10 Artists Who Became Art Entrepreneurs

By Thursday Bram on 4 March 2011 (Updated 24 March 2011) 0 comments
Photo: gremlin

There's a certain belief that the only way for artists to make money is to sell their artwork, preferably through a gallery. But the truth is that an artist can use his or her creativity as a jumping off point for creating a business. Check out what these ten artists-turned-entrepreneurs have to say about their experiences making the leap.

Benjamin John Coleman built his hobby into Origami Bonsai, a full-time business.

I was laid off about six months before the recession began from my job managing the construction of propane delivery trucks. The recession began as my unemployment ran out. I did not qualify for extensions. Sent out hundreds of resumes, got no responses. My hobby business, making Origami Bonsai plant sculptures tanked. I couldn't pay my rent. Then I realized I had enough sculptures in stock to write one hell of a book. I wrote the book and was amazed to discover that two publishers were interested in it. Tuttle released my first book "Origami Bonsai" in April of 2010. In January of 2011 I was notified that it was being reprinted, so I guess it's a hit. Since leaving the propane truck company I've filed for two patents, obtained one trademark, written four books, and created the first mass produced origami flower in the world.

Miriam Rowe finished a master's degree in jewelry and silversmithing last fall and immediately went into business for herself.

I was given an amazing opportunity to smoothly transition from the academic art world to the numbers-driven business world. The town I live in offers a year-long incubation scheme for new graduates. The program is called Design Space and is supported by my town's city council. It offers one year of business classes, a free studio space, and mentoring advice for a selected group of participants who agree to work at least 30 hours a week as self-employed artists. I was planning to start my own jewelry business before I had heard of Design Space, but when I was offered a place I accepted wholeheartedly. Even though I am only a few months into the program, my business has grown immensely and I already have customers in the United States, Canada, and several parts of Europe.

Nancy Cleary took a different path than the typical graphic designer when she founded Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing.

A classically trained graphic designer from the renowned R.I.S.D., I was a bit of a sell-out not when I decided not to continue with a high-income job at a design studio doing high-brow design. Instead, I launched my own publishing company and used my art background to design and promote books and brand authors. Financially it was an incredibly difficult transition moving from a great paycheck to a struggling business in the red, but we endured because of our devotion to empowering authors' careers beyond their books (and the addition of our consulting fees which kept the ever-so-difficult publishing model afloat until royalties were enough to cover overhead). We are now celebrating 13 years and over 150 titles!

Ron Kaplan knew from the start that he wanted to make money with his art and started Surf Ohio with that goal in mind.

When I realized as a high school art student that I could design and then print t-shirts myself (in my parents' garage!), I was off on a graphic design education track that included making extra money on the side in the imprinted sportswear business. I found it exciting to create art that then was almost immediately worn and enjoyed by many. Ultimately I dropped out of college after two years to pursue that as a full-time career, starting my own screenprinting/graphics shop (Kaplan Graphics, Inc.) in my hometown of Columbus in 1982, at age 23.

Glenton Davis left behind a promising career at J.P. Morgan when he wrote and produced a record. Since then, he's founded Soul Pop U.

It is Soul Pop U's mission to empower young people to affect global change beginning in their local communities, by utilizing holistic development and pre-professional programs in creative entrepreneurship. We bring this mission to life by connecting emerging artists in the entertainment business with middle and high school students in local communities, sponsoring them, and sending them into local middle and high schools where they introduce young people not only to the entertainment industry, but also to what it means to 'go for the gold.' Our artists facilitate comprehensive arts education programs which combine performance, arts education, and entrepreneurship to inspire students to reach their full potential.

Karen Lucchese got serious about making a living from her art a few years ago.

I am happy to say that after many rejections and hurdles along the way, I am finally in the process of signing a licensing deal that will put my black and white line art on canvas. The canvas line called 'Inspired Ink' will help to teach kids how to paint. The concept of a paint by number but modernized for today's tween and teen. The designs are tattoo inpired and are very bold and fun.

Michelle Dyer was able to take a common situation in her field and make it work for her when she started Survival Jobs for Actors.

I founded Survival Jobs for Actors. When I was an actress I needed a Survival Job to pay the rent, but couldn't find a resource out there, so I created one. It's a job board focused on part-time, temp, and flexible work that's great for actors, i.e. Cater waiter, temp reception work, promo gigs.

Brad Guigar's web comics, including Greystone Inn and Evil Inc., have become staples for online readers and form the basis of a business.

I'm a cartoonist who self-publishes on the Web. My business centers on my Web sites as well as selling merchandise directly to my readers. I've self-published about 15 books, and I've started a subscription Web site, Webcomics.com, to help other cartoonists build their businesses.

Debashri Sengupta found herself in the U.S. without a work permit, founding Keepsake Blossoms as a result.

It was quite strange to just sit around and do nothing. So I took up the art of making flowers from DECO Clay. I have been selling these hand crafted clay florals as wedding flowers and home decor for over three years now and quite successfully. In these three years, we moved from Hawaii to Puerto Rico and then to Arizona. We intend to stay here for some years at least. So I am trying to expand my business now and hope to employ at least a part-timer soon. I now have a gorgeous website, a blog that gets around 3000 people every month and I have also started teaching classes, giving more people the opportunity to start their own business and spreading around the joy of making these flowers. This clay that I work with has been featured on the Martha Stewart Show a few times and has helped create more awareness about the product.

Eric Telchin turned one individual photo into the inspiration for an entire business, Boy Sees Heart.

On July 31, 2009 a puddle of melted ice cream changed the way I viewed the world. In October, 2010 I launched a web site, BoySeesHearts.com, with the intention of changing the way the world views the world. I see heart shapes in everyday objects: ice cream spills, litter, trees, coffee grinds. I photograph these found hearts with my iPhone and create abstract and representational art. When the response became overwhelming, I started selling made-to-order prints and apparel featuring these designs, comprised of over 1700 found hearts. Since its inception, I've launched a line of limited edition gallery pieces and have been featured on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, NYMetro Parents Magazine and was selected as AHA Life's unique discovery for January 20, 2011. In my opinion, I have been successful in launching this business because I have translated the principles of the found hearts into every aspect of the operation. At the end of the day, it all comes down to love.

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