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November 2010

November 2010 -- Storms

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  • Behind the Art:
    African Watercolor, Part 1
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Marley Mcleay
  • Ask an Artist:
    Unraveling DPI
  • EMG News:
    News for November
  • Wombat Droppings:
    Having a Hobby

    Features

  • Clouds

    Fiction

  • Fiction: Colors of the Elements


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  • Having a Hobby
    Wombat Droppings
    by Ursula Vernon

    Long, long ago, my stepmother Mavis uttered a phrase in my hearing that has stuck with me for years as a great piece of wisdom.

    "Jobs are how you make money. Hobbies are things you spend money ON."

    Speaking as someone whose hobby was art and whose hobby was writing and who now lives on the income from those two things, let me just say that she was 100% right.

    I see it happen a lot, actually. Friends who loved video games and made third-party maps as a hobby and then wound up with a job in the industry. Friends who did X and then opened a mail-order business selling X. Musicians. Friends who loved to cook and opened a restaurant.

    And this is not a bad thing. Frankly, this is great! This is Living The Dream! This is what we all want to have happen - being able to make a living at the thing we're passionate about! This is awesome!

    But where a lot of us go wrong - and I've done it myself - is that we never get another hobby. And then a few years go by and we find ourselves moping around the house going "Why am I so burned out? I'm doing the job I love, this is the thing I wanted to do, this is the best job in the world! But..."

    Artists do this all the time. Artists make art for love of art, and then they sell art, and then they start to need to sell art because they need to eat and then it's not "Yay! Look at this awesome painting!" it's "Crap! I have to get ten of these done for the show next month!" and your hobby just became a job and became a source of stress.

    Once it is a major source of income, gang - definitely once it's your primary source of income! - it is no longer your hobby. It is awesome, yes. You should not forget the awesomeness. You are living the dream, and you should be proud and I am not in any way, shape, or form trying to dissuade you from going into art professionally.

    But you should also waste no time in going out and getting another hobby doing something else.

    Hobbies keep us sane. They let steam off the works. They give us something to obsess about that has nothing to do with whether you'll make enough money to pay the rent. And - this is important - they are just trivial enough that you do not have to feel vast sums of guilt if you neglect them in times of struggle, unless your hobby involves falconry or something else with live animals.

    This is not to say that the minute you sell your first handknitted scarf, you're a business owner and need to take up chicken-wrestling or water polo. Keep a sense of perspective. (And also, if you are not getting paid, but are routinely expected to, say, make the entire family hand-knitted Christmas presents, then it's a job, even if you are not getting money for it.) But nevertheless, doing something not-terribly-essential that brings you joy is very, very important to the working of the human brain, and once it becomes an essential source of funding, something about it is lost.

    I love making art. I would make art if I had a 9-to-5 job digging ditches, I would make art if I was fabulously wealthy and had no need to ever sell another piece. (It might even go back to being a hobby at that point.) I have to make art because the art has to get made.

    But my hobby is gardening. I make no money on it, I spend far more than I should on it, I delight in it, I obsess over it, I am terrible at it, and that doesn't matter. It's my hobby. If I were a landscaper or ran a mail-order nursery, it would all matter very much, so I avoid any of those things and settle for being happy about migrating butterflies and the occasional great crested flycatcher appearing in the garden.

    If I got a job as a garden writer tomorrow, I would be delighted, because I could start writing off all those plants and all those bags of dirt - but I'd also have to take up another hobby, just to keep myself sane.

    Your job takes things out of you. Creative acts take things out of you. They are fatiguing. I realize that sometimes the well seems infinite, that you can pull art and writing out of it by the bucketful, but keep pulling things out and sooner or later, the well will go dry.

    There is a tendency when this happens to think that if you just keep banging the bucket against the sides of the well, it will fill up again. This doesn't work well. Trust me.

    A hobby may take your money and your time and your passion, but it will also help to fill up that well again. And in the life of an artist, filling that well is one of the most important things there is.

    Ursula Vernon
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