Friday, October 9, 2009

Art & Money

I debated whether or not to write about this subject, but if one person learns from my mistakes, than it’s worth sharing.

I did not begin taking pictures with the intention to make a business out of it. I was a stay at home Mom with little spare time but a strong need for a creative outlet. My first camera was a Pentax K1000 and after a few classes became comfortable enough with it to take decent photographs of my kids. Friends saw these photos and asked me to take pictures of their kids. Eventually friends of friends were requesting photos as well. At this point I began to charge for my services – more as a way to pay for my film, paper and chemistry, than anything else.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that taking portraits of children was not my passion. Besides, there were quite a few photographers out there doing a much better job than I was.

What I did love was making images of flowers, landscapes and architecture. I started to make greeting cards using these images and sold them through a local florist. A showing at a local gallery soon followed and then I began my venture into the world of art festivals.

I was in “business” and I was excited. As most of you know, photography is an expensive pursuit. As I developed my technique I discovered, (or so I thought) that I needed a better camera, new lenses, tripods, filters………………………Then, when I began doing art festivals I quickly found out that the appearance of your booth was very important - so of course I needed the top of the line panels, tables, rugs, print racks ……………..

For the first few years I used my minivan to cart my inventory and booth from show to show. This usually meant getting home late Sunday night, unloading everything, and then putting the seats back in so I could carpool kids the next day. What’s the solution to that? A dedicated show vehicle! A fellow photographer I met on the show circuit was upgrading his vehicle and offered to sell me his van. Of course this van needed insurance, new tires, new shocks…………….

When I first decided that I was going to turn my passion into a business, I did what every good former business major does – applied for a line of credit to obtain the much needed “capital”. The old “you need money to make money” line of thinking was front and center in my mind.

Soon a vicious cycle developed. Fees for art festivals are usually due in the winter - a time of year when I had little cash coming in. No problem - write a check out of the line of credit. The idea was I would surely make that money back when I did the show. But something was happening. My debt was growing larger every year. It felt out of control and it was.

This is embarrassing and there is no need to quote the exact amount of my debt – but let’s just say there are two numbers before the comma. It’s easy to look back and see where the mistakes were made. Many of the items on my “have to have list” were probably “wants” not “needs”. Sure it was nice to not have to unload my van after every show – but I could have. Could I have waited to purchase some of the new equipment I bought? Probably.

My debt was a huge factor in my decision to take a break from art festivals this year. I had to stop the cycle. I only had one goal this year - to make sure that the amount I owed at the end of 2009 was not more than it was at the beginning of the year. A small goal, but important. The good news is I have not used credit once this year! Next year I want to make a significant dent in the balance, but for now I want to enjoy what I have accomplished.

I know I am not the first person to share their story about the perils of using credit, but if one person reads this and thinks a little deeper about a possible purchase, than it was a story worth telling. My advice - stick to the basics and really listen to your heart to determine if a possible purchase is a “need” or a “want”.

I love what I do and would do it even if I didn’t make any money. Having this large debt has put some pressure on me though. Sharing this has made it real but I also feel like I have people out there that will cheer me on as I whittle away at what I owe. I believe this is the beauty of the blogosphere and the community it creates, and I love being part of it.


  1. Yep...know the feeling. That's where I am now. But I still need some equipment. Like you, I have slowed down my needs and focus on the photography end of it. I know slowly but surly I will start making money with my photography, my passion, and I will be able to get more of the stuff I think/want need. But for now I will get better at what I do and slowly find ways to be where I want to be. Thank you for sharing Dianne. Know that you are not alone.

  2. Thanks, Dianne. I'm inspired. It takes courage to persevere and believe in yourself. I try to pay attention to what makes my heart sing and am happiest when I'm creating. Can't draw worth a damn but love to sculpt, quilt, write, compose found poetry, and make things for those I love. I even like the photos I take. :)

  3. I for one was pleased to read this timely reminder about how easy it is to spend, spend, spend (on art materials of course!!!!) - I am just putting together a budget for my art travels and thinking I needed a new camera - right!!! nothing wrong with the one i've got but oh how I would love a nikon!! and as you say that is only the start of it all! I remember reading once to use the camera you've got to it's best and that better pictures don't always mean a better camera! After all some pretty good images were taken with Kodak Brownies (my very first camera!) thank you Diane and I will be taking the camera I have already on my travels!

  4. You are very courageous to share this and I admire you.
    I can feel your pain, but don´t allow this kind of hurt to overshadow your love for your work.

    In fact you "owe" only one thing: to bring your art into the world. As far as I can tell: you are doing great. Joy to you, Sister.

  5. Thanks everyone! It's a good thing I wrote this when I did. I am having computer "issues" and may have chucked it all and raced to the Apple store to buy an Imac on credit, except - I remembered what I said. The thought did cross my mind though.....

  6. Diane, first, I agree with the others, takes guts to get out there with this confession. But writing is a positive force, helps you focus.

    It seems like everyone has to learn this lesson once. Happened to me back in my early 20's, and I learned The Lesson.

    I highly recommend this book to everyone:

    It's especially good for young people nearing their 20's. But the principles are the same, it works for any age.

    Having control over your finances is one of the best things you can do. You can get there. Hey, instead of buying a new lens, why don't you borrow one from a friend, for a shoot. Like me!

  7. Thanks Bob! I checked out that book and have put it on my "wishlist". I will probably also get one for each of my kids.

    It was also good for me to revisit this post as I get ready to really put my energy into paying down some of that debt in 2010. Thanks again!