A Year of Making Art by Heather day

Weeks after I quit my job, I found myself browsing company websites and taking note of the hiring signs outside local stores. It took a lot of strength not to apply to any of those jobs. Though it was liberating to be on my own, I was actually terrified. In the beginning, I had to remind myself that I was doing this for me. I wanted my life and career to be seamless. I began approaching my career as I would a painting. It is entirely about the process and it’s going to be messy in the beginning.

It was a year ago today that I left my salary job in the Design Center of San Francisco to pursue painting full time. Though it has been quite the rollercoaster, I can say with confidence that I’m happy with my decision and love what I do. The journey to get where I am today has taken me deeper and further into a creative exploration than I ever thought possible, but I’m aware that I still have so much to learn.

In addition to painting, I was doing freelance design for a local lifestyle blog, but it was the paintings that were now my primary focus. With that focus came a considerable investment in properly transforming myself from a budding artist to a full-time professional. Some of the expenses included student loans and rent for both an apartment in San Francisco and studio in Oakland. Being a fulltime artist can be a costly gamble and forced me to very quickly become financially savvy.

Prior to quitting my job, I was already maintaining a steady studio practice. When I was at my busiest, I would wake up around 5 am to do freelance work, go to the Design Center from 9-5pm, and then commute to my Oakland studio where I would work until about midnight. I know this was probably not the healthiest lifestyle and I was aware then that it was not sustainable. While painting was a huge priority, I soon learned that there was more to it. Though artists generally don’t like to talk about this aspect of their careers, I’m also running a business. I am represented by a few emerging galleries, however it’s still up to me to get my work out there. This includes everything from documenting paintings, editing the images, updating a website, and keeping up with social media. One of the biggest challenges is maintaining the social responsibilities of being self employed. Luckily I enjoy socializing and making connections face to face, which is more than just a hobby in my line of work - it’s a requirement.

Once I was on my own, I suddenly had a lot more time and could focus on improving the quality of my practice as an artist as well as the quality of my business. It’s amazing how much growth is possible when given the time. In the past year, I’ve also traveled through Europe, driven across the country, and taken several smaller trips within the U.S. I’ve been searching for ways to push my paintings further and found that escaping a routine every so often has been most helpful. I have also opened up to talking to strangers in different industries. I met my accountant in a Lyft ride, the founder of an online magazine in a shared Uber and an architect whom I plan on working with in the near future at a coffee shop. San Francisco is a small city but full of optimists working on projects that they are passionate about. I’m constantly inspired by the people here and appreciative of such a collaborative community.

Sharing my paintings with the public has taught me more about the way I approach my process as an artist. My two favorite words are collaborate and makeshift. I catch myself using these words on a daily basis. Collaboration suggests an open minded playing field and makeshift assures me that it doesn’t need to be perfect. I use these words when approaching galleries and discussing projects with companies. Once the conversation has started, it opens up endless opportunities for collaboration. I’ve learned that part of being self employed is figuring out new ways to apply your work in unfamiliar territories. Stepping out of a comfort zone is a great way to expand your creative and professional reach. Collaboration is a vehicle for this expansion.  

My recent work involves large scale murals and sculpture that have a direct relationship to architecture. I want painting to be a confrontational experience. My dream project would be painting a mural over an entire urban intersection. I imagine the marks would span from the streets to the top of the buildings.  

Sharing big ideas like this publicly has been the root of my success this year. On instagram in particular, there isn’t much of a filter to my thoughts. I’m sharing these ideas because I think that’s the most interesting part about the process. I’m testing the waters and possibly contradicting myself.  I’m ok with that when it means I’m learning something new.



Henri Matisse : The Cut-Outs exhibition at the MoMA

The Authentic Life by Ezra Bayda (book)

Larry Sultan: Here and Home exhibition at the LACMA

American Artist Who Scribbled a Unique Path, NY Times article about Cy Twombly's life

Shaun O’Dell Doubled, solo show at Gallery 16 in San Francisco

Katharina Gross, this video and a lot of her current sculptural work.

She Does Podcast, an inspirational podcast that puts creative women in the spotlight. Completely unrelated, but I also like Start Up Podcast for the business side of things.

Fast Company : 100 Most Creative People in Business : It’s worth buying a copy.



SFMOMA Artists Gallery, San Francisco

The Tappan Collective, Los Angeles, CA

Uprise Art, New York, NY 

Anne Irwin Fine Art, Atlanta GA

Photo by Sean Bradley for American Giant

Photo by Sean Bradley for American Giant