Sporting an Adidas t-shirt and an infectious smile, Manhattan-based artist and poet Amber Vittoria sits at the kitchen table of the apartment that doubles as her home and workspace. Although Amber only went freelance five years ago, she has already worked for a number of high-profile clients including the likes of Gucci, L’Oréal Paris and her personal favourite, Adidas.
Not only has she made a splash on the NFT scene, she has also secured a publishing deal with Andrews McMeel Universal for a book featuring her poetry and paintings that is due to come out in January 2023.
Amber’s work, which explores the various nuances of womanhood through a bold and colourful palette, is infused with the playfulness and joy that comes from experimentation and introspection. Amber spoke to Melita Cameron-Wood about her work, the inspiration behind it and the journey ahead.
If you had to describe your work in five words, which five would you choose?
Colourful, bold, relatable, soft and welcoming.
You explore the topic of womanhood in your work. What does womanhood mean to you?
I think that when someone identifies as a woman, then their lived experience is womanhood. I draw upon my own lived experiences within my work, but then also the experiences of the women in my life and the women I have read about. I also look at women on the street and how they carry themselves. A combination of these things inspire my work.
What made you decide to focus on this topic?
I used to work as a web designer for Victoria's Secret in 2012. I would see images of women in magazines and on social media. They were very tall, thin and white. It was tough for me to resonate with that kind of representation of women. Then there was also the aspect of what we tend to see in museums and art galleries. A lot of the depictions of women in art fall into certain categories. They are either religious, maternal, sexual or a combination of those. I couldn’t really see myself in these portrayals of women, even though they are still valid.
On top of that, the majority of the artwork that I have seen in museums was painted by men, so that was a struggle as a female artist. I started to make work that I could see myself in. Originally, it was very figurative and then it got more abstract because I wasn’t sure how I’d ever be able to fit in. I just decided to make something that resonated with who I am. My work is connected to the emotional representation of what it’s like to be a woman within our society.
What media do you work with?
It depends. Sometimes I use colour pencils, but usually I use Liquitex acrylic wash or Liquitex soft body. For my purposes, both behave very similarly, so I just buy whatever is cheaper or on sale. But yeah, I oscillate between those two.
Can you talk to me about the choice of colours?
My palettes have evolved with my own personal evolution. If you looked at my work chronologically, you would see how those palettes have subtly changed over time.
I love using bold colours because they invite the viewer to pause and reflect. Most of my work is seen on smartphone screens. My goal is to make people stop scrolling. The colours I use are familiar, bright and comforting. The palettes refer to childhood and the natural world. I try to leverage those colours and use them as a vehicle to make people pause and learn more about my work. Although my work might look cheerful, not all of my pieces are very positive because they often touch on personal struggles.
Can you give me an example of a personal struggle that you have incorporated into your work recently?
I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, so I do cognitive behavioural therapy. A lot of my anxiety is derived from the allergies that I have and some of the close calls I’ve had in the emergency room because of them. I have been getting a lot of allergy shots to help with that, but the process means I have to get injected with the thing that almost killed me on a weekly basis. I worry about having anaphylaxis, and that’s a really scary feeling because it changes each time I have it. I haven't died, but that’s the closest thing to what it feels like. Everything just starts to shut down. I’ve come to learn that if I start to envision myself in a more positive future then that helps with my anxiety. So instead of worrying about the future, I try to be excited for it. That’s something that I find difficult sometimes.
This issue can be felt in the piece entitled “Finally Beginning” (see below), which I also paired with a short poem on the topic of renewal. This work shows me starting to shift my mindset. Now I go into the doctor’s office and tell myself that I have been doing this for a year and that I’m going to be fine.
And do you have any key sources of inspiration?
The palettes and shapes within nature are a big inspiration for me. When I am doing figurative work, for example, the forms are often connected to things like rock formations or the way a tree bends. Now that my work is more abstract, the references to nature are a lot more overt. We recently visited Antelope Canyon, which is not a national park, but it is in the vicinity of a bunch of them. Just looking at the layers of sedimentary rock was really awesome. My goal is to see all the national parks in the United States. I’ve seen 26 of them so far, and I’m going to Yellowstone soon, too. Nature is definitely the biggest source of inspiration for me.
You’ve been freelancing for five years now. How did you develop your own business and what sort of challenges did that involve?
I know myself well enough to know that I am not the type of artist who could just suddenly go freelance. I built my client base over the course of three or four years before I became self-employed. I had savings from my full-time job and that made the transition slightly easier. While I was still working full time, I found clients that I could work for at night or over the weekend. Then it got to a point when it was tough to work from 9 to 5, then go home and work again. It was starting to affect my physical and mental health, so I decided to take the leap.
The biggest concern for me was health insurance. Before I got married, I didn’t have any health insurance. That was scary because healthcare can be expensive in the US. I started freelancing when I was 27 and I thought, “I am pretty healthy. I don’t have kids or dependents. This is my time.” Shortly afterwards, the severe allergic reactions started and that was both nerve racking and expensive. My health insurance is catastrophic. It was like if you get hit by a car, you won’t pay $1,000,000 for them to repair your body, but it’ll still be around $10,000.
How do you go about finding clients?
Before social media, I used to buy magazines and write down the names of the brands that I liked and then send them cold emails. The development of Instagram and Pinterest was pretty integral for me. I’ve trained the Instagram algorithm to serve me content from brands that I might be interested in. I then reach out to them to see if they want to work together. That’s how I get the majority of my work. You get a lot of rejections and my emails probably land in a lot of people’s spam folders, but that’s how I started to get my work out there. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to work with brands and publications on advertising and editorial pieces. I also have on-product artwork, and I help to advertise those new product launches.
You work on both NFTs and physical paintings. What made you decide to enter the NFT market?
I was introduced to NFTs last year. A lot shifted for me when I learned about the potential of Web 3. It has enabled me to focus a lot more on selling my work as fine art, whether that is on or off the blockchain, or even a combination of the two. I started heavily selling NFTs in the summer of 2021 when I noticed that a lot of the work that was resonating with people was my digital artwork.
Over the course of the last few months, I’ve slowly introduced my paintings in such a way that people can buy the physical painting and a limited edition NFT. I usually make 30 or 50 copies as NFTs and sell them individually. You can also do original work and sell it as a one-of-one item, which basically means there is only one copy of the work in existence. It’s been incredible. It’s enabled me to create connections, and the community has been super beneficial to me as an artist.
What are the most exciting projects that you’ve been working on recently?
Every month, the NFT art platform World of Women commissions artists to make artwork that is sent to their holders as an AirDrop. I’m also a holder, so that was fun because I got to be on the other side of it. They’ve commissioned me a few times for a few different initiatives. I’ve noticed that within the NFT space many clients give you the creative freedom to take the brief and tell stories through your eyes. They really give the artist the control.
I also worked on a really nice project for the ceramic cookware company Caraway. I got to work with them on creating two custom colours for their kitchenware set. To be able to create paintings that then inspired those pieces was really nice.
What are your hopes for the future?
For myself, unrelated to art, I want to work on my physical and mental health — in particular, my allergies and my anxiety. I don’t think enough people talk about that. Professionally, I’m excited to work on larger paintings once I have a bigger space. We’re planning on moving to a bigger apartment in Los Angeles in the near future. That’ll also give us closer proximity to more national parks.
I’d also like to do more on Web 3. I’m really excited to see that we’re starting to shift away from that highlight reel of social media. Over the last few years, it’s been all about people’s growth and statistics. It was about how many people follow you and how many people like your post. With Web 3, it’s been lovely to see artists who had struggled with that not having to worry about being able to sell their work. I’m hoping we start to let go of this idea that we want someone’s work because they’re popular. Instead, I hope we’ll want someone’s work because we resonate with it on an emotional level.