SHERIDAN — Artists don’t live paycheck to paycheck — instead, they live sale to sale, and with that uncertainty comes a specific lifestyle unique to the arts.
“I always dreamed of being an artist, but life circumstances and finances didn’t permit me a formal education, nor the luxury of time to pursue art as a full-time endeavor early on,” said Sonja Caywood, who has studio space in Dayton and is well-known for her expressionist artwork.
“This didn’t stop me, though, from making time for art whenever I could, and taking classes and workshops when possible, even when my schedule was busy with family, horses and working two jobs,” she said.
Working jobs outside the art world is key — many with dreams of making it as an artist find themselves doing other things to supplement their income. And that is OK.
“Similarly to the majority of artists I know, my fine art career is a part-time venture,” Polly Burge, who has studio space in Sheridan and works on commission, said. “I have to have other jobs, in addition to taking commissioned artwork, in order to help support my creative work.”
Burge said that the most important thing for anyone thinking about pursuing a creative means of income is to accept, or even embrace, other jobs and work opportunities that may afford the time to stir in creativity.
“Doing so also helps to fend off loneliness,” she said. “I used to get very frustrated when I had to do anything else but work in my studio because I felt like I wasn’t giving it everything I had… but, I also had to eat and pay bills.”
She also wanted a life.
“I wanted to have fun and enjoy my friends, too. Not to mention, I really need human interaction as a basic means to acquire patronage,” Burge said. “I have learned to time-block for the studio and balance it with other means of income, so that my creative time is productive and far less stressful.”
Kendra Heimbuck, executive director of SAGE Community Arts in Sheridan, said that at SAGE, up-and-coming artists can interact with and engage with artists of all walks of life, from hobby artists to people who are making a living through their craft. SAGE offers support to artists in a number of ways, whether a brand-new artist wants to take a class or a seasoned artist wants to teach one.
SAGE also offers two gallery spaces within its downtown location. The members gallery is open to all SAGE members for display and sale.
“That space is filled with artwork from all sorts of artists who are doing it as a hobby, or just want to get their work out there,” Heimbuck said.
Then there is the exhibition gallery, where artists have the chance to show solo or as a part of a group.
“These are artists who are a little further along in the process and are growing as professional artists. It is a bit more of a competitive space,” she said.
Caywood said that in 2012, when she left Sheridan County School District 1 after a 17-year career, she started teaching two hour painting classes to earn a more steady income.
“It wasn’t long before my work was earning enough that I no longer had to teach, but I’d realized that not only do I have a gift for making art accessible and fun for non-painters and beginners, but that I truly benefit from teaching,” she said. “I enjoy seeing their faces when they look at their paintings and realize they made a real piece of art. I teach a limited number of classes now to share the freedom and joy of art-making with community members.”
Both Caywood and Burge said they learn from other artists, both locally, around the world and even on social media.
“My goal is to engage with people thrilled by everything there is to know about art. It’s so fun,” Burge said.
Caywood said that carving out time for art has been key to her success.
“The time I’d carved out of a busy life to make and market my art paid off when I was afforded the time, as knowing how important it was disciplined me,” she said, adding that on her blog, she has a post entitled “Letter to My Young Artist Self.”
“Had I put off art until I had the time to pursue it, I likely would have failed and would have had to find ‘a real job’ instead of following my passion,” she said, adding though, that it’s advisable “not to quit your day job until you’ve developed the discipline to stick with it.”
Burge said to combat the isolation of being in a studio, giving away pieces helps to get her work into circulation and to re-evaluate the value of her craft.
“Some days, being alone with my work in the studio feels like sitting in front of a mirror surrounded by clutter and trash,” Burge said. “I am also the one responsible for attaching the price tag — have to decide what this small extension of myself is worth, then put a dollar sign in front of it. I realize the images I create can’t be used like tools and my art doesn’t serve any utilitarian purpose — my work is most likely an aesthetic garnish to a room… nobody ‘needs’ the product of my energy as a fine artist. That’s really tough when your heart is telling you it’s the thing you love and are meant to do. And if you do it all the time and create a large volume of work, it’s easy to just assume people will buy it.
“Well, they don’t,” she said. “So, the best way I’ve come to combat the self-scrutinizing ‘price tag effect’ is by giving away little pieces that I love. I have an entire pin-board wall in my studio where I put up thumbnails, sketches, draft drawings and even just scrap pieces of painted watercolor paper that I think are pretty. If I need some room or if I’m just ready to look at something else, I’ll pull them down and give them away.”
She said she’s mailed pieces to friends and family, given them to visitors, sent them to past patrons, tucked them into thank you notes and folded them into books she’s borrowed.
“I feel those folks have really appreciated the art as well as the gesture, and it means I don’t have to throw it away or add it to another pile in my studio,” she said. “It’s become another way to deepen connections with my loved ones and it’s been really fun to see what people do with them. Fridge or frame — it’s an honor to see it in homes of friends, it brings me a lot of joy.”