Your Hobby Can Be More: An interview with Vanessa Lamb
Vanessa Lamb is an artist, scientist, and instructor from Uniondale, New York. She is the owner and founder of Expressions by Van, an online store where she offers custom art and canvas prints. Between teaching art and tap classes, running her store, and being a fabulous black girl, Lamb believes throwing yourself into uncomfortable situations provides the most possibility for growth.
Check out our interview with her below on art, the beauty of seeing bodies in motion, and what you can learn from failure.
When did you officially launch Expressions by Van? How did you know it was time to officially launch your business, your online store, and then teach art classes?
Lamb: I officially launched Expressions by Van at the end of 2015. I was in my senior year of college and on break in-between semesters. During those times off, I focused on doing things that were relaxing and that made me happy. At that time, creating an Etsy account was it. To be honest, I just went for it. That was the first time I believed my art could be more than just a hobby. In April 2016, I taught my first paint class. A mentor of mine invited me to conduct one for her line sisters. The confidence she had in me gave me confidence in myself. From there, I went on to teach multiple paint classes and I love it.
Considering the fierce competition in the art world, what makes your work stand out from the crowd? How do you make something like art, that is often seen as highbrow, relatable in your work?
Lamb: There are many artists within the community but there is room enough for all of us. Everyone has his or her own style; it’s sort of like handwriting. So, as an artist you can stand out by staying true to your own way of doing things and also offering your art in different ways. For example, as prints, bags, mugs, magnets, and other items. In that way you can appeal and relate to a variety of supporters.
Are you totally self-employed through Expressions by Van? If so, how long did it take you to get there? If not, do you have plans to make that transition?
Lamb: I am not totally employed through Expressions by Van. Maybe one day I will be, but at the moment it is not a priority of mine. I think it is good to have multiple streams of income. In addition, I don’t want to prematurely take on Expressions by Van full-time. Instead, I would like to focus on building myself as an artist and as a businesswoman so that I can do it the way I want it to be done.
You graduated with a B.S. in Chemistry and you were are a pre-health student. Does your science background influence your art in any way? How do they work together?
Lamb: I would say it’s the other way around. The artist in me influences the scientist in me. I’m a visual learner so I approach learning in a very artistic way. I do have some exciting projects in the works that incorporate both art and science, so stay tuned!
I love the way you capture people in your artwork. Did being a pre-health student have anything to do with the way you view the human body?
Lamb: Thank you! I don’t think my interests in health influence the way I view the body very much actually. I just love seeing bodies in motion. I also love natural hair and black features so those are found in a lot of my paintings.
What’s the scariest part about being an entrepreneur?
Lamb: The scariest part and the best part is its unpredictability. What you get out of it is directly related to what you put into it. When you work for yourself, you don’t get paid just for showing up so it’s a bit more pressure. On the other hand, you’re doing what you love, so it is amazing!
What is something about working in the art world and being a black female entrepreneur that you didn’t expect?
Lamb: I didn’t come in with any expectations. This was/is all very new to me. What surprised me is how many of us are doing it and doing it well. I discovered many black and black women artists on instagram, which is awesome.
I love the image of the black ballerina you taught in a class with the young girls on your Instagram. What are some considerations you make for students when you’re teaching classes? Is it important for you to showcase the beauty of black womanhood in your classes?
Lamb: I’ve created a number of dancer paintings for clients and also as gifts! Dance has been a big part of my life and I want to represent the younger me, and those like me in a beautiful way. I haven’t taught a class with black ballerinas but in the future I plan to do so! With my classes, the person planning the event chooses the painting option. I mostly focus on having a fun and relaxing experience with them. I also try to incorporate what I think they will like to create and hang in their own homes. Soon, I plan to host my own themed classes where I can choose paintings that promote positivity and self-love. In my classes and in my art, it is important to me that people can see themselves in my art.
How do you balance being productive with your store and your personal art?
Lamb: Mostly, I go off of my feelings. Day to day, if I feel overworked I make sure I step back and make time for myself. Also, with orders, I make sure I communicate with clients how long it will take to complete a project or order. The timeline I have includes time for productivity and for myself.
Who inspires you and why? Is it hard finding other black women in the art world to mentor you? How important is it to have a mentor in this business?
Lamb: In life, my aunts Cheryl, Joy, and Ashley inspire me very much. Their way of thinking, their approach at life, and their approach at challenges help me to do better. With art, I’m inspired by a lot of the artists I follow on Instagram and those I meet at events. Everyone has their own way of doing things and I think that’s the best part about the art world. There are so many of us but also a great variety. I don’t have an art mentor but I would love to have one. I think it would be great for me and great for the culture to grow and infiltrate spaces where we don’t regularly get opportunities.
What advice would you give to black women and women of color about being an entrepreneur?
Lamb: My best advice would be to first gain as much knowledge as you can about your industry of interest. You learn so much from doing that alone. Then, just dive into it. Don’t be overly concerned with having everything perfect before you start. Your gifts will make a way for you in any industry.
What do your mornings look like?
Lamb: I wish I had a fancy answer for this like oatmeal and tea or the gym! I actually have a part-time job at a hospital so my weekday mornings consist of that. So, I finish around 12 p.m., have lunch, and then it is time for creating and business. Every Saturday I teach tap dance at the dance school I grew up learning at. Then, most Sunday mornings I go to church.
What are your thoughts on failure or taking risks?
Lamb: I feel that most of the apprehension associated with taking risks is the fear of failure. That’s a very normal feeling but failure is inevitable. I think the best way to approach risk-taking is to embrace the possibility of failure. I’ve failed many times in my endeavors but each time I was able to learn something from it.
What is your greatest entrepreneurial achievement to date? What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
Lamb: I would say throwing myself into uncomfortable spaces for the growth of my business. I used to get very anxious around people I didn’t know personally, as far as teaching classes and vending at events goes. After conquering that fear and anxiety, it got easier and I’m now much more comfortable than I used to be. In the future, I will have my own creative space where I can host my own events and allow others to as well.