(yes, I do write mostly sitting on the bed. Banjo the cat is usually sitting with me. He’s an old fellow now and the bedroom is a safe haven for us both, especially while the kids – 7 and 3 – are off school!)
What have you got planned this year?
This year, at the start of the year (yesterday, as I write this) I sat down and wrote everything that happened last year in a Google doc. It was quite a year, too much for me get my head around at once without writing it all out.
2016 was the year I became a full time artist and teacher, for one.
It was partly choice, and partly because I had to.
As you probably know if you’ve following this blog for any length of time, everything changed for me last year. I became very ill with a rare disease at the beginning of the year, and wasn’t diagnosed for quite a while. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was close to losing everything – my family, friends, everything.
It was a harrowing time, but I’m glad it happened. Because from it came two momentous realisations:
Be grateful: Life is very, very precious
Of course we all believe that, we may even say it often, but it’s not until you’ve come close to losing it that you really understand completely how precious your life – all life – really is.
I love my wife and my kids. I loved them before I was ill. But when I think about the fact that I might not have been here for them, been able to share in their joys and frustrations, their learning and their growth, it gives me pause. I have a different perspective on every moment I get to spend with them now.
Of course my kids drive me up the wall sometimes. Of course I lose it with them sometimes. But I’m so grateful, now, for every moment I have with them.
Every day, I feel a deep gratitude for simply being here, able to experience the small inconsequential moments of each day. Although I’m mostly recovered now, that feeling hasn’t left me and I hope it never will.
Don’t waste time: You don’t know how much of it you have left
When we adopted our two boys, I decided to stay in my full time job, despite hating it. It was secure (at least I thought it was) and I knew that every month there would be enough money to cover the bills, to feed the family, to pay for the kids’ swimming lessons, their music lessons, fun birthday treats for them, new clothes.
That job undoubtedly contributed to my illness. And anyway, what do I want to show my kids? That the best way to live is by taking the easy, less scary, more secure route? Never to dare? Never to reach for a dream?
I want more than that for them. I want more than that for myself. I want more than that for you, too.
Becoming “professional” (in the sense of earning all my living from art) wasn’t entirely a choice. I was made redundant from my (supposedly safe) job just before I became ill. For many months, I simply wasn’t strong enough to go back to a full time job. I’m not sure I am now. I think it’s quite likely that, if I did go back to a full time job like the one I had before, I’d end up back in hospital before too long.
Committing to teaching
So I’ve committed to what I’m doing now, painting and teaching.
I’m not one of those artists that teaches because they have to, to make ends meet, but who would really rather be painting. Teaching is very meaningful for me.
Learning to paint on your own is such a struggle, and I know that there are a lot of people out there struggling with the same things I have. And I know that I can help. And I must say, every time I get an email from someone who tells me that I’ve helped them in some way, helped them to progress towards their dreams, I get emotional in a way that no ordinary job could ever give me. That’s real job satisfaction – knowing that you’ve really helped someone with their struggles.
But things are far from easy. Starting any business is messy. I get a lot wrong. Frankly, we’re barely surviving. Often, I can’t afford to do things for the kids that I used to do without thinking. Our Christmas was a pretty lean one by our usual standards.
You know what? The kids didn’t care at all. They didn’t count their presents, they were just over the moon with the ones they got. When we were making our mince pies together, when we were decorating the tree, when we were spending time together, we were just enjoying each other’s company. Not going overboard on the presents and the Christmas dinner actually seemed to make what we did have more special.
There have been times over the last few months when I couldn’t cover the bills, and had to borrow. For a while, I thought it likely that we’d lose the house. But we haven’t, yet. Another thing I’ve learned is that your worst fears rarely come true.
But they can hold you back. Perhaps if my hand hadn’t been forced by my redundancy and subsequent illness, I might still be in a job I hate, getting ready to go back to work tomorrow, to destroy another little piece of my soul and put off my dream a little longer.
My plans for this year
I started this site in 2007 (ten years ago!) as a simple journal of my attempts to teach myself to paint and draw realistically. I didn’t really expect anyone to read it, I was surprised when they did. I was even more surprised when people started getting in touch with me, telling me that something I’d put up here helped them, or asking me questions.
And I’ve been thinking a lot about that.
I’m on a new journey now. Of course I’m still learning how to draw and paint, that never stops. But I’m also learning now what it takes to make a living as an artist and more specifically, an artist that makes a living online.
Let me tell you, it’s hard. On top of the struggles I had before, and still have, of just trying to learn and grow and paint well, I now have the struggle of making a living independently.
So I think that it might be useful if I shared this new stage of the journey, just as I have before. When I was learning the basics of drawing and painting, I shared everything, my successes and failures, when I made progress and when I didn’t, and I shared in detail everything that I was doing to try to build my skills.
This year, I’m planning to return to that. Only this time, I’ll be sharing what I’m learning about making a living as an artist online.
I’m not in any high profile galleries. I’m not taking anything like a traditional route. I don’t think you have to, these days. One thing I have learned is that, if you start by helping people and share what you know, and if you do that for enough people, without thought for reward or compensation, it’s perfectly possible that you can get to a point where you don’t need to go the traditional route. Yes, I’m surprised, too.
We live in a very different world now. I have friends I’ve never met, artists from all over the world that I regularly converse with. People I feel close to, even though I only know them through email and/or facebook. These relationships are very meaningful for me. It’s easy to dismiss social media as a sad proxy for real life relationships, but there’s another side; it can be much more than that.
That’s another thing I learned when I was ill. The support I was so lucky to have been given, completely unselfishly, by all those people that I’ve never met helped in no small way to sustain me through some very difficult moments. Of course depending on social media likes for your self esteem and sense of self is dubious at best. I’m not talking about that. Real connections can be made, meaningful ones. It depends on how you use it.
So how am I doing it?
As you probably know, I’ve started auctioning small paintings now. I also have an online course on colour, a drawing membership programme and I make tutorial videos that I sell on a “pay what you want” basis on Gumroad.
With all of these things together, we just about get through each month. I spend a fair bit of time in a semi-panic over whether I’ll be able to cover the bills. But I’m not planning to go back to one of those soul-destroying office jobs I had before.
So I’ll let you know how I set all those things up, how they contribute to my living, and how they feel to do. It won’t all be pretty! But it will be honest.
Don’t worry, I’ll still be doing all the usual stuff I do, sharing what I can about learning to draw and paint, that won’t change. But I think that sharing this part of the journey will be useful to anyone else out there who would like to junk their horrible job and become a full time artist.
Hopefully I’ll be able to show you (assuming I can sustain it, of course) that it’s possible to look beyond the galleries and survive independently. And hopefully I’ll be able to show you how.
So what have you got planned for 2017?
Maybe you’re at the beginning of developing your skills, and have a lot of practising to do before you’re at the stage where you can consider going full time.
Maybe you’re ready to make the leap now, you just don’t know it yet.
Or maybe you do.
Please email me and let me know what your plans are for this year. You can reach me at Paul – at – learning-to-see.co.uk. Or, if you like, leave a comment here. It’s up to you. But I’d like to encourage you to have a little think before going back to the usual groove.
Perhaps try to remember how much you have to be grateful for. And think for a moment about how precious your life and your time really are.
Don’t waste it. The struggle is worth it.
Thanks for reading and best wishes,
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