Initially written in 2012, finally published in 2015.The path towards becoming an established artist is a rocky, winding, challenging road, but as anyone who persevered and achieved or reached a dream would be able to attest, it's a worthy path to take. This is an account of my journey towards becoming and remaining a professional artist, succeeding only through stubborn dedication, blind faith and the support of family and friends. I give tips about reaching your own dream, developing your own art, and share some insights and mishaps that lit up my path.
A girl with a dream
I grew up in a very happy home. One of my objectives or motivations throughout life has always been to make my parents proud. At school I achieved great grades, got involved in different activities and sports, and shared experiences with friends. And I loved to draw. Art was one of my favourite subjects, and because I spent a lot of time drawing, my skill developed and I got appreciation for my creativity from teachers, class mates, and my parents. I was entered into the local art association's annual art evaluations and got awarded great awards for three of my works, an A++ among them. At the age of 13 I listed my potential career options as: artist, air hostess or game ranger.
Among class mates
During high school I took Art as subject and the art class became my haven. We painted a Marc Chagall artwork onto the wall outside the art class, and our teacher taught us about all the great masters in Art History. We went on a field trip when I was 16 and saw art by South African artists in art galleries in Pretoria. At this time I knew that what I wanted to do with my life was to become a Lien Botha, a Chris Diedericks, Diane Victor or a William Kentridge. I wanted to paint, draw and make inspiring art for the rest of my life. At the same time I was being told that making a living as an artist is highly doubtful or an almost impossible challenge. So graphic design seemed like a good option - the next best thing, a compromize. So at the end of my school career my parents and I agreed that I would study for a diploma in Graphic Design, so that IF I struggle to make a living as an artist, I have a fall-back.
The next four years were an all-consuming flurry of studying, working part time, having fun, painting, drawing, designing, lectures, taking photographs and trying to achieve in the same way that I did at school. I met amazing people, learnt a lot, and felt proud of the creative work I created. I went through ups and downs, of course, and at some stage felt like giving up and dropping out. But I pushed through and ended up doing a post graduate year to attain my B Tech qualification. During this year I focused my attention on green or 'eco-conscious' design, and advertising that raises awareness for environmental issues. During my first years of study we had specific class times and slots for our different subjects which included communication design, photography, drawing, illustration techniques and History of Graphic Design. In my fourth year, however, I was responsible for my own working hours in between consultation times with my assigned lecturer. I got a taste for the independence of managing my own working time, and guiding my creative process in the way that I feel works best. This proved crucial in my path towards my art career.
A working woman
I got a job in a design agency straight after studying. Our exams were barely done before I started going to interviews in the city. It was a small design agency and I had a lot of creative freedom. I never needed to stay late at work and after a quick jog and dinner for one I spent my evenings painting. After half a year I moved to another city, however, and a new job in a bigger design company. At this company I only lasted the 3 month trial period, largely due to overtime and lack of creative freedom. I felt frustrated and did not have the energy after work to create artworks or even prepare food. I decided to take a shot at working as a full time artist. Easier said than done. I had some rudimentary knowlegde of business management and entrepreneurship from subjects at school and as a student, but not enough to prepare me for the challenges of trying to make AND sell art. I had to start waitressing again, and tried working at a pre-school (which lasted 3 weeks) to pay and buy rent, electricity, petrol, food and going out with my friends and boyfriend. I participated in a four-man exhibition and took my art to several art shops. But soon after I was working at a design agency again. This job lasted for almost two years, as lunch time was spent in a huge garden with a dam and ducks, I didn't work overtime and the work space was comfortable and creative. Until we moved office to a more corporate environment and the pressure increased. After long discussions late at night with my loved ones, and sleepness nights, I bailed again, started to do freelance graphic design on a computer that a friend donated, and making abstract art.
Reclaiming the dream
I started doing commissions, promote my work at every opportunity that I could see, tried selling at markets, took my art to art shops again, and participated in group exhibitions. I worked on a make-shift table in the lounge, to the dismay of my flatmate, so did not have the extra cost of studio rent. I did receive financial help from my parents for rent, I did not know how to price my work, did not keep good records and had no real strategy. I also did not feel proud of all the artworks I was creating, mostly because I seemed to produce a lot of works, without enough engagement and emotional or meaningful intent in each work's process, due to the need to sell and 'survive'. I did get involved with some of the galleries in which I exhibited, in particular the Gallery at Duncan Yard, later renamed as the Fient Gallery, in Pretoria. I designed the exhibition invitations for a fee, and regularly showed and sold my art in the gallery. When my boyfriend went overseas for studies, I moved back home to stay with my parents for the next three months. With his return we moved to the other side of the country, to the land of milk and honey, and before leaving had an art sale where I sold the majority of my artworks for ridiculously low prices – often much less than I paid for the canvas!
I had interviews for a job lined up before arriving in Cape Town. Potential jobs included being a gallery assistant for the artist and gallery owner who now frames all my art, and a graphic design position in a new company. I got the latter job, and was able to work from home on my own computer. I managed my own time, making sure I met the deadlines, but also created new paintings and experimental sculptures inbetween my time in front of the computer.
I've had a rollercoaster love-hate relationship with 'graphic design' – it has taken up its own personality in my mind, growing into a monster that threatens to take over my life and steal all my painting time. Clients seem too needy, prescriptive and demanding; bosses and production managers are dominating antagonists in my own horror movie; and everything takes superhuman proportions – all aimed against what I really wanted to do: fine art.
Graphic Design, and illustration as service, is a great creative outlet and I could make beautiful, informed, and craftful design pieces, but somehow all sense and reality loses substance when I feel caged or being prevented from creating artworks inspired by things I see and experience. So when my boyfriend landed a job, I left the paid job in lieu of freelance design and making art again. I started to attend art workshops, visited galleries and exhibitions, and met people instrumental in my success as an artist.
Balancing income with passion
In the follwoing few years I have worked as temporary gallery assistent, as freelance graphic designer, as workshop facilitator, regularly participated in group exhibitions, and had my first two-man. I have done painting commissions, illustrations, t-shirt designs and consulted for different projects in art and design. I have met other artists, gallery owners, and a huge amount of amazing people. I have rented and worked in three different studio spaces, done a host of pro bono work, and gotten involved in various initiatives that raises awareness for environmental issues. I promote and support creativity through workshops, and I constantly create new artworks. My boyfriend and I got married, he changed jobs and we went through trials together. Without the support of my family I would not have achieved as much as I have. My mother and mother-in-law each paid a third of my studio rent money at one stage. My entire family supports and encourages me, and my husband have pulled us through each bad month, each month that I struggled to cover costs and keep my chin up.
Focus and riding the cycles
Being a multi-skilled individual and having several diverging interests has its pitfalls. I have participated in various projects and initiatives, but some of them with no actual relevance to the success of my art career. I had to learn, and need to remind myself all the time, to manage my time cleverly and consciously. I still do pro bono work, I still initiate and contribute to projects that uplifts the community through creativity, and I still do awareness-raising activities for the environment. Very occassionally I do graphic design projects and commissions, but mostly I focus on my artmaking – making artworks that really reflect my philosophy, artworks into which I immerse myself fully to visually express ideas and thoughts with integrity and honesty. Even if these artworks don't sell quickly. Even if they are very diverse – spanning Painting, Drawing, Land Art, Sculpture, Performance Art, Photography and Digital Art – and some of them very difficult or impossible to sell. I know that it seems like I have 34 hour days – I don't. I just choose carefully how I spend my time, remind myself that each new day brings new opportunities to create art. And when I choose my clients correctly, they understand when I ask for an extention on the deadline, when I tell them about artworks for an exhibition and promise to send them an invitation. Yes, there is compromises and sacrifices. It will never be 'easy', it IS a journey, not a destination. I constantly remind myself that I've chosen this path for a reason, I'm doing what I love, and when I really think about it: I'm living my dream.
The evolution of my art
My art has progressed and grown through many different stages and phases. And it will change constantly throughout the rest of my art career. During my studies I was encouraged, if not forced, to conceptualize my creative outcomes. To engage with the theme or subject matter, whether the objective is to create a drawing, produce a booklet, or explore the concept of “duality” through any medium and material suited to its meaning. I created work that I felt proud of, especially when I had emotional investment in the theme. This pride took a nosedip when I created artworks solely as products to sell, pictures I made merely to be visually appealing and sellable. Attending workshops, collaborating and sharing with other artists, and experimenting with my art without the pressure of money – whether it is because of financial support from family or from doing freelance projects for a fee – all contributed towards the development of my style, my focus, my technique and my chosen themes. I have read and researched about selling art, making art, writing about art and I have dedicated myself towards the development of my art. Whether it's ambition, being stubborn, being self-indulgent or selfish, or just being true to myself – I haven't given up on my dream to be the type of artists I admire since my school years.
My work has proven to be diverse, experimental, organic, intuitive, progressively ethical, natural, earthy, and expressive. Throughout the years my work at times seemed quite fragmented due to the diversity of materials and amount of experimentation, but on closer inspection a repetition of subject matter and overall production methods started to create a coherency or unity. The subject matter usually revolved around the natural environments that we find ourselves in, which includes people, animals and natural still life. It's evolving towards environmental art inspired in part by the notion that many of the plant and animal species on our planet is being driven towards extinction. Other works are made in response to our throwaway culture and disregard for nature, but also the way that nature persists and that there's still natural places of peace and beauty, regardless of human's pollution and disrespect for nature.
My art and success as an artist is due to many factors, but one of the most important factors is time – I've spent innumerable hours, days, months and years to develop my techniques, and the overall understanding of my art and how to promote it. Time, patience, never giving up, and not taking criticism too personally. Listen to advice and constructive criticism, and if it makes sense apply it! If it doesn't fit into your vision, however, then don't allow it to distract you. And never stop to learn, to aim higher, to improve yourself and your skills. Ask for help, but when it's not given don't be angry, just look for another avenue to explore. When one door closes, at least one other always opens, even if you don't notice it immediately.
If you'd like to be part of my continuing journey, browse and bookmark my website, join my mailing list, like my Facebook page, follow me on twitter, or on Instagram. You can also, of course, support my career and buy my work at www.StateoftheArt-gallery.com