Visual Arts

Living and Sustaining a Creative Life

“In my experience, artists are among the most self-motivated, organised, the most disciplined, and the hardest working people I know.” Carter E. Foster, Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art.

Living and Sustainable a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists
Edited by: Sharon Louden
Paperback, September 2013

Graduating from university can often lead to an uncertain period of any young person’s life. Without the sheltering arm of academia many students wake to the new and unfriendly world of ‘reality’. This can be a world of smart attires, endless CV and portfolio retouching and the unwelcome sound of early alarm clocks- it can be a universe away from the student lifestyle.

It is arguably in the discipline of art that can especially test student’s devotion to their chosen subject. Making a living in art is almost an art in itself and even though thousands of graduates embark on this path each year, very little insight or guidance exists to hand.

In Living and Sustaining a Creative Life editor Sharon Louden fills this void by compiling advice and the experience of 40 working artists who comment on the trials, joys, hardships and gratifications that a life in art can invoke.

The extract below is taken from the chapter written by Amy Pleasant.

“Each day I wake, put my clothes on, drink my coffee, wake my kids, make breakfast, pack lunches, take them to school and then drive to the studio. When I walk through the door I am comforted by the smell of oil and turpentine, and scan the room to take note of how I left it the day before. I stand in the midst of paintings that are propped up on paint cans and leaning against the wall, reminding me of the successes and failures of the day before.

Every day I create a problem for myself to solve, a battle that within my four walls is the only battle in the world. How the image presses itself against the edge of the canvas, how the colored ground seeps through, how the characters interact or don’t interact with one another, how it reveals to me the delicate balance between my insecurity and my confidence. And then in the end, the satisfaction of knowing that it couldn’t be any other way.

I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be an artist. It was the only thing that interested me and I was always making something. Despite my parents’ concern that I might live a life of poverty, they supported my every decision.

Outside of sales of work, I currently teach two days a week and supplement my income by jurying shows, grants, project stipends, visiting artist opportunities and residencies (these are few and far between, as time away from home is difficult). So much of my growth is strictly about visibility, so I am continually looking for opportunities to keep my work out in the world, whether it is through my website or exhibitions.

I have found at this stage in my career that I spend more time on the business side than ever before. I spend hours researching artists, galleries, grants, project spaces, residencies, and e-mailing and reading about exhibitions as a way to stay informed in general. I try to schedule my days in the studio as a normal nine-to-five job would be, then family time in the evening, and then business work at night after my kids have gone to bed. I find that setting goals (monthly and yearly), and creating strategies to achieve them in very practical ways, is empowering.

Nothing is more critical to my process than time, and I found out quickly how to structure the studio in a new way after kids, as time was more sacred than ever. When I am there I have clearer objectives for what I want to accomplish each day. There is no room for waste. I try to not schedule meetings/appointments during studio time, and to keep clear lines around work and play, which requires a great deal of discipline. I am confronted with obstacles on a daily basis, and my job is to find a way to persevere regardless. As I have gotten older, I have come to realize the sacrifices I have to make on a daily basis. Sometimes those sacrifices come in the form of things, sometimes it is a social life, and sometimes it is people.

During a critique in graduate school the topic of “life as an artist” ensued, and my painting professor, Stanley Whitney, said, “Even if you had every day for the rest of your life to paint, it still wouldn’t be enough.”

And it wakes me up each day. And I follow it. And at the risk of sounding melodramatic, it is the greatest thing I know.”

Living and Sustaining a Creative Life not only brings to light some of the realities of day-to-day and bigger picture details but it also defines what “success” can mean to a professional artist. The actual means involved to make a living from this practice are often clouded and in this book Louden voices the experiences and difficulties endured by artists to inspire any student, young artist or art enthusiast to further their artistic capabilities to achieve a creative lifestyle.

For more details to get hold of the book visit the Intellect website.
To purchase this as an eBook, visit

Untitled Extract Pages

One thought on “Living and Sustaining a Creative Life

  1. Pingback: Links: January 27 | Visual Art & Technology

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