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How A Fine Artist Built A Million-Dollar, One-Person Business That’s True To Her Vision

Iris Scott
Iris Scott

WSU fine arts alumnus Iris Scott, 34, makes her living finger painting. That might sound like nice work if someone else is paying your bills, but the Brooklyn artist—known for her impressionistic paintings of the natural world in psychedelic colors—is fully self-supporting. She broke $500,000 in revenue last year and will exceed $1 million this year, she says.

Thanks to her artistic talent, entrepreneurial spirit and creative use of social media to market her work, Scott is among a fast-growing group of self-employed professionals who are building annual revenue in solo businesses and partnerships to $ 1 million or more. The number of nonemployer firms—meaning those staffed only by the owners—that generate $1 million to $2.49 million in revenue rose to 36,161 in 2016, up 1.6 percent from 35,584 in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is up 35.2% from 26,744 in 2011.

Iris Scott shows only her eyes behind her brightly painted, purple-gloved hands.s

It’s not easy to make a great living off of creative work. So how has Scott managed to make a great living from her art while creating work that has gotten her represented in galleries and covered in publications such as American Art Collector?

She has designed her career on her own terms by putting in the time and effort make the most of her talents on a daily basis, assessing and acting upon the opportunities in front of her in real-time, having the courage to ditch the unwritten rules of the art world and its gatekeepers when they didn’t make sense to her, developing ongoing, two-way communication with her customers—and responding to followers’ suggestions. Here is some detail on the strategies she used, which will be relevant to owners of many types of ultra-lean businesses.

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WSU Tri-Cities: Future of WSU Tri-Cities includes housing, expanded educational offerings and growing world-class research

Washington State University Tri-Cities realized an average enrollment growth of 12 percent annually throughout the last four years. As that upward trend continues, so does our expansion of on-campus housing, program development, world-class faculty and specialization in research.

Among the many WSU Tri-Cities faculty accomplishments this year:

Paul Strand

Paul Strand, professor of psychology, is one of a team of WSU faculty leading the online implementation of a k-12 truancy prevention program that benefits schools statewide. WSULearning and Performance Research Center houses the online implementation of the Washington Assessment of the Risks and Needs of Students.

Peter Christenson

Peter Christenson, assistant professor of fine arts and digital technology and culture, developed a scholar residency program at WSU Tri-Cities that welcomes artists, engineers, urban planners and more to campus, where students and community members learn first-hand from their expertise.

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Pursuing her most authentic self

WSU grad student gives insight into her experience as an artist and teacher

June Sanders discovered a passion for art while attending Western Washington University—a fair leap from advertising, her intended major.

June Sanders

Sanders, now a first-year Master of Fine Arts student at Washington State University, said it was her friends in undergrad who introduced her to what it’s like to be an artist.

“I was just so blessed in befriending, right when I came to college, all these wonderful, artistic people,” she said, “that just got to expose me to a lot and mold me in these ways, even if they didn’t realize they were doing it and if I didn’t realize.”

In the WSU MFA program, Sanders’ main focus is photography, but she said all MFA students are encouraged to experiment with other media while in the program. Through this experimentation, the students may end up leaving with a different emphasis than they originally came to the program with.

Sanders currently teaches Fine Arts 102, » More …

Podcast series makes visiting artists accessible any time

Squeak Meisel

Squeak Meisel, the chair of the Fine Arts department and a renowned sculptor, has a confession to make about his podcast series, “Fly on the Wall.”

“I stole this idea from my friend Spencer Moody,” he says. Moody, a punk and noise rock musician and artist, recorded a series of interviews that inspired Meisel to realize that there is a whole “cohort of people who make different decisions than I do,” and who have a diversity of approaches to life, art, music, the world and its ambiguities.

“I thought, this is what I get from the visiting artists” the Fine Arts department invites to campus. “I get to expose students to all these different choices and lifestyles,” to all the experiences and decisions that go into becoming an artist. » More …

Jan. 12-Feb. 8: Emotionally powerful exhibit focuses on child loss

Susana ButterworthThe emotionally powerful, poignant “Empty Photo Project,” created by Washington State University Tri-Cities student Susana Butterworth, that details the tragic and emotional experience of what it is like to lose a child, will be on display from Jan. 12-Feb. 8 in the WSU Tri-Cities Art Gallery.

The exhibition, which Butterworth began in a fine arts course at WSU Tri-Cities after losing her own son in utero, tells the story of 25 parents who have lost a child, and the physical and emotional impact it has had on their lives and their relationships with family, friends and even strangers. In addition to the written stories of each parent featured, each features a photo of the parent taken by Butterworth, which represents both the physical and mental hole left in the parents’ lives after the child’s passing.


An opening reception for the exhibition will be held 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12, in the WSU Tri-Cities Art Gallery.

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