Making a living as an artist - if you are a ‘starving artist’, those words may make you smile.
Having spoken to a few working artists lately, I realise there is a huge difference between making a living as an artist and making money from your art now and then.
In my next few posts, I will be showing you the work of artists who are making money out of their art and who are working towards the ideal of making a living as an artist.
Making A Living As An Artist - Rebecca Yoxhall
Rebecca is a highly talented young artist living in her native Cheshire and, she is making a living as an artist. One of her latest successes is having her work go on sale in Dunelm, a national chain store with a prominent focus on home decor and furnishings.
And not only has Dunelm produced a superb, affordable canvas using one of her paintings, they have also identified Rebecca as the artist by providing a large tag with a picture of her with some substantial background blurb.
One of the things that puts me off buying generic canvases from chain stores is the impersonal nature of it - I like to know who painted the images I have hanging on my walls.
So it is a stroke of genius from Dunelm that they are putting a different spin on mass produced canvases and making them more attractive to potential buyers like me.
Ideally, we would all like to buy original art works but in today’s world, it just isn’t feasible for many ordinary people to outlay the money that professional artists have to charge. By making art available in this way, it helps both the artist and the buyer find a way to connect while benefiting both.
The canvas is available in store and online by clicking here. You can also order online and then pick up and pay at your local store.
So this latest success for Rebecca is another huge step along the winding path she has walked on her quest in making a living as an artist.
But, has it comes easily?
The answer to that is, of course, no. Rebecca is proof that talent alone will not guarantee success in the world of art - her success is down to a kind of tenacity that not everyone has.
And yes, she has had a ‘mainstream’ job. That was in retail.
“When my son was small, I worked in retail for a few years to help bring the pennies in. At that point, I had just begun to teach the odd watercolour class."
When I asked Rebecca if walking road the to success as an artist and getting away from the need to do non-arty jobs has been a struggle, she said this:
“Not really as I love what I do. I can’t say it has been easy though…it hasn’t been handed to me on a plate…I’ve got off my backside and I’ve worked. I have worked hard and I’ve followed my heart…and that has always felt right and natural to me. So not a struggle, more of a passionate determination.”
So where did this ‘passionate determination begin?
Well Rebecca comes from a creative family, a family that was always supportive of her own creativity. She has painted and created for as long as she can remember. So after achieving an A Level in art, Rebecca went off to Manchester Metropolitan University and came away with a BA (Hons) in Textile Design.
After working as a freelance designer for a short time, Rebecca’s creative talents went in a new direction when she produced on of the best works of art known to man - a baby. For a time, her career was on hold as she turned her attention to motherhood but as her son has grown, Rebecca has been able to develop her career as a professional artist.
After a short spell in retail Rebecca was driven by the desire for self-development and went into teaching.
“It just felt natural and I followed my heart. I’ve made the opportunities for myself by always wanting to develop."
That quest for self-development meant that by 2009, Rebecca had gained her Post Graduate Certificate in Education - no easy achievement with a young family - and began to build up her art classes.
Making a living as an artist is not just about selling paintings.
It’s about developing various streams of income using the talents you have. And Rebecca certainly has done that. She does sell paintings of course, but she no longer focuses so much on commissions. She told me this:
“I have worked to commission on paintings but now prefer to focus on my own personal paintings and selling products with my designs on.”
And in pleasing herself, it seems that Rebecca is catching the eye of retailers who are choosing work she has already done rather than commission her to paint what they want.
Speaking of her recent success with Dunelm, she told me:
‘ I paint what I want and if someone likes it, great…Dunelm just happened to like that particular piece. It just feels like a natural progression…it is a great feeling to be recognised. I’ve worked with Artistic Britain, who are effectively an agent dealing with artists and promoting their work to retailers. I have two other paintings on sale with an Australian retailer - although I am not sure what they are called!
It must be wonderful to be so laid back about where in the world your art is being sold and, to have someone else taking care of business but, Rebecca has worked very hard to get to this point.
Rather than stand still, this desire to improve seems to be what keeps her moving, always looking forward to the next development. This must be what separates someone who is making a living as an artist from someone who is simply making some money now and then from their art.
But has Rebecca encountered many obstacles along the way to living her dream?
Yes, she has. I asked her what her personal obstacles have been and she said:
“Self-doubt, on occasion…being a perfectionist and doubting I was good enough. But at the same time, I didn’t want to do anything else. It has been tricky financially too at times when work was slow but, I just persevered because of the passionate determination I have."
So is passionate determination what it takes to be making a living as an artist?
It seems that way in Rebecca Yoxall’s case. She has gone from teaching a few sporadic watercolour classes when her son was small to gaining her PGCE and being in demand by budding artists who flock to her classes. Rebecca had this to say when I asked how her workshops are going now:
“Very successful…always full…and my weekly classes are always full. I never really advertise…it’s all word of mouth, which is amazing! But, you have to put the hours in to get paid. It’s all on you as the tutor to be on top form all the time; to be reliable and professional. If I didn’t, I simply wouldn’t get the students."
And what motivates Rebecca in her own painting? What medium does she love the best? She loves watercolour because of its luminous and flowing qualities and as for motivation, she loves finding finding inspiration in nature, especially in her garden.
“I also love being by the sea…I love the smell of the air and the sense of space and freedom…I love big skies.”
What other avenues has Rebecca gone down while building her career as a professional artist?
She dabbled in book illustration with some success when she worked on some children’s books with a local author.
“I’ve not done much in that respect for a couple of years. I did work on the Tales From Beauty Bank books with Michael Beddard. However in recent years, I have focused on my own work, with Artistic Britain, for example, the company that got me the Dunelm deal.”
So, will there be more deals to follow? I asked Rebecca. And with the easy going attitude she has, mixed very powerfully with the drive that has got her where she is, she replied:
“Who knows…it’s all on whether anyone likes what I am producing."
And what a wonderful place to be at!
You can see more of Rebecca's work by clicking these links to her Pinterest boards and Facebook page
How about you? If you are making a living as an artist, or trying to, leave me a comment below and tell me about your journey.