My work life officially changed on June 15, 2004. That was the day I left Corporate America and of course, (gulp!) a steady paycheck to pursue a career as a fine artist. I call this big change Operation Freedom.
I bid adieu to my 9 to 5 life with a raucous office party with my co-workers and never looked back. Seven years later, I am a working artist, living my dream in New York City.
How did I get here? It all started with telecommunications. Not a likely choice for an aspiring artist, but I was twenty-one, fresh out of college and looking for a job. With the ink on my fine arts degree still wet, I had my eye on New York. New York did not have its eye on me. When those interviews didn’t pan out, I looked for fabric design positions in North and South Carolina. Nada.
Since I had no interest in moving to a small town and the jobs I wanted, wanted someone else, I returned to Atlanta and took a job with a French telecommunications company called Equant. I was totally qualified. I had a college degree ….. and my dad worked there.
Now I had money, benefits and my first taste of the working world doing software configuration. To satisfy my creative itch, I began selling paintings and taking various commissioned art jobs in Atlanta.
Fate intervenes, part one. After a few years of software configuring, I applied and won a position in Equant’s Nice, France office. Mon dieu -- I was heading to the French Riviera! Merci beaucoup!
It was in this tourist-saturated region of France that I discovered and built a business plan for selling art. I started small, painting the surrounding towns and various scenes and selling them at local markets. People were interested. Tourists and locals were buying one after another. I was making money.
I got my first big, fat French break when architect and gallery owner, Stephane Duratz bought one of my pieces and hosted an art show for me at his gallery. I sold every piece. I was ecstatic. It was then that I felt the first stirrings of what I knew I could do with the rest of my life.
For the next two years I lived in France, working for Equant and growing my art business. I was selling paintings of the Cote d'Azur on the Cote d’Azur!
Fate intervenes, part two. As my work contract and French work visa expired, I learned that Equant was expanding their business to New York City. I managed to land a job with the New York office, jumping at the chance to move to the city that had spit me out so many years before.
Once I got settled, there was no question that I wouldn’t try to continue selling my art. One of the cultural (and tourist) destinations in the world, my New York move seemed like a perfect moment of serendipity. Once again, I slowly began building a client base, producing small shows featuring limited edition prints of my most popular paintings. Soon my “side” business was becoming my primary business.
Four years later, I quit my job and became a full-time artist.
From Telecommunications Executive to Fine Artist
10 things that made my career change a success
- I found a way to make money doing what I love and believe in it 100%. People can sense this and want to be a part of it.
- I had a business plan and nest egg before I made big changes.
- I started slowly, over a ten-year-period, building clientele through my art, while keeping a steady revenue stream through my existing job until I was ready to break away.
- I had a plan for health insurance. Do your research! There are many co-op plans for small businesses, though bigger cities have more options. For example, in New York, there’s Atlantis Health Plan and the Freelancers Union. Both are affordable and dependable.
- I have co-marketed/branded with other non-competing businesses. For example, I have done events with both LALIQUE and J.M. Weston. In other words, my product does not compete with theirs and we can freely share clients with similar needs. This is a great way to introduce your business to a new audience.
- I have relevant skills from my previous career, which helped me successfully launch my new career. In other words, I kept my eye on the prize. Although I worked in a totally unrelated field, I knew my business skills and work experience could help me transition to any job and help make me be a great business woman, no matter what I decided to do.
- Network, network, network. I have a network of smart, talented and helpful friends and contacts in various fields. They were my unofficial Board of Directors in the beginning and they continue to be, as I grow and try new things.
- I tell EVERYONE what I am doing. I never know where my next big opportunity will come from.
- Work hard and advertise. This may seem obvious, but it’s true.
- Last but not least, two time-honored clichés: I knew I could do it and I believed in myself.