An Art Teacher’s Unique Business ABC Bodyart
From college side gig to full-time job
In college, Vonetta Berry, did face painting to earn extra money. After earning a degree in illustration and animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago she moved back to Houston, Texas. She was pregnant with her first child and could not find a job, so she fell back on face painting. Today, her college side gig has transformed into a full-time occupation. Now, she not only paints faces; she also transforms people’s bodies with paint.
Face painting & body painting business
Vonetta’s company, ABC Bodyart specializes in face painting for children at birthday parties, pregnant belly painting, special effects with prosthetics, full body painting and henna painting. They book a wide variety of gigs including painting performers at comic cons, birthday parties, festivals and henna painting.
A comic book nerd at heart, one of her favorite annual events is the Comicpalooza in Houston. The event hires her to do full body painting on performers. The performers, painted to look like superheroes, mingle with people waiting in lines. They take pictures with fans and provide entertainment.
Summer side hustle in libraries
During the summer, she supplements her income from events and parties by teaching teens in Houston’s public libraries. She has two workshops. The first is henna painting. Instead of painting the henna designs on the kid’s hands she teaches them how to do it themselves.
Henna painting with teens
One problem she encountered when teaching kids how to do henna was their reluctance to make mistakes. Henna painting does not wash off and typically stays on the skin for a week.
Henna is applied using a long, thin cone similar to a pastry tube. To help kids overcome their fear she makes cones filled with chocolate. They practice piping the chocolate onto their hands and if they make a mistake, they lick it off! This helps the kids relax while experimenting. When they feel confident, they graduate to the henna cones.
I love how Vonetta has designed the workshop to allow for the experience of creating without pressure, which builds confidence and muscle memory. All this leads to a better result when the henna is finally applied. When she teaches henna painting, she gathers books from the library’s collection, about the history of Henna, to display in the room where she teaches.
Takeaways–When you teach a workshop, analyze where you can improve the student’s experience. Do you need to scaffold to build confidence and skills? To further stimulate your student’s curiosity, gather books from the library’s collections to create a display about your subject.
Special effects workshop for teens
Vonetta noticed that it was mostly girls that attended the henna workshops, so she created a second workshop with boys in mind. In her Special Effects workshops, she shows boys and girls how to make realistic looking gashes and bullet wounds on their skin.
Takeaway–It’s wise to be as inclusive as you can to attract the most participants.
Library workshop side hustle
The libraries in Houston are centralized, meaning there is a small staff that oversees all programming for every branch in the system. The programming staff vets performers* and companies through an application and security clearances. Most people wait six months to be accepted.
Her path to becoming a library performer was easier than most. A friend of hers was relocating, so Vonetta stepped in and taught the workshops instead. There are counties near Houston that do not have centralized library systems, but she hasn’t started marketing herself to them yet.
Takeaway–If you live in an area with a centralized public library system check out the surrounding counties. While you are waiting for your application to be approved you can market yourself to libraries where the staff at each branch makes decisions on hiring performers.
When she first started teaching library workshops, she booked up to 30 a summer, but due to budgets shifting to fund maker spaces, she gets less bookings and teaches 15 workshops a summer.
Takeaway– Diversify the venues where you teach. Your income and business will be more stable.
Pros and cons of mobile business vs.brick and mortar studio studio
Currently, ABC Bodywork is operating as a mobile business. Texas, being the biggest state in the union, means she has to drive long distances to get to her gigs. She is looking forward to having another brick and mortar studio, so she can hold parties and events in her own space close to her home.
Years in business:15
Location: Houston, Texas
What: Henna painting and Special Effects workshops for teens. Body painting at events and parties.
Length of workshops: One and a half hours
Workshop fees: Charges $195 to $250. Max amount of students: 30 at library workshops.
Travel Stats: Travels all around the state of Texas
CSLP Themed Workshops:No
Full-time teacher to entrepreneur
Having been an art teacher in public schools for three years, Vonetta enjoys the creative freedom having her own business allows. When she was teaching, she had 30 minute classes and the focus was on assessment and testing. Given all the constraints, a 30 minute class wasn’t enough time to foster creativity. After three years, she decided teaching in a classroom was not a good fit for her.
Using the human body as a canvas is an unconventional way to make a living, but it’s perfect for Vonetta. ABC Bodyart allows her to use her illustration background and problem-solving skills. From faces to full body canvases; comic cons to henna painting in libraries; whether it’s based in a brick and mortar location or on the road, ABC Bodyart is a company that has a diverse range of unique services to offer.
*The word performer is used to describe a person or company that actually performs as a musician, magician etc. AND it can refer to someone who teaches a class and is not a performer.
Want more ideas for the art room? Join our email list to receive our weekly blog.
Pop up Art School is a mobile business that teaches over 50 art workshops a year in public libraries, afterschool enrichment and adult art workshops.
If you are looking for an enjoyable and low start-up cost side hustle, without the ball-and-chain of a brick and mortar studio, join our Facebook group Pop up Art School-How to Run a Mobile Art Business. Whether you are curious or ready to start your mobile business, stop by and introduce yourself!