It’s that time of year. Flowers shyly peak out of new buds, trees don their green crowns, and the streets of Los Angeles smell intoxicatingly of Jasmine. For me, like for so many, spring is a time of renewed hope and optimism, restlessness and excitement, but also, it is the time that I take a step back and take stock of where I am with my little business. That’s because this month I am celebrating 5 years as a full-time working artist.
As a little kid I fantasized about being a “real working artist.” I read every artist biography I could get my hands on and imagined myself sitting in smoky cafes in Paris, sketchbook in hand, or wandering the streets of lower Manhattan with a paint soaked rag sticking out of my back pocket. I idealized sleepless nights of angst painting to the sound of Alanis Morissette, soaking in the smell of turpentine and coffee. In reality, being a working artist is completely different than all that. While there are sleepless nights and coffeeshops in my life, there are also so many other things that I never considered as a child with a big imagination.
In second grade after winning my first art contest (it was quite a story), 1989
Patricio and I in Purim costumes, 2008 (mine was a bit too true for comfort)
Of course, that was before the internet, before smartphones, before being a working artist became so plausible. But even with all these magic inventions, and despite all my art education, it took me years and years of working day jobs before I could finally summon the courage to take the leap towards making art my full-time career. Anyone who knew me circa 2016 knew a person who was hanging on by a thread. For years I had worked demanding day jobs, while also building and running my art business. These were also the years of difficult pregnancies and raising babies, of moving across the country multiple times in search of new opportunities, of being afraid to bet on myself.
Here I am in 2014 trying out an art fair (it didn't go well)
If I could go back to that stressed-to-the-max person, here is what I would tell her:
Don’t waste energy sweating, just keep going.
I know you have that practical immigrant mentality of needing a steady paycheck that you can count on. I know you are terrified of not being able to help support your family. But you are coming at this from a scarcity mindset and you should be focused on the opportunity. The sky's the limit on your growth. Your daughters need a strong, healthy, present, and fulfilled mom and you will never be that if you are running yourself ragged trying to work two jobs at the same time.
Sales are cyclical, there will be feasts and there will be famine. There will be times when you have so much work that you can’t keep up, and there will be unprecedented bumps in the road (such as a global pandemic). Stay calm and power through.
Relationships are everything.
You have no idea how many amazing friends you are about to make. Sure, your days may be spent alone in your studio (let’s be real, you know you’re going to love that), but you are also entering a world of new meaningful relationships.
With Evie Dondie from Urembo Asili who I met in a marketing class.
Some of your collectors will become dear friends and some of your friends will become collectors. Through your art, you will get to watch their families grow and be there to mark the joyous occasions of their lives. It will be a privilege.
Visiting Julie, whose ketubah I made a few years before.
You will also meet so many wise and thoughtful rabbis, clergy, and fellow artists. You will be a part of a community of spiritual, creative, and insightful people. You will get to collaborate and contribute to this community and you will cherish every moment.
Your old friends will become some of your strongest supporters and guides. Some of the people you worked with in your day jobs will become your most loyal customers and strongest cheerleaders. One will even fly out to California to help you with a project.
Kristi, no matter where life takes us, will forever be my work wife.
Try new things, even when they're way outside your comfort zone.
You always joke that you are a “one-trick-pony” who only likes to paint and that you never consider yourself an “early adopter.” Time to change that, Buster.
You will try so many new things in the next few years. You will throw things to the wall to see what sticks, and you will be blown away by how much sticks! You will go from focusing solely on ketubahs to experimenting with glass, fabric, wood, and new art media too, like colored pencils (yes, I’m serious). You will add challah boards, challah covers, mezuzah cases, and even tallitot to your collections. The response will blow you away.
Then you will really summon your bravery, step outside your comfort zone, and start releasing collections of original paintings. The response will floor you. You will cry with gratitude. Don’t be scared, just go for it.
Celebrating after selling out the Homeward Collection, 2019
You will give back like never before.
You work in the nonprofit sector and I know that your day jobs, while hard work, are meaningful to you. I know you like feeling that you are making a difference and you don’t want to lose that. Having your own business will give you opportunities to give back like never before.
You will start a project of creating free replacement ketubahs for survivors of natural disasters. Through this work, you will meet incredible, resilient people and be inspired by their courage and perseverance. Your art will be a small step on their journey towards healing and it will mean the world to you.
Dropping off replacement ketubah to fire survivors in Santa Rosa, 2019
When darkness descends, your art and your community will empower you to contribute. You will pivot to teaching free online art classes to help stressed out parents during a global pandemic, you will make art to fundraise when a horrible war breaks out in your home country.
Teaching online art classes during Covid lockdown, 2020
Painting Volodymyr Zelensky to fundraise for Ukraine, 2022
You will learn so much more than you ever imagined.
Your husband will laugh at you that you are getting your fourth Master’s Degree from the school of life. You will learn about finance, business, and marketing. You will learn from mentors, fellow entrepreneurs, and artists. In addition to painting, you will start writing, first on blogs and then for a major outlet. Five years down the line you will not recognize yourself.
Studio assistant Alma helping ship boxes, 2017
Your husband will be your biggest fan and support system. He will have your back all the way, through the ups and downs (though he is still perfecting his "just letting me vent without trying to solve the problem" skills). Your daughters will be excited to help with the business, and will be proud of you. You will show them what a mom can do. And that is all in the first five years. I can’t wait to see what the next five bring.
If you want to follow along on my journey, the best way to do that is to hop on my Collector's List here. I'll even send you a free art gift every month.