Monday, August 1, 2011

Interview with artist, Christina Steward

My friend Christina is pursuing her passion as an artist and thriving. I wanted to talk to her about taking the leap that so many people are afraid to take, and how awesome it is doing what you love!!

Thank you so much Christina for letting me interview you!! First off, let me say that I so admire you for pursuing your passion! Your artwork is incredible! You can tell just by looking at it, that you were made to do it. You are also a software developer. You mix both sides of the brain seamlessly.

Thank you, Brooke! To hear you say I am “made to do it” is a big compliment. I’ve been on a personal mission for the past several years to find just that: what I was created to do. I think I’m uncovering it. By the way, I was a software developer for 12 years, until just a few months ago. My calling to be an artist was so strong that I finally made the decision to leave IT and pursue a creative career.

When did you discover that you were an artist?

Well, the signs have been there since I was a child; I was always looking for a creative outlet. I used to sketch just for the fun it. I sang in choir from elementary school through college. I taught myself to sew. I studied interior design. But it wasn’t until I took an open-studio painting class (held at the office where I worked in software J), and afterward a formal drawing class with the Art Institute, that I realized I had been missing something. I was surprised at how quickly I learned the concepts associated with drawing...and how much I absolutely loved it. At the end of my drawing class my instructor referred to me as an “artist”; that was the first time I believed it was true.

Something I really love about your art is the precision. Many of them look like photographs. I often have to look twice. I can tell that comes from the computer programmer in you. Are you obsessive about detail or does it come natural to you?

Seeing details comes naturally. That especially helped me in my software role, and is invaluable when creating art. Although, I admire artists who are able to communicate their ideas well without using fine details. I believe they still have the ability to see them in their minds, but choose which ones they’ll include to make a tree look like a tree, for example, without creating a super realistic rendering.

Where do you find your inspiration for your pieces? Is it hard coming up with ideas, or are they constantly jumping out at you?

I find inspiration everywhere: places I’ve traveled, photography outings to the local botanical gardens, a jog outside, everyday objects lying around the house. I’m also inspired by the work of other artists. When I’m struggling to find a new subject to draw or paint, I know it’s time to get outside and clear my mind, visit a gallery or art show, or look through creative images on the web. Ideas eventually flow.

Was it scary going from a steady paycheck to something not as secure?

Honestly, it wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be. Leaving my software job was something to which I gave considerable thought. So when it came time to leave, I was ready. I also have the support of my wonderful husband; in many ways he’s given me the freedom to make such a big transition career-wise.

Of course I have moments where doubts about the unknown future creep in, but each time I do my best to let them go. Sometimes it takes talking with others to help make that happen.
I believe my mindset on what is “secure” has also shifted: is it more secure to work for someone else, who controls what you work on (and if/when), as well as your income, or is it more secure to work for yourself, where you determine the type of work you do, when you work, and how much you earn from it? Working for myself has been extremely gratifying.

Did you deal with any “nay-sayers?” How did you deal with them?

I’ve been blessed with an incredibly supportive network of family and friends. I can’t recall one instance of being told I was making a terrible decision. Naturally some of them were concerned about me leaving a corporate job when so many people are currently without jobs. That wasn’t something I took lightly. But I did my best to assure them the timing was right, and I believe it was.

It's obvious that you spend a lot of time on each painting. How do you juggle marketing and deadlines? How much time do you devote a week to painting? How do you deal with the stress of "not enough time?"

Keeping a calendar of important tasks is essential. I usually evaluate my calendar a week at a time and record the things I absolutely have to get done, or else. I’d like to say I’m disciplined at blocking off time to create art each day, but honestly I’m not there yet. I normally just listen to my own compulsion to create. When too much time goes by, sometimes only a day, I have to start drawing or painting to ease the tension.

Even when you’re doing what you love full-time, there is still never enough time. I am getting better at accepting this, as my tendency is to focus on work (which is also play) and leave room for nothing else. I just try to remember there are only 24 hours in a day; I want to make each one count both professionally and personally.

You are selling your beautiful art very successfully. Is marketing your work stressful?

Marketing is stressful only when I forget what “marketing” really means. When I first got started I had fear of having to “put myself out there”, imagining making cold calls and visits to people who didn’t have a clue who I was. While I think there’s a place for that, I’ve learned that successful (and less stressful) marketing happens when I simply share what I do, whether that’s at an art show, over lunch, via newsletter or blog. When you love to do something, I think wanting to share that with the world comes naturally. If someone has a need for art, hopefully they can see the quality of my art, hear the passion for what I do, and make an informed decision on whether they want to work with me.

It’s everyone’s dream to do what they love for a business. Talk a little about what it was like going from painting as a hobby to painting as a business. Does it change the experience or outcome any for you?

Even when drawing and painting as a hobby, I secretly hoped one day my art would be good enough to sell. When I believed that time had arrived and I was considering my own business, I surrounded myself with like-minded individuals: those who were pursuing self-employment of their own. We soon formed a “mastermind” group, where we met weekly to discuss our business goals and achievements. The facilitator of this group reminded me that unless I had a place (i.e. website) for someone to purchase my art, I didn’t have a business. And he was right. My very first sale resulted from simply having what the customer wanted at the right time, and providing a way to purchase my art. Being in the mastermind group was instrumental in helping me get my business off the ground. Their constant encouragement and feedback on business decisions kept me moving forward, making progress. I’m forever grateful to them.

Creating art as a hobby was like lacing up my running shoes, anticipating being outside in the warm sunshine and fresh air. But getting to do it for business? It’s like the runner’s “high”, where my feet feel like they’re lifting off the ground.

Do you have any regrets?

None whatsoever!

Thanks so much Christina! This has been very inspiring!! Be sure to check out Christina's blog Art Spiffy which includes her musings on her elegant pieces.

c. 2011
image credit: c. christina steward

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