Bootstrapping Art

I’ve always wanted to do creative work. From the moment I could hold a crayon, I was lost to the artsy lifestyle.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to gain support for your work. Especially in the beginning, it’s an uphill climb. It may be that no one else will ever appreciate your creations the way you do, not even enough to help you pay for the time and materials required to create them.

This shouldn’t be an excuse to quit doing what you love. You’ll just have to borrow an idea from the world of business and bootstrap your art.

Bootstrapping, in the entrepreneurial sense, means paying your own way. Rather than seeking out investors to help you build your company, you fund it out of pocket or through some other self-produced venture. You pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make it work.

Many artists are already familiar with this concept, even if the term is unfamiliar. I can’t tell you how many brilliant painters and sculptors and poets I know who pay their rent by bagging groceries and waiting tables. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but often the ideal bootstrapping job allows you to gain not just money from your wage-paying efforts, but also experience, connections, and skills you can bring back to your craft.

I did this in college, and in my case it meant working at a print shop as I made my way through design school. Learning that side of the industry helped me immensely in doing printed work for clients, and more immediately, saved me hundreds of dollars in print supplies for class work. I also took a job as a software specialist, which required me to know a whole lot about the software I was using in class, and for client work. Finally, I took two design jobs: one for a glossy magazine, and one with the interactive telecourse development wing of my university. Both taught me to appreciate different angles of the design field (even the ones I didn’t particularly care for or want to work in, long-term), and both helped me learn to deal with clients and pick up new skills quickly.

Although none of them paid well, having those four jobs also allowed me to pay my rent, thankfully. The above benefits were really just pleasant side-effects.

And that’s the kind of work you want to look for, ideally, when bootstrapping your art. Work that will earn you enough to continue fighting the good fight for your craft, but which will also help you build up secondary skills that may one day contribute to your creative fulfillment.

Many of us want to do creative work but are unable to because of the unfortunate financial realities we’re born and guided into. Bootstrapping is one way to achieve the best of both the monetary and artistic worlds, without having to sell out one for the other.

Update: April 5, 2017

This is essentially an explanation of how I’ve paid my way since college: a series of projects that have allowed me to do all the things I want to do but from which I don’t earn a cent.

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