Updated: Aug 26
Committing yourself to being an artist is no easy journey.
If you read my last blog post, you know that I was an achiever in school, getting straight A's throughout high school and college in mostly advanced courses. I was the one helping the pre-med students with their calculus homework my freshman year of college. Even though I knew I could successfully continue in academia, I made a conscious choice NOT to because it wouldn't feel true to who I am and who I've been created to be. This may sound crazy and maybe it is... but I didn't want to get comfortable in a high paying field with demanding hours and have no time, energy, or motivation left in me to use my true creative gifts and abilities to their fullest potential.
This is a decision that I have to remind myself was the right one almost daily. Throughout the years, there have been several times when I 100% gave up on the hustle and looked in to going back to school to become a physical therapist or arts attorney for a little more financial stability and ease. Part of me has wanted to chase after the approval and respect that comes with "success" and "achievement" in terms of having a big girl career. In San Francisco and the Bay Area in general, most people's primary identity and worth comes from their career and how much money they make doing it. When you meet someone new the first question they ask you is "so what do you do?". I worked as a full time nanny for almost 10 years (it allowed me to travel and afford to live in the city, while keeping the flexibility I needed to commit to my painting and exhibition schedule) - and I can't tell you how many times people would reply with, "Oh, you're a babysitter..." and the conversation stopped there. What a lot of tech nerds don't realize is that helping to raise children is arguably harder and requires more responsibility than any other occupation - I could go on, but that's a post for another time.
The crazy thing is, every time I reached a point of deciding to give up a career as an artist, I received very well-timed and clear divine affirmation that I needed to keep pursuing painting.
The most memorable example of this type of divine affirmation was when I had first moved to San Francisco in my early twenties. Moving is always hard, but moving 2,000 miles away from home to the most expensive city in the United States without a tech job, family or spousal money to support you ... is something else. I had no credit cards at the time, $3,000 in the bank and fresh student loan debt.
Within the first few months of living in San Francisco, my bank account dwindled down to literally 87 cents.
I remember that moment so clearly: checking my bank account and seeing the numbers $0.87. Every dollar I had worked for had been spent on rent and food. I truly didn't know how I was going to pay my next bill and I'm pretty sure I cried.
Within few days of that record financial low, I received a seemingly random email from a person I didn't know. I almost just deleted it because I thought it was spam. They were inquiring about a painting they saw on my Tumblr (at that point in time I didn't even have a website). I had done a handful of plein air paintings from hikes in the Marin headlands, and somehow through the interwebs, this family had discovered my painting of their favorite northern California beach. They wanted to know if I'd sell it to them, and I bravely quoted them $800. Back in Indiana, where I had just moved from, I had never sold a painting for more than $200.
To my shock and delight, they happily agreed to the price tag and PayPal'ed me $800. Miraculously, my bank account was replenished just in time to pay my next bill. I eventually got a grip on working enough and saving money here and there (as well as finally getting a credit card), and my bank account has never come close to being that low since. Thank God! But I will always remember that painting sale. How unlikely it was for someone to find that painting through an obscure visual blog, and how the timing of the sale happened exactly when I needed it most. I don't remember the names of the people who purchased that painting, but if you're out there reading this, please reach out! It would be cool to reconnect.
Another instance of my own artwork saving me happened several years later. This time it didn't save me financially, but mentally and emotionally. At the time, I was enduring a lot of hard circumstances in my personal life, which led me to a state of very low self worth and motivation. I could barely get out of bed to do anything but go to work. A friend of mine invited me to hang some of my paintings in the restaurant she worked at and I agreed because I honestly couldn't stand looking at my own work.
I took a Lyft downtown with my latest Seaside Revelation paintings (I never had a car in the city) and installed them on a few walls at a farm-to-table restaurant called Homage in the financial district of SF. I hung some tags under the work with prices and my contact information.
Within a few weeks of my paintings hanging there, I received an email from a woman who was having lunch at Homage and noticed my work on the walls. She happened to be opening her own contemporary art gallery called Zukoswki Collective just 20 minutes south of the city in Pacifica, CA. Her name was Lauren and she wanted to set up a studio visit with me to see the rest of my paintings.
** Side note: for many years, my painting studio was literally my bedroom. I slept on a twin sized daybed so I could maximize the amount of painting space left in the rest of my room. I purchased all white furniture off Craigslist so my room would look more like an art gallery, and so the colors in my paintings would be best showcased. That tiny bed was one of the many sacrifices I've made over the years for the sake of creating art. When a potential buyer or gallery curator wanted to come see my work, I would tidy up my room/studio, make up the daybed to look like a couch, and hang my work up as nicely as possible all over the walls of my bedroom. I hosted so many buyers & curators this way that it became less embarrassing every time I did it. And I sold many paintings this way! **
We arranged a studio visit at my bedroom-studio.
By the end of our hour-long visit, I was offered a solo exhibition of my Urbanscapes and Seaside Revelations, and gallery representation - two things every artist dreams of!!! I couldn't believe it. Lauren left, and I literally jumped for joy - then proceeded to have a solo dance party surrounded by all my paintings. It was the most joy I had felt in months, and it mega-affirmed me as an artist, and the value of my work. It could not have come at a better time, when I was feeling the lowest about myself and had no motivation left to continue painting. The solo exhibition gave me something to work toward and something to be excited about. I continued to be represented by Zukowski Collective for a couple years before they decided to relocate out of the Bay Area.
Thank you, Lauren, for giving me that opportunity! It meant more to me than you know!
Fast forward to my most recent experience with a magically timed affirmation.
Moving to a remote island in the middle of the ocean was quite a logistical challenge. There were a lot of things that got left with friends back in San Francisco. My favorite paintings were stored away in a friend's storage unit for months until I was finally able to fly back with some extra empty luggage. It was a big effort to coordinate the flights, where I would be staying, getting a ride to the storage unit, finding the right boxes, and making sure the cracked-out person blocking the entryway didn't steal anything we had loaded into the car. Then everything had to get packed and sorted in a hurry, as my flight was leaving the next day. All of this left me thinking... "Is this really worth it? Are my own paintings worth this much time, effort, stress, and money?" In these moments you question yourself, your decisions. and your worth as an artist. Sometimes I feel a bit crazy for the lengths I will go to for art! I managed to pack everything and took a red eye from San Francisco to Kauai with my luggage full of paintings and went right back to work the next day. The thing about work is that it's one block away from my favorite coffee shop, and the coffee shop has cool art hanging on the walls. Since arriving in Kauai, I have been following and connecting with other artists around the island. So naturally, I followed the artist whose art was on the walls on instagram. A couple hours later, I received an insta DM from that very artist - offering me a pop-up exhibition at a gallery on island! He had visited my website and saw the very paintings I had just flown back with me the night before. Literally within less than 24 hours of my physical paintings arriving on the island, something aligned for them to be showcased. It's like God was answering me saying, "yes, it was worth it, and yes your work has value." That DM started the road to the Art Soirée pop-up exhibition that happened a couple weekends ago, which evolved from a pop-up of just my work to a pop-up of three local artists (which I helped curate) and a huge opening turnout. I was left exhausted after months of preparation but happy to get to do what I love and am passionate about. Art + events!
So I guess the moral of the story is that art matters. Art has value and creation has value. If you are a fellow creator, your creations matter! Sometimes you have to fake it 'til you make it and be your own advocate. A well-known and established Bay Area artist once told me that I had to be prepared to give 10 years to developing my business and craft before I would start to see any real payoff. Ten years of creating and working "day jobs" without anything major coming back to me. That's quite a commitment, and it's really helped put into perspective why I make art. I've been created to create. It's who I am to the core and I can't betray that by not making art, regardless of whether it's a thriving business or not.
Sometimes my paintings pay the bills and sometimes they don't, but they are valuable and worthy either way. If you are an artist reading this, keep going! Keep persisting and valuing yourself, and you will find that things align exactly the way they're supposed to. Especially when it feels the hardest.