Starving Artist to Thriving Artist – Making $$$ with your Talents

Show me the MONEY!

There are thousands if not millions of Potters, Weavers, Glass Blowers, Tattoo Artists, Make-up/FX Artists, Muralists, Portrait Artists, Face Painters, Artistic Photographers, Animators, Illustrators and other Fine Artists … just to list a few, in the Arts and Crafts Industry. And that’s not even including the Design Genres or The Performing Arts.

What do all these professions have in common? Well, they are Art done by Artists that fetches them the Benjamins … The Money.

Let’s rewind to 1980, central California, and a snot nosed kid doodling at his grandparent’s T.V. repair shop. Some of the best memories of my life were those afternoons, sitting in front of a mountain of paper and looking up at my Grandma Pat’s smiling face. In fact, she loved my passion for art so much that she bought my first “commission”. A 2″ x 3″ Dale’s T.V. ad in the local yellow pages. It was a hideously cute portrayal of two monkeys trying to fix a television set placed above the tagline, “Don’t just let anyone monkey around with your T.V. set”. I was probably the happiest kid ever to crack open a telephone book the day it, and my glorious ad were delivered; not to mention I made a whoppin’ ten bucks. Darn good money for a kid in those days, and if memory serves, it bought me the start of my first G.I. Joe collection.

Okay, fast forward to now. Ten bucks may not go as far as it did then but I tell you what, if you can’t make a living off of a five minute $6 face paint job then you really need to adjust your budget. That’s what the Face Painting Artist shown above made painting my daughter, Milla’s, face. And there was a steady line six people deep. Think of all the G.I. Joes she can buy now. Actually, it’s a pretty reasonable price considering my little girl had a big smile plastered on her face; giggling at every reflection she walked by. Well worth it, and that nice lady got some financial gain out of it too, but here’s the kicker, I didn’t just pay for her overhead and that 5 minutes, I paid for her talent, experience, and expertise. Things she had nurtured within her skill set for years, maybe even decades.

She may have been some snot nosed kid sitting in front of a mountain of paper not so long ago, with a doting grandmother who encouraged her healthy doodling habit. Now, she’s putting her love for art to good use. Using it to her advantage. Making ends meet by sharing her gift.

I’m sure she has days that drag on, and ups and downs like any other business, but one fact remains, she took something she was good at and enjoyed, and turned it into her own business. That to me is as impressive as Bill Gates’ story, just on a slightly smaller scale.

Let’s imagine for a second that she, at some point, got tired of waiting on tables or working long shifts at the hospital or wrenching on engines (she has some strong looking forearms) or whatever and decided to use her talent for art to make a living. She probably prayed or meditated, or looked in the mirror, or confided in a loved one, and decided, “You know what! Let’s do this!” and the next thing you know she hit the next local festival and made bank! Right on sister! Glad you’re doing it. She’s probably glad she’s doing it too. She seemed very happy and content.

A wee bit of my story! (stick with me)

My story is very similar. Though nothing I could have imagined at the time. Somewhere in my early twenties I landed into electrostatic painting. From there I went to roofing, then back into painting, then on to framing and so on. For the next fifteen years I worked in the trades. Then one day hanging siding I noticed my back wasn’t feeling quite as good as it used to, and my pep had kind of lost it’s pep. Upon waking the next morning I began to formulate a plan. A simple plan, in my mind, before I could even get it down on paper or take any action. I think we all call that a dream. A GOAL!

Now where do I start? Sure, I can draw a bit but what’s with all this computer stuff? How am I going to afford training? College? I’m broke. How can I pay my bills while going to school? Will I find a job in a new career once I get out? So I wrote down a list of questions. A LOT of questions. That would be my starting point. Now came the research to answer them. The results would be my finished plan, my strategy, and my mission. How am I going to pass Algebra? Ugh. Moving on.

After three and a half years of college, and some of the best times of my life, came the real test. This was, as we say in construction, where the metal meets the meat. Where did all the jobs go?!? With degree in hand, I struck out on the last leg of my mission. It was tough. I was scared, no lie. To make matters worse the market was saturated with hungry (and much younger) designers looking for the same thing I was, a career, but I was determined. More determined than I’d ever been in my life. I ate, slept, and breathed Art, Marketing and Design.

I felt like Yoda deflecting lasers of disappointment. One after another opportunities came and went. Most often with no more than a phone interview. Money was scarce, food was Ramenized, and hope was dwindling. Then one glorious day, I scored a decent job in the industry. It wasn’t much, but it lead to another job, then another, then next thing I knew, I was sitting in a fairly decent cubical at a fairly plush job. One I don’t have to tear myself out of bed in the mornings to go to.

From starving to thriving life for me went. (damn you Yoda)

My heroes have always worn Blue Collars

Now, do not be mislead by my previous realization. I think to have a passion for construction, lawn care, manufacturing, and other crafts and trades is awesome. In fact I am one of those who finds art in a lot of things other people wouldn’t consider art. Whether it be a warehouse worker picking orders to 99% efficiency or a butcher with all ten fingers. That’s talent! Watching these masters of their craft is inspiring. But, after experiencing my transformation from what I was good at to what I have a passion for, I truly had to share a bit of my story for those who are questioning a mid-life career change.

It can be done smart, practically, and you can be a success.

This article wasn’t written as a “How To” guide, but rather to raise awareness that art isn’t merely a hobby you have to treat as an after thought.

This article wasn’t written as a “How To” guide, but rather to raise awareness that art isn’t merely a hobby you have to treat as an after thought. I really wanted to share my experience and hope to anyone who wants to make their living at something they love. I still sit in disbelief sometimes while designing thinking, “Wow, is this really what I do now, and I get paid for it?”

Maybe in another twenty years I’ll switch it into third gear and become an astronaut. Who knows? But for now, I, like the nice Face Painting lady, are delighted doing what we love.

Don’t let that “no” in your head break the spirit in your heart. Stay awesome and keep the dream alive.

Skill + Ambition = Cha-ching! $$$ 🙂


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