What brought me here today:
I’ve been thinking a lot about employment lately. I’m a licensed visual art teacher (Ages 5-18) with ten years of experience teaching at the elementary school level. But I’m not teaching art at any school right now. I’m working for myself instead. My husband is my business partner. He runs his own small business Dancing Lights Press.
We both work from home. Each of us have our own work areas in the apartment. There are daily work hours. Sometimes these are extended for me. Because sometimes I just get on a roll and want/need to finish a piece. The same goes for my husband.
There are definite benefits to working for yourself. It’s not for everyone. There are trade-offs that sometimes need to be made. It’s important to know what these trade-offs are. And how to negotiate them. Being a small business is not something I ever thought I would do. Thanks to free programs like Tyobileet, my mind was changed.
First things first:
You’ve got to have some kind of business plan. My husband has a degree in business. With the help of Tyobileet, I discovered so much about myself and how I wanted to work. Tyobileet did so much to help me figure out all of the diverse ways I could take my art business. I felt as though I had within me so many different options to choose from. This also helped me feel as though I wouldn’t be narrowly defining what my art business would be.
Then the pandemic started. All my plans for teaching art workshops went completely sideways. I had to change around my business plan. A friend I made at Tyobileet suggested that I open up an online shop. Her advice was amazingly precise. She helped me to decide how I wanted to show myself and my work online with WooCommerce.
My husband’s first hand knowledge of running his own small business has been endlessly helpful to me. He might roll his eyes and say I don’t pay attention to him. But I do. Thanks to him, we each have long-form, fully fleshed-out business plans. The pandemic is still playing mary-hob with some of my plans. But that’s okay. I have plenty that I can do to work around it.
Road less traveled:
I thought that I would have more agita about this part of having my own small business. The path that my life and my art business have taken seem out of character for me as an individual. At least when they are compared to the trajectory my life was on prior to moving to Finland. That path was a well-trodden one. Teach art in the public schools. Do my “own art” during the summer. Sometimes sell my work at craft fairs. Retire from teaching when I’m 67-70. Then make art in my old age. And sometimes sell my work at a craft fair.
After living for seven years in FInland the aforementioned path just did not look inviting to me at all. The idea of going back to teaching art full time again in the US public school system was not something I wanted to do. I love teaching art. Being ground-down, mentally, emotionally and physically by the job of teaching is just not worth it to me. I have some borderline PTSD as a result of some of the things that happened to me as an art teacher. Things that I never want to go through ever again.
One of the trade-offs of having my own small art business instead of teaching art in the public schools is the regularity of a paycheck. For me, it’s the least easy of the trade-offs. There is security in knowing every two weeks there will be money in the bank. But when looked at from another angle, it’s trading off my mental, emotional, and physical well-being for a state-dictated amount of money.
I’m an intrinsicly motivated person. Art has always been one of the central interests of my life. I need little prodding to begin my work day creating artwork. If it weren’t for my husband, I would work straight through meals and late into the night. This intrinsic motivation is great for being an artist. It tended to make my life as an art teacher complicated in a very bad way.
When working for myself, I keep to a daily work schedule. Much like I did as an art teacher. The biggest difference between the two (besides all of the children) is that I’m completely in charge of my own work schedule. My work schedule is flexible. I don’t have to teach three classes of art before I can walk across the hall and pee.
This morning, I had planned on finishing this blog post. My plan was to proof read it. Then finish writing a few additions. Then publish it. Instead, my husband and I walked to the grocery store for a few much needed items. While walking, I took some pictures for the Go Marielle Instagrm account I post to daily. The two of us talked about future plans and growing our businesses. We both enjoyed the walk, even though it did rain a little.
I have the flexibility to adjust my work schedule like this as a small business owner. There are all kinds of small shifts and adjustments done to my work schedule throughout the week. I know what needs to be done. And by what time. The way in which I get to those points is up to me. As long as the tasks are completed well, and on time, I’m happy.
The other side of these kinds of adjustments are when I get a piece started and don’t want to stop. I have to stop and think about what tasks can be moved around so I can continue creating art. Some tasks like processing pictures, having to work on the not-so-fun parts of website and online shop maintenance, can be moved around.
Some tasks, like writing copy for items in the shop, or blog posts are done a little bit at a time. I’ll fill in time between other tasks by outlining a couple weeks of blog posts. Or setting up Instagram posts and Insta Story posts in Canva. The same can be said of designing and writing my Go Marielle posts. I have half an hour before my husband says lunch will be ready? Okay. I’ll drop in all the faces for a series of Go Marielle posts.
There isn’t any. Well, that’s not completely true. My husband and I both work an eight-hour plus day each week. But that includes most of the weekend, and well past 18;00 as well. That walk to the store earlier? I always have Marielle with me, so I can take pictures for Go Marielle. I got work done, even though it wasn’t the work I had planned on for this morning.
The flexibility to schedule my own pace for work production means that I’m working many more hours than I did as a public school art teacher. But I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m creating my own artwork and selling it to people who are willing to give me money for it. And I don’t have a principal attempting to convince me that my fellow teachers all hate my guts while doing it.
Some of the things that I don’t have, don’t bother me. We live in an apartment we can comfortably afford. There’s no car to fuss and worry about. Our wardrobes are probably much smaller that most of our friends. None of those things bother me. We’ve made the decision to live in a rather frugal, John Wesley kind of manner. The items we do buy must have a positive purpose in our lives.
It may look as though I don’t have a lot. And that fact must make me unhappy. Nope. Not at all. I have a studio to work in, art supplies, and a crap-tonne of ideas. Plus the time in which to bring those ideas into the physical world. Oh yeah, and a husband who loves me unconsitionally and is a true partner in all of our endeavours. Life may not be perfect, but I’m content.
Cost benefit analysis:
What I gave up was making me miserable in exchange for a steady paycheck. Adding to that misery, was the fact that I love teaching art. And yes, working for yourself can be a lot of feast or famine. My husband does an amazing job making sure that the famine parts of this inevitable cycle don’t suck as much as they could. And yeah, we have to do more planning when we want to go to Target, or the grocery store. But for me, I don’t have to worry about a car. The walk is nice and the bus ride not incredibly long.
These are the trade offs I’m willing to make so that I can live a relatively simple life of being my own boss as a small business owner. Perhaps it’s the way that I’m looking at these “trade-offs”. Some people may think that part of a trade off is puttin up with going without the thing your want, until you can somehow attain it. As if it’s a temporary time of unhappiness until…you get or buy what you want? (Car? House? Job? Significant Other?)
I look at my life as a small art business owner more like, “What do I have and what can I do with it?” So, I suppose this could be interpreted as a glass half-full kind of outlook? Perhaps. I sometimes think I’m far too sarcastic for that.
So, now what?
It should be noted that our current living and working situations will inevitably change in the future. Neither one of us knows what may happen in the next few years. I do love teaching art. And would love to begin teaching workshops again. I’ve ruled nothing out and prefer to keep my options open.
My small art business isn’t where I want it to be. But I’m working every day to get it there. I’m building up a body of creative work, along with my dolls and Go Marielle. These things not only allow me to hone my creativity, but show people what I’m capable of. Even when there isn’t a guaranteed paycheck at the end of every two week pay period.
And now, back to work!
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday!