Success looks different for everyone.
Just tried washing white house paint off the sleeve of my favorite olive-colored sweater. Half of the paint is now permanently part of my sweater sleeve. Now my paint-christened sleeve is wet and cold feeling yucky and clammy rolled up against my arm.
“Screw it,” I said to myself because none of my cats were in the kitchen at the time to hear me. Several weeks ago I crossed an invisible line. An alarming number of my favorite clothes and shoes are now dotted with paint and glue. Tiny feathers and cat hair are a well-established part of my wardrobe. The paint and glue round out my look.
For decades I mostly made drawings using pencils, pen, and ink, Flair and Sharpie markers and created small watercolor images. Every image I made needed to fit on the bed of my scanner so it could be scanned into the computer so I could continue to do whatever the project required. This phase of my life was not hard on my wardrobe.
Now I regularly crack open half-empty gallons of left-over house paint to prep the second-hand canvases I use for my torn paper art. Yesterday I prepped ten small canvases and got white paint on the sleeve of my favorite olive-colored sweater.
Crossing A Second Line
For several years I’ve been consciously heading in a slightly different direction. I wanted to spend less time on client work, and more time on my own work. For the past several years I’ve been positioning myself to shift how I spend the majority of my time. The biggest obstacle to overcome? Being able to afford to shift directions.
Moving to Wisconsin and leaving the crazy high cost of living in Illinois behind was a big first step and a scary one. I’ve been a self-employed, freelance artist/illustrator, and single mom for over three decades. It’s been a very tough slog over the years I spent single parenting two wonderful, night and day children. The kids both launched successfully. Both found best friends to marry. It makes my heart sing every time I think about it.
Since the beginning of this new year, I have come to realize, I have been spending less of my time on client projects and more time on my own projects.
Art Business Number One, Freelance Illustrations
I’m so thankful I’ve run my own business as a freelance illustrator/map marker for over three decades. I’ve created thousands of custom images for clients. Much of my work centered around telling stories of natural areas and restoration. Telling stories of different ecosystems, what makes each ecosystem unique, and what’s required for an ecosystem to be healthy and functioning from its hydrology to its flying creatures and the tiny insects that require a healthy place to live and who also contribute to the health of each ecosystem. Everything truly is connected.
It’s been humbling and a privilege to make so many important ecological stories accessible to the public.
I recognized the shift in my priorities as it was changing, that this new direction, the 2-D torn paper art is also a business. Not the same type of business as Freelance Illustrations, which is 100% client-centric, but a different type of art business that needs to be run exactly like a business.
Art Business Number Two, Bracelet Luv
About ten years ago I unintentionally joined the gypsy-maker-entrepreneur tribe. I was burned out from endless client work and needed some therapy. A friend asked if I had seen the leather wrap bracelets that were all the rage back then. I looked them up and thought it would be fun to teach myself how to make them. Not long after I showed several friends my new bracelets, they loved them and urged me to sell them - which had not been my intention when I began making the bracelets. I started entering local art fairs. I had an eye and ear for what people wanted and liked. Over the past ten years, I’ve developed a lovely vibrant, and loyal following for my bracelets and earn a nice chunk of my income selling bracelets at art fairs.
Ten years on, I still enjoy making and selling my bracelets. I continue to find new and beautiful combinations of beads that still make my heart sing.
Art Business Number Three, Creating and Selling 2-D Art
Learning how to navigate all the necessary steps to be accepted into and sell bracelets at art shows has given me a leg up regarding what I need to know to take this next step, the step into the world of making and showing my own art at art shows.
Selling 2-D art at art shows is the toughest sell of all. Show producers seem to be very welcoming of good 2-D artists. The first year I tried my hand at doing art shows I applied with my collection of plein air oil paintings. I was accepted into every show I applied for. I sold almost every small piece and was granted a purchase award for one of my larger paintings.
At the end of that first season, I had barely broke even. My daughter was living at home. Heartbroken, I knew breaking even was not an acceptable end result. I decided to not apply to art shows the following summer. I couldn’t afford to simply “break even.”
That was the winter I began making beaded bracelets for therapy. And, see the previous section, I launched, unintentionally back into doing art shows with the bracelets and began making enough money to continue.
The goal this year is to sell more of the torn paper pieces. I won several awards for my torn paper work last year and have sold a surprising number of pieces. I’ve been creating large pieces for the past few years in preparation for a gallery show that hung for eight weeks in the beautiful gallery in the upper midwest river town of LaCrosse, WI. The key to the future I’d like for myself is to sell more 2-D torn paper work.
Maneuvering Into Position
Ever since I can remember, in fact, some of my earliest memories are of making art that made me happy and made other people happy. All I’ve ever really wanted to do was make my own art that makes me happy and hopefully makes others happy too. More accurately, I want to make art that inspires people to feel something, good, bad, or ugly.
Doing that requires me to be conscious of how I’m feeling when I’m making new art. I don’t want to bring sadness, or unhappy to my work now. There’s more than enough sad and unhappy everywhere if we lift our eyes up for a nanosecond. I won’t add to the negative energy out there.
The trick has been to maneuver myself into a position where I could afford to do that. Without a partner’s additional income, basically - ever - it’s taken until this point in my life to be able to afford to shift to spending more of my time on my work and less time on client work. I will continue to do more interesting client work, the kind of work I’m really good at. If a client wants a type of work that I prefer to do less, the price of that work is going up. Time is precious.
A Lifetime of Practice
People often ask, “how long did it take you to make that?”
The honest answer is, “a lifetime.”
Now, with paint and glue on many of my favorite clothes, I can’t wait to wake up every morning to begin a new torn paper piece or continue on with a piece in progress. I can’t wait to see where each piece takes me.
This week was the beginning of a new series, “Small Gems.” I”m creating a series of small pieces with the goal of each one being like a Faberge egg - not to set the bar too high. Art doesn’t need to be huge to have an impact. These new small pieces are little wonderlands of textures, layers, colors, bits of my illustration work, dried flowers and leaves, and always feathers from my zebra finches and canaries. And a new element, random bits of plastic leaves and stems from my great aunt’s jewelry factory in New Jersey. The bits are from the late 60s and early 70s and are borderline kitsch. Her factory mass-produced low-budget costume jewelry. I can get lost looking through all the bits and pieces of brightly painted metal and plastic components produced in her factory. Hopefully, I'm using the plastic bits in a tasteful way - lol. We’ll see.
Early on I knew I wanted to chronicle my journey. I’d never read a story quite the journey I’m on. I wanted to remember every step of the way. I’m so glad I chose to keep a record. Reading back through it reminds me of how far I’ve already traveled and how much further I’d like to go.
Thanks for coming along on this journey with me.