Michele Sobel painting on a bag at Bloomingdale’s.

Michele Sobel’s full-time business involves painting designs on clients’ bags and other items.Sobel, who sees painting as a friend who’s always been there, used to sell art while working in news.Her business has seen gross sales almost double from 2022 to 2023.

Michele Sobel said painting has always been like a good friend.

“It’s been something that I’ve just kept by my side,” she told Business Insider. “It’s an unconditional love.”

She’s been painting since childhood, and went on to turn that passion into a side hustle and now her full-time business.

“I never stopped painting, although I never pursued it as a professional career until later in life,” Sobel said.

Her love for art has now become her sole source of income. While artists typically use a sketchpad, a canvas, or a digital tablet for their creations, Sobel is mainly painting luxury items like Louis Vuitton bags. She said that came about when one of her art clients asked her a few years ago whether she considered painting bags and gave her some designer ones to paint for her.

Sobel painted a tigress on a bag for a commission.

While she considered painting her “lifelong passion,” she had a passion for journalism too. She worked as a full-time and freelance news producer between 2006 and 2019.

Art was prominent in her life even while working in news. She was able to make some extra money from her artwork during that time; Sobel said she sold her first painting over a decade ago.

“I just found that as I advanced in my career, which I was working in a very stressful environment against deadlines and breaking news, and venturing into the world of motherhood that I just was craving more,” Sobel said. “And I just wanted to do more of that. That just made me feel good. And I felt that the more I was creating, I was able to better focus at my job and also just be a better mom.”

Documentation shared with BI showed that gross sales for her business has roughly doubled between 2022 and 2023 and that 2024 is off to a strong start.

“Michele Sobel Fine Art specializes in hand painting luxury leather goods, and it’s kind of a twofold business,” Sobel said. Her business includes both fulfilling private commissions and doing onsite events.

In general, she has seen making money from art become more profitable. She noted her margins on Etsy — where she said she sold art prints, original work, and wearable art — were sometimes just a few dollars. However, she now typically charges between $350 to $2,500 on her private commission work that includes painting designs on bags and other hand-painting work. Sobel said her sales are mainly done through Instagram and through her website.

“I never got into this to make money. It was always just passion, side hustle, hobby,” Sobel said about selling art as a full-time venture. “I had a career, so I wasn’t thinking I’m going to change careers. I just was kind of doing because I was following my passion, doing something that I love.”

Sobel had painted dog portraits onto a bag.

From a hobby to selling on Etsy to a LLC

Sobel said she was working full-time as a news producer through most of 2015 before working as a freelancer over the next few years, partly because she needed work flexibility. She said freelancing became more sporadic as she focused more on her art side hustle. Sobel said selling art was a hobby until around 2018 and 2019.

Sobel said she was painting more, partly due to the pandemic and motherhood. She said she was able to accomplish most of her goals working as a news producer and was ready to move on to a new opportunity.

“It was a question — I didn’t know what the answer was — is there something more that I could do with my art that would be fulfilling and allow me the flexibility to be available for my children and also just to fill my own cup a bit?” she said.

She said her business has transformed “from selling wall art to personalized art gifts and then ultimately to finding my niche hand painting designer goods.” She was able to make money through art on Etsy before registering her New Jersey business Michele Sobel Fine Art in 2022 and then as an LLC in 2023.

Her work on Etsy included “doing a lot of watercolors that I would turn into prints and had them printed on like blankets and tote bags and scarves — wearable art, which actually does translate into what I’m doing now,” she said.

She’s thoroughly enjoying the type of art she’s doing now — hand-painting designs on people’s items.

“When I think back to what I was doing on Etsy, I spent so many hours just customizing and doing these things on the computer, which is not what I loved, although I was happy doing it at the time,” she said. “But actually creating and doing and painting and creating this truly original art and pushing my creative boundaries to work in different styles and just capture different types of concepts that are often one of a kind and never done before is what really just makes my heart so happy.”

Sobel said commissions include reviving “vintage or already owned luxury goods, handbags with original art that is personalized for the client.” She said she also paints on sneakers. Personalizations can include painting birthstones or someone’s dogs, for instance. She’s also painted flowers, letters, and other requests. She said she also works in different styles — from pop art to realistic work.

Sobel has also painted flowers onto luxury items.

She said being able to really personalize what a client is looking for to make them “feel the most happy, confident, and empowered when they’re wearing their wearable art” brings her the most joy.

“I always encourage my clients if they have a special photo that they have taken, I can actually paint from that, or if it’s something from someone’s special vacation or traveling somewhere that they went that’s memorable for them or special, I love to incorporate that,” she said. “I want my clients to really feel like they’re part of the process and because after all, I’m spending all this time designing something and painting it just for them to wear.”

Sobel said she works on one private commission at a time and can take hours; she will paint for six hours straight usually. This work is usually completed within two weeks, which includes the time prepping what she will be painting on, like prepping a handbag, to sealing her work with a flexible water resistant finish when she’s done hand painting.

“I often will go back to work if my kids are sleeping, put in a few more hours just because I am so lucky to have a job that I just love what I’m doing and want to get back to,” she said.

While she spends a lot of her time painting commissions and that painting is a slow process that she enjoys, she said she does spend part of her day planning for events that are coming up.

Sobel said events can involve working with “luxury brands and stores and companies to create an event experience where customers and clients can come in and choose from a menu of artwork, and then I will hand paint it right in front of their eyes while I’m chatting with them and they get to walk away and take it home.”

Michael Kors, Bloomingdale’s, and LoveShackFancy are just some of the places she has worked with. She said she has also done corporate gifting.

“I never thought I would have the opportunity to paint in this kind of stage,” she said. “I always used to just paint for myself, and now I’m getting to paint for all these people, partner with all these amazing brands.”

Sobel is now able to focus on her dream of hand painting work and original art.

“This was a passion project for me. And I will say once I got going a little bit, I just kind of always have had in my head that someone is going to have your dream job,” she said. “Why can’t it be you?”

She advised other people to nurture their talent and passion “even if you don’t know exactly where you’re going” or “exactly what the path is going to be.”

“Whether you want to be a business owner or be an entrepreneur or be a creator, once you see the path forward, just follow it with determination and all the passion that it originated with,” she said. “Because someone’s going to be doing it at some point, and why can’t it be you?”

Have you turned a side hustle into your full-time work or a hobby into a profitable business? Reach out to this reporter to share at mhoff@businessinsider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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