There’s a new painter in Titusville, though one who works on an unconventional form of canvas, and whose works have drawn international attention through the world wide web.
Sonia Miller, the co-founder of Junk Monkey Paint Company, recently moved into an East Main Street home and already has set up her garage as a painting and filming studio. Miller specializes in beautifying pieces of furniture using a homemade kind of paint that she sells through her business. She shares her efforts across a variety of social media platforms, with an audience that stretches all the way to the other side of the world.
“When Facebook announced the live feature, to go Facebook live on social media, I decided to start hitting the live button on social media,” Miller said. “So when I was painting a piece of furniture, I would basically show people what I was doing, and it’s the same stuff I was doing off-camera. The exception is I just decided to turn the camera on and share it with other people and talk with other people while I was sitting on the floor and painting.”
What has evolved into an online store front and community of like-minded enthusiasts began as a hobby for Miller to fill the time. Originally from Newfoundland, Canada, she moved to the United States after meeting her eventual husband, Matt Miller.
While happy to make the move to be with her beloved, Sonia Miller found herself facing some feelings of solitude changing to a new location.
“I didn’t know anybody,” she said. “So it was a lonely time, because I had a lot of time on my hands.”
A long-time creatively minded person, Sonia Miller decided to take up painting furniture in order to pass the time, as well as improve her home. According to Sonia, she and her husband were living on a tight budget, so performing do it yourself projects were a relatively inexpensive way for them to beautify their house.
“One thing I learned when I moved to Pennsylvania is that, down here, I love the barn auctions,” Sonia Miller said. “I love the good old auctions, and that is something I had never experienced before, and I moved down here and when I got to an auction and realized that you could get furniture for as cheap as $1 for a piece of furniture, $5 for a piece of furniture, it blew my mind and not everybody in the audience could see the vision.”
Sonia Miller said she sought out the “ugly” kinds of furniture, the kinds others would stray away from, with a plan to repaint them and bring out their positive qualities. She quickly found herself immersed in her works, eventually getting to the point that she started selling some of her pieces because she didn’t have the space to keep them.
At the start, Sonia Miller used general kinds of paint to do her projects. However, she eventually discovered there were specific kinds of paint for furniture. She would also discover that kind of paint didn’t come cheap.
“It was so expensive,” she said. “It was like, ‘Do I want to eat this week, or do I want to have a can of paint this week?’”
A solution came in the form of her husband. Matt Miller had a background in the culinary field, which made him surprisingly apt at mixing paint ingredients as well. After some fact-finding and several trial-and-error attempts, Mark Miller eventually settled on a combination that worked.
“I didn’t even know what he was putting into it, but he was doing his own research and ordering in ingredients,” Sonia Miller said.
The final recipe made a paint that was much easier to use than most other furniture paints, according to Sonia Miller. While other brands require preparation work, such as sanding or priming, her husband’s batch would be applied right out of the can.
With a stable stream of paint available, Sonia Miller went back to painting, and continued to get attention for her works. So much so that in 2014, she opened her own retail space known as “Sonia’s Shabby Shop” in Scottsdale, Pennsylvania. Based out of an old general store, the business was intended to last for six months, only to see such a strong influx of customers that it never closed its doors through the year.
This was also around the time Sonia Miller started to see a change in visitors to the shop. Able to get up close to her pieces and touch them, customers began asking about the paint used on them
“They started going ‘What kind of paint brand do you use?’” she said. “‘It’s really nice.’”
It got to the point that more people were interested in buying the paint than they were the furniture. Initially just selling left over jars from batches her husband made from her, the pair drew more and more demands for jars of paints in a variety of varieties.
“We quickly then realized that there are people in the world that want you to paint for them, and there are people who want to paint for themselves,” she said. “Because they were like me. They enjoy the paint therapy, they enjoy the process of taking a browney-frowney piece of furniture and making it beautiful.”
With their brand of homemade paint growing, the couple decided it was finally time to put a label on it. The title of “Junk Monkey” came from the term grease monkey, according to Sonia, and first began being applied to the paint in 2015. Plus, as the paint is able to be applied with little preparation, she said it was as if someone could pick up a brush at any time and “go bananas.”
It was shortly after this moment that Sonia Miller decided to begin building an online presence. Having previously worked as a broadcast journalist in Canada, she was apt to take up media projects, establishing Junk Money accounts on Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and more.
As Junk Money gained more attention through the internet, people from a much wider area began asking to buy paint.
The demand, however, turned out to be too much for the Miller’s to handle on their own. Sonia and Matt Miller would work tirelessly making more batches to fulfill all of the requests and orders sent to them. Sonia Miller likened the experience as going from making homemade cookies for oneself to trying to make cookies for a country’s worth demand.
“It got to the point we were making paint seven days a week, from morning to night,” she said. “We looked at ourselves and we were like walking zombies. We just made paint.”
Eventually, the pair started reaching out to paint manufacturers to make their recipe. After many attempts, they found one that would follow the Millers’ specifications.
Nowadays, Junk Monkey Paint Company is based out of Ligonier, Pennsylvania, around two hours away from Titusville. Sonia and Matt Miller visit the location, which employs two other people, almost every day. Sonia Miller said they don’t mind the travel time, especially as the wide open roads give them a chance to stop by yard sales to find more pieces.
Sonia Miller has converted most of her attention to the online world. She streams daily on Facebook, and uploads video logs, better known as vlogs, to YouTube every day. These videos can range from her buying new pieces of furniture to paint to tutorials for aspiring furniture artists.
The garage of the Millers’ home has been converted into a studio, from which Sonia Miller, with her husband’s help, videos herself painting all kinds of furniture, a practice that she has become quite quick at doing.
“I have mastered the one-hour furniture flip,” she said.
These live videos, streamed on Facebook, reach anywhere from hundreds to thousands of people every single day. According to Sonia Miller, the highest viewer count she ever received for one of her live videos was between 4,00 to 5,000.
The popularity is widespread, with Junk Monkey having 700,000 followers on Facebook and 5,000 subscribers on YouTube. Sonia Miller also does paid online teaching classes through HomeTalk, a do it yourself community that she said is the largest in the world. These online groups have fans from across the world, with a member of one online class Sonia Miller leads hailing from Australia.
“So now, right here in Titusville, this is where I go live from,” Sonia Miller said.
When it comes to painting, Sonia Miller prefers to go for a rustic look for her furniture. Indeed, the two paint lines for Junk Monkey, called chalky paint and milky paint, are designed to look old, even when freshly applied. The latter brand, in fact, is intentionally designed to give the appearance of chipping away. These paints are represented by two mascots. Pickles the Monkey is on every can of chalky paint and, according to Sonia Miller, “does as he’s told” and sticks to surfaces. Meanwhile, standing in for the milky paint is Ms. Petunia the Monkey.
“She is a wild little monkey,” Sonia Miller said. “Ms. Petunia gives you alligator skin and chips and flakes.”
What started as a hobby has become so much more for Sonia Miller.
“It’s more than a can of paint,” she said. “It’s become a community — a community of junk monkeys.”
She has felt surprised at how what was once simply a way to pass the time has grown for her. Not only does Junk Monkey have a seemingly ever growing online presence, but more than 30 physical retailers have requested to sell Junk Monkey products, with more applications coming in every day.
As for why she chose Titusville to move to, Sonia said the town offered several enticing features. The home she moved into was large enough to house her many furniture products, as well as offering a space for her filming. The long drive to Junk Monkey headquarters is something both Sonia and Matt Miller enjoy, but also wasn’t too far away that it might require relocating the physical store. Plus, the many yard sales in the area ensured a steady stream of old furniture to paint up.
“I have been buying stuff the Titusville local Facebook market place, and finding people and just traveling and buying,” she said. “For me, I will always have a need. I am trying to connect with people who may have great spots for me to check out and find used furniture.”
The hunt for new “watering holes” in the Titusville area is something Sonia Miller is dedicating herself to for the next few months. She invites people to explore her journey of adjusting to the Titusville region through her social media platforms.
Those wishing to watch Sonia Miller’s vlogs or read her online posts can find links to her social media accounts online, at junkmonkeypaint.com. The website is also where paint, supplies and other products sold by the company can be purchased.
Ray can be reached, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.