Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reality Check

The business of making art/craft for a living is not an easy one.  Far from what some might perceive. To many, it might seem glamourous..."how lucky you are to get to do what you love"  "how lucky you are to get to work in your studio making art".  If you are a realist, you probably see it for what it is.

Here is the reality of it (my reality that is):

Many like me, run our businesses from home.  So looming piles of laundry, housework, dishes, weeds, homework, running kids to/from school, ortho/medical appts, etc, etc...people stopping by to visit, etc.  All of these things very easily creep into your work time.  When you work away from home, these things don't happen, save the emergency call.  Imagine telling your boss, "hey wait a minute while I go change my laundry from the washer to the dryer...or wash the dishes".  There is all too often an assumption that when you work from home, that you have all of the time in the world.  More often having to say "no" to social events because you have a show looming or orders to fill.

Here is more of MY reality for you:

I have been creating "stuff/art/craft" for over 25 years. This is a short list of the things I have mastered over those years...sculpted polymer clay jewelry in the pre-SCULPEY days of using only rock hard FIMO (was my own sales rep and sold to about a dozen stores) also made silk/dried florals, sewed and painted kids clothes/accessories.  These things I sold at two weekly craft fairs, every friday night and every saturday.  I did that a couple of years running until taking care of three small boys (and babysitting other kids/caring for relatives)  took precedence over that. (I bet you can pin the decade to some of the creating I did)  I then created a line of hand painted terra cotta pots...called "Poetic Pots"  as well as painted step stools to display said pots.  These were sold with the aid of a sales rep to many stores.  After one full year of painting over 500 pots and 50 step stools, gears were shifted again, because along came vintage furniture.  Sanded and painted more furniture than I could come close to counting. (why today the thought of painting one piece of furniture makes me shudder)  Painted roses, scenes, greenery, Shabby Chic BEFORE it was a coined phrase. Crackle finishes, sponge, faux marble,  gold name it.  LONG before fancy chalk paints.   These pieces were sold to and through several antique stores.  While doing all of this pot/furniture painting, I said to myself..."self, why not try this on a wall".  To the reluctance of my first husband, I did.  So started my mural painting business.  Mural painting really set me free...on many levels.  It is where I made the most money in all of my creative years and allowed me to move on in my personal life.  When I married my second husband, mural painting came only on weekends so I could take care of my three sons and our infant daughter on the weekdays.  Also painted furniture and sewed clothing and handbags with vintage textiles on the weekdays, while juggling the kids. Opened a small shop called "Daydreams" which lasted only 6 months.  Having an infant and three boys under 15 proved too much in running a shop (plus I made EVERYTHING that was sold in the shop). When my second husband Four kids ages 3-17 yrs old...I felt lost.  Took a bit of time off from creating anything. Had some fun. Did some more mural & furniture work, then the economy started entered the world of repurposing,  jewelry making and mixed media assemblage. (let's not forget a few Antique store booths  and Power Seller status on EBAY as well)  I will NEVER forget my excitement at being accepted into my first mixed media show called Glitterfest.  It truly felt like I had "arrived".  From there I hit the so Cal show circuit.  There were MANY months of doing 3-4 shows per month.  Often making under $500 dollars per show.  But I kept trudging along.  As the Mixed media years have progressed, I have built a following and changed which shows I do and how many.  Tried the wholesale gig too, doing a few gift shows. Money is better, but is it really "enough"?

Some really GOOD Reality:

During this time I have forged many many lifelong friendships, one the longest being my dear friend Kathy.  We met in a thrift store in Covina what seems a lifetime ago, 15 years to be exact. When she was here last week for a studio day, we still laugh about that random day.   My pals Rita and Tara are women I truly love, cherish and trust.  MANY more wonderful customers, friends and students whose lives you begin to know and follow and watch their kids grow, lives change and battles fought.  These are the things that have been the biggest blessing of all, besides being here to raise my kids.

My growth artistically has been immense too, over the years. Looking back at where I started's amazing how we can progress and grow, not just as individuals, but artistically as well.

The Not-So-good Reality:

Despite the Good stuff,  REALITY is....we still have to make money and support ourselves.  There is no "boss" are the boss.  There is no company paid/assisted health plan, no 401K, no paid sick days or paid vacations(most of the time there are no vacations at all) Although I do consider spending time with my grandson,  gardening in my back yard & playing with my dogs a kind of vacation. ;-)

I could go ON and ON with stories of how my work has been blatantly, as well as subtly, copied over the years to the point of not wanting to even share anything online.  There seems to be no sense of honor or decorum in this area AT ALL.  Big box companies do house designers as well as people troll Pinterest, Etsy and the internet for "ideas" all of the time.  It has become accepted to be "inspired" rather freely these days.  Not that I have not been inspired by others, but to be honest...I work excruciatingly hard at being original.  If I make something I think is original...I google the hell out of it to see if it really is...and if it isn' gets shelved or greatly edited because I NEVER want my work to look like someone elses.  This has become increasingly exhausting and deflating.

Oh, the quotes, "you should be honored, emulating is the biggest form of flattery"..."oh my gosh, you are so clever"..."you have the greatest ideas"...(here is one of my FAVES at a craft/art show) "I just LOOOOVE coming to these shows for ideas"(often accompanied by the stealth or not so stealth picture being taken of your work) This is when you smile kindly while standing in your booth, as you wonder how you will cover your mortgage that month.  The people who ask you how you make it, where do you get your supplies from? (sheesh, I could go on)

While show earnings have greatly improved over the years as business and followers have been built, the "reality" is...after crunching numbers, is it really enough? This year has been heavy with teaching(which I have truly, truly enjoyed), but teaching isn't a huge money maker either, not when you really calculate all of your time accumulating supplies, creating samples/kits.  Maybe if you have Large class sizes, you can get a good profit going.  For the stupid people who say, "you never get paid for your time".  Well, if you are not getting paid for your time, it is NOT a business.  Would a doctor treat patients if she/he did not get paid for their time?  or any other profession for that matter?  That comment makes me want to bitch slap the person who says it. (but instead they just get tuned out)  Move along please.

Now PLEASE don't get me wrong, most people are very sweet, well intentioned and supportive.  This post is NOT meant to offend anyone, maybe enlighten.

So, why did I pour all of this out today?  (other than sitting in the dark snuggling with a needy new puppy thinking about my life)  Truth is, this honestly has been brewing for a very, very long time.  But often the inertia of what one does takes over and it is kind of scary both physically and emotionally to jump from the train onto an unknown track. Overall, this business has served mine/my families basic needs, but I question the long term viability of it all, like never being able to truly retire or take a fancy vacation, (insert visions of dying with a paintbrush in my hand, probably not a bad way to go as long as the painting is done and it is quick and painless) ;-)

Without naming names, many artist friends I know go without healthcare and struggle OH SOOO much more than what people think.

I guess this is also a warning to those of you who like to "make things" and want to jump head first into this often shallow pond, as well as a reality check for myself.  If you are pondering this business, my Rx is, get a degree in business first and call me in the morning. There seem to be some great business courses available to makers too. (a few I have looked into, but dang they are expensive) Though, the cynic in me also wonders why so many people get away from making art to sell and switch to teaching their art/craft full time or create a business model teaching people "how to create a creative business".   Is it that they really want to share their wealth of knowledge or that making and selling one's work is truly harder and less viable than is for a lucky few.  Plus we have become very much a DIY community with Pinterest.

So, where does this leave me?  Currently I am really not sure.  Do I want to...continue this line of work? get out of it entirely? Restructure?  Start a new career?  Go back to school? I am down to raising the last kid, getting her through high school and into college. Though this business has kept me afloat and allowed me to be with my kids before and after school, not sure about wanting to continue doing it on this level or as I have been...for hopefully what will be the second half of my life.    My values have changed over the years as well and I'd like to be more philanthropic and do work that has more of an impact on a social change level...not just making pretty things.

If you've read this entire post, thank you so much.  It has not been intended to offend anyone, so please don't take it that way if you have...just see it as a glimpse into my life's journal...the dialog that runs through my mind.

Thank you my friends, customers, students and fellow artists for your contributions to my life and our world.  Let's see what the next step will be...



  1. I get everything you said!!!!! I have been making dolls for 20 years, was one of the first sellers on ebay and it was SO good......until like you said....everyone started doing to same thing and then I did paperclay one in a magazine, and OMG all of a sudden the copycats came out! then artists sold to China and a paperclay original was no longer worth more than 9.99. SO no mas for me, now I just make stuff for friends and as gifts.......although I have always played with the idea of how much fun it would be to do retreats, art retreats, sewing etc....but again, you cant make a living at it can you:( some do, they make big bucks.....but thats few and far between. Im in somewhat the same boat as you...looking for something to do to make a difference.............good luck on your journey!!!!!

    1. I read your post form beginning to end. How frustrating to come up with something and have it copied!! I guess I have always been so envious of your talent and your creative whimsy.I've don't the 9 to 5 thing, worked in a cube farm with a 401K and wished everyday to get myself out! I am so selfish when I say, Please don't leave the creative world! It's artists like you that make me smile and keep my mojo going. I guess it's hard to see how ideal your life seems to someone like me. What I wouldn't give to have your talent and seeing the world through your eyes. I hope you find your answers. I adore your heart, mind and soul. Hang in there,xoxoxoxo

    2. Cindy you are one of those women who is the wind beneath my wings. XOXO

  2. I knew we were kindred spirits, from the moment I met you...

  3. Father raising 3 boys I can feel every word your saying...let your creativity lead you and "make sure the painting is done" lol ..loved that part...fb/sheekbooteek

  4. Hi Lisa, you are me and I am you. You hit it all right on the head. I also went to teaching after I found myself praying to be shot in the leg rather then hear one more person tell me I was clever or had the prettiest stuff at the show again. Unlike a bunch of our fellow artists I also have a graduate degree in Nursing but strangely found myself just about unemployable. Don't get me wrong I also love every moment of my life and feel emmensely blessed. However the roller coaster ride can be a bit much at times. I believe the answer lies in duplication. I see it as the only way to be able to make a consistent sustainable income. Close to a year ago I launched a new company with the business model based on just that. It's not an MLM or any thing like that. It's my company. I see it as being able to give me more freedom and let me not have to personally produce everything myself any longer. It's almost a year now and I am still going at it. I am very hopeful! I am sure what ever you choose to do in your next chapter will also be spectacular !
    Best Regards, Nancy Olliver

  5. The Best is Yet to Be...God bless....Melissa

  6. Hello Lisa,
    I have read your entire post. I too have been creating and selling for nearly 24 years. The one thing you said that hit home was about making a difference and not just making pretty things.
    I recently had a conversation with my son who just graduated college. He is wanting to make a difference, but is caught up in making a big difference. I told him there are many ways to make a difference. I like to think that every one of the pretty little things that I have sold over these years (most likely over 10.000 pieces by now) has brought at least one smile. I don't think that 10,000 smiles is a little difference.
    Never undervalue the JOY your work has brought or the hearts you have touched.
    enJOY a beautiful week,

  7. Morning VSS~
    You had me at Hello 15 years ago in a thrift store!! (wink) ~You are spot on Vintage Soul Sister~ The House hold duties and distraction of a in home studio artist are many and having time management is an additional skill we have (sometimes) under our cap as well.. I do have to say coming from a corporate world I still wouldn't trade in being a starving artist for a 5x5 cube, 401k and a closet of business suits... Nope give me yoga pants, hair up in cap, music turned up and a pile of laundry and chasing grand grandbabies while I'm behind in designs for an upcoming show.. ;O!!
    You my friend are one of the most talented artist I know, you can multi task better than the most and you always seem to have time for everyone in your life including your furry friends... There is always going to be the customer that lacks shopping etiquette and the understanding whats socially acceptable when shopping an artisan event, so please don't let that derail your one women steam engine off the track because you are well loved and appreciated.. I think you need to add writing your list of talents too !!! You should do the book you have always dreamed and talked about.
    There are many ways to make a difference in the world and you do that every day starting at home Lisa but i totally understand wanting to reach outside the 4 walls and "Be the change you want to see int he world." I hope you stay somewhere close to all your paint brushes and sculpey clay ... I love you big time and think what you really need is a vacation with me !!! lol or a least one of our mini weekend getaways!
    Love you big time!!
    XO Kat

    1. When do we leave? I LOVE you more than words and to the moon and back! You know me better than any other. XOXO

  8. Thank you for your frank post. I have admired your work since I first spied it at an early or first Glitterfest and hope you find a way to stick with marketing your art.... provided it still works for you and your family. No matter what you decide, your innate creativity and urge to create will survive. I was in advertising in the creative department for years at the start of my career and found that creating as a job sapped my creative spirit. Writing ad copy and designing ads isn't the same as creating art like you do, but when I changed to accounting as a career and crafted on my own time, I felt a great sense of freedom. Now I just create for me .... making things for pure joy and to gift to family and friends. Thanks again for discussing the realities of art as a career.... where are the Medici's of our time? - Amy Bauer