|On the Edge of a Transition by Sarah Gaby-Trotz||| Print ||
As I begin to write this article, my head begins to swim with questions: Have I really made the transition from student to professional artist? How do I move my career forward in a way that feels authentic and meaningful to me? What happens when the desire to make a living becomes intertwined with the desire to be creative? There is no clear roadmap that outlines the path a person takes to transition from an art student to professional artist. In 2008, I graduated from the University of Guelph with a degree in fine arts. Unsure of where to go with my art practice, and unsure as to whether I actually wanted to be part of the art scene, I spent the next handful of years developing my skills as a cook, traveling and studying yoga. While always artistic, at that time, if you had asked me, I would not have said I was an artist. While living in a tiny town in British Columbia, working as a chef at a yoga center, I discovered felt for the first time. The warmth and versatility of the medium spoke to me, and I saw it as a process that was very similar to cooking in that raw material undergoes a transformation through artistic vision and a lot of elbow grease. Soon small piles of roving in my living room began to grow and I decided I wanted to return to school to study fibre arts.
In 2012, having graduated from Haliburton School of The Arts, I found myself once again on that delicate line between student and professional. In my heart of hearts I was hoping that I could make a living from my craft. I started applying to craft shows around Toronto that were accessible to me geographically as well as financially. My first year out of school, I exhibited in the student section at The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, and won the honourable mention award for fibre arts. I’ll be honest in saying that the recognition felt really encouraging and exciting. From that show, I was contacted to be part of the Craft Community of Canada at the Spring One of a Kind Show, where artists are sponsored to be part of the show. While I did make sales at the show, when push came to shove and the organizers wanted me to sign up for the following spring (a year in advance), the sales I made weren’t enough to warrant paying full price for a booth coupled with all the other costs of being at such a large show.
In the year after graduating from Haliburton, I began to grow a felt making business through a program called the Ontario Self-Employment Benefit Program. The program is a 10 month program through the government of Ontario that provides education, mentorship and financial support to help new entrepreneurs. With a business plan and mission statement in hand, I continued to apply to be part of juried craft shows around Toronto.
This winter I decided that rather than go for one large and expensive show, I would apply to craft shows with lower booth fees, and simple set ups. I would work within my means, and see what happened. I did end up in one freezing cold show in someone’s backyard that they on the day deemed ‘shantytown’, but on the whole, I found that I made more money relative to the lower cost of the shows. I also found my enjoyment level of being at the shows went up because I wasn’t standing in front of my work with a lump in the pit of my stomach wondering how on earth I would pay off the credit card debt I had incurred to be there.
I now find myself again on the edge of a transition. I have started a cooking contract for the summer with the understanding that working as a professional artist means accepting the ebbs and flows of supplementing income with other work. I am in good company working with a team of people, many of whom are professional artists. I will be applying to craft shows and group exhibitions continuing to connect with a community of artists who identify with the importance and value of taking the time to make things by hand. I see my transition from student to professional artist right now as a process of starting a fire. It’s better to build a good foundation with smaller sticks at first to get the fire going, and add larger logs as the fire builds.
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