How did I finally start to live my childhood dream of becoming an artist?
Well, it wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy, and I am not even there yet! I haven’t “arrived” as they say. But, I am on my way! I can feel it coming and it is very exciting!
To back up a bit, I worked at a well-paying day job for over 25 years and saved a bit of money along the way, with the goal of working less in my day job and more at what I loved — ART!
After drawing and painting as a young girl, I had abandoned art for about 15 years to develop my career as a fashion buyer and start a family — which sucked the life out of me and any creativity along with it! I loved my job and my kids, but what a lot of WORK!! ;)
Then the kids got a bit older and the fickle world of retail fashion kicked me out of a few positions during corporate “reorganizations”. Burnout led me back to art as a hobby while I took on part-time work and short contracts.
In retrospect I think this was an excellent way to test the waters of what you THINK you love! I painted weekly for a few hours and continued to dream of the day I could convert my passion into a full-time career. This went on for another 15 years!
Fast forward to my fifties and my career in retail fashion was pretty much over and done — so, enter the art world!
What were the key events and inspirations that kept me going? Here they are, and I think these points are universally effective for any creative or entrepreneur.
If you would like to make a major change or turn a hobby into a career…
Put in the work!
I took lessons at an art studio with an encouraging teacher who kept reminding me that to be a real artist you must put in the work — paint more often, every day if possible, experiment, find your style, join every single art show and group you can find, and keep doing it over and over and over — 10,000 hours and all that… invest in yourself!
Test your concept!
I took a chance and had a small home-studio tour with a local artists’ group. It opened my eyes to the possibilities for art as a real career — to actually become an ARTIST (using the real word too!) But it wasn’t exactly as I thought it would happen. You don’t know what you don’t know! The paintings I exhibited were NOT well received OR purchased that first year, but I did pay attention to what people were saying and what people were interested in buying. I didn’t realize that portraits are hard to sell and that millennials find buying paintings of people “creepy”! It’s always a balance to combine what you would like to do and say with your art, with what people are going to buy. I am still trying to find that balance and it is a moving target.
Check out the competition!
Of course you need to keep an eye on others in your field. I thought the idea was to spy on them and their pricing, marketing, and quality of work. It turns out that there is a whole community out there on social media — Instagram mainly — to help you, inspire you, and cheer you on along your journey! There are groups and associations to join and collaborations to engage in! It also taught me loud and clear that other artists are definitely making a living at this career (some larger than others for sure) and I can too! BUT the key ingredient to ultimate success was TIME. One artist described that she was making a full living that equalled her job in the corporate world — but that it took her 10 years to get there! It starts small and grows… just like planting little seeds in your customers’ minds.
Expect the unexpected!
I thought I might get bored just painting all day, by myself. And the thought that I’d be wasting years of business experience by changing careers? My family always told me that being an artist would be a lonely life working alone, having no one with whom to share my extroverted self. So I stayed away for all those years! But luckily my family members were wrong. Much of the work of an artist, it turns out, is very social and interactive — I sometimes can’t even find the time to paint when I’m so busy with other aspects of running my own business: marketing and social media, blogs & podcasts, photographing my work, managing my website, preparing art show applications, planning and preparing works for shows, hanging, wrapping, shipping, and schlepping art or paint around in my car constantly, and storing all the work and supplies! And don’t forget standing at shows and galleries for hours selling my work and explaining my art stories! But it’s all business and I love it — what a pleasant surprise the real work of an artist was to me! I never knew!
While it all starts with YOU, it’s great to have some people in your corner! — a partner, friend, or teacher can be a great help to you! Whether it’s carrying lots of stuff, supporting you emotionally through failure or rejection, or doing some social media for you. Thankfully I have a partner who loves art! He encourages me and critiques me, and is there for me all the way. Thanks Jeff — I love you!