1. What made you decide to pursue art?
I have always been one of those "creative types." When I was a child, I started playing the piano at 4 [I have perfect pitch] and was always drawing… drawing shoes, drawing people, drawing clothing. There were better artists [from a technical standpoint]. I had a great art teacher that encouraged me, but my parents did not. I'm of the generation where marriage was the goal [not to me, though!] - and career choices ranged from nurse to teacher... and only as a fall back.
Although I majored in Art in college, I ended up with a degree in Psychology... mostly because I spent a lot of time in that department. It was discovered that I am an Eidetic [it's sort of like a photographic memory] and spent a couple of years as a guinea pig and research assistant. I did go back to school for a BFA.
After college, I actually had to find work. I started in retail - working my way up the corporate ladder but was jealous of the display people. I ditched the career arc to dress mannequins, do windows, etc. I stayed in Visual Merchandising - which is a legitimate art form [read: paycheck!]. I started my own Display company and designed and built displays for clothing companies, boutiques, shopping centers, etc. Our company also created decor for special events - and I learned about event management from my clients.
I was also in charge of the company's advertising, marketing and sales - which I learned on the job.
The business closed after several years and I went to work for a non-profit in marketing and events - my boss gave me amazing challenges - creating events, managing volunteers, shooting campaign videos, corporate communications, graphic design, writing assignments, sponsorship marketing - and I was a quick study - these events were highly successful and creative.
I stayed in non-profit, eventually becoming the Senior Vice President of our state's largest non-profit organization - directing all advertising, marketing, public relations, community relations, special events, non-traditional fundraising, educational programming, - including online presence, e-marketing... web storefront, etc. Although I had no formal education in technology, I knew what I wanted and how I wanted it to work. We were early adopters of web based marketing and online fundraising.
I always painted at home - or did some kind of crafty stuff. I taught myself mosaic, [you should see our bathroom floor - 40 shades of glass tile!], can make jewelry, fuse glass, throw a pot... but painting is my dearest love. Slowly, I developed a new art technique, my style really jelled, and I started pursuing opportunities to show my work.
Once work started selling, my husband encouraged me to quit.
I did. That was 3 years ago.
2. What were the biggest obstacles and how did you overcome those?
Insecurity is a big one - I kept expecting people to say "How dare you call yourself an artist!" I still die a thousand deaths creating custom work. I am sure the client has a strong vision which I don't fulfill... and half expect my clients to hate their finished product. [it hasn't happened] It takes a while to develop a thick skin. I may not be the most talented artist on the planet, but I am better than most people. And, I am better at creating art than I am accounting, driving a fork-lift or blowing up bridges. In the beginning, I thought someone had to bestow the title "artist" upon you, but after a short while, I decided to print cards. They say - Sandhi Schimmel Gold - Artist. That's all you need! See, I'm an artist, I have cards that say so. So, I don't have the MFA, I didn't go about this career in the traditional way, that's the way I am.
Money is an obvious obstacle. I was lucky our family could live on my husband's income. That said, our lifestyle changed drastically. No more vacations, dinner out less often and eating less expensive food. Turning off lights, getting rid of cable channels, not shopping for new clothes – the same things we all do to cut back. We have had our share of bad luck – medical expenses or the crazy lady that totaled my car [still no settlement]. I made sure my art expenses were paid out of my art earnings – but those are quite slim at the beginning! A financial advisor friend called me crazy.
Time-Management – when you work at home, you’re never at home, you’re never at work. It is easy to get distracted by TV, email, the phone, laundry, or meeting friends for coffee. In addition, as an artist, you do a lot more than create art! You’re also responsible for marketing and advertising, applying to shows or galleries, accounting, customer relations, web-site maintenance, shipping, inventory, taxes, travel planning, event preparations, framing, and networking. The best advice I learned is to have a place to go [I have a studio outside] and go there. Just because you work at home does not mean you’re available. Get up, get dressed [okay, I work in pajamas] have your coffee or tea and GO TO WORK. Stay in there until you’re done. The truth is, I get up by 7 every day. Work in the studio or office until 5, make dinner, relax for a little while and then work in the studio until 11 p.m. And, take care of a child, 3 dogs, a husband and a house. We have to work as a team.
Standing out in the crowd. I have a hook. It is imperative to have a unique voice or vision. And, I have a big mouth. I look for every opportunity to promote my vision, to market my work. It is not about me, although it seems like it to many people. I don’t want the attention for me, but I do want my art to be seen, I want it to sell. I am not shy about this. I am not good at networking events, but I am good at marketing through direct mail, email, pr, etc. I am good at using social networking sites to talk to people I would not otherwise meet. I have a lot of friends that are artists. They don’t know why they have not been discovered… I put myself out there and take opportunities to promote my work – from Hollywood gifting lounges to First Friday events, hanging work in restaurants, as long as my art is not compromised, and I have the time to do it – I’m there. Oh, I’ve made mistakes – I’ve wasted time and money, but I look at it this way – I am building a business brick by brick. But if I hadn’t put myself out there, I would not have met people who have propelled my work forward. The “starving artist” persona – not me.
Dealing with the public.
So, you’ve created a masterpiece. You take it to an art festival. You will be asked a million stupid questions. You will be asked personal questions. Children with sticky fingers will touch your precious work. You will be insulted [I did this in grade school!]. This is part of the process. You have to learn to be patient, gracious and kind. You have to decide if you want to give away proprietary information or not. If you feel like teaching art or selling art. You will make an impression – one way or another. You can be nice or you can be temperamental – it’s a hard lesson to learn, but you’ll find out who you really are.
3. What do you enjoy more about art in comparison to your previous job?
- There’s no I in team. My art is all about me. I thought of it – I make it – I market it – I love it. I know what inspired me, I am involved in process all the way – physically, emotionally, technically.
- I work in my pajamas. I am not a suit-wearing, high-heel type. I don’t like wearing make-up if I don’t have to.
- My boss is myself and my clients.
- I love the day-to-day routine. I love being in my studio. I love it when I’m inspired by something that keeps me working until 2 in the morning. It’s almost instant gratification.
- I love that I can take care of my child when she’s sick without the wrath of the boss.
- I love selling my work – it is SO rewarding!
- I do what I want when I want. That sounds like fun, right? Yes – but I am disciplined.
4. Tell me a bit about your business, and a typical day now, compared to a typical day running websites.
What I don’t do now [not that I didn’t enjoy it, just different]:
- Go to meetings – staff meetings, strategic planning sessions, community event meetings, budget meetings…
- Please a boss, or board or directors
- Direct staff or deal with their issues
- Do payroll or budgets
- Juggle a hundred different projects with different deadlines, staff, outcomes, etc.
That said, I still do strategic planning, manage a budget, go to meetings, and juggle different projects. However, I enjoy a lot of it – and have to squeeze in things like paper work. I handle my calendar, attend gallery openings and events, clean the house, do the laundry, see family and friends, etc.
What I do on a typical day:
- Check email, Facebook & Twitter
- Drink water & tea – take vitamins
- Answer important emails.
- Most days, I head straight to the studio and work.
- Take a break, check email, eat lunch
- Back to work in the studio
- Family time
- Back to work in the studio
- Check emails
- Try to go to bed.
This is 7 days a week.
5. Any suggestions for those looking to leave their current job and become an artist?
I truly believe actual artistic talent is only a small fraction of the equation.
- Can you afford to quit? If not, start by doing as much during the hours you are not working. Say good bye to a social life and sleep. Start part time – take your work to art festivals, galleries, find places to show it and see if it sells. This is important. If you want to quit, you must be selling. This is a business. You must be prepared to treat it as such, otherwise, it’s a hobby.
- Are you disciplined? Can you set aside a space and time for your work – where everything and everyone is else banned – no one can hang out with you. Maybe music, that’s it. Can you spend hours every day creating – with no attachment to an outcome?
- Do you have ideas – more than you can possibly turn into artwork? Do you have sources for inspiration? My favorite place is the library. Or the History Channel. I find inspiration in nature, in history, and in other disciplines.
- Do you have a role model or mentor? Find some and pick their brains.
- Can you create a business plan, a marketing plan and stick to it? There are many resources available for small businesses. It is a good exercise in getting you focused.
- Do you know how to set goals? Learn the techniques of creating a strategic plan with goals and objectives and strategic outcomes. You many veer off course now and then, but it is a good way to keep you focused on your ultimate goals.
- Do you have money to spend on marketing efforts? If not, learn how to barter, and use social networking to your advantage. It takes time – and time is money.
- Can you blow your own horn? You’ll have to do it yourself for a long time. I made myself a T-Shirt that says “I talk to strangers.”
- Can you create your own story – and stay on message? Are you camera-ready? Practice what you’d say during an interview – and have a friend tape you – watch yourself and see what you have to do to come across clearly.
- Can you develop a thick skin – you can’t be sensitive or easily hurt by criticism. Everyone is a critic, everyone has something to say. You can’t let it bother you.
If you have a burning desire – and can do some or all of the above – go for it!