This is a guest post by Jennifer Lee.
In fourth grade we had this project: to draw what we wanted to be when we grew up. Then our teacher would hang all the drawings on the same wall and give it some inspirational title. I drew an artist… and was laughed at. I remember my classmates saying, “That’s not a job!” Twenty years later, I still get the same thing. But now I can say, “Yes. Yes it is. I pay my bills by being an artist.”
When I was in college, the focus was on your work. Developing your style. Refining your technique. Going outside of your comfort zone. All of those things are great, but there was zero talk of what to do after graduation. All of the art kids would joke about how we would probably end up working in restaurants. And that’s actually what I did for about five years afterwards. I was a bartender, yet continued making art on the side.
Never did it even cross my mind to try to sell my art anywhere.
In 2010, I grew tired of the restaurant scene and took a “real job” at a medical company. A 30 minute commute, 9-5, my own office, and more Microsoft Excel than any one human being could imagine. This is what everyone told me I was supposed to do. This was the kind of job that everyone said you were supposed to have. And I hated it. While the rest of the world seemed to have this “That is how life works. You are supposed to hate your job and live for the weekends” attitude, I didn’t want to accept it.
It was then that I really started to think long-term about what I wanted to do with my life. All thoughts came back to art. One day I was browsing the handmade empire that is Etsy and I found a section of articles called “Quit Your Day Job.”
It was like 1000 light bulbs went off all at once.
Here were HUNDREDS of stories about people who were making a living selling art, ceramics, jewelry, you name it: in their own stores online. People were doing this, and not just a handful of them.
The internet is this amazing tool we have nowadays that makes things possible which were not even in the realm of possibility ten years ago. Not only are there sites like Etsy, Society6, Red Bubble, and Big Cartel (just to name a few) that allow you to create a store where you set your own prices and list anything you want, we also have social media that allows us to promote it. Start a Facebook page, a Tumblr site, post photos on Flickr, pin your work on Pinterest, shout it from the mountain tops on Twitter. Get your name out there any and every way possible. One thing I did not expect is to be contacted for so many freelance projects.
Make yourself find-able!
If you believe in what you are doing and are proud of your work, people will see that and follow you.
Now, here is the most important part.
Is it easy? No. Are you going to be flooded with business the moment you open your online stores? No. Will there be weeks that you survive on Ramen noodles, just like in college? Absolutely. I don’t think I had protein in my diet for the first four months. If this was easy then everyone would do it. Be ready for criticism from people you know and from people you would never expect. You will have friends who won’t take what you’re doing seriously. But try to remember, being artistic is a gift that not everyone has. You can use this gift to open doors that a lot of other people do not have access to. Your friends who work 9-5 jobs will get on your case if you don’t answer a text until 10:30am because that is when you woke up. But they won’t realize that you were up until 4am painting. Because you can do that when you make your own schedule.
You just have to believe in yourself and what you are doing.
That is really all you need. That is what will get you through the tough weeks. That is what will allow you to brush the “You don’t have a real job,” comments right off your shoulders. If you believe that now, then you are already halfway there.
My name is Jennifer Lee and I am a mixed media artist living and working in Columbus, Ohio. After double majoring in Fine Art and History of Art at the Ohio State University, I left the miserable world of “real jobs” in the fall of 2012 in order to pursue my dream of making a living selling my work. You can see more of Jennifer’s work here.