What it really takes to be an artist

Walking out of my serious/well-paid desk job with no future plan or guaranteed income stream whatsoever was one of the most important moments of my life – and I’m ever-grateful for finding the balls to do it. People thought I was nuts. It scared the shit out of my Mum. “Art is a vocation, James”. A few years on from that pivotal moment, I’m finally doing alright money-wise, and leading a significantly richer/fuller life. I wanted to share what it really takes to be an artist…

That job was in Sydney, Australia, and following walking out, I hopped on a flight back to where I came from. I’m making this sound breezy and it was anything but (I had some pretty shit patches). Not a penny to my name and no income stream meant I needed a job of some kind; so I spent some time trying to figure out what I could do day-to-day that wouldn’t take up too much of my mental capacity in support to my career as an artist. In came Royal Mail. I applied to become a part-time Postman in Greenwich, London, and was thankfully successful. I did this for a year whilst living in my art studio (on an industrial estate in the asshole of nowhere). I reserved all space for creating art, and shoved a mattress behind the sofa under the stairs. Yes, I slept UNDER THE STAIRS.


Tracey Emin styley – matress under the stairs. Excuse the dirty socks.

Far from pretty, I know.

See, leaving that bastard job, I no longer had my head in two very different places (job/art) and I could finally call myself an actual artist. I decided that day that I would never spend another minute sat at a desk selling my time for money. It works for some, but not for all. Ever since that day a few years ago, I’ve grafted and grafted; and am finally full-time on my art and making some significant movements (and my work’s getting more unique – more importantly).

What it really takes to be an artist - two large works in progress hanging in the studio
Works in progress hanging in the studio. ‘It was all a myth’ (left) / ‘Always time for a selfie when you’ve found a keeper’ (right)

I don’t really give a shit about money, but we need it. So Postman life gave me a stress free income and ability to afford my studio. I devoted the next couple of years to nothing but my art. Everything else on hold. I’d pretty much jog my postal route so that I could get back sooner to paint. And then I’d paint ‘til midnight (not everyday but quite often). The regular income via Royal Mail also meant I didn’t have to chase money when creating art. If you’re doing that, in my opinion, you’re not making authentic art. My priority is to make something that want to put my name on. It has to be different. It has to be unusual. It has to be my own thing.

The reason I’m sharing this is because more often than not, people associate art with glamour. I know a lot of artist’s and I can tell you that (particularly when starting out) it’s anything and everything but. I guess that’s attributed to the artist side rather than gallery side (which are so far apart in reality). Although it was pretty tough at first, it’s been worth every minute/sacrifice. I feel very free and excited everyday I wake up. Every day is fun.


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