Penelope Trunk wrote a great article a few months ago on this very subject [being an artist]. I love her blog because she is so blunt, and not afraid to call a spade a spade. My favourite kind of person!
Most of us would love to paint [insert your creative passion here] for a living and get paid for it! And I’m not saying literally paint. I have a client that is an auditor and she loves it! She loves numbers, is totally organized and detail oriented, it’s the perfect job for her. She is painting when she’s working and getting paid for it (so lucky).
In my career–since it’s more obviously creative– people ask me all the time what it takes to become a designer. Penelope’s advice [blunt alert!] is not that far from mine, “Take this test: Did you marry rich? Do you have a trust fund? Do you have reliable buyers for almost everything you produce? If you did not answer yes to any of these, then keep your day job.”
Here’s my version of the test [in order of importance]:
1. Are your family and friends (even people you don’t know) already asking you for design advice?
If people are saying, “Please, help me with my house!”, it means you have the gift of creativity (for design). There are a lot of designers (without any education) making a lot of money in this industry, so the reality is, if you have talent, people who need and want your gift, will find you. If you don’t? Get in line behind the talented ones, because this business is difficult enough with talent, never mind without it.
2. Can you ask for the money?
Designers are notorious for working for free or almost free (this is where the trust fund or rich spouse comes in). You will not have a secretary or receptionist at the front desk asking for the money. It is up to you to sell the job and execute it as well as collect.
Image courtesy of chic coles
3. Do you have a mentor?
The fastest (and most recommended) way to get ahead as a designer is to finish design school and go to work for a designer. If you’re doing it the hard way (like I did) you need to make sure you are good at making friends with designers that can help you when you get stuck.
4. Are you organized?
You must be incredibly organized and detail oriented not to mention a stickler for follow-up. You are the middle man, acting on behalf of the client and no one cares as much as you.
For example, if you have ordered a sofa to be custom made and you shipped the fabric directly to the workroom (from the supplier) without checking to make sure it’s the correct pattern or colour–and it’s wrong–you now have to pay for a whole new sofa. Or your drapery calculation is 1/2” out and they are too short. Guess what? You are on the hook to get them re-made.
5. Do you like working alone?
Until your business turns into a design firm, you work from home, alone. Your colleagues are your suppliers and the trades that you hire to work on your projects.
Bottom line is, you must have talent (just like any artist) or it will be much harder for you to do the rest. And if you have talent, but are not organized or you hate asking to be paid? You might be better off staying with a design firm or in a design related career. Not everyone is cut out to operate their own business.
And if you can’t answer yes to the first question? It just means your creative talent may lie elsewhere and the world is missing out on yours if you don’t find it!
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