If you ever wanted to become a full time artist, this may an interesting article to read.
I am in the beginning of my 3rd year as a full time artist, and it's been more than a full time commitment. I'll give the story how it all happened- including my first art sale, my first style, the ups and the downs, and key motivators along the way.
It started in the fall of 2013, I was trying to come up with extra money on the side during my last semester of college that was coming up. I thought to myself "I can do simple art on wood that people would buy for $30 or $40, how hard could that be?" So I would go to my grandparents house in Columbia, SC to work on these pieces to try to sell. They had all the paint and art supplies already because they both painted a little bit. I came up with a style that was mixed between several inspirations including Tripp Art and Rep Your Water.
Below are the first pieces of art that I ever sold. I was selling them on Etsy, to friends, and posting on truck blogs (haha). Making $40 a month off my art was enough excitement for me to keep it up and to keep producing artwork. I still have several old pieces on wood that's signed "JAYBO" that never sold.
After I had been doing this kind of art for about 3 months, I had a dilemma with my minor and graduating college on time. I had received an email saying that I couldn't minor in Business (even though I had 9 business classes under my belt- more than how many I had for my major in Religious Studies). I looked into minoring in so many things like physics, finance, astronomy, geology... but I would have to spend an extra semester for a semester and I was ready to graduate. So that only minor that I could fit into one semester was Studio Art. The catch was that each class was 4 hrs long... some days would be 12 hrs long with classes. It was great though. I started developing a style in my drawing class. Which, by the way, was an advanced drawing class... I thought I was good at drawing... until our teacher made us draw a picture in 45 minutes and then have the whole class critique it. The talent was unbelievable... seriously mind blowing. I was literally in the bottom 10% in the class skill wise.
However, I drew 3 to 4 hours a day. The teacher was great and I was learning key things about the basics of shading, shape, color, ink wash, marker detail. I was slowly developing a style during this drawing class. Then it all came together when we had to do an iconic series... so naturally I wanted to draw flies (since I had just gotten into fly fishing and was falling in love with it). That was the first time I ever thought I had something neat. The flies that I drew weren't perfect, but they were very neat. Neat enough to grab your attention. All the classmates were crowded around my fly drawings and I was so confused why, but it made me look closer at the style I had.
I also was posting these drawings from my class to Instagram and was getting a lot of attention. A clothing company was buying the designs from my class and also was commissioning me 30 designs. It was amazing, and was the first time that I ever considered that I could do art for a career, but I didn't take that leap till a bit later.
When I graduated in May of 2014, I was doing commissions for t-shirt companies and for people to have in their homes. However, I took a job out of college to do Loan Origination (basically a mortgage broker). I was horrible at it. I was really nice and was great on the phone, but I really could of cared less about spending all my time trying to market and sell loans. Plus, I was spending more time on the phone about t-shirt designs and projects than about mortgages.
I didn't plan on quitting, I thought I was doing the adult thing that was driven into me since I was a kid- get a job after college. However, it wasn't doing anything for me. I started questioning so many things... like is this really all there is? Do a job that you don't care about that takes you away from the things you actually want to be doing? (I was also just getting into listening to the Grateful dead a lot during this time- haha) But I was thinking a lot about what the difference was between a billionaire fishing everyday and a poor man fishing everyday. Besides the obvious, I didn't see much difference. So I decided to take the plunge and do art full time in the late fall of 2014.
By this time, I was being commissioned regularly. Charging about $40 up to $125 for a large piece. However, I didn't have near enough work to legitimately be full time, but I was dedicated to it and when I didnt have work I would draw anyways and design. Plus I got to go fishing more, even though I was barely covering my bills- not including food.
For all of 2015, I struggled big time during my first year as a full time artist. I was sleeping on couches, never had any money to go out to dinner with friends, or to really do anything. So I just drew and created.
The next big moment in my career came in December of 2015. I was looking to go back to working full time to make ends meet. I got an interview to help on the sales floor of a tshirt business. Not the sales floor for screen printing which was the big part of their business, but literally just the 3% of revenue part where they sold already printed shirts on the showroom and I would do the cash register.
The owner of the place had looked me up before the interview on google, and asked me if I could bring in a drawing of a dog. (I had never drawn a dog before, and had no idea why he wanted me to do a drawing for an interview to run the cash register). However, I did it- the drawing came out great. Then at the interview he tore me apart- he was telling me that my art was at a low high school level at best. He told me that he thought I was trying to get into the company as a designer or a commissioned artist that they pay royalties too, and said they weren't interested.
That random berating filled me with something that made me take my art to the next level for 2016. I posted that dog drawing I did for the interview on social media and had over $1,000 in invoices in dog portraits that same week. I also was commissioned 52 large drawings for an office that same week. MAN! Thank God I didn't go full time working a cash register!!
With all this extra expected money, I was confident to finally move to James Island in Charleston SC... as a full time fish artist. I went from couch surfing, barely paying bills, to living in Charleston, SC... which cheap rent is $1,800 for a small house and average dinner bills are $25. Somehow, someway I was paying all my bills and the commissions kept coming in. I was somehow booked 4 months in advanced for commissioned artwork in most of 2016. I also had started selling fish decals in December of 2015- and those were a big hit.
It's funny, but sad to say that I never finished those 52 commissioned pieces for that office. The safety net that gave me confidence to move to Charleston, never got finished. I had so many commissions that kept coming in, I never really got to the 52 pieces that I was using as a safety net for when the commissions ran out. I finished 6 of the 52, and can honestly not explain how or why I never finished them. I am probably going to send an email to the guy today apologizing about that.
Anyways, in late 2016 my Instagram reaches 11,000 followers, and I launched some tshirts that are a big hit. My t shirt and decal sales have really helped me move forward as an artist. It is great supplemental income that opens up more doors to expand.
In 2017, I am on track to double revenue from 2016. I am blown away that Jaybo Art has developed into a slow but steady growing company. I have plans to keep doubling and developing the business. I definitely want to keep doing commissions, that's my passion- especially draw your catch pieces.
I'm happy, and excited that I didnt stick to an office job and decided to grow in my own adventure. I don't have to check in with a boss, or ask for days off. I have the opportunities to say yes to any random fishing adventure. I'm by no means successful monetarily yet, but I feel successful to grow from nothing to a legit income making business that lets me live free.
I don't mean to brag at all with going into detail about my journey so far, because in the grand scheme I know that what I've accomplished so far is just a grain of sand compared to other successful artists. And I know that it could dry up at any time (part of owning your own business).
But I wanted to say all of it to show that if you actually want to work for yourself. If it's art or some other passion. Please stick with it and commit to it. I have put in 3 years of drawing every single day, even if there's no paycheck and have grown my Instagram to over 13,000 followers (which I know isn't that much in the grand scheme, but has allowed me to do what I love). We are lucky to be in the age of online and social media... It's way easier to make an impact and to grow certain types of companies now. Especially getting your art work out there in front of people.
I hope this has helped someone out, or inspired someone. Just stick it out and put in the time if you actually want to be an artist or whatever your passion is.