|My Transition by Pam Lobb||| Print ||
I think my transition from student to professional artist has been personally successful. I currently co-own and direct an art space in West Queen West and have had the opportunity to exhibit with galleries and artists I admire and received acknowledgement through awards from my peers.
That said, art is not a stable or predictable field to work in. I've worked many side jobs to support my artistic practice. I am learning to be comfortable with the ebb and flow of these jobs to pay my bills. I've been lucky enough to have a partner who is understanding about money in the art world. He knows that it comes and goes in waves.
The following is a description of how I got to where I am now. It is an honest portrayal of the joys and difficulties of being a young entrepreneur and artist.
Assumptions vs Reality
When I graduated from the University of Guelph in 2007 with an art degree I knew that I wanted to do something creative but didn't know if I would be able to make it as a professional artist. I assumed that I would need to complete a Masters. Then I was lucky enough to become a studio assistant for printmaker Tammy Ratcliff. Only now with eight year of experience do I see what an unusual opportunity that was. Working in a beautiful large private studio equipped with a printing set up.
It’s only reflecting on it now, that I realize just how successful she was. She was regularly showing her work in private and public galleries. She received grants and had her own studio. I was very lucky to have met her so early on because she made me see what was possible, and helped me to set a high standard for myself in terms of where I wanted my own career to go. She ended up hiring me as her studio assistant when I graduated. So that was a bit of luck that really started things on the right foot.
Nevertheless, she also told me that her success did not come easily, and there was a lot of hard work before things came together. I understood that this would be the case for me as well, but again seeing that it was possible inspired me to stick with it, do that hard work, and take some financial risks. I think about 80% of the people I graduated with took one look at the prospects and went on to find other careers. Having a mentor gave me that bit of necessary hope and bravery.
Loans and First Shows
When I was first out of school, I wanted to pay my student loans as soon as possible, so I worked at a coffee shop four days a week, and continued as a studio assistant for Tammy two to three days a week. Thus, I crammed my own work in when I could in the evenings. I didn’t have a studio. I just worked out of my apartment.
I applied to small juried shows, outdoor art shows and commercial art fairs. I began to experiment with other artists. I wanted to collaborate and started a loose small collective out of my home studio. I found collaboration to be a motivating way to create work and a less stressful way to approach large projects, like the One of a Kind show.
Installation shoot from the Rotunda Gallery, Kitchener Waterlou
Establishing a Practice
After a few years of working six or seven days a week, I decided to take a big step and quit the coffee shop.
Once I quit, I had more time to think seriously about my practice. I started to write applications to some of the bigger shows, like the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. I was finally able to think about my work in terms of what I might be excited to work on rather than what I would have time for. Writing those first few applications helped me to really develop a vision for what I wanted to do.
I took a big step and applied for a show at the Rotunda Gallery in Waterloo. It is a public space that I had all to myself. I experimented with large pieces. This show helped me develops my particular style. This application also dovetailed neatly with a residency I’d planned in Vermont, where I was able to focus completely on the work.
Investing in my work this way really took my practice to a new level. This led, of course, to greater satisfaction as an artist. In my case, it also led to decent sales at some of the outdoor art shows, as well as awards, which further boosted my confidence. Still, these shows were expensive to apply to. Sometimes the gamble paid off and I made my money back and quite a bit more. Other times I went home disappointed and questioning my practice.
At this point, I experimented with the gallery scene in various ways. I was represented for a time at Telephone Booth Gallery in the Junction, and I also had – and still have – work in the Sales and Rental program in Hamilton, as well as in the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph. These programs require an investment because the work has to be professionally framed and ready for sale or rental, but then it sits there while I hope for a sale
In 2011 a studio space became available through Toronto Artscape, and I went in with a few friends and rented it. It happened on a whim. I knew that I wanted to have a space to further my art but also to continue to collaborate with other artists.
It was originally intended as a working studio, and has now evolved into a small business as well. I bought letterpress equipment and have started to teach lessons. The lessons have evolved and so has a calendar that we do as a rent raiser once a year. As a result, I spend a majority of my time running the business and have had less time to pursue my own art. I may have become more of a small business owner than artist.
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