Thursday, August 11, 2011

Doing what you love (and not allowing the money to follow)

Dear blogreaders, this is a very long post that has been roaming in my head and heart for a long time. I hope you take the time to read it, because it's something I feel strongly about and I needed to get it out. Thanks for listening. No pictures this time, just words...lots of words ;-)

Every now and then the question comes up. "Wouldn't you like to make a living with your art?" or "Wouldn't you like to be a professional artist?" or "Have you ever thought about selling your stuff?". I guess loosely translated the question is if I would like to make a living doing what I love. This question has haunted me for years now and I am just now starting to unravel it's true answer and what it means for me.

The question often comes from people who have seen some of my art and like it or who have merely heard I am a creative person. There seems to be this consensus that if you're good at something you have to make money with it. And yes, I have thought about it, in fact it is the question that constantly pests me in one way or another and won't let go of my ego. And my ego is very much involved when it comes to this, which is also the big stumbling block in truthfully answering this question. But I'm going to try...

It is flattering when people love what you make. It's even more flattering when they want to pay for it and it's even more flattering than that when you haven't made anything yet and they will pay you to think up something for them. That feels like a vote of confidence in your abilities as an artist. Don't get me wrong, by no means am I constantly being offered payment for my work, but I have sold a few pieces, be it all in the small circle of my friends and acquaintances or the people attached to them. I have gained enough confidence to maybe wonder if I could make at least part of a living with my artsy endeavors if I put my energy into it and I actually think that I might be able to. It sure is true that I love nothing more than making stuff. I love putting things together. And wouldn't it be a dream come true if you could make a living doing what you love? Of course it would!

The essence however for me is in the words 'doing what you love'. I know that it's a wonderful idea and often said that if you just do what you love the money will follow. I don't believe that's true at all (wish it was). I believe you can turn what you love into something that might bring in the cash, but you will have to do a lot more than just make things. You have to market it, price it, find an audience, keep up a shop, maybe teach or write articles, etcetera etcetera. All sorts of things that will get you noticed and bring attention to your art and yourself as an artist. You have to think of your buyers and/or students, whether you like it or not, for they are your customers and the suppliers of your income. That is simply how it works. I have read enough books and blog posts on the business side of art to know that it is hard work and I am not so naive to believe that if I just sit in my studio and make art the money will automatically follow. But...unfortunately for me keeping a business is not doing what I love. In fact it is turning what I love into something that I mildly hate and resent. It would turn this one thing that is completely my own into a means for making money and that simply won't wash with me. 

Before you become angry with me, let me say that I am not one of those people who has some principled belief that art and commercialism don't go together or that it's wrong to turn (and maybe slightly adapt) your art into a business. I know there are some who think this is selling out. I don't. In fact I have a great admiration for people who can do it. There's some very good examples out there who just blow me away. Why some of them are on my ever growing list of inspiring blogs! I think Kelly Rae Roberts' enormous success is the perfect example of a dream come true (to name just one). It takes a lot of courage and persistence to try to make it as a professional mixed media artist and I bow my head to any of you who have done it or who are trying it or aspiring to it. You should be worshipped for following your dreams.

But I have wondered about my dreams and they don't add up with what the professionals are doing, no matter how much it attracts me in theory. Yes, making a living doing my art indeed seems like a dream come true, but it is actually not my dream. My dream is just making art (sans the money making or building a name for myself).  My dream is a quiet life surrounded with books, nature and art supplies (and possibly a couple of cats) away from the busy world, not so much in it. In a perfect world I'd live in a nice secluded house in the country or near the ocean and just scurry about writing, making art, reading and going on long walks. Yes, exactly the things I do now if I'm off work. Boring to talk about, but what a wealth for me inside my head and heart. My life is not exciting for others, it's only fascinating to me, and that's fine with me! ;-)

Let me give you an example of how my mind works. I love to read. Love love love it. Nothing makes me happier than to curl up with a book and a pot of tea and just escape the daily grind or learn something new. But here's the strange soon as for some reason I have to read something I start to hate it. For instance, to graduate from high school we had to read loads of books for our language exams. Good beautiful novels. I hated it! As soon as there's a list of requirements and a grade attached to it, reading becomes a chore, it becomes work. It no longer matters if the novel is wonderful, it only matters that it's mandatory. And mandatory and I don't go well together. I don't want to be tied up! It's as simple as that. When and where and how and what I read has to be completely up to me. If it's not, it's tainted. It's no longer really mine. I cannot do it. (Hence I only read part of the required list at high school, so much for the educational system.)

The same thing goes for anything else that I love doing, including art. When it becomes work I cannot love it as much. It's too tied up with expectations, requirements, demands or the need to make profit from it. It's no longer free and enriching and so it becomes a burden. If there's one thing I don't want it is for the thing I love to become a burden, 'cause then I can't love it freely anymore.  And that to me is the bigger dream really, I need to be free in the things that I love doing and free from expectations and demands. I need to experience the joy of simply doing, not so much the joy of accomplishing and producing (even though I'm as much a perfectionist and control freak as the next person and my ego loves all those things).

The problem is of course that expectations are all around, even in my own head. And the way our western world works it is highly strange to just do something for the love of it and nothing else. This always brings a conflict inside of me and it's easy to be swept away by all the wonderful examples in the art world of women who are doing it, turning their love for their art into a viable business, and of course there are a thousand times more people who would love to try it, if they only could figure out how. Sometimes I think I am one of them and I start thinking about it and planning it. I ask myself questions like: What would my business look like? How would I go about it? Hey, there's a reason I read so many books on the business side of art! But what happens then? I'll tell you what happens: the minute I even go mildly into that direction I get seriously grumpy and mildly unhappy and ... I loose the love. It's gone like it never was. Art becomes a job and I somehow cannot stomach it, not even in theory. Sigh.

I even notice it when I mention to people that I may be starting an etsy shop by the end of the year. They immediately start to bombard me with advice on how to market my stuff whether on or off line. But I am simply looking for a way to allow people to acquire something of mine that they might like outside of my direct surroundings. There's only so much you can put up on your own wall or give away to friends and every now and then I do like to make something on canvas or loose paper (outside of the books I prefer to work in). I can't count the amounts of times I've been asked to join the local art fair, but I keep telling them that I have very little to sell, that most of my stuff is done in journals and books and that I have no intention to produce in order to sell at some market.  But it's hard not to be tempted.

I think yes, I am an amateur at heart, but art is yet by no means a hobby for me! For me art is an absolute priority, a necessity if you will. I cannot not do it.  If I don't do it I also get cranky and miserable. I pretty much do it on a daily basis (unless I'm in a little rut like last week) and not in a shy way. I work full time in an office and have to keep up other obligations too, but I try to be in my studio every day for several hours. While taking my art in itself really seriously is a sure killer of my love for it, taking the practice of my art seriously is an absolute must. And that is exactly what it is to me, a practice. It's all about self development and personal expression, about building skills and learning new things, about getting my hands dirty with paint or meticulously drawing or writing. It's all about the doing, about the love of making. I think in the end that's also why I keep this blog: to keep up my practice and to share the love.

On my personal profile it says: "I love making art. I love reading books. I love going on long hikes across my island. I am happy as long as I can do those three things." That is not me sharing a little tidbit about myself, that is me sharing my essence! I know this sounds dramatic and maybe it is, but those really are the things that are my priority in daily life. It's all about love and wonder and unfortunately those don't pay the bills.  That's what the job is for. This has and will forever be my eternal frustration and is what keeps me being tempted to be one of the thousands who want to be professional artists. I just don't think it would be good for me to give into this temptation and that's what this post is all about. I needed to clarify this for myself.

I hope I'm not the only one out there who sometimes struggles with these questions and even more I hope that I am not the only one out there who tries to stick to the practice instead of going for the profession.

For those of you who are still with me after all this lengthy writing, thanks for listening.
I would love to read your input on this, you can do so in the comment section, but if that's too public for you feel free to e-mail me. My e-mail address is in my profile on the sidebar.


  1. Okay, I'll tell you what I'd do in your case if I were you. I'd keep my day job which is a steady stream of money coming in and keep art as your joy-your love, your absolute source of bliss. If you begin to make art your business, I have a sinking feeling you will live to regret it-and you will probably begin wishing you had that office job back. This is not because I don't think your art is good enough to be marketed...that's not it, I do think its lovely. However, I do think you will ruin a good thing (your love of making art)if you put the burden on yourself (and your art)to turn it into a money maker.

    The only way I can think you can sell your art and still maintain some joy in the process, is to make art originals that YOU want to create,(not commissions), and sell those as you complete them- maybe making prints to sell for folks who don't want originals or who can't afford original art.

    I have this same dilemma myself. I wonder if I could make it 'big' and have a fabulous creative business like Kelly Rae or Anahata Katkin (Papaya). But in reality, the people like Kelly Rae are few and far between. She is a very tenatious gal and she basically built her business when she was married with no children. Me, I have five and I don't know your family situation. I tend to think of people like Kelly Rae as the lottery winners of life. It's not easy to do that, at least to make enough money to pay the mortgage and keep you in your chosen lifestyle. It's easy to 'make a little money' but to support yourself fully is a different story all together.

    I'm 48 and I consider myself an artist. I don't create art as often as you do, but I dabble in painting and collage now, but in the past I had a web based business (and still for the most part, but it's waned considerably) designing primitive cloth doll patterns. In my hayday, I advertised in magazines, designed FOR magazines and did a quilt market in Houston. After all that effort, I NEVER, EVER was able to fully support myself. In fact, I never made enough money at's a very difficult thing to do and you have to be really dedicated, and consistent and it has to envelope your entire life if you want it to really work. That means YOU have to be the person turning the wheels and making it happen. Sadly, in the process of applying the business aspect to the art, the joy of the process tends to get lost.

    Now, if you step back and think about what you really want for your life, and it sounds to me like 'simplicity' is a good word to describe your lifestyle,I think it's much simpler and incredibly less stressful to just go to place of work, get your job done for the day, come home and relax in your studio and create for leisure to fill your soul with joy like only creating can. Just what you have now.

    I think if you put the weight of your livlihood on the shoulders of such a lovely thing as art, you then make it a 'job' and immediately, the joy is gone. What happens when you 'come home' from a day of work in the studio, the element of your bliss is now gone because it's become the burden of being your source of income.

    My suggestion is to keep your life the way it is if you are happy.

    I wrote a blog about a problem that stems from the one you are stressing over. I was going through and if you like I invite you to jump over and read it.

    I know this was long, and I hope I wrote clear enough and not jumbled....but it's only suggestions. Don't think I'm trying to tell you what to do. But whatever you decide, I wish you well.


  2. Kelly Rae is a marketer. She does a similar thing over and over and promotes it heavily. (I'm not judging, just observing.). She even marketed her marketing techniques. If you happen to love marketing, your chances of making money from your art improve.

    I have several friends who are well kown publishers of mixed media art books. I can say for sure these publications do not make them a steady amount of money either.

    I like to create things and gift them, or make them by request for friends and family. They truly appreciate it. I sell a few things I finished on etsy. But the only people I know who truly make a living from art are in professions like illustrators for ad agencies, real estate marketers, etc

    Your work is lovely -- and I agree with you. Trying to become a marketer could strip the soul from your art.

  3. I didn't read the above two comments so I may be repetitive, but I did read your beautifully worded blog and have to've expressed SO closely what I feel - that I am now POSITIVE we are soul sisters. I love art for the pure fun of making it and give away much, much more than I sell. The idea of a commission piece turns me off totally but it is a kick in the butt to sell something I've completed...that is if I can let it go!!!!

    Keep on doing what you love...because it is...lovely.


  4. I have been nagged by a desire to do craft shows (the little church bazaar kinds around the holidays) and have even considered opening an etsy shop, and then as soon as thoughts of packaging, and business cards, and taxes, and that sort of thing enter my head, I just about have an anxiety attack and decide, once again, it's just not for me. But the thoughts come back again and again, and sometimes I beat myself up for NOT trying one of those two things. I agree with you that turning art into a business could, in fact, turn it into something you "hate and resent"...and that would be tragic! I think we all just have to go with our gut, whether we are best served sharing our art informally in an online community, or by selling it on a small scale as a side endeavor, or jumping full force into becoming a self-employed artist. I'm fairly certain the last one will never describe ME!

  5. A related, but slightly different take...
    ...I teach. I, like many others, started teaching because a) I love being around kids and b) much as I loved doing art at college, I wasn't the work-as-an-artist-type and I knew I needed to do something else for a Proper Job (this is not a reflection on people whose Proper Jobs are their art, merely my realisation that much as I loved it, it was something enjoyable for me, but not a career move for various reasons)

    So, going back to a). I know lots of people who started my teaching degree with this same idea. Many left after the first year, then more in the second, then more in the final year, because as much as they loved that side of it, they found other parts of the job to be much less enjoyable. Similarly in teachers who have been teaching for a while, same thing, at some point it just isn't what they were doing it for anymore.

    Just as there are factors such as marketing, promoting, changing that would turn art from doing-what-you-love to do-something-that-is-a-bit-like-what-you-love-but-not-really for you, so teaching is for those of us who love working with kids and seeing them do well. We love that side of it, but the paperwork, marking, do-this-but-no-thats... turn it into something else. I still teach, and know many others who will grumble along with me, but decide that the pros outweigh the cons and stick with it, just as some people can put up with the marketing, promotion and working to an audience.

    Neither is better, it's just doing what you feel is right for you, in terms of how you feel, being happy and keeping the money coming in!

    Long comment, sorry, but in short - do what you love and keep it as that; it would be awful to change it and lose the love :)

  6. Wat heb je dit 'dillema' prachtig verwoord Claartje! De commentaren mogen er ook zijn - je hebt wel iets aangeraakt waar we allemaal van tijd tot tijd mee bezig zijn. Ja, ook ik natuurlijk. Ik heb echter altijd enig 'herkouwen' nodig, voor ik alles goed op een rijtje kan formuleren. Mijn 'echte' reactie zul je dus niet in dit commentaartje vinden. Als je wilt dat ik er op terug kom en oprecht benieuwd bent naar mijn gedachten hierover, stuur me dan een mail en dan stuur ik je mijn gedachten terug. P.S. Groet de golven van me en zeg dat ik ze mis!

  7. When we turn our hobby into a business, it becomes a job, just as any office job or similar. Having an artist's job is living it, breathing it and working it 24/7. It' about marketing, selling, bookeeping etc and one can lose sight of their passion quickly.

    Dreams are meant to inspire us, motivate us and put us on the track to satisfying our passion. To lose our passion, because we turned it into a "day job" is tantamount to suicide for some.

  8. Hi Caatje , your writing touched my heart. Totally, keep on doing what you are doing! Do not turn your art into your business! The marketing is too huge!

    I too, enjoy living in the country, for me the Coastal Redwoods of California, tucked into the mountains. I too, do art because I 'have' to. I cannot see myself building a business of my art, but I do want my art to find a home where it touches someones heart.

    For me, my art is a spiritual expression, a ministry of sorts. My ego jumps for joy when someone WANTS to have a piece of my art in their home. Every thing I create has a prayer in it, that it brings joy and Sweet Blessings to all that look or enjoy it. I don't mind giving it away!!

    I do have an etsy shop, plus I own an antique collective where I sell my art.... yep, very cheaply! But, I'm thrilled when someone wants to take a piece of something I've created home with them!

    I took two on-line classes this summer, both artists I've been following and admiring for years. One is VERY successful, gets thousands for her paintings, the other is a sweet stay-at-home mom who totally loves what she's doing. I paid $150 for the successful artist's class and was sooo unhappy with the five, FIVE MINUTE videos! Plus, her three teleclasses, were only check-ins where each of her students talked about their own work, rather than the teacher sharing ideas, techniques, etc.

    The second artist/teacher sells her classes for $10 each, yep, TEN dollars... and with that came intense tutorials, over five videos 30 to 45 minutes each! Mystele "Little Glympses", is an amazing teacher, is doing what she loves, and I don't think she's getting rich quick. But you can totally tell she LOVES what she's doing, and she's healing hearts along the way.

    Several times I tried to communicate with the more "successful" teacher/artist and felt a chilly coldness that was all about money and how much could I pay. 'nuff said about that.

    I'm older now, 64, and semi retired living on a very small income. My goal for my art is to sell to buy more supplies! I see myself as a "Crone" and, if someone wants, I'm here to connect, support, encourage.

    I am touched by your writing... keep that up too! Thanks for bringing up this subject. I think it will be talked about for a long time!

    Sweet blessings to you!
    Chris in the California Redwoods

  9. Thank you Caatie! (for the lovely comment on my blog. :) Big smiles to you!

  10. I loved your post. Having worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for so many years, I let my regular art practice go for long spans at a time. When I would pick it up, is when someone I loved asked me to do a drawing of this or that. Then I would re-experience the joy of what I loved to do. In the last few years I started to draw some birds after I joined EDM and wanted something new to learn. I was having so much fun. After several months I got interested in selling my art, rather than continue to do just graphic design. It's been rewarding and depressing at the same time. This recession we are in helped stopped a lot of the sales, and I haven't been able to draw much for months. After reading your post, I feel that you struck a nerve in me. It is a lot of work to sell your work and maybe that's what has me so depressed about it. I think I'll stop making that my reason to draw, and I bet the block goes away and some new art will start flowing through me. I'm also going to be doing some more teaching and I think that will excite me!

    Best of luck in whatever you do. And thanks so much for your insight!

  11. A total breath of fresh air. I could have written it myself if I focused and had done the actual soul-searching. So thanks for doing all that for me. I feel free and validated. I have to have 'play' in my life in order to have the well filled to do the responsibility things. Yours sounds like a prescription for a beautifully balanced life. Hooray for amateurs and thanks for taking the pressure off.

  12. Hi Caatje,
    There isn't really any question about what you should be doing ~ you outlined it clearly in your blog. You don't even need to feel guilty about it. Follow your heart and silence those inner (and outer) voices that tell you that you should be selling your art. Why should you? What's wrong with joy for the sake of joy?

    I illustrated magazine and book articles for years, and I never was able to make a decent living at it. To add to my income, I went on the school talk circuit giving slide shows about writing and illustrating books. I taught sketching, journaling and painting. They all had an element of enjoyment, but the best parts were all about interacting with people, not actually doing the art I loved to do the way I wanted to do it.

    Don't let anyone else tell you what to do ~ you're paying your dues with your day job.

    You go girl!

  13. IN the background I always have the thought that I can have it all - maybe, but I want down time too. I have a business in the art arena because I am an entrepreneur and love the business challenge. My art however is just for me making for me. If you want some of my journals i will sell them, but that's not why I make them. But like you I need to be outside hiking, running and snowshoeing. I need to be collaging and writing, I need to be talking with others about interesting things...and that is what is important. Thanks for the very thoughtful posting. As good as a chat over coffee.

  14. I found myself thinking "yes, yes, so true", all through the reading of your post! I've had the same remarks, mostly by my family : why don't you do something "serious" with it, why don't you try getting paid for it?
    For a time I felt guilty and thought about ways to do that. (Actually when I was much younger, this is exactly what made me stop drawing completely for years...)
    Everytime I tried to think about "serious" ways to make/sell any art, I felt miserable and ended up losing all pleasure and desire to draw anything.
    It lasted for a while. Then I came to some conclusions, much like yours!
    They just don't get it. There are a lot of people out there who make art, and many are very very good, and very few sell anything, least live from it. Sometimes very talented people don't sell anything, and sometimes mildly talented people sell a lot (good marketers, these ones!). But that's not even the point.
    I draw and paint because I enjoy it, because I feel good when I do. And that's all. I don't want to make a business of it, anyway I don't have the time, I already have a full time job that pays the bills, and a second one I'm developping now (creative in a way, not artistic at all!).
    A lot of people play the guitar or the piano, and many are very good at it, but I know for a fact they're not told all the time that they could, or should, try to make a living of it. Everybody knows the enormous amount of work that has to be done to live from music, and everybody finds normal to play for one's own enjoyment. Same with playing tennis, or singing in the shower. So why not with drawing and painting?
    Now I just answer like that : you play tennis, she plays the piano, that one watches tv like a real pro, and I just play with my pens and colors. And we're all happy!
    It goes smoothly!
    Thanks for that post, it's good to feel we're not alone! Don't feel guilty, sell, or don't sell, but don't stop enjoying what you do!

  15. Oh wow! I'm just blown away by all your comments and how some of you have opened up yourself. Thank you thank you thank you! You make me feel validated in my opinions and it's so good to know that others can relate to my views. I'll say a little more about it in my next blog post, but for now, thank you so much for your support and input.

  16. I loved this. This is exactly the way I think. I do have a little Etsy shop but it's just for fun. I do do illustration work but a lot of the time I don't enjoy it at all-that kind of art, I call, my day job art. When I am working on magazine art or measuring a print and cutting it wrong for the upteenth time I think about the fun stuff I can experiment with "on the side". I have to have art for no reason-it loosens you up, it makes you release tension, ideas, feelings etc. Ah, how nice.
    Every single time I tell people that I am an artist they need to know if I make money from it. When I say, nope, not much and I could care less-I know, they are secretly envious (smile, smile, smile). To be creative, draw, mess around with color is absolutely wonderful. I feel sorry for those who either don't, can't or won't, they will never know.
    If you do, do a little shop-think of it as a networking thing. The best thing my little shop ever did for me was NOT make money but connect me to a wonderful community and that's pretty darn cool:) I love reading your blog, I live vicariously through you as there is nothing I would rather do than READ, READ, READ hike on an island and make art. Someday:) For now, it's mountains, teaching, kids, art, business and well, it's still fun:)

  17. Hi, me again (second comment today!) Yes, absoloutely agreed with all that stuff you wrote. I do lots of arty crafty stuff, and my big thing has been making books. I have tried several times to 'make money' out of it, and I hate it. I hate standing at craft fairs, I opened an etsy shop and sold nothing. I put hours and hours into doing two weeks of open studios and made about £150, which came nowhere near covering all the time I'd put into it, let alone all the time I'd put into making the books. I have a friend who sells paintings for £60 to £500, and she can sell up to half the paintings from an exhibition(I sell my books for £20-£30!) and she reckons she just about covers her costs. No, selling is NOT for me. I'm sure some people enjoy all the selling, and if you do, great. I have a theory that some people appear to be successful artists, because they are well know, sell work etc, but I think that many of them have undeclared independant incomes. I bear them no grudges whatsoever for having independent incomes, but I feel it's not fair on other struggling artists to pretend that they are actually paying rents and food bills with their art income.
    I also teach workshops now and then, showing people how to make books. I LOVE doing that, and the money is reasonable, but doing two or three workshops a year doesn't pay the bills! I sing and art and dance for pleasure. I even perform in public with my dancing and singing, but never for money. I do gardening for money, and I also do my own gardening/vegetable growing for pleasure. I charge an hourly rate and I do hard graft. That is what pays my bills. I do all my arty stuff for pleasure, and I think that's what works best for me.
    Uh oh, enough rambling!


I appreciate each and every comment. They make me really happy. I don't like spammers though and that's why the word verification is turned on. I know it's a pain, but I hope you understand.

I try to respond to all comments by directly replying in the comment section, but please understand that sometimes this may take some time. Know that I read them all and that they make my day.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...