Independent Contractor Spotlight — Calligrapher

Artist Miranda Fuller shares what it’s like to make a living via her passion

Originally from Lebanon, Virginia, Miranda Fuller is a Nashville, Tennessee-based freelance graphic designer, watercolor artist, calligrapher, and engraver. After a decade of using her art as a side-hustle, she recently chose to leave her full-time graphic design job to start her own business, and so far, she couldn’t be happier. She’s about to open her Etsy store, Calligraphy Kindness. There she’ll sell her art, calligraphy, and engravings made from upcycled and recycled items. View her work on Instagram: @randaleefuller.

What path did you take to becoming an artist, especially a calligrapher?

Miranda Fuller: I’ve always been an artist. I recently told my father and my mom that I was just so happy that they encouraged me to be an artist as a kid and didn’t say, Oh, well you can’t make money doing that.

Before I studied graphic design, I went to a two-year college in southwest Virginia. I studied under Ellen Elmes. I think she is retired now, but she’s an amazing watercolor artist. Then I got my BFA in graphic design from Corcoran School of Arts & Design in Washington, D.C.

In 2013, I was itching to get away from the computer. They don’t tell you in school that you’re going to sit in front of the computer 24/7, you know? So I took a calligraphy class, and I picked up my watercolors again because of calligraphy. It’s just kind of blossomed from there. Then in January of this year I took an engraving class so I can engrave on glass, metal, wood, ceramics, and porcelain—just to add another way for me to incorporate my lettering and my flourishing.

You’ve been freelancing on the side since shortly after you moved to Nashville in 2006. What inspired you to ramp up your client base and make the transition to full-time independent contractor in 2018?

MF: I think that with the addition of calligraphy, I realized that I would be happy having my own business. When I took my first calligraphy class, it was like I found my bliss. My dream of being a self-sustaining artist was coming true. My husband and I discussed it. We knew that it would be a challenge, but it would also be beneficial. I would have to be working 24/7, and that’s basically what happened in the past two years. I really didn’t have a life.

How do you land your clients?

MF: It’s mostly word of mouth. One of my challenges is just posting my work to my website and having time to do that. So I like the format of Instagram. I can post a shot and say, Hey, this is what I’m doing. It’s a great way to just kind of keep people updated.

Do you have any Instagram tips?

MF: I’ve done research and I’ve tried posts where I didn’t put any hashtags, and then I’ve done posts where I’ve put 30; I think that’s the limit. On your phone, if you go to the app, there’s a search option and there’s a tag option. So for instance, I’ll search “Chinese brush painting” and then that tag will come up. Then they have options that kind of go with that tag. And so I’ll play with it and see how many people have posted to a tag. So I think tagging is very important. People have found me in weird ways like that.

You have a mix of artistic talents. How do they work together?

MF: I’m definitely bringing my graphic design experience to my calligraphy. For example, somebody wrote a poem, and they wanted to have it written by a calligrapher and then they wanted it printed. With my graphic design background, I’m able to digitize the lettering for them.

What are some cool projects you’ve worked on recently?

MF: With my engraving, I work on wine bottles. I just did my first Prosecco bottle, which is kind of big because anything that’s under pressure can burst. All bottles have seams. My teacher told us this horror story of how he was engraving on a champagne bottle and it just burst and went everywhere and shot all the way across the room. He kind of put the fear into us and said, “Don’t do it until you’re ready.” But a friend wanted a wedding gift with an engraving on a bottle. I was like, You know what? I’m going to try it. I used a very light hand, and it turned out great.

Also, Nordstrom and certain stores have scent events. I was invited to engrave on perfume bottles. I just love events like that. It’s so much fun because people are so curious about what you’re doing, and I get to educate and share my art. It’s the best thing ever.

You’ve got an acumen for business. Where does it come from?

MF: My father is a CPA, and luckily, he taught me the ways of business and to keep my receipts and to track my mileage—you know, pay my taxes, all of that.

You use contracts to protect yourself and your work. What tips do you have for other artists when creating their work-for-hire agreements?

MF: I did some research about what you should include. If the scope of the work changes, then you need to make sure you have it in there that your fees will change. If a client approved something and then they have changes after the approval, then that’s going to be extra. I also have in the terminology that this is an estimate and I will let you know if I go over time or I’m under or anything like that or if any additional cost will be incurred.

What surprised you about becoming a freelancer?

MF: I think I had this idea that I was going to have all this time to do whatever I wanted and it’s not true. I wouldn’t consider it a frustration; it just makes sense.

When you’re not making art, how do you unwind?

MF: I love yoga. I go to yoga at least once a day, sometimes twice if I can. I recently discovered Pilates, thanks to one of my clients, and I absolutely love that.

What are your words of wisdom for fellow independent contractors?

MF: Move! Stretching, sun salutations or walking outside for 5 to10 minutes every hour improves my productivity, and clears my head if I’m stuck on a project. I know it sounds like a lot of time but the benefits are wonderful! Moving helps me to be kind to myself and to others.