Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in fine arts but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Joni Freeser, Founder of DirtWork by Joni, located in Belt, MT, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

I am an artist who paints with dirt...yup...dirt! I gather dirt from interesting places and dirt that has a variety of colors and use it as my medium. It's "DirtWork," not "artwork." Although most of my collectors are right here in the heart of central Montana, I have sold pieces all across the United States.

Tell us about yourself

Getting my hands dirty (literally), the methodical movements of the brush when painting, and most days, the blast of music from my speakers help make the rest of the world go quiet, and all that exists in my brain is the scene I'm creating in front of me. It is my meditation, my relaxation, my calm waters that hopefully is carried with it to its new home wherever it may hang.

In my youth, I had always been told there are emotional artists, accurate artists, and artists who are a blend of both. Although I always strive to be a blend, I struggle with giving my art more meaning for the viewer to connect with. Then the idea of using dirt hit me. Using dirt that has more history "in" can also help form more emotion in the splashes and drips on the paper. Now my paintings of wildlife, landscapes, portraits, and the agricultural lifestyle can tell more of a story than simply the subject that is painted in each piece. I gather dirt from across Montana and beyond and have even been gifted dirt from across the world to create with. Each piece has its own story to tell with dirt that has "seen" a lot of history. The practice of painting with dirt itself goes back to the beginnings of art and storytelling.

Adventuring out into the ever-changing landscapes of Montana to find new colors and textures is the beginning of each piece I create. I always carry something to gather dirt within my pack along with water, my sidekick (a German Shepherd/Saint Bernard), usually a fellow (human) adventurer, and occasionally a whiskey treat for the end of the trail. There are a vast amount of different tones and shades to collect, but also finding dirt that carries with it moments and whispers of the past is the hidden gem that customers enjoy the most. It's that "something more" they can connect with, and every collector can take home the full story each piece has to offer.

Being a part of rural Montana my whole life and exploring the mountains and prairies that exist there is why I choose the subjects I do. They are what I have seen and been surrounded by since birth. They are what my artist's eye knows best. The wildlife I'm lucky enough to catch a glimpse of, the plants, bugs, and views that fill the space around me, and the agricultural community I've been lucky enough to know are what I love to capture most.

Once I have the dirt, I use my mortar and pestle to refine it into the finest powder possible. The finer it is, the more details I can shape. After that, all that is needed is a clear adhesive to help bind it to the paper, skull, or whatever found treasure I'm painting it on. At times I choose the subject matter based on what color the dirt is that I want to use. Other times I choose dirt from an area where that animal or view may be seen. Painting allows me to filter out all the noise of the world. Dirt allows me to add more to each piece than the subject itself ever could. Every painting takes with it the peace, history, and emotions contained in every splash of it.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Participating in Western Art Week in Great Falls, MT, has always been one of my bigger goals as an artist, and I'm happy to say this year, I had a booth at The Great Western Show (there are many shows across the city during this event) and had a very successful weekend.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

One of the hardest things that come with being a business owner for myself is scheduling my time. Making sure I have enough time to create new pieces but also make sure to get all of the "not-so-fun" things done too. For example, bookwork, ordering, updating my website and social media pages, etc., etc. Time management is a very important part of success. And honestly...some weeks, it just doesn't go as planned, but making sure to try and get it right the next week is what keeps me going.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

The first piece of advice I'd give is to find a business course of some sort in your field of business and take it. Whether it be free from YouTube, a local college course, or even just finding another business owner willing to give you some sort of internship to see how they run things.

Second, be sure not to overextend yourself. It's hard to say no to projects, but be realistic about your time. And if you don't have the time, don't commit to it. This will only bury you in stress and panic, trust me!

Lastly, be sure to listen to everyone's advice, but know that you don't always have to follow it. You know what you want your business and your life to look like. Your view should not be influenced by what someone else thinks.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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