Monday, February 25, 2019

Why do we turn a hobby into a side hustle?

"Remembering Saint-Siméon", 10x10" mixed media on wood panel. 

I read an interesting article this week, about the trend of monetizing hobbies. It was an interesting read, and got me thinking about why I have been trying for years to get a business going from my painting.

It wasn't at all about money.  I've had a full time job since I was 20 years old, doing something I enjoyed and was good at. I got paid well enough to be comfortable, so it's not like I needed extra for things like food (for someone entering the work force today it would be an entirely different story. Even those working in the same field as me don't get paid enough to cover rent in Toronto, let alone eat).

As the years rolled along though, I found that money wasn't the same as job satisfaction, and as I got more experience doing what I was doing, I hit a point where I got bored. The challenge was gone.

Boredom is a tough one for me... I love to learn and have never been good at being content with the status quo. When the company I worked for wouldn't let me move to a different area to learn something new, I thought about going elsewhere, but it is the biggest player in the game with the most complex work there was to be done. Changing jobs didn't seem like the way to go. Instead I threw myself into my "hobby", and decided to put in the hours it took to get good at it.

I've always loved painting. I have a degree in fine art and I've made stuff off and on since I was in high school. I never seriously considered it a career... I didn't have any money during school, so I lived on a shoe string, and though I wouldn't say it was awful, it wasn't exactly how I would choose to live. Poverty isn't fun. And as I didn't know any artist that actually made a living from their art (except those that taught), I didn't think it was a realistic possibility.

Hard to know when you're good enough at something to be considered "good", isn't it? At first, my goal was just to paint something I liked. Then I thought I'd be good enough when I could consistently paint something I liked. Then when I could get into an outdoor show. Then a juried show. Then win some sort of award. I've accomplished all these things, but I still feel like I have a lot to learn. My work could be better. But still, when someone loves one of my pieces enough to part with their hard earned money... that gives me a kind of satisfaction I don't get from getting into a show. I feel like I've made a connection with someone. Selling my paintings became a kind of validation for me.

These days I paint like someone obsessed. I think about the painting I'm working on when I'm at work, or driving, or in the shower, or out on a walk. I see the world as a painter, looking for the colour in the shadows on the snow, or framing what I'm looking at as a compositional problem to solve. I note colour combinations that speak to me, I look for interesting textures. I've always got 3 or more pieces on the go. And my house is becoming cluttered. I've got paintings stuffed in closets and under beds, but I still keep making more. I can't stop. I've started painting over some of my less successful, older pieces, but I've still got too many.

I enjoy doing the art fairs. I'd probably enjoy it more if I sold more, because the packing stuff up to move is my least favourite part. I like going to galleries and chatting with people about the work. I love getting feedback about my own work. I love seeing photos of my paintings in my collector's homes. I feel joy when one of my friends, who have been following my work for years, call to say they want one particular piece because it speaks to them. It makes me feel like I'm bringing joy into someone else's life, and that makes me happy.

So while I wouldn't recommend everyone turn their hobby into a side gig, but I do see value in pursuing what you love, and becoming the best you can at it. Do what you want and don't worry about if it will sell. Lots of great work is not very marketable, but that doesn't make it any less valuable. Have a day job if you have to, but don't give up the thing that makes your heart sing. There is value in You being You.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Do you like this?

"Meandering Muse", 9x12" mixed media on paper. Available. 

I've been considering abandoning this blog. Not just migrating to my proper website, like I did a couple years ago, but not posting altogether.

There are a few reasons for this. My readership numbers are way down. There was a time I'd get a few hundred views per post, and usually a few comments. Not a lot, if you consider what some bloggers get, but I felt like I had a dedicated audience that came back every week to see what I had to say. These days it seems like if I get 30 views its a really good week. It's not that I don't think those 30 people are valuable (of course I do), but some weeks I feel like i'm stretched pretty thin, and spending an hour or two writing about art doesn't seem to be a great use of my time.

I'm spending more and more time on social media. It's not like I have to... if I just went on, posted and logged off I could shave it down to a few minutes a day. But I do enjoy the interaction. I get comments there, I see the same names liking and commenting on my posts, and I feel more like I'm building connections than I do here. And when those people come out to a show, they don't hesitate to introduce themselves because we've already been interacting. It's really pretty fun. But it does take time.

Then there's the pressure I put on myself to have a new painting to post every single week. That's actually why I started... I knew in order to get anywhere I had to have a decent sized inventory, but I was having motivational problems. I know I work well under a deadline... it's part of what makes me good at my day job. So I figured having a goal of one painting per week would make it more likely that I would get my ass in the studio and work. It worked. But now I find that I am ALWAYS working. If I'm not at work, I'm working at home. I'm painting, or editing my videos, updating my website, working on my marketing.... I have very little downtime. I went to an event a couple weeks ago and had a hard time carrying on a conversation with normal people (by "normal" I mean people not involved in the art or packaging worlds). I know I don't do a lot of social stuff, but I didn't realize I was that out of practice.

The one point in favour of me keeping this going is that it is a record of my progress. I've been posting pretty much once a week since 2012. That's a pretty thorough record. I've got photos of the shows I've done, a record of each painting and what was happening at the time it was created, trips and life events distilled down to the essentials. It's kinda fun going back and reading these posts. And I can see how far I've come, both in skill and creativity.

I'm not sure yet what conclusion I will come to. I do know that writing my weekly post is a habit now that I may continue, just because. I guess I'll just play it by ear for a bit, and see how things go. If you have an opinion on the subject, drop a comment here and let me know.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Beyond Winter

"Beyond Winter", 10x10" mixed media on wood panel. #51 in my 100 Square Project.
I've got a bunch of panels prepped for a Facebook live painting session. It will be in a couple weeks. Stay tuned.

Canada has been in the deep freeze. This past week has been colder than I remember ever being... I think we hit some kind of record low one day with the windchill a nasty minus forty something. It was worse in other areas. My brother-in-law is in Labrador. A balmy -50° out there. Yikes. On the positive side, the sun has been shining. It's been blindingly bright out there. That was something we all needed after months and months of grey.

A couple days I just couldn't warm up. I'd sit at my desk at work wearing a sweater with a t-shirt underneath, and a blanket shawl wrapped around me. The woman who sits one desk over had on gloves and a hat. Inside. Even in my own home it felt like the furnace was working overtime.

I'm lucky enough to have a gas fireplace in my studio. When I turn it on the whole floor warms up. I spent a lot of time down there this past week. I filmed most of it, and have been posting the videos to my social media channels. (If I had realized video got such a great reaction, I would have done it ages ago.)

 This video is the final session I filmed... I was working on the painting I've posted at the top of the post. I did work on it a bit more... mainly to fix up any compositional problems. I removed the dark clump on the left side and changed the spacing between the trees. I think it works now.

The initial motivation for this painting was to get a few colours I rarely use to play nicely together. But this cold has me dreaming of spring, and finding the beautiful greens and lavenders while mixing my paints made me think of meadows of blooming wild flowers. The form really came about all on it's own. If you've watched the snippits I've posted online, you can see how I turn the panel until I see something that wants to be brought forward. This is how all my paintings come together.

Intuitive painting has made somewhat of a comeback in recent years. When I was in school we had to plan everything. We had to have an idea to start with (usually where I blocked... my ideas never really seemed good enough to put in the effort to make it real), then do a series of thumbnails, block out the composition, then refine everything until it worked. I learned a lot about composition and whatever, surely necessary things to a visual artist, but my paintings were always a bit of a disappointment. It wasn't until I learned to let go of expectation that I could really enjoy the process and create something truly unique.

I really don't know why intuitive painting gets such a bad rap from educational institutions. Some of the greats did it. Joan Mitchell comes to mind. The trick is to not give up on the painting too soon. Keep going, keep changing things, until you reach a place where it speaks to you. It's not always easy, and you can go through a lot of paint, but the results will be truly your own.

And for a little while maybe we can forget about how cold it is.