This past March, during the initial spike in COVID-19 cases, Bowdoin alumna Amanda Newman ’19 launched Miss Manda Pet Portraits. Since then, she has listed over 300 products for sale on her website and has painted and drawn countless custom pet portraits.
It was during her time at Bowdoin, as a visual arts minor, when she began exploring her passion for the arts and for sharing her work with others.
“At the end of my senior year, I was in a painting class that I really loved,” Newman said in a phone interview with the Orient. “I decided to make a separate art Instagram and thought that maybe I’d sell some things; maybe not.”
After experimenting with various subjects and styles, Newman found an unexpected niche: pet portraits.
“I ended up just making this portrait of my dog that people really liked and wanted of their own pets,” Newman said. “I took to that and just went all in on pet portraits.”
Newman began painting pet portraits for friends and family, but it was only in March when she began making commissions from the paintings.
“I did a little flash sale on my Instagram because I just wanted something to do, so I was like, ‘The first five people who message me, I will do a pet portrait for $10,’” Newman said. “The five people went instantly pretty much, and then other people were willing to pay full price, so that’s when it all started.”
Newman, who was an English and education major, is also a fourth-grade teacher in the Las Vegas area. While she initially had ample time on her hands during the onset of remote learning in March, she now balances her business with being a full-time educator.
“I’ve just been trying to build it up slowly now,” Newman said. “I’m in full-time, virtual education so it’s just mostly what I do on the weekends and a little bit when I have the chance, but I’m definitely hoping to keep growing.”
While her portraits are primarily lighthearted, Newman also uses her unique platform to raise awareness and funds for equity and justice organizations. She has released a Black Lives Matter pet series, 100 percent of the profits of which went to 100 Black Men of Las Vegas.
“I’m teaching in a low-income area, and just seeing the inequalities in schools and knowing how the zip code you’re born into really impacts the education that you get … has really made me want to find ways to raise awareness about these issues,” Newman said. “I’m happy that I can donate a portion of proceeds.”
While Newman is proud of what she has accomplished since March, she feels that COVID-19 restrictions have hindered her growing business.
“I want to eventually move away from doing the custom art and do more things that anyone would buy,” Newman said. “I want to go into pet shops and start doing little pop-up displays, but right now, we have a stay-at-home order. I’m lucky that I still have my teaching job to sustain me, but [business development] is definitely something that I’ve been having to kind of put on hold.”
As Miss Manda continues to grow at a slow but steady rate, Newman is grateful for the skills that she has acquired at Bowdoin and finds herself applying them to both her educational and her artistic pursuits.
“Bowdoin has given me the ability to really work well with people and also to problem solve,” Newman said. “Those are things that I’m taking with me in teaching, and then also hopefully in the future, when I’ll be working with people.”