Michelle Purvis’ favorite thing about art is color. “That’s what I focus on the most,” she says. One glance around her basement studio bears that out. Cheerful, vividly colored cityscapes, trees and octopi stand in various stages of her painting process. Against one wall, a massive collection of found house paint waits to be recycled into her future work. Even her cat – the angular faced, bushy-tailed Oliver—is bright orange.
Michelle grew up in the Northwest. She moved to Portland in 2005 after a stint in art school in Idaho, and two years as a working artist in Florida. She paints on both canvas and wood. Many of her paintings begin with a drip technique for texture. Her early work was more abstract and geometric, and those elements are still present as her subject matter has diversified and grown more detailed. Michelle sells her work at the Urban Art Network Street Gallery, Saturday Market, and other shows and shops around the Northwest.
When asked about her early inspiration and mentoring, Michelle immediately cites her mother. “Mom was always so crafty,” Michelle said. “She made everything by hand. She bought me my first canvas and paint in high school.” Despite her mother’s encouragement, and her time in art school, she didn’t start painting until she moved Florida. She answered an ad in a local newspaper for an artist job. Soon she was working at Rainbow Art and Design, part of a team of artists mass producing up to two hundred paintings a day. “Three amazing artists trained me,” she says. She credits her Florida experience with turning her into a full time artist. “They showed me how to do it realistically and make a living at it.” After a year, she was lead artist. After another year, she decided it was time to strike out on her own. She moved to Portland.
It took two years to establish herself as a Portland artist. “It was hard to get a body of work together,” she says, “to know what people would like, and to develop the confidence to go out and sell it.” Eventually she hit on lollipop trees, her signature series.“I found a design I could do easily and make affordable.” She paints and sells many lollipop trees a week now.
Learning to market her work was another story. “I was very shy. I didn’t know what to say to people,” says Michelle, who seems outgoing and comfortable with herself now. Still, when people come to her booth at Saturday Market or the Urban Art Network Street Gallery, they won’t get a sales pitch. “I say hi. Sometimes not even that. I let them do it all. I do not sell my work. My work sells itself.”
Michelle is modest about her success, and laughed when asked to give advice to other artists interested in “going pro.” Although she doesn’t seem to consider herself a seasoned professional, when pressed she has some useful tips for artists. Here are a few good ones:
- Don’t be afraid to show your work. There’s going to be someone who hates it and someone who loves it.
- Have a range of different priced work. If you’re selling on the street, make sure you bring out your less expensive pieces as well.
- Say yes to people right now. Make appointments. Stick to them.
About this last tip, Michelle says she takes her work seriously and puts business first. Her weeks fill up with art-related commitments. “My friends think it’s funny I have to schedule time to meet for a beer,” she laughs.
Last summer she ventured into teaching painting techniques to children at the Portland Playhouse Summer Camp. The camp focuses on art, theater and yoga for kids 4-9 years old. She looks forward to teaching there again this year.
Portland has influenced Michelle’s work. She loves the scenery, the downtown and the bridges. But the city’s biggest influence on Michelle’s art is the artists themselves. “The artists influence me, inspire me, motivate me,” she says.
by Teresa Bergen
Visit Michelle's Profile Page where you can read her Artist's Statement, view more images and find a link to her website.