How To Turn Your Passion Into Your Career

19/08/2015 8:23 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Lone street artist

It’s an unfortunate but unavoidable truth -- sometimes passion just doesn’t pay.

Depending on what your skills and interests are (and not everyone is born with an innate desire to become a corporate player with a window office on the 32nd floor) turning your passion into a regular income can be a challenging feat.

So what do you do if what you love doesn’t necessarily equate to a reliable pay cheque? Will you be forced to forever supplement your income by working a casual job at the local dry cleaners? Or is it actually possible to launch a career out of something others view as a hobby?

Three Australian creatives were each faced with this quandary when embarking on their own careers, but have managed to turn their passion into a fully-fledged vocation. So how did they do it?

Scott Marsh, Artist

Though always attracted to art as a child, it wasn’t until Marsh discovered graffiti in his teenage years that he realised it might be something he could pursue into adulthood.

Dropping out of a business degree, he enrolled in a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University Of New South Wales, College of Fine Arts (COFA), graduating in 2009. But even then it took until the end of 2010 for Marsh to realise art could be the career path for him.

“I was really fortunate to have an old graffiti associate working for some bars who were utilising unused venue space to hold art shows as a tool to bring punters in,” Marsh said. “All of my solo shows to date have been in these types of venues, and it has allowed me to avoid renting gallery space or paying hefty commissions.”

Marsh didn’t strike out on his own straight away, instead spending over six years managing his friend’s pizzeria four nights per week while painting during the day.

“It took a long time to work up the courage to ditch that job and its regular income,” Marsh said. “But I was beginning to realise that to make a living from your art you really need to give it 100 percent of your energy or you never make any progress.”

Marsh has plenty of advice for other young artists wanting to go full-time and stresses the importance of an education to hone skills and open up new opportunities.

“Utilise social media as much as possible. Be educated or have some other formal training, as it seems to always help in the strangest ways and forces people to take you seriously.”

“Meet a lot of people and immerse yourself in art. Go to galleries regularly so you are aware of what your peers are doing. Make a plan and set goals. Also, be versatile and try to have a lot of strings in your bow. People seem to think because I’m an artist I just sit around and paint pictures all day... I wish! In addition to selling my own work I do a lot of client based mural jobs for corporate clients and small business as well as education projects (workshops etc) which helps fill the gaps in consistency of work.”

Hannah Dougherty, Filmmaker

Originally from the South Coast, Dougherty realised she wanted to pursue filmmaking after a lack of local jobs during her gap year saw her playing too much Nintendo and watching countless movies.

“Sometime during that [year] I realised I was far from what I wanted to be doing and only moving towards more of the same," Dougherty said. "I also hated the structure and repetitive nature of full time work. So I quit -- actually, I didn’t quit, I spent a month in my office trying to work up the courage to quit and then got fired because I didn't actually do any work in that time -- and I started freelancing by looking online for jobs, emailing companies I wanted to work with and being very poor for a long time. I built up my clients and I went to gigs where I spoke to bands and made music videos for them. I worked on ads and web videos so that I could afford to do music videos for free because music videos are what I love doing and upcoming bands rarely have a budget for them."

Dougherty advises up-and-comers to be wary of those who ask you to work for free, though she notes it’s inevitable in the very early days.

“Don’t devalue your work. Never do anything for ‘exposure’ unless it’s actual exposure to actual real life people who might hire you and not just exposure to the three people you made it for and their cats, unless their cats are really high up in the industry. You never know,” Dougherty said.

She also warns against taking on too much and wearing yourself out, despite how difficult it is to turn down a job, no matter how small.

“I would often say yes to every opportunity which meant that I ended up drained and exhausted and walking out of a job with $50 and a small bag of potatoes. At some point you have to work out when to stop doing those jobs and focus your energies elsewhere. If I didn’t work for nothing at the beginning then I wouldn’t be where I am now, but choose those jobs carefully because a lot of them got me nowhere. Make sure you are getting something of equal value to the product you are making before you take the job. Most of the mistakes you make will just come from inexperience and as you gain more experience you will know how to avoid them."

"Also, don't accept potatoes as payment."

Jake Terrey, Fashion Photographer

Terrey fell into the photography game after shooting his friend’s bands in his early twenties.

“Coincidentally, their management also worked in PR for fashion brands and asked me to shoot backstage at Sydney Fashion Week in 2010 for a few shows,” Terrey said. “I got some good recognition through that and ultimately ended up shooting for a magazine run by someone I’d met there. That was how I was exposed to fashion photography and photographers, and began to think about the kinds of photos I wanted to be taking. I could trace it all back further and further to how it started, but really starting a career comes down to making your own luck and meeting the right people, then being able to perform when that opportunity arises.”

“It’s important to see that these things don’t often just fall into place though, you have to consciously put yourself in the position for them to happen. I was in Mexico a few weeks ago shooting for Vogue but I wouldn’t have been there if two years ago I didn’t push myself, hungover and half asleep, onto a plane instead of driving back with friends the morning after a three day music festival so I could get home in time to shoot some dinner party for the magazine for less money than the plane ticket."

"If an opportunity comes that might put you in a better position tomorrow, take it.”

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