This Artist Earns $225,000 a Year Selling Quirky Vintage Plates

Weird art
Image from Beat Up Creations

When you think of antique plates, what comes to mind?

Do you think of “demure ladies posed in proper positions and big fluffy dresses,” as artist Angela Rossi does?

Rossi envisions another, weirder life for these old plates, which she collects, upcycles and sells on her website Beat Up Creations.

Think Pee-Wee Herman’s image beneath a floral spray, a mountain lion posed in a three-piece suit or a portrait of Spock on a bed of pink and yellow roses.

This isn’t just an obscure side hobby. Over the past six years, between her Etsy sales and wholesale income, she’s earned an average of $225,000 a year in revenue.

And her customers are impressed. She has more than 3,200 reviews on Etsy with a five-star rating.

How Did She Start This Business?

Weird art

Rossi came up with the idea when her mother retired as an antiques dealer and she saw the vintage plates her mom was parting with.

“They were all beautiful with hand painted details, gold accents and delicate porcelain, but in reality they did not exactly match my modern, urban style,” she says.

“So, were they useless? No, I must make them cool again… alas, the idea began.”

Now Rossi turns trash into treasure, creating unusual plates, teacups, prints and sculptures, which she then sells online.

She makes good money with her designs. The Yoda and the Nymphs Portrait Plate goes for $110 while a Pee-Wee Herman plate goes for $125.

For unique plate collectors on a budget, Portrait of a Shih Tzu is only $39, and a pack of playing cards with even more quirky animal portraits is only $15.99.  

Humor Inspires Her Art

Weird art
Image from Beat Up Creations

Where does Rossi find all the creative ideas for her designs? Humor guides her work.

“I love the idea of taking a traditionally formal piece and bringing some humor to it,” she says. “It is really about revitalizing these beautiful vintage plates, altering them to be a bit more fun and contemporary.”

Many of her works feature animals in human clothing, from a three-piece suit-clad mountain lion to a raccoon dressed as a young boy for a school photo.

“I am definitely inspired by pop culture, anthropomorphism and classic antiques,” she says.

“I tend to view people as animals and can usually remember a person by the animal that they remind me of rather than their name or other quality. It came naturally for me to want to use anthropomorphic creations on the plates.”

How She Finds Her Materials

Weird art
Image from Beat Up Creations

Rossi discovers her vintage and antique plates at antique stores, thrift stores and estate sales, incorporating her mixed media portraits into each plate’s design. She spends about $30,000 a year buying plates.

While she scouts vintage plates from certain stores, Rossi’s sculpture components can come from anywhere. She uses broken china and jewelry, doll parts and even trash to craft her unique 3D creations.

Growing the Business

When she began her business, Rossi wasn’t expecting to sell many items. In fact, she didn’t plan to sell a single one.

“I never expected to sell one thing, seriously,” she says. “Crafting was always just a side hobby that I never gave much thought to.”

That changed when she listed her first sculpture for sale on Etsy. Within a few hours, someone bought it.

“I was ecstatic,” she says. “This was the first time anybody showed interest in my crazy things. I come from a family of classically trained painters and I was definitely a black sheep that was considered inartistic.”

A year after she opened her Etsy store, she’d sold more than 1,000 items, including plates, art prints and sculptures.

Now her business is mostly wholesale, with her products sold in 150 stores around the globe. She also has a dozen licensing contracts and sells a few hundred plates each month.

Advice for Aspiring Upcyclers

Weird art
Image from Beat Up Creations

Rossi advises people who are interested in recycling and upcycling their own crafty creations to give it a go.

“Do it, do it now!” she says. “Give it a try, if it doesn’t work out then it doesn’t work out… There really is no startup cost unless you consider the hefty 20 cents to list an item on Etsy.”

She also finds joy and creativity in transforming trash into treasure.

“Upcycling, for me, means taking unloved, thrown out and abandoned items and altering them into something cool and contemporary,” she says.

“I see a bright future for all the world’s discarded ‘junk’ if artists and designers continue to make amazing inventive upcycled objects.”

Your Turn: Have you started a business some people might consider unusual? We’d love to hear about it!

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.