• Hilary Kelley

doing art for fun and profit

what my friends think i do / what i actually do, etc.

I have what you could call a fun job.

Fun, if you like working all the time.

Fortunately, I kind of do.

When I quit my full-time job with all manner of benefits back in 2016, I had lofty hopes of carving out a space for myself in the world of illustration. I didn't quiiiite know what that would look like but I planned as well as I could. I figured I would show at many of the artists markets throughout the year, take private commissions, work my way into book illustration, and pretty much just paint all the time.

I do some of these things, for sure.

But what reality looks like these days is this:

  • private commissions

  • pet portraits (often my bread-and-butter)

  • graphic design, including digital drawing

  • tattoo design

  • book covers

  • markets

  • displaying originals in the occasional gallery or coffee shop

  • creating work and prints to stock the stores at which I sell

  • if you can think of it, I've probably done it

Having never truly nailed down my mission statement, I sometimes have to grasp at my elevator pitch: I'm an illustrator always works better for me than I'm an artist, though sometimes I'll slip it in if it's clear the person asking doesn't need an explanation. I do a whole lot of things. Great, awesome, what does that mean? I don't have my business cards on me. Killing it, really killing it at the business game.

me and my business partner in a business meeting

I am bad at the business part because I am super cranky. I want to show and not tell. It helps to have a Hype Man for a husband, who's forever willing to be the herald for my Demure Artist Type. He's convinced me to keep a regular newsletter (Haaaaay subscriber friends!) and to put myself "out there" more.

Out There in the art business means connecting people to your work in ways that are often boundary-pressing. I am fulfilled by conversing and sharing experiences with others, but I tend to be very private. Sharing from a platform, particularly social media, feels like I am a cake and for each bit of personal news or tidbit, I'm slicing a piece off from myself. Grim!

I started pushing myself to find ways to share that wouldn’t compromise my comfort or self-image. I'm delighted by absurdity and the million small and banal things that go into a given day. With the advent of stories on Instagram I was able to play with the format and create little movies out of the mundane things I do all the time to keep myself focused (or when I need a break). #ArtSnacks, my semi-regular cooking show (that somehow has its own cult fanbase?), grew from the fact that one day I’d been painting for hours and forgot to eat. To keep myself entertained while cooking, I added a soundtrack and commentary, and voilà. It was a thing. True to form, it is now wildly irregular, but it’ll be back soon, maybe.

Ursula's doing amazing, thanks

See also #plantshow, wherein I walk around visiting the houseplants that I’ve somehow kept alive for more than a year, with musical accompaniment, of course.

Back to the business of arting: I like the struggle, though I’m actively working to make it…much less of a struggle. My brain, which is wonderful and with which I’m developing a better relationship, is also never ever at rest, and working all the time gives it a good workout so I can sleep at night. And I do work almost all of the time.

Part of the struggle includes making time for personal projects that allow me to just paint freely and have fun. I enjoy thrifting, something I’ve done since I was a child with my mom. There’s a lot of visual stimulation in combing through shelves of lightly-loved items, it makes my brain feel good. I imagine that finding a treasure in the pile of discards is something like what a search and rescue dog experiences when they find a survivor in a pile of rubble. Not nearly as noble, sure, but damn exciting.

things that used to be other things that i'm making into new things

So I’m thrifting, and I find little prayer boxes, little wooden jewelry boxes, ornate brass and aluminum plates that are tarnished and tired, big acrylic earrings and big ugly plastic statement rings, and I bring it all home and paint it black. Then I sit there and watch TV and decorate them however I want. I shine them up with lacquer and resin, and they look amazing. It's cliche, but I need these things to remind me of why I keep creating. There's a lot of joy in making something from nothing.

The business is not what I imagined it would be, over three years ago. It's tested me in all new ways. It scratches an itch and wears me out (I am really exhausted right now but this blog was on the To-Do list), I am always on my toes, and yet my biggest complaint is that I don't have enough time to do all of the projects I want to do. I can't say and I wouldn't trade it for anything! because, sure, I would. But I am an artist, I'm an illustrator. It's how I tell my weird stories and how I tell your weird stories; I'm just trying to get better at the narrative.

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