Maker: Manda Wolfe of Art by Manda

Manda’s illustrations have really caught my eye. I especially love her narrative portraits, and I’m super excited about the project that she is working on with her talented boyfriend.  I think that is going to be a great thing!

Meet Manda and check out her amazing work!


Please introduce yourself.

Hello! My name is Manda Wolfe and I’m an illustrator living and working in Ventura County, California. I actually grew up in this area and left for a bit- I tried my hand at living on the East Coast, had a slight romp in Colorado, and traveled the world for a year- but at heart I’m a California girl. It’s the weather and easy beach access that does it for me!

What do you make or do?

I create custom animal illustrations hand painted in gouache, which is an opaque water based paint. I offer a few styles including classic pet portraits and also something I like to call narrative portraits. These are my favorite because they involve taking a reference photo and combining it with a fun or humorous idea to create an illustrated story. For example, I did a custom portrait of a client’s little Dalmatian and had him sneezing off his spots because he was prone to allergies. I think I’m drawn to these because I like the challenge of having to come up with a subtle yet effective illustration that plays off of an animal’s characteristics or personality traits.

manda wolfe

Where can we find your creations?

You can find my stuff online at my website,, and also on my Etsy page,

manda wolfe

How long have you been creating and is it your full-time job?

I initially started painting custom portraits to help pay my way through college, but have been doing this as my full-time job for about 4 years now. In the beginning, I mostly found clients through word of mouth and Etsy, but in the last few years I made it a point to learn how to use marketing to my advantage and it’s allowed me to keep things pretty consistent. In the last year or so, more opportunities have come up with commercial projects so that’s an exciting new development I’m exploring.

What obstacles have you had to overcome to lead a creative life?

First off, let me say that being a full time creative is a challenge! When I first started out I thought it was just about creating great work and everything else would follow. While I do think that’s true, it’s just a small part of a bigger equation! In order to succeed, I think creatives really need to develop their business sense.

I think my biggest obstacle was having to learn that lesson and teach myself how to think with business acumen when it wasn’t natural. I had to learn how to market myself effectively, advertise, search for new opportunities, etc. While initially I found it to be a bit overwhelming, I love the fact that it has forced me to learn new skills.

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What’s on the horizon for you and what you do? 

Right now, I’m working on a personal project with my boyfriend (and very talented writer, I might add! called “Animals with Problems,” where I’m doing the illustrations and he’s writing the copy. We hope to turn it into a children’s book when it’s finished. It basically showcases different animals facing some pretty hefty challenges- from a sloth who can’t seem to get anywhere on time to a white tiger trying to blend in with the crowd. It’s a reminder that each one of us is different and faces our own unique set of problems, and in turn to be kind and practice empathy. It runs with the idea that you really don’t know what someone’s going through until you’ve walked in their shoes. I have a few of the animals up on my website, and am slowly but surely getting the rest done.

Additionally, I have a greeting card line coming out with Black Olive Studios and this year I hope to get more opportunities to work with commercial projects.

manda wolfe

What would be your perfect day off?

My perfect day off always begins with some kind of adventure, preferably in a place I haven’t been to before. My boyfriend likes to joke that I’m the most restless person he knows, and in many ways its true! I have an innate curiosity about the world and an ever-growing bucket list of places to visit and things to try.

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What inspiring advice would you give to other creatives be they established or just starting out? 

I would tell creatives that are just starting out to find their own voice and be persistent. Get your work out there! Be it online, at a craft show, or a local shop that will feature you. I think it’s also so important to get involved in some kind of creative community that allows you to connect with others- you’ll find it to be a place to share ideas and build one another up.

For creatives that are already established, I would remind them that we all go through periods where we feel lost or stuck or we’re comparing our successes to others and it feels grim. I think that’s normal! We’ve all been right there. Just remember that it’ll pass and keep going anyway!

manda wolfe  manda wolfe

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