An Artist’s Life, Part V

I love painting but I hate that making a living from it means I have to push the edges of my own sanity before I get to the “living” part.

Living requires money. I’m a Libra, which apparently means I’m all about something called “balance.” In fact, I’m so airy-logical that I don’t believe in crazy things like horoscopes, though my disbelief doesn’t stop me from reading and sometimes rescheduling certain events. Just in case.

I like things to be smooth and relatively consistent. Sheesh, doesn’t everyone? So here’s my situation since May: I had two, three concurrent shows at various venues.

No sales, though.

Summer passes.



It’s hard to go a whole summer with no sales. It’s anxiety-inducing to eat into one’s savings and watch your safety net dwindle to zero, past zero, and into the negative reality of credit card cancer. It’s ulcer-inducing and teeth-gritting to not have medical or dental coverage because you can’t afford it, even in lovely socialist Canada. And it sucks the life force right out of you to feel constantly sorry for yourself because you made life-harshening choices.

I have dark days. Lots of dark days, if you want to know the truth. I think, well, there’s a high bridge deck if it gets too bad, if I run out of money, or if I get really sick or something. There’s always the option of turning everything off forever.

I hold this thought in reserve.

As the sun sets on summer, I get a sale. SaleS, plural, and lots of them. Five in one day. Plus another big canvas a week later. And there’s another one on the horizon. Two, in fact.

It’s almost hard to believe I was idly contemplating suicide a few days earlier.

But that’s how it goes. I lived five months on nothing but hope. Does anyone know how hard it is to keep smiling and be in the studio painting joyful pictures when you’ve got a fist of fear clutching at your throat? The irony is that my very livelihood depends on the optimism I symbolically portray.

Here’s a side anecdote: Not long ago, I was setting up a booth at a festival for my studio collective. It was after noon but no one else was there, no tables, no signs, no one but me. I paced the empty spot and fretted, waiting for people in charge to show up. A well-dressed couple came up to me and asked me if we were going to have any paintings and why wasn’t our booth open yet. I thought I was getting in trouble by some festival officials because I wasn’t set up precisely at noon. I got snippy; after all, I wasn’t paid to be there, I was just volunteering to do some face-painting for the kids and man the button making machine. Where was that damn machine, anyway?

They said, “We were looking for the artist who was at the (they name my last show) gallery. Is she hanging anywhere?”

Oh, shit. Customers. They were looking for ME.

I don’t think I recovered from that. I probably came across as rude and tired. I wish I could go back in time and apologize. I’d tell them that it was a long summer and… well I wouldn’t say anything more. I’d give ’em my business card and tell them to come back in a bit.

Sales are great. I cry with silly Sally Field relief when I get them; I brood like Nietzsche when I don’t. Sometimes I can’t tell whether I’m really happy or really depressed.

It’s the worst career in the world, sometimes. And sometimes the best.