Amanda Happel '14 Headshot

Amanda Happel '14

Owner of Cork N Canvas Iowa


Painting Outside the Lines

When Amanda Happel ’14 came to Mount Mercy University to pursue her marketing degree, she was working at Rockwell Collins and had never taken an art class.

She had a clear five-year plan in the marketing field that did not include owning a step-by-step instructional painting business. Little did she know that in a few short years, she would start Cork N Canvas Iowa and begin spending her evenings teaching people how to paint.

“With your big paintbrush, push down and then pull up and away,” Amanda tells her class. Each student follows Amanda’s instructions as they add whiskers to their silhouette cats. They pick up their paint brushes and mimic her quick strokes. By the end of the night, everyone at The Lucky Cat Comedy and Events has completed their own take on a retro-style cat on a bold teal background.

The class has a range of students. Some try to copy Amanda’s style exactly, while others feel more comfortable adding their own spin on the painting. Amanda’s step-by-step instructional style makes paintings that once seemed complex suddenly within reach—no previous painting skills necessary.

Amanda chose to continue her education at Mount Mercy because she knew she was interested in changing career paths. When she started her classes, she didn’t picture herself teaching painting in venues across Cedar Rapids, but she doesn’t regret the path she’s taken.

“It was so far from what I wanted to do with my life,” said Amanda, “but it really pulled a lot of my passions together.”

Amanda had an associate’s degree in computer science and was working at Rockwell Collins as an Administrative Assistant when she started to consider returning to school for her bachelor’s degree. Amanda discovered her passion for marketing when working with volunteer groups.

"It was so far from what I wanted to do with my life, but it really pulled a lot of my passions together."
–Amanda Happel '14

“I worked with a volunteer group at the time called Access Iowa,” said Amanda. “I helped them with their marketing for a little bit and was hit with the bug.”

Amanda dreamed of working at a marketing agency or media company. With this goal to fuel her, she poured all her focus and energy into getting her degree.

While she was in school, Amanda started working for the CreARTivity Art Studio. The studio allowed her flexibility while she finished up her classes and also gave her an opportunity to use her new marketing skills. Amanda was occasionally asked to fill in for the Cork N Canvas classes when the instructor wasn’t available. Slowly, Amanda began teaching more consistently.

When CreARTivity closed, the owners encouraged Amanda to take the Cork N Canvas materials and continue teaching classes on her own. Amanda followed their advice and started Cork N Canvas Iowa. She started by teaching just a few classes a month while also working at her dream internship at a company owned by The Gazette.

“I actually had a great job scheduled. I had a paid internship, and I was really excited about it, but the Cork N Canvas opportunity just kind of exploded into my lap,” shared Amanda.

“About six months into it, I thought I could really expand this if I just gave myself an opportunity to do it,” said Amanda. “I mean, I had the skills, knowledge, drive, and passion. I thought, ‘Let’s just try it out.’”


I would have to say that I use what I learned in almost every single one of my Mount Mercy classes daily.

Amanda Happel '14
Owner | Cork N Canvas Iowa

“I do marketing every day,” said Amanda. “Probably 60% of my day is marketing.”

And marketing isn’t the only skill Amanda gained during her time on the Hill.

“Public speaking was a huge aspect of my classes that really lent itself to my job,” Amanda shared. “Especially for me, being up in front of a crowd every day talking about my painting and how to do the step-by-step instructions.”

Amanda found a lot of practical use in the classes she took at Mount Mercy. In addition to public speaking, she learned how to market herself and her company. Her accounting class even helped her learn how to keep her own books.

“I would have to say that I use what I learned in almost every single one of my Mount Mercy classes daily,” said Amanda.

Overall, continuing her education at Mount Mercy gave Amanda the opportunity to start an entirely new career she couldn’t have even pictured for herself.

“If I didn’t have my degree, I might not be where I was today at all,” shared Amanda. After consideration she added, “I know I definitely wouldn’t be.”

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