In the last five years since I’ve graduated, life has been full of highs and lows. For anyone who knows me, this is no secret. There have been successes, plans that didn’t pan out, and hard lessons to learn. As an artist, I know I’ve been incredibly fortunate with the opportunities I’ve been given and for that I am so grateful; but the large projects, the solo shows, and commissions, as wonderful as they’ve been, they’re not consistent enough (at least not yet). I learned the hard way that working in a restaurant as a bartender/server not only exhausted me, but it turned me into a person I didn’t like. I don’t think this is the case for everyone but it was true for me and while I may have a few skills outside of the creative field, my artistic skills are where I am my best self.
Last year around this time, I started feeling this need in my gut for stability— some sort of plan to create a steady flow of income that wasn’t depleting me of my time, energy, and resources. I guess the word I’m looking for is sustainability. I wasn’t burnt out yet, but I’d heard enough horror stories to know I’m not above it and I needed to do some preventative maintenance. I was driving for Lyft which was a helpful supplement, but the miles on my car were also becoming an added expense. I started to think about how I could be my best self, and also create other types of income that is authentic to me— not fine art, but an extension of the work I make.
A friend of mine in passing defined stability as multiple outlets of income from various places. It sounded good to me and so I ran with the idea.
The plans I mapped out were as follows:
Earlier this year I was inspired by my friend Vessna, who was teaching workshops out of her home. I went to one of them and had a wonderful time. It wasn’t until then that I began to consider myself qualified to be a teacher. I don’t have a certification, but I have experience, and a space in which I can host a large group to spread out, visit, and create. The first few workshops had me so nervous. I was completely unsure of what to expect and if I was even capable of explaining the creative process to an accountant. Despite my insecurity, the first class went smoothly, and each consecutive class was more polished than the last. I’ve been posting one workshop per month on my website and I’ve also hosted two private party workshops at the studio. The range of students I’ve had has been enormous and yet totally manageable. I think that’s the beauty of abstraction: with a small amount of structure any given person can make something that genuinely expresses who they are; And it doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced artist or a total amateur! I’ve enjoyed sharing some of my process with others and seeing their faces light up when they realize they’ve made a piece of art.
This summer, a dear friend of mine, Lindsay, moved to Laguna Beach. She owned a large commercial printer which she used to reproduce her paintings, and decided to sell it here in Philadelphia and buy a new one when she arrived in Laguna. I was able to purchase the printer from her second-hand with the idea to make some of my paintings into prints with more accessible price points. I have since made two print editions which are available for sale through Massey Klein Gallery in New York. None have sold yet, which has been a learning experience for me, but I’m not giving up on the idea. I think it’s a matter of finding where this resource fits into my program, and that’s all part of the process.
Design has always been close to my heart. I’m very right brained, but I think there is a dominant pocket somewhere in my left brain that is satisfied by the elements of design. I remember mentors in college warning me to not let my art become design. I still wonder, if there is no design at all, how are we left with anything more than a blob of shapeless mush? I realize that may be controversial, but I digress. So naturally, being in a place now, where I feel secure in my identity as an artist, there is a possibility for me to dip my toes into the world of design. I have been inspired by one of my studio neighbors, Andrea, who designs and makes incredible upholstered furniture. She works with some of the most delicious looking fabrics and naturally has an eye for visuals that could work well in that medium. So again, I was prodded by someone else to try something new: fabric design. I made a shirt with my mom first, who graciously allowed me to use her machine, and then I was hooked. Within a week I had a sewing machine in my studio and was learning the ins and outs of this new tool. I’ve created 8 different products so far with fabrics I’ve designed and have felt the satisfaction of using them and seeing others use them.
The last endeavor in my plan is called a Patreon site. Patreon is a platform that seeks to do for artists what I’m trying to do for myself. It allows an artist’s supporters to contribute a small amount of money per project or per month, and receive rewards in return. The aim is to take care of the people who are forming our culture, inching it one song, one painting, one drawing at a time further on the road to a more beautiful place that we can all inhabit. Some of the members have pledges as low as one dollar, but their crowd support is so high, that the platform actually contributes well to their financial stability, and they can more easily continue to focus on the work that makes them happy and makes our world better. I created this site a while ago, and I even invested in having a beautiful short documentary done for it by my friend Kathryn (see video here), but I haven’t had the courage (until now) to announce this site, and ask for support. I’m not sure why it’s been so difficult to be vulnerable in this way, but I’m learning that this is part of being an artist.
I’ll be coming up on a year this Spring since I put these plans into place, and I’m going to be honest, I definitely don’t feel more stable. If anything, the constant calculations and efforts to predict income and expenses have only made me more aware of how unstable I really am. And this is the hard part: I have to embrace it. I need to somehow accept that instability is part of being a creative person without giving up hope on reliable income. It’s a tricky balance to say the least. So am I there yet? No. But I’m working on it, a little bit every day.
Yesterday I had a group of students come in from my alma mater and talk with me about the trajectory of my career since I graduated five years ago. It was interesting and encouraging, because while I was honest with them about my difficulties, it was also a reminder to me of how far I have come. I’ve learned that the act of letting your guard down and telling other artists that you struggle isn’t pathetic or melodramatic. It’s letting other creatives know that they’re not alone. Because nothing makes me feel more like a failure than comparing myself to someone who I think is better than me, usually based on their social media feeds. The truth is, most of us are struggling in one way or another, and so many of us are in that space between complete amateur and wildly successful entrepreneur. So I’m letting you know that I’m in that space. It can be exciting and passionate but it’s almost always incredibly hard. But I’m here, and I’m doing the work, and when I fail, I’ll keep doing the work, and doing my best to tell you about it.