Amanda Tiberi and I first met in college through our sorority and we have fortunately stayed in touch over the years through social media, where I have been able to follow her and watch her grow. Let me just say, I have been so incredibly impressed by how crazy talented of an artist and designer she is. I look at the work Amanda creates and am in sheer awe and amazement every time I see a piece she shares. She is truly not your typical artist or designer. Most artists usually have their “thing” – the single thing they’re really great at; their specialty. But not Amanda. She’s the kind of artist who can put her mind to something and excel at it, no matter what type of art it is. She can do realistic portraits and drawings, paintings, calligraphy, glass painting, logo and graphics creation, and various wedding goods and signage. She does all of this as the owner and creator of her own freelance business, XO Art & Design. To top off the craziness of managing her own business, she also works full time as Graphic Design Director!
If it wasn’t obvious already, this girl is someone you need to know. I am so excited to share my interview with her so you can learn more about her, her talents, and her incredible business.
KN: Amanda, thanks for allowing me to share your story! Can you tell me how you got to be where you are today?
Amanda Tiberi: My story starts before I can even remember. Apparently when I was only a couple years old, I would draw faces on my Magna Doodle (remember those?). My mom has pictures of me with those Magna Doodle drawings when I was probably three years old. So, for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to make a career out of art.
I started taking art lessons when I was in first or second grade. What I wanted to be when I grew up was never a question, although it varied within the arts. I remember wanting to be an artist, a fashion designer, an interior designer, and a graphic designer. While everyone else in high school was deciding on where to go to college and what to major in, I knew that I was going to go somewhere to study some form of art & design. I ended up choosing the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and I loved every second of it. I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Industrial Design (product design) in 2014 and after college I got a job as a graphic designer, working on designing food labels for places like Walgreens, Aldi, and Meijer. Four years later and this is still my day job! Although since then, I have been promoted to Graphic Design Director. I can’t explain what an exciting feeling it is to see products I designed on the shelves at Walgreen’s…and then how strange I feel as I snap a photo of myself with said packaging.
On nights and weekends, I work as the one woman show behind XO Art & Design, where I create everything from fine art to personalized gifts to wedding goods. It has only been about two years since I have added calligraphy and hand lettering to my repertoire, but it has quickly become one of my favorite forms of art. Back in high school and college, the margins of my class notes were filled with a couple drawings, but mostly words including pretty quotes, the alphabet, and my signature over and over and over again. I wondered why more of my doodles weren’t sketches and drawings – I felt like I wasn’t a real artist if I didn’t doodle drawings all of the time. It wasn’t until years later that it clicked that I could create another side of my career out of writing words in a pretty way. Then in mid-2017, after years of people telling me I should open up an Etsy shop, I finally did! And boy, I should’ve listened to people years ago. Opening my Etsy has been one of the most fun, most challenging experiences in my artistic career. I have learned an incredible amount in the last few months since I opened my shop, and my business has truly skyrocketed since then.
KN: That’s incredible. I have loved watching your art evolve and seeing your business grow and explode! So far, what has been your best business decision and what has been the most difficult?
AT: My best career decision has definitely been to start an Etsy. My family and friends have been telling me for YEARS to start a shop. The most exciting part about what I do is that every project is different. I tend to get bored if I have to do the same thing over and over and over again. So, when a new project comes along and it’s something fresh and new that I haven’t done before, that gets me all amped up and giddy! I think that’s the reason why I haven’t committed to one specific type of art. I just love to change up what I do because it keeps it interesting. I can be working on a drawing on Monday, doing some calligraphy envelopes on Tuesday, hand lettering some jewelry boxes on Wednesday, and starting a painting on Thursday. The endless possibilities of art and design are truly what excites me the most.
On the contrary, the most difficult part about building a business is managing my time and my work/life balance. For the last four years or so, since I started really growing my business, I just felt like I had enough orders coming in from family, friends, and friends of friends that there would be no way I’d have the time or energy to take orders from strangers. I mean, I was right – I really didn’t have room to take on more orders, but I make it work and honestly love it. I go to my full-time job all day, then I come home and work on my business all night. I feel like I have two full-time jobs! On weekends when my friends ask me what my plans are, my answer is almost always “art.”
To help with my work/life balance, I’ve had to learn to say “no” to people. I am a people pleaser. I want to help everyone with whatever they need. So, I have gotten to the point where my schedule is so packed that I will have to say no to a project, especially if the project doesn’t quite fit in with the theme of my business. It makes me feel bad every time I have had to do it, because I know the person is in need and I’m sure they are just trying to be nice and support a small business, like mine! I have really begun to work on my time management though, saying no to projects, and trying to make enough room in my schedule for what is truly the most important in my life – my family, my boyfriend, and my friends.
KN: I feel ya on that time management! It’s so hard to work a full-time job and then run your passion project/business on the side, as it truly is another full-time job! Speaking of challenges, what has been the biggest so far in your life? How did you push through it?
AT: The biggest challenge has been learning how to run a business. I was an art major; I never took a business class. I have had to teach myself or seek the answers to literally everything that goes into managing a business. The art is the easy part. The business part is the hard part! I’ve learned to push through it by asking for help when I need it. I know that I don’t have the answers to everything, and luckily, I have a ton of very intelligent friends and family members in my life who have taken business classes or are in the business field, who have helped guide me along the way.
KN: I think it’s important for us to try and figure things out on our own, but it definitely never hurts to ask for help when you need it. I think you are doing such a phenomenal job handling your business! With growing your business, what or who would you credit your success to?
AT: Honestly, I credit my success to my parents and the little fire they lit under my butt when I was a kid. They saw I had a passion (and apparently some sort of talent) before I even understood what I was doing, and they took it and ran with it. I feel like when it comes to art, the cliché is that you can’t have a career in that, or that it isn’t a good job to make money and be successful with, which is totally false. Some parents might see that their kid is decently artistic, but push them to be something else instead, like a doctor or a lawyer, but not my wonderful parents!
They could see what made me happiest and since then, they’ve been helping me achieve my dreams. My mom and dad have paid for art classes for me my entire life. They drove me to and from those classes, made sure I had the top-quality supplies to help me grow, and went with me from college to college in search of the perfect school and program for me to begin my career. My mom picks up materials for me when I can’t get them myself, helps deliver projects to clients for me, and is always sending me new ideas and photos of things that she thinks might inspire me and my next project. My dad has helped teach me how to manage my money and save for my future, and he also saves bubble wrap and packaging materials for me because he knows I am always in need! My parents have been my biggest support system. They are always pushing me to be my best and telling me that I can do anything I can set my mind to. I would not be where I am today without them, and I will forever be grateful for everything they have done for me. They are my absolute biggest fans!
I also credit so much of my success to my clients!!! Anyone who has ever bought anything from me definitely deserves credit! I have the best clients in the world.
KN: Oh my gosh, your parents sound like the best people ever. That is so wonderful they fueled your passion and talent and are still such a big part of your success today! On that note of support systems and inspiration, who has inspired you over the years?
AT: One of my early art teachers, Carla Inwood, was and will always be one of my biggest inspirations. She has made a fulfilling life for herself doing what she loves – painting and teaching others the craft. My grandpa, an artist himself, has also kept me inspired and motivated throughout my life! He never fails to remind me of my passion and skills.
Outside of personal connections, I have also admired several artists and calligraphers that I have followed online and on Instagram over the years. There are too many inspiring artists and calligraphers to name, but some of the ones I follow very closely include artists such as Lindsay Rapp and Charmaine Olivia, and calligraphers like Lauren Saylor of A Fabulous Fete and Katrina S.L. Centeno-Nguyen of Calligraphy Katrina. These four women have created wildly successful businesses out of their talents and I aspire to be like all of them.
KN: Love that! I could watch calligraphers for days on Instagram. The work you all do is so beautiful! With the craziness of owning your business and managing work/life balance, what keeps you motivated?
AT: My clients, for sure! I do what I do to make people happy. When I hand over a finished project, whether it be a drawing or some kind of wedding detail, most of the time my client’s face will light up. It is that moment that makes all of my hard work worth it. I can see I have helped make something they’ve dreamed up to be a reality. I love when I get the “oh my God, I LOVE IT!!!!!” text or when a client sends a photo of the person they surprised with a gift that I made, and the person’s face is beaming. I may not be saving lives here, but I like to think that I am making the world a little bit happier and a little bit more beautiful, and that makes my job rewarding.
KN: That has to be such an amazing feeling. I definitely think the work you do every day is making a difference. A lot of women look up to entrepreneurs – the go-getters, as I like to call them. If you had one piece of advice for the women out there reading this, what would it be?
AT: I’d say to try to hold onto the craving to learn and to challenge yourself, because you can truly do whatever you set your mind to. Like I said in the beginning of this interview, I get bored easily if I do the same thing over and over again. I always want to learn something new or challenge myself with something I haven’t done before. There’s never been an instance in my art career where I didn’t accomplish what I set my mind to! I have worked very hard to get myself to where I am today, but I am still not satisfied, nor will I ever be. I have huge plans for my career and where I want my life to go, and I can only get there if I keep learning and doing. Even if you have a successful career under your belt already, there is always something more to learn to better yourself. Seek it out.
KN: Amanda, YES. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Keeping the curiosity alive to always be learning truly is part of the recipe for success. Do you have any parting thoughts before we end this interview?
AT: Thank you for interviewing me, Kelly! This was a lot of fun and I hope that I am able to spark someone else’s interest to follow their dreams. Sometimes all you need is a little push to get started, and I hope I did that here today for someone. 🙂
Of course! And I bet you did inspire someone out there! If you’d like to see some of Amanda’s work or follow along with more recent updates, you can find her below:
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Role Strategy and Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.