A woman paints a mural on an outdoor wall
Springfield artist Andrea Ehrhardt started small and built up her own business in Springfield. Now she's helping others succeed. (Photo: Andrea Erhardt)

Andrea Ehrhardt spent her childhood living in a trailer in Wheatland, Missouri, where she was raised by a single mom. She wanted to be financially stable as an adult. She also loved to paint, earning a BFA in art from Missouri State University in 2013.

It’s a good thing she didn’t buy into the myth of the starving artist.

“In the beginning, I tried everything,” Ehrhardt said. “It was like, ‘How do I make money with a brush? I spent so much time trying and failing at so many different avenues.”

She started a business called Paint it Red, LLC, after graduating, raising her rates on occasion as she gained experience. She soon realized she could not keep up with the demand.

After plodding the road to financial security as an artist, you might expect her to keep her secrets to herself. Sometimes the creative world feels so competitive that it doesn’t feel safe to help other people succeed. Initially, Ehrhardt did have a scarcity mindset.

“I traveled for work for so long,” she said. “I was like, ‘You can’t make money in Springfield; there’s no way.’”

But now she’s using her creativity and business savvy to create a map for other artists. Luckily, it’s more straightforward than the map in your car, the one with so many creases you can never fold it up neatly again.

Naturally, Ehrhardt had to create her own path first.

Bringing street art to the Ozarks

A woman paints a mural on an indoor wall
Springfield artist Andrea Ehrhardt started small and built up her own business in Springfield. Now she’s helping others succeed. (Photo: Mary Ellen Chiles)

She had seen street art in bigger cities and wanted to try it in Springfield. It didn’t go over well at first.

“I would pitch it to people like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna paint on the wall.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, no!’ They thought it was graffiti,” Ehrhardt said. “They weren’t used to seeing art. So, I did the first one for free, then a couple for not much. And then people started to be like, ‘Oh, okay, yeah, this is actually nice art and people are taking photos with my business.’”

You may have leaned against a brick wall downtown, posing between the monarch butterfly wings painted on the old Riad’s building. That’s one of the works she’s done in Springfield. You can find a map of her street art around town on her website.

The Bass Pro years

Ehrhardt got a boost in 2014 when she took a gig with another famous local business.

“I started getting jobs for window painting and painting logos,” she said. “Word spread pretty quickly and I connected with Bass Pro Shops.”

The company was building new stores around the country — and their logo painter was quitting.

“They’re like, “Hey, we need someone to jump on the road with us and come travel around and paint.’ I was 24 at the time. And I was absolutely shocked.”

A woman in a black shirt poses for a photo
Andrea Ehrhardt

There was only one problem. She’d never done commercial work, learned calligraphy or even painted signs.

“They thought that I was this really experienced sign painter and calligrapher,” Ehrhardt said. “I think they quickly figured out that, ‘Hey she’s not really good at lettering.’ But I was willing to learn and I was so excited, so I think they were like, ‘Well, we can’t fire her, so hopefully, she just gets better really quickly.’”

And that’s exactly what happened.

“You do anything for 60 hours a week for a couple years and you get really good at it,” she said. 

She spent a few weeks, or even a few months, working at a new Bass Pro site before moving along to the next store. She’d get a break between jobs but spent almost all of her time on the road.

“(Bass Pro) would pay for a flight back home, and they would also pay for a flight anywhere else, as long as it was comparable. So, I was like, ‘I’m going to fly to Vegas with my friends or fly to California and go hiking in the mountains.’”

She even took off from California to explore Thailand for a couple of months.

“I was never home for a couple years, then expansion slowed, so they didn’t need me as much,” Ehrhardt said. “So, I came home. I built my business here. And it’s really, really nice to sleep in my own bed at night here. I don’t have much desire to travel anymore.”

Building the brand

A woman paints a mural on an indoor wall
Springfield artist Andrea Ehrhardt started small and built up her own business in Springfield. Now she’s helping others succeed. (Photo: Mary Ellen Chiles)

So, she returned to Springfield to keep building her business. She already had an LLC and added a DBA (doing business as): Art by Andrea.

See, there’s a lot more to an artist’s life than just creating beauty. It’s also branding and marketing, websites and invoices, clients and taxes. Oh my!

Ehrhardt was grateful she’d saved up some money, but it didn’t totally ease her fears.

“I was so scared, like, ‘What am I gonna do?’ It took me about a year of doing really cheap projects just get my name out there,” she said. “It was exhausting, then after about a year it started to take off.

Many people spend hours a day on social media, but Ehrhardt was serious about using it as a marketing tool. She spent a couple of years posting content on several social platforms.

Every single day.

“I was really strict on myself to sit down, take the photo, or make the video and post it,” she said. “Probably 90% of posts do okay. And then 10% of them do really well; reach really far.”

Outgrowing old beliefs

As her business grew Ehrhardt had to release some limiting beliefs about having enough work.

“At first, I was thinking ‘There’s only so many murals, and I want to be the one to do them locally.’ And I just had this limiting mindset.”

But it turns out people in the Ozarks did want to support artists.

“I started to get so busy that I couldn’t do all of the murals,” she said. “I would start giving out jobs and then I would start training people and they would get jobs.”

As she became more known, she caught the attention of other artists who wanted to know her secrets. She had a brand and references, and loved her life as a well-paid artist. How? Also, what kind of paint did she recommend?

She had an idea.

Artist Academy

A woman with a baby in a baby carrier paints on a canvas
Andrea Ehrhardt is juggling art and motherhood now, after son Sky was born in November 2022. (Photo: Andrea Ehrhardt)

Here was a way to combine her love of art and business.

“I started Artist Academy to coach artists to get painting jobs and teach them how to make a living as an artist,” Ehrhardt said. “Like, ‘Do this’ — ‘Don’t go in circles.’”

She now counts 150 students. She teaches them everything from creating a website to pitching a project, making invoices to dealing with customer complaints. The community meets virtually, but they have an optional in-person meetup once a year where they paint a mural together. Last year they did one in Cozumel.

“There are so many talented artists out there,” Ehrhardt said. “It’s just getting the business side of it down; the promotion side, sharing it, and making those connections.”

Creative, sustaining work in Springfield is possible, she found. She smiles at her younger self for her fear, even if it was understandable.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here that I do see now,” she said. “I’ve trained several of the local artists here: some just like a little bit and some from the ground up,” she said. “And they’re completely busy. I’m completely busy. There’s so much work to go around.”

She’s also busy raising a baby boy, Sky, who was born in November. Now, when students reach out for advice and Ehrhardt responds via video or call, they might catch a glimpse of the little guy, or hear him happily babbling.

“They love it,” she said.

Ehrhardt can sketch quickly while holding Sky in his baby carrier, but she has to be strategic about her jobs.

“He has to be constantly entertained,” she said. “I can’t really paint with him because he doesn’t like me to stand still, which is funny.”

Luckily, she has an exuberant husband, Ryan Sanders, who also dotes on baby Sky. Sanders sells insurance for Rich & Cartmill.

“Ryan will make Sky roll laughing. He thinks his dad is the funniest person,” Ehrhardt said.

Ehrhardt also wrote a book called Mural Money: An Artist’s Guide to Creating Your Dream Career.

She wants to give artists the mentor she didn’t have.

“Really, my job as an art educator is half to show people how to do it, and the other half is to give them the confidence,” Ehrhardt said. “It’s like, ‘I started from the bottom and it’s fine. All those things you’re feeling, I felt, and you can get past it because I did it.’”

Mary Ellen Chiles

Mary Ellen Chiles is a freelance photographer and writer based in the Ozarks. She graduated from Missouri State University with a bachelor’s in creative writing and a master’s in English, Creative Nonfiction Writing. More by Mary Ellen Chiles