This Family Invented a Thriving Art Business During the Pandemic

COLUMBIA, SC—There’s a family making lemonade from lemons. Their lemons come in the form of idle time and their lemonade is beautiful paintings. Many of the paintings have been donated to front line professionals such as nurses, doctors, and community health workers. The rest are being sold on Etsy or, as one of the kids said, “I fall in love with many of my artworks, but realize they can bring others happiness too!”

Back in March, Mathew Morgan and Julie Smithwick, parents to Cullen, Bella, Norah, and Elias, ages 11 to 16, were forecasting what weeks of sheltering at home would look like for their family and wanted to develop a positive and safe activity balancing the fear and uncertainty permeating on newsfeeds. What came next was the evolution of a collaborative venture and the birth of a business.

TribePours is the official name of this happenstance art business surfacing from Mathew’s and Julie’s concern their four kids were beginning to log too much electronic screen time and not enough effort toward pursuing creative activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mathew, the Vice President of Finance at Lew’s Fishing, is the patriarch to this blended modern-day Brady Bunch. He states “Julie and I have always called our family a tribe, so when it came to naming the company TribePours just seemed like a great fit.” Typically, they do not create artwork together, this pursuit grew from a need to invent a family-friendly activity, and fast!

Norah, a TribePours Artist going into 9th grade says “I like the connection with colors, and we all sort of fell into our roles.” Elias, an engineering student in high school with three years of experience in digital art is in charge of the image editing and choosing backgrounds for the Etsy site. He uses his skills with various Adobe products such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere. He thinks TribePours “has shaped my appreciation of the arts and artists.”

Bella, who plans to be a professional dancer one day, has always loved arts and crafts and said she “enjoys making the paintings and preparing the one-of-a-kind handwritten thank you notes we create for every purchase and every gift.” Cullen, whose nickname is Shrub, is the youngest artist in the family and perhaps the most enthusiastic. He learned about the technique of pour painting in the third grade and continues to research new techniques and try out different methods. When asked how he knows a painting is finished he replied, “when it gives me a good feeling inside.”

You can’t help getting the Partridge Family vibe from this group. Each member complimented many of the other family members during the solo interviews without being prompted. Bella stated that “things really took off when we put our paintings on my mom’s social media sites.” Julie is the Director of the Center for Community Health Alignment at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. She considers herself a “connector” and even though she enjoys pitching in and making paintings, she feels her primary role is sharing the stories within her network and helping find deserving recipients of the gifted paintings. Julie really likes creating experiences that bring people joy, so when people get animated about a painting that speaks to them or gets excited when the painting arrives, that makes her happy. Part of her role is helping the paintings find their rightful owners.

The paintings are all original designs created through a “pour method” of mixing corresponding and contrasting colors onto a prepped canvas. Once each abstract design is completed, it goes to a drying station and then to the pile for photography and social media posting. The images range in design from earthy, organic abstracts reminiscent of geode mineral gemstones to colorful marbled mixtures of a meditative quality. Every painting is on a stretched canvas and ready to hang.

After the paintings dry, the family talks about what they see and that is how the names are chosen. The names have ranged from “Exploding Avocado” to “Mermaid Dreams” and “Tree Soul.” All because we see different things and then choose what we like best from all the suggestions.

Each family member can choose to keep a favorite painting, which happens from time to time, but mostly, they are interested in gifting them to the community and selling them in order to make enough funds to keep the business growing with supply purchases and building up their sales inventory.

Clearly everyone in the family is enjoying this endeavor and says they want to continue making art “as long as it is fun and as long as people want our art.” Thus far, the start-up has been remarkably successful, producing 70 paintings and selling 29. Mathew states that the surprise value of this experience is the fact that they all have to come together to make decisions and this has helped the family bond in a new way. “We have had to negotiate with each other, set up a set of guidelines and rules, and decide the fairest way to split up the profits. All of us now have experience in running a company, an opportunity you rarely encounter in middle school, high school, or college. We’ve created a brand around the culture of our family.”

A vast selection of TribePours paintings can be found on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram and can be purchased at their family Etsy site.

This story is part of the Help One Artist Campaign to give exposure to the artists and creatives in our communities who contribute to the cultural beauty of our society.

This article originally appeared on the Columbia Patch