Why I Stopped Creating Art for a Living

From a young age I heard from nearly everyone in my life, “You should be creating art for a living.”, and for a long time, I did. I drew portraits. I created knitting patterns. I made soap. I wrote. I utilized my creative skills in a way that paid the bills. I was unhappy.

People are multifaceted, and if you start doing what you love for a living, it can quickly become all you do. Truth is, I have more interests than I have time to explore them and I’m never bored because I’m always doing something.

When I started creating art for a living. I went through a phase where I felt like I’d finally made it. This was it. This was my time. This was what I was meant for. Every time someone placed an order for a portrait I got a rush. Once the novelty wore off, I felt unfulfilled and as I churned out portrait after portrait, my passion for the pencil started to slip. It wasn’t long before what I used to love doing started to feel like a chore, so I changed gears.

“Sisters”; charcoal on paper.

I started doing a few other things to make money from home but I got burnt out doing them as well. At one point I’d turned each of my hobbies into a source of income but I still wasn’t happy.

I started ghost writing articles. I freelanced, and I got a ton of work because I was so fast. I made a lot of money. I made more than I ever had in my life. Over time, I started to hate the work because I was being told what to write and it felt disingenuous.  The work started to feel cheap and I felt like I was lying to people. My creativity seemed to be wasted and I knew that if I was going to write, this was not the kind of writing I wanted to be doing. I wanted to write for me again.

A few years ago I stared at my computer screen and wondered what was wrong with me. I’m creating art for a living and it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I should be happy. I thought for a long time that maybe I’d never be happy career-wise. Had I ever been happy? Yes! I recalled my first years after high school when I worked in a call center. That sense of purpose and being an adult I had. That feeling of being a part of something. Having a schedule, a set of directions, being forced to practice my social skills, having coworkers and making some of the best friends I ever had, drawing or writing for the sake of it and loving my output, being challenged. Challenge. That was it! I wasn’t being challenged when I was doing these little commission jobs where I was basically just filling in the blanks. I was doing work that I wasn’t passionate about, because my goal was ultimately to please someone else rather than myself.

Violent Devotion
“Violent Devotion” watercolour on paper.

As soon as I let go of the idea that I had to be a paid artist to be happy, a world opened before me like a blossoming flower. It took a long time for me to get used to the idea of a life doing something other than art for a living, because for so long, I’d felt like that was what I should be doing.

I still create, but I’m not pressuring myself to turn it into a career. It’s the best thing I could have done for my creativity, because now when I finish something I can actually be proud of it because it is 100% me right there on the page. I don’t even post advertisements on my website because I never again want to get the feeling that I’m being sold and that my work is suffering because of it. If someone wants to consume my work, I want it to be on its own merit and not some glazed over superhighway lined in billboards that will only distract you from my core message – which, basically, is love.

When I look back now to the years I spent creating art for a living, I realized that what was missing was that I was still working for someone else. It cheapened the experience for me and I was finding it harder and harder to find myself in what I was producing. In the grand scheme of things, I was still doing work that was dictated, which took a lot of the wind out of my sails.

Now I work in a Mental Health Clinic, where I still do something that I love, and on the side I still create. I create because I have to. I create for myself before anything else, and that has made all the difference.

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