'm legit. What I'm doing is worth it. People need what I have. People get what I have. Even if they don't get it, that's okay. Eventually, they might get it.” You're not worrying about what they're thinking so much.
Michelle Capizzi: If you're starting a business as an artist, you told me this long ago, Andrea, you can't worry about the exact dollars bringing in. If that's the business you're looking for to make a lot of money right away, that's not your business, this is not your business.
You will get there and you're making money and that's great but this is not a quick cash business kind of idea. I think you have to look at it that way. You can't look at it in dollars and cents right away. I remember when I first started with you, I'd be like, “Oh, I just want to have enough money to cover my painting expenses.” Well, now I got past that and now I think of bigger terms and bigger ideas.
I'm happily making money but at the same time, I'm now taking money and investing it back into my business, whether I'm coaching, whether I'm going to a seminar, whether I'm taking a trip to go see a gallery, whether I'm hiring a photographer to help me take better photos so that it looks even better to everybody else, things like that are important and now I'm at the stage where I'm investing it back into my business and that's a really good feeling also.
Andrea Liebross: I love it. Alright, last question, how would you define thinking big? If someone said to you, “What's thinking big, Michelle?” what would you say?
Michelle Capizzi: For me personally, thinking big is believing in yourself, giving yourself the grace to take on some jobs that you know you can do really but you're nervous and still taking it. I took on some commissions this year that I did not know. I tried some things new. I said, “Please trust me. If this doesn't work out, well, go,” but I did it.
Taking on that show and thinking how am I going to do 18 pieces in that many months, yes. Sometimes saying yes without knowing every single detail for me, who has thought out every detail of her life to nausea, that's a better way to say it. Believing in yourself and taking on some things that you're 95% sure think you can do but you gotta give yourself the grace to do it and the time to do it.
Andrea Liebross: Love it. Well, this has been super fun. Go follow Michelle. Where should they follow you? Because I was going to say go follow you on Instagram and listen to your music and watch you paint.
Michelle Capizzi: Yes. I would say Instagram is the best place, although I do have a website michellecapizzi.com. I'm sure Andrea will attach that in the notes. If anyone is in the Western New York area, go see my show at Seneca One Tower on the 29th floor. It's up till the end of the summer. But watch me dance and paint. I'm there a lot on Instagram.
Andrea Liebross: She's there. She's creating daily. Believe me. She's creating daily. Alright, my friends, think about this: what do you need to commit to daily, what do you need to create daily in order for your business to grow, in order for you to grow as a person? This has been super fun. Thank you for being here.
Michelle Capizzi: Thank you for having me.
Andrea Liebross: Okay. If you don't feel like putting on some music, pumping it up, if you don't feel like dancing, listening to music, and running around your house with a paintbrush, I don't know, you probably need to listen to this episode again. Can you feel the excitement that she has for what she's doing and how she's evolved, her business has evolved, and her mindset has evolved into one that really embraces this bigger thinking and who really appreciates herself more?
She feels better about who she is and that is coming out into her artwork and her clients and prospective clients are recognizing it. It's time for you to do something like this in your business. It's time for you to step into some bigger shoes, some bigger thinking.
Go read the intro of She Thinks Big. You can access that at shethinksbigthebook.com or go read the whole book. Check out Michelle on Instagram, you'll have fun watching her. All the links are in the show notes. Let's do this, my friends, because now is the time to level up. If not now, when? See you next week.
Hey, listening to podcasts is great. But you also have to do something to kick your business up a notch. You need to take some action, right? So go to andreaslinks.com and take the quiz. I guarantee you'll walk away knowing exactly what your next best step is to level up.
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