With one look at our site and the hundreds of artists we represent, it’s clear that the cliché of the “starving artist” is simply not true. Every single one of our artists is a success story—someone making a living selling their work and following their passion.
But how did they get there?
As the copywriter for Artful Home, one of my jobs is to review and edit the biographies artists submit to our site. As an artist myself, I find it fascinating to find out how these artists got their start and built successful careers.
Some artists follow a seemingly straightforward path—they go to art school, get apprenticeships, and eventually open their own studios. However, many artists take a more circuitous path. I am struck, for example, by the number of artists who are entirely self-taught, or who became artists only after years spent working in a completely different field. Just as there is no “right” way to be an artist, there is no “right” way to become an artist.
One thing that quite a few artists do at some point in their careers—whether they’re self-taught or have an MFA degree—is to attend classes and workshops outside of a formal degree program. This could be anything from a highly specialized workshop at an artist residency to years of evening classes at a community college.
Today, perhaps more than ever, there are limitless opportunities for artists to learn in non-traditional settings, even while juggling other responsibilities. Classes can be found at local universities, community centers, libraries, arts organizations, and even stores and cafes—and these learning opportunities can be vital for success.
As someone who has also taken a variety of art classes throughout my working life, it is inspiring to me to see how other artists use these opportunities to develop their careers. Here are a few pieces I love created by artists whose multifaceted backgrounds and educational paths particularly interest me.
I simply adore Suzanne Crane’s work, and I feel a certain kinship with her because we are both artists, writers, and nature lovers. She started out with a background in English and creative writing, and took her first pottery classes while working as a professor, intending to get her mind off of text-based communication and to experiment with being a beginner again. For the next ten years, she continued taking pottery classes while working full-time. Eventually, she opened her own studio and began pursuing a career in ceramics.
David Royce not only creates gorgeous artwork, he also gives back to his community. He first started glassblowing at the age of fifteen as an apprentice in a local glass shop. In college, he intended to earn a BFA in glass, but after studying abroad in Taiwan, switched his focus to child psychology and Chinese. He eventually rediscovered his passion for glassblowing and joined Foci Glass Studios in Minneapolis, where he now teaches and creates his work. He serves on the board and has been honored to make glass more accessible to the community.
There is a prevailing myth that artists and scientists are completely different from one another. It turns out that quite a few Artful Home artists, including Vickie Hallmark, have backgrounds in science—proving that creativity and logic are not so incompatible, after all.
Trained as a research scientist, Vickie studied gold and silver for many years before returning to her birth name’s heritage of metalsmithing (a “hallmark” is a maker of fine metals). After training with recognized master jewelers, she combined classical techniques with experimentation on her own to develop a truly unique style.
I love the way that Charan Sachar’s fascination with the textiles and culture of India, where he spent much of his life, comes through in his richly patterned clay pieces. In 2011, he quit his full-time job as a software engineer to pursue his passion in clay. He started exploring ceramics in a studio co-op in Tacoma, WA. A combination of workshops with ceramic artists and experimentation on his own led to the work he creates today.
I think most artists can attest to loving the tools of their trade. Ken Edwards goes one step further: he transforms beloved vintage tools into unique works of art. After 30 years as a firefighter, Ken Edwards retired and found himself casting about for something real to do. He had always been drawn to contemporary art, and so he began to experiment with materials he was familiar with—wood and paint. He is largely self-taught and has taken classes and workshops in sculpture and furniture design.
Every one of these artists has his or her own story. Once you dig in to the story, it becomes clear that there are many ways to be an artist, and many paths to success—which is good news to artists and art lovers alike.