Last month, I was one of 31 creatives invited by fellow artist, Eli Trier, to take part in her community project, Naked Money. The purpose of the project was to get creatives talking about the sticky subject of money. The project was an eye-opener. Subjects covered included how we make money; how to value our work; our money blocks and money breakthroughs and a wide variety of creatives at many different stages of their career contributed.
Seeing how each of the essays opened up new thoughts, ideas and conversations around cash, I felt that I wanted to share my contribution to the project with my community and Eli kindly granted me permission to republish my post here. I would totally recommend you sign up to receive the ebook Eli has created from this project. You can do so here. In the mean time, read on… and if you have any questions on money, art or how the two fit together, don’t be afraid to ask!
Eli’s invitation to contribute to the Naked Money community project felt timely as, only that morning, I had been taking audio notes on a subject that had popped up regularly on my radar over a period of months and which was relevant to my current personal situation around creativity and cash. The subject in question was JOBS… the payroll kind. Yes, as a freelancer of some 20+ years, who used to baulk at the idea of a regular role, I have, for almost two years now, been working a 4 day a week “good enough job”*, and it has had the most unexpected impact on my creative output.
When a freelance contract that had provided a healthy chunk of my annual income was not renewed two years back, I surprised myself by starting to think about looking for a job. The unpredictability of my other self-employed income streams had created a lot of anxiety around money, but it was not until l had been in a regular job for some time and the pressure lifted, that I realised just how much this fear around not having enough money month to month had distracted me.
When you rely on creativity for your income, you can find yourself creating what you think people will want and therefore buy, rather than what you want to be making.
As a freelancer, I worked for an art magazine, curated exhibitions of other artists’ work, ran online courses, as well as in person workshops and classes. Some of these I have continued since starting my day job. But all the while, I had never really taken the idea of making money from my own art seriously. Even now, I can’t quite tell you why. I offered a handful of works on Etsy and on my own website, but my marketing was minimal to say the least and I sold just two pieces. I guess I was embarrassed about trying to make money from my art. Something to do with that little voice that tells you you’re not good enough.
Of course, the fear of failure played a part. If I didn’t put myself out there, I couldn’t fail, right?
I failed to take my art seriously. I failed to give myself the chance to try enough things that might have worked in order to discover what did. I wanted to be making my art, not promoting it, though now, of course, I realise that in simply sharing what you’re doing with an open and genuine heart, you can build a warm and wonderful audience of people who take pleasure in seeing others do what they love and want more of that.
Truth is, it’s often not what we think people want that they actually crave and some of the most successful artists I know of are those who make the art they love and want to create, without a thought for what potential customers might buy. When you make work you love, that love shines through and people want a piece of that.
The total freedom to create what I wanted when I wanted had, for a period, stifled me. I’m sure you’ve also experienced the feeling (hopefully in the distant past) that you have heaps of ideas, but when you do, you have no time and when you have the time to create, the ideas seem to dry up. I know I did. But that pattern of thinking was also a habit and what I actually needed to do was just start.
As a creative being, joy, freedom and connection are vital to me. When I started working my day job, free time became more precious, so it’s now much more important to spend that time wisely on things I really want to be doing. Aside from spending time with my love and my sons (connection), those things are sailing (freedom) and making art (joy). The story of the job itself and how I landed it is an interesting one, which I will go into in more depth on my blog. But what I lost in free time, I gained in a sense of urgency to create which has grown into a desire to finally offer my art to the world, now that the pressure to make money from it is off.
When I started making art for myself, I made art that I loved and wanted to live with. I put two pieces I adore onto Red Bubble and whilst I have only sold two stickers so far (bringing in less that £1.00 profit), there’s a cushion with my art on it on my sofa which brings me joy daily and am enjoying trying new things and putting my work out there and seeing what happens with no strings attached. I am fully aware that it’s still an experiment. An experiment I’m in for the long term.
I have made one of my paintings into an art print and, as I write this, I am just back from the post office, having packed up my first print sale and sent it off. No profit as yet, as I paid to print a small batch up front, but from payment on this first sale, any prints I sell now will bring in profit.
Money can’t buy that glorious feeling of knowing that someone will receive my work tomorrow, frame it and put it on their wall to enjoy.
I want to share my art with the world because creating it brings me joy and if I can brighten people’s lives with my art, then I want to do more of that. There is enough darkness in the world right now and if the sight of a joyful painting can brighten someone’s day, then I want to share that as widely as I can.
Profit is also on the way with two sales of my Good Day Cards so far. The second sale was a repeat sale, so I already know that I have one happy customer and that feels so good!
One of my paid work roles (either side of my desk time) is walking the office dog (freedom). I love variety and for two hours each day this role affords me dream time in the woods where I make fast art (usually 3 minute faces) with the leaves, sticks and stones that I find. This brings me more pleasure than I can describe (joy). I often speak my thoughts, feelings, poems and bits of blog posts and newsletters into the voice recorder on my phone as I walk. This saves me time sat staring at my computer screen, as out of doors, I always feel more inspired. I also take photographs that inform and inspire my art. I share these on social media, growing my tribe as I walk. It’s a slow burn, but I’m in it for the long haul.
In addition, I continue to run my after school art clubs every week during term time. The inspiration for our projects often comes from my walks and I have used left over materials from my day job in my classes. The classes are of a size that I am able to speak in depth with each child about their art (connection). I learn as much from the kids as they do from me. On occasional Mondays, I now run a fabulous project called Interpreting Collections at the Wellcome Trust. Here, I support artists to research works in the collection and encourage them to interpret their research creatively. This, I LOVE. It is me in my element! I work directly with artists and gallery staff and we get to go behind the scenes and ask questions and have meaningful conversations. One day of this work, pays almost what I earn in a week at my day job. It’s one of those “am I really getting paid for this?” roles which again ticks my connection box and totally lights my fire! I am working on turning this project and its offshoots into something longer term and more regular.
I would be lying if I said I don’t dream of making lots of money from my art and my other passion projects, dropping the day job (apart from the dog walks) and being free to do whatever I want. But right now, it all works together and the truth is, I feel blessed to experience either joy, freedom, connection (or all three) in every area of my work. And importantly, the pressure of money is lifted, leaving me free to create the work I want.
As I look to the future (I am now 45), my desire is to continue making meaningful connections with other creatives, to supporting them in living their best lives and in doing so to live my own. I would like the freedom to follow my heart… to sail and make art, both with paint on canvas and out in nature, just as I do now. But I know that freedom requires an income. So I am working towards getting paid more for the roles that feel like play and if a house in the woods by the water, with a studio, a mooring and a sail boat are part of that playful future, I hope you will come join me for a creative retreat there.
*The phrase, “good enough job” came from Barbara Sher’s book What Do I Do When I Want To Do Everything. The good enough job is one that pays the bills and affords you the freedom to do things you love.