Creyauna Willis sits on the floor of her tidy apartment and pulls a large white storage container to her side. Her practiced hand hovers above the sea of acrylic paint bottles and plucks out a deep red color, Alizarin Crimson. She grabs a wide paintbrush and places it in the chest pocket of her overalls. She smiles as she gestures to her makeshift home studio.
“My studio back home in Augusta is a little more complete, but I have everything I need here.”
Willis is a both a businesswoman and an artist, though she doesn’t take business or art classes. She recently began selling her custom commissioned art in a word of mouth driven business, which she is gradually moving to an online store. She is a senior psychology and child development major at Georgia Southern, but commissioned art is the path she is currently exploring.
“I’ve been good at art my whole life, but as far as a business, I just started. This is me learning as I go, but if I knew then what I know now, I would’ve started a long time ago. I’ve gone from selling my pieces for like 20 bucks to actually having art be a source of income. The most I’ve ever sold a piece for is $400,” Willis said.
Willis’s paintings are packed to the brim with bright colors and bold lines. Her canvases feature caricatures of television characters and cartoons, mothers coddling babies, professional athletes, Mickey Mouse gloves and graffiti-style lettering. The art has such drastically differing subject matter because each of her pieces is individually commissioned. They name it; she paints it – well, usually.
“I’m getting my name out there by doing commissioned, custom work. I don’t think I want to do that for long, though. Sometimes the requests get a bit crazy. One guy asked me, ‘Could you paint me with a towel wrapped around me standing in front of a fireplace?’ I’m like, ‘What? No.’”
Willis’s commissions usually come from followers of her Instagram, or from recommendations made by past customers. She bases her pricing on hours put into the piece, the size of the canvas, and the difficulty of what her client wants. After she and her customer reach an agreement on the commissioned material and price, she gets to work. She paints on the floor of her room while she’s at GSU, unless the piece is a mural or a wall in a home elsewhere.
“I have a customer in North Carolina next week, she’s actually paying for a hotel. She’s paying for me to go paint her living room. It’s humbling and the thing is, it’s just word of mouth. This is all word of mouth. When I finish one, I always have another.”
Willis tries to sell a piece every one to two weeks. The income helps pay the rent, and she hopes the experience will help her better understand the art business and where she fits into it.
“I never thought my art would be able to be sold. I eventually want to get to a place where I sell my own creative work.I pretty much make the plan as I go. Everything that has happened has been set in my path. I just kinda come across it,” she said.