I recently published an article – Quitting Quilting – on my GloryQuilts blog, explaining why I was restructuring my business. It explained the quitting part, but it didn’t really address the “art as career” aspect of the change. Through this experience, I am persuaded that if I am ever forced to support myself financially, I must not do it by making a career from the things I love doing. It sounds good, but it can end up sucking the joy from the creative heart and leaving only resentment.
For more than 20 years, I have been teaching quiltmaking as well as sewing and quilting professionally as GloryQuilts. At first, I sold class samples and pattern prototypes as well as some things I made just for fun. I did some juried art shows, and then some that were less selective. I had to make quantities of items for the shows, on a strict deadline, and be ready to set up displays and manage sales. I started selling things on eBay and then Etsy. Instead of selling unique and creative quilts, I began creating quilts specifically to sell, in trendy fabrics and styles. As my reputation grew, I was offered and accepted a number of commissions and special order projects.
But I had never intended to become a quilt factory. What had once been a delight to me became stressful drudgery. I loathed the sight of my sewing machine and drove around the block to avoid seeing the fabric store. I didn’t even want to make baby quilts for my grandchildren!
Turning a passion into a paying career is something to be approached with caution. If it’s going to remain a creative pleasure, it must remain creative. If it’s going to be profitable, it must be practical. It will probably involve deadlines. It will involve sales and marketing, business law, accounting, taxes, various expenses that eat into the fruit of your labors… Labors. Are you still feeling the joy of creativity?
It’s a wonderful thing to have work that makes you happy. We all need money, and it’s nice if we can get that money in a pleasant environment. Do what you love and love what you do, right? The problem is the second part – to keep loving what you are doing once it’s a job. What happens when you give up the life-sucking day job to make a living from your art and then the art becomes the life-sucking day job?
Be realistic in the shift from hobby to career. Before you start, assess the possibilities and requirements. In most cases, this kind of self-employment is sales and independent contracting. Can you set aside the creative part of your skill set to practice on the weekends or does the business consume your enthusiasm and energy? Are you a painter willing to work as a commercial artist? An art photographer willing to do senior portraits? A poet who will write product descriptions for catalogs? A creative chef will be happier in his own restaurant, with creative freedom, than he would be at McDonald’s, at any wage.
It’s easy to be creative on our own terms, without other people telling us what our art should look like and when it should be completed and how much money it’s worth. There is a niche market for art and original work. A few people and companies will appreciate its value, but it’s still a different scenario than just creating for our own pleasure and being willing to sell our art for a good price. Renaissance artists had patrons, and even that could be difficult.
After yet another stressful autumn and early winter, for those reasons and others, I made the firm decision to stop taking commissions and doing special orders. No more craft sales or any other sales event unless I happen to have stacks of finished items available at the time. (unlikely!)
I don’t like to say “God spoke to me and said…”, but I know that this is the will of God. I learned it through prayer, Scripture, wise counsel, observation and examination of the real situation, the preferences of my husband, the changing desires of my own heart. It all led to the unwavering conviction that I needed to stop that cycle and move into a new stage of my life.
In truth, I knew it a long time ago, as God opened portals in my life. I side-stepped them, closed them, looked through them and decided I wasn’t meant to go through them. I wasn’t good enough, they weren’t familiar to me, I needed money (and there didn’t appear to be any on the other sides of those doors.) I can call it fear, feelings of inadequacy, and the disbelief that my desires could really coincide with God’s will for me, but it all boiled down to disobedience and unbelief.
I was slow to make the changes, but I am committed now. I am writing. I am a writer. I believe it is my vocation, at least for now. I will still quilt. I enjoy teaching – especially the workshops that combine Christian ministry and quilting together. I like designing new patterns and making special items. I will still sell things: class samples, pattern prototypes, and things I make just for fun, but I am not sewing to sell, like a quilt factory. God has called me to do a new thing. I am free to write without feeling guilty – as if I am wasting time in unprofitable activity.
Since I made that firm decision and announced it, I have made several good sales from the current stock in my Etsy shop and increased my internet following by a significant number. I am receiving this as affirmation of my changes. My husband is happy to see me writing and very supportive. Another affirmation.
It shouldn’t surprise us when God gives us the desires of our hearts and frees us from bondage of various kinds, when He makes everything work together for good, but it does surprise us and makes us wary. Sometimes we wonder if we are just seeing our own wishes and calling it God’s will. But we need to remember that He loves us here-and-now as well as for all eternity. He is indeed gracious and blesses us daily, beyond our comprehension.
Those blessings bring a responsibility, though. It’s the tagline for GloryQuilts:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
My (as yet unpublished!) books are not specifically evangelical. They are for the pleasure and encouragement of my fellow believers and a testimony of grace to whoever might read them. I am very grateful to God for this opportunity, and my goal is to glorify Him in all I do. He is good.
And I will love quiltmaking again, and I will make quilts for my grandchildren.