Kelly Miranda Photography: “There’s Enough Room for Everybody”

A forgotten camera from a high school photography class set Kelly MacNiven on the path to owning her own business, Kelly Miranda Photography. Her husband, Casey, had enjoyed the class he’d taken years before and he’d kept the camera. It stayed underneath the bed collecting dust until MacNiven found it before they left on their honeymoon to Mexico. “We brought the camera with us,” said MacNiven. “I was documenting my husband and the landscape and anything I could see. I enjoyed it and had a knack for it.”

Born and raised in Durango, Colo., MacNiven met Casey at Fort Lewis College, where she was studying biology. They formed a band while in college, with Casey on guitar, and MacNiven singing and playing piano and guitar. When their drummer graduated and moved to Denver, Casey and MacNiven were ready for a change. After checking out Denver, they heard about Austin. “We wanted to get out of the snow,” explained MacNiven, who moved to Texas with Casey in 2008. “We ended up loving the place. It was a really cool city and a fun place to be in your early twenties. It provided the change we were looking for.”

With the move, MacNiven, while waiting tables, decided to invest in a camera at the local Best Buy. She paid it off within a year and decided to go back to school for photography. She found a program in Austin. “I was more of fine arts photographer when I started, doing obsrtact images,” shared MacNiven. “If I wanted to make money, I would have to do portraits and weddings, which was fine, because I enjoyed that, too. It was an interesting journey. I didn’t know I was going to make a business out of it until I started going to school and realized I didn’t want to wait tables anymore.”

The program focused on the technical aspects of photography, with a strong business aspect. MacNiven took classes on accounting and photography studio management, which included units about getting insurance, creating a business plan, and how to set prices. “I felt like I was pretty prepared by the time I graduated to not only be a photographer, but what my prices were,” shared MacNiven. “I still made my mistakes. I at least had that knowledge beforehand and knew, going into it, that there were going to be certain obstacles.”

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She learned the practical aspects of doing business, including how to weigh costs against profit and how to plan accordingly. She explained that many people think that if the business makes $100,000, then the photographer makes $100,000, which isn’t how business works. Costs have to be included to the intended salary, and the salary has to be set. “If I want to make $40,000, then that’s $40,000 on top of what my expenses are,” explained MacNiven. “It was nice that my teachers taught me to value what I’m worth and to value my art. In the end, you’re spending all this time to make this art for people and you need to know what your time is worth.”

MacNiven encourages anyone trying to start a business to do the research and know the numbers necessary to cover necessary costs and earn a decent salary. There are calculators online that help determine costs and the equivalent income needed. “Know how much you want to make and charge that from the beginning,” MacNiven suggested. “I didn’t really plan for how much time each thing was going to take me and how much it was going to cost me to run my business. That’s my biggest piece of advice – nailing your numbers.”

After graduation, MacNiven and Casey had their son, Carter, and decided to move back to Durango in 2013 to be closer to her family. She had already started her photography business in Austin, and the move meant that she had to start over. “And I started over again and again,” added MacNiven. “I feel like I’ve started over so many times. It’s constantly in a state of growth for me.”

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MacNiven had chosen an ideal client base with related branding, but tax season brought a rude awakening. “I realized I’d made maybe 10 dollars an hour doing what I’ve done,” said MacNiven. “I’d worked so hard. I realized I just couldn’t do it for that wage anymore. I wasn’t going to able to support my family on that. I had to rebrand myself and work with a whole different type of client.”

She realized she wanted to add prints, and then she decided to add a studio space. “It is an important part of my artistic process to see the photos all the way to the finished print product,” explained MacNiven. “I wanted a more hands-on approach to the customer experience.”

Three years later, MacNiven is seeing the results of her work as she focuses on family portraits and wedding sessions, with additional projects such as headshots and buildings. “It’s been great, and every year I’m growing a little bit more,” she said. “I’m seeing my numbers double and it’s promising that I’m actually able to make a living this way and be able to support my family. I think I’ve settled on how I’m going to do things. I don’t think I’m going to have to rebrand or start over anymore because it seems to be doing really well.”

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She’s also found support in the small business community in Durango. She attends the local Chamber events for networking opportunities, and has developed a good rapport with other local photographers. “We can all help each other out and there’s enough room for everybody,” said MacNiven. “There’s enough business to go around. We don’t need to be competitive. It works and we all help each other out and it’s a great community of artists and business owners making sure there’s enough room for all of us, doing what we love to do.”

As her business continues to grow, she’s also found ways to give back and support her community. She recently concluded a fundraising drive for Project Merry Christmas. For a session fee of $175, which included Christmas cards and an ornament, MacNiven offered portraits. She raised $1,000, which will help two to three families with food, clothing and presents for the holiday season. “I try to do something every year to support a local family,” she said. “I think it’s really important we all try to give back. I’ve been in the position where I’ve needed help with health insurance. There are lot of people out there struggling to make it. It’s important to help each other and build each other up. For people who can’t get their basic needs met, it’s huge we help out with that, so if I can, I’m going to do it. I like that I can use my art and photography talent to give back in some way. For me to be able to use that in a way that helps people is really important. I feel like we should all be doing that in some way or another as small business owners.”

MacNiven has found, despite the challenges and struggles she’s had, that it’s worth it owning her business and pursuing her craft. “One of the biggest things that holds people back from making a living at their art is that fear factor,” admitted MacNiven. “It’s scary. It’s pretty huge. For me, the risk is not going to outweigh the benefit. It’s so incredible when you get that feeling that you’re finally there and you’re finally supporting yourself from your art. You don’t need that other job. It’s such a good feeling. I can buy groceries and pay rent. When I was in school, photographers came in and talked to classes. They really inspired me, hearing their stories. They can do it, and if they can do it, so can I.”

See more photos on Kelly’s website, follow her on Facebook, find some inspiration from her pins on Pinterest, and catch her on Instagram as @kellymirandaphotography or Twitter as @kellymphotos.

This is the second in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you have a good story or know someone with a good story.

The Inkling Girl: “I Paint What I Think is Pretty”

A sibling rivalry with one of her brothers turned Morgan Allain’s childhood love of drawing into a more serious pastime. “I wanted to be better than him,” said Allain, who now sells prints and wearable art as “The Inkling Girl”. “Then he got into sports and stopped doing it, and I kept drawing.”

At age 14, she snagged her first paid commission from the mother of a child she babysat. “I can’t remember how much she paid me,” she shared, “but I was pretty excited about it all.”

Three years later, while working as a nanny, the parents asked Allain to paint a mural in the girl’s playhouse. “It was super cute – flowers and fairies and bugs,” explained Allain, who spent two years with the family. “They hired me to do other art-related jobs over the course of the time I worked for them.”

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Rock Candy

Even with a lack of an arts program at the high school she attended, Allain maintained her interest in art and continued to draw and take art classes now and then until she attended McNeese State University. She majored in Art with a concentration in printmaking, which she enjoyed. “I never took any painting classes in college because I was a snob about it,” she shared.

While in college, she dabbled in drawing, book making, printing and other art odds and ends, until she earned her degree and promptly stopped printing, finding it much too expensive. “I picked up a watercolor set a year after I graduated, and that’s what I’ve done since,” Allain said. “I had to learn it all myself the hard way.”

Now, living in DeQuincy, La., Allain teaches a few private classes, but her projects are the majority of her work. “I love faces,” said Allain. “I always have. I’ve always doodled faces more than anything else, especially eyes and lips. Honestly, it’s my comfort zone. It’s comfortable drawing and what I feel most natural doing.”

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Skull Candy Rex

Following her theme of beauty, Allain worked on her “Muse” series for two years, painting 48 faces she found alluring. She also paints animal skulls in a series called “Skull Candy”, and previously worked on a series of birds that featured her usual style of bright colors and paint splatters.

Her current project is a portrait series, called “Sugar Pop”. Each piece has a name that reflects the colors she selects. She started the series this year and has eleven paintings so far. “I just want to do as many super bright colors as I can smash in there with negative space for the background,” she shared. “A lot of artists have meaning in their stuff, or pretend they have a lot of meaning in their stuff, but I have no meaning. I paint what I think is pretty. That’s it.”

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Allain paints beautiful things, but she also has a practical reason for why she creates. “For me, personally, art is important because I tend towards anxiety,” Allain shared. “When I’m creating, I’m a healthier person in general and happier. For my husband, he just loves to create and tell stories. I don’t tell any stories. I don’t care about that. I like putting the pictures I see in my head on paper.”

Her husband of eight years, Danny, is also an artist, with a degree in drawing and teaching. They attended the same college, and while the couple never had classes together, Allain often ran into him and would occasionally flirt with him in between classes. After her boyfriend broke up with her, Allain and Danny started spending more time together. They connected instantly. Allain thought he was cute, but also found him nice, talented, genuine and straightforward. “Within two weeks, I knew I’d marry him,” Allain shared. “He later told me he knew within the first month, and even told his mom he wanted to marry me. We just have so much in common; we really enjoy each other’s company.”

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Goblin King in Blue

These days, Danny is working on a series called “Bones”, which Allain sells through her Etsy as “X-Ray Watercolor”. He has also written and drawn several comics, including a zombie western called “Dead Reckoning”, “The JoyKill Club”, and his most recent project for their daughter, “The King’s Lost Ruby”. “Danny wanted a comic book that our daughter could enjoy, filled with adventure, so he decided to create one himself,” Allain explained. “It’s wonderful! Funny, cute, and beautifully drawn. The protagonist, a little girl called ‘Frog’, is very much inspired by our daughter, Ruby.”

Ruby, now four, was just a baby when Allain first started her business, “The Inkling Girl” in 2012. Allain had worked at Starbucks for six years while doing commissions and keeping paintings and cards in the display case at work. When she decided to stay home to take care of Ruby, she started painting again and then making prints of her work at the local Kinkos. She moved onto having a booth at the local farmer’s market, but noticed that people weren’t very interested in buying a piece of paper. Allain realized she wanted to make wearable art, but wasn’t sure how to take the step from prints to jewelry. At the time, Danny was participating in comic cons with his comic books, and Allain joined him. At a con, she met Jessica von Braun, a fellow artist selling pendants featuring her artwork. “That’s what I wanted to do,” Allain said. “I picked her brain and she generously told me how she did them and where to get the stuff. Eventually I figured out to make them and put my art in them. It took me awhile. Then I went crazy and made earrings and rings and magnets.”

She’s been creating jewelry ever since as she continues to paint, making necklaces, earrings, magnets, key chains and more that she sells online and at craft fairs. She advises other artists to look for successful crafters and contact them. “Reach out to as many as you can,” Allain encouraged. “Some might be so busy or so overwhelmed and they can’t help you, but some like Jessica von Braun can help you. I think I figured it out a lot faster because she was so helpful. I make an effort to be the same to other people. I don’t keep secrets on how I make stuff because I didn’t come up with it myself. There’s no reason not to share.”

Follow Morgan on Facebook, snag a piece of art from Etsy or Society6, see some fun stuff on Tumblr, and catch her on Instagram or Twitter as @theinklinggirl.

This is the first in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you have a good story or know someone with a good story.