Painting on a new canvas

Art doesn’t always come on a traditional canvas.

For sophomore Rachel Lee, an ongoing social media trend inspired her to take commissions to paint reusable water bottles, namely Hydro Flasks or Thermoflasks.

In order to advertise, Lee utilized Instagram features such as “story highlights” and “direct messages” for easy communication with potential customers. Soon after beginning over the summer, she was negotiating costs and designs among her followers.

“When I paint a Hydro Flask and I’m watching a movie and chilling by myself, it’s really nice because it’s a quiet time for me,” Lee said. “I can just focus on my work and focus on what I’m doing, and I don’t have to worry about what’s going on in my life.”

However, Lee is often met with hardships such as the tedious painting process or the bottle’s slippery texture. In order to achieve a sustainable surface, Lee applies multiple layers of paint finished with a coat of mod podge.

“Because Hydro Flasks are expensive, if [customers] are willing to entrust me with their $40 to $50 water bottle, I [have] to make sure I do it right,” Lee said. “I prefer when they give me something specific that they want. That way, I don’t have to worry about them not liking [the design], or how much time it’s gonna take me. I can just do what they want me to do.”

Depending on the complexity of the design, Lee charges around $25 to $30 per commission. Although she commonly faces issues with uncooperative customers, she turns them into learning experiences.

“[My main takeaway] is learning how to deal with people. Most of them were really nice people, but others were frustrating, and I had to be really patient throughout the entire process. That taught me how to deal with other people in the future,” Lee said.

Since she began, Lee has painted six water bottles but occasionally closes commissions to focus on school. She plans to continue her business during Thanksgiving break and hopes to expand her canvas to shoes and jean pockets.

“It’s a process — [I believe] this will give me some experience in the art field beforehand,” Lee said. “It’s more for fun, but in serious terms, I see it as practice for getting better. Every practice counts.”

By Emily Cao, Staff writer
Photo by Tristan Gonzalez