Trying to make it as an artist when your income is just not enough:
This weekend I have the run of Rottenstone Pottery, the local gallery that carries my work. It’s not our busiest season, so traffic has been scattered and people poke in every now and again during mostly quiet days. When I sit the gallery I get a little pay for my time, commissions on sales, and can spend time on my own work to my heart’s content. It’s been over a year since I have taken the leap into the abyss of trying to make it as an artist, left the regularly scheduled world of working for someone else, and taken gigs and odd jobs to try and break even.
I am really lucky for having been offered various steady work waiting tables (my most recent previous form of regular income), and even other full time or part time regular jobs. In this climate of unemployment and job insecurity, I am not ungrateful, but I know how easy it would be for me to neglect this commitment to myself, to pursue making, if my income is safely tied up in a steady job. Yes, I realize it is a luxury to be able to live this way, and the choices, and happenstance of my life have allowed this. I live incredibly humbly with my dear partner who is supportive to no end, in particular, because he has his own dreams for following his creative pursuits outside of the conventional steady job hustle. He is an English teacher and a poet, New Mexico Charter School Teacher of the Year no less! He didn’t get there with an easy gig idly minding behaved and head strong students. He also struggles to support students with no other form of support, add to those, students with inclinations for dangerous forms of rebellion, with additional challenges in the work environment, and I wonder how in the world he is able to do it at all.
Still, he believes in me and takes on the lion’s share of the rent and expenses in our tiny studio apartment because he believes in what I am doing. Eventually, my craft will make our living and he will take time away to focus on his writing! For now, I am pushing away in the studio spending more than full time hours to seek a comfortable living and beyond with what I love doing. In the meantime I take jobs here and there to fill in the gaps of my income, and I have set up some ground rules to keep my head and heart in the studio. I have gotten a reputation as a good house and animal sitter and often get offered jobs in people’s homes for periods of time. I also have experience and the credentials for working in restaurants with food and alcohol and I am offered regular appealing work more than I should be lucky enough to receive. Jobs related directly to my work as a maker I will always consider. And helping friends out is really important to me as well. I have had so much help along the way I want to keep paying that forward where I am able.
My rules for staying true to the course:
1. I don’t take anyone else’s steady jobs with a regular schedule so that I can pick and choose when and where I need to be for my own work, hosting openings, pursuing representation, and promoting. This is particularly important because in this small town my busiest times of year are also the busiest times of year for most jobs I would take on.
2. I cover jobs of people that I have worked comfortably with for a long time at rates that work for both of us. New house sitting and/or animal sitting jobs I make sure work with my schedule and how I value my time.
3. I don’t get tied to working a regular schedule for someone else’s dream, restaurant or whatever venture, so that I can focus on my own. The time and energy I invest in building my business as an artist is much more valuable to me.
4. I take jobs here and there for set specific times on a case by case basis catering or bar tending. When I am able and the pay is acceptable I take on opportunities and let it be known that I am available for this kind of work. Word of mouth and reputation from years of waiting tables is how I get these jobs.
5. I would take a regular schedule with a space representing my work in order to build my understanding of running a gallery and working with customers, something that helps me represent my work, and teaches me the ins and outs if ever I would want to have my own gallery.
6. I keep a regular vigorous schedule in my studio, making sure I am committing full time plus, and staying late and/or going in early or on weekends to make sure I have given myself those hours.
7. I appreciate the freedom to adjust accordingly and like to offer my help to friends wherever I can, especially when they don’t have the same luxury. My friends support me throughout the year, buying, using, and sharing my work, not to mention, welcoming me into their lives and homes.
I know I am lucky to even have the option of considering this type of life, but I have also had the opportunity to choose how humbly I want to live so that I can invest my time, energy, and resources in what is most important to me. Before this past year I was making a decent living waiting tables with enough to spare for travel, skiing, and working in my studio. Now I’m trying to have my making take on that responsibility. Looks like time will tell if that works out or not! I’ll keep you posted!