I’ve always been competitive, which is probably why when I heard only 10% of art students make a living from their work, I swore to be part of that percentage. There was no way I wanted to work at Starbucks till I was 30 while dabbling on my illustration in my free time. That’s why before I graduated with my degrees in art and English, I opened Studio MME Illustrations with the help of my mother, a former business major. My parents wholeheartedly encouraged me to pursue my ‘artsy fartsy’ degrees so long as I started a business. So I did! Oddly enough, it never occurred to me that I could fail, despite the fact that so many of my classmates had no idea what they were going to do when they left school. This blind ambition definitely helped me overcome the struggles I had to go through to get where I am today – a self-employed artist.
After earning my diplomas, I applied to 6 graduate schools…and was turned down by all of them. I wallowed in self-pity (and ice cream) for about a week. Then my boyfriend got accepted into a graduate art program and I had to start packing for a cross-country move to California, thus leaving my ice cream wallowing behind in my hometown. While I had visions of setting up shop immediately as a self-employed artist, Silicon Valley rent crushed that dream. We were literally paying double the rent for an apartment so tiny, we had to set up our studios in the kitchen.
For the first time in my life, I had to hunt for a ‘job’. I landed one as a bookseller at Borders and, honestly, I thought it was going to be the best job ever. After all, what English major wouldn’t want to be surrounded by books all day? Well, the appeal quickly wore off when I learned about sales quotas and my bosses learned that my Midwestern background made me a natural seller. It only took 6 months for my ‘job’ to demoralize me. I dreaded going to work, I loathed my bosses, and I hated how the company put sales over customer happiness. Every day I grew crankier and during the holiday season, I would wake my boyfriend up to ask if he was ready to check out. I had no desire to make artwork because all I wanted to do was lie on the couch and dread the next time I had to go in to work. Obviously, Borders was getting to me.
Finally, I sat down on my lunch break (in the Borders café) and wrote a great big plan entitled, “Quit My Day Job in 6 Months.” I was ready to work for myself and by golly I was going to do it before the holiday season came around again. The act of writing down a plan fired up my enthusiasm to create more artwork and make my dream of being a self-employed artist come true.
The universe must have heard because not two weeks later, Borders declared bankruptcy. I had a few weeks to start on my big plan and tell my boyfriend about my intention to NOT look for a new ‘job’. After 6 months in a company that valued money over the happiness of its customers. I knew I couldn’t go into any other retail business that wasn’t run by me. My time at Borders taught me how NOT to run a business and I could now put that knowledge to good use in Studio MME Illustrations.
That’s probably why I was the only employee to dance out the shop door when the last day came. Everyone else thought I was bonkers to go off on my own but I was blindly ambitious again. I’d tried the ‘American dream’ way and it had sucked the life out of me and replaced it with crankiness. Now I was going to do it the ‘Megan dream’ way!
So, almost a year and a half later, I’ve come a long way. I’ve illustrated the covers of two children’s books, released an embroidery line, and designed a CD cover. I’ve self-published a book of my short stories and illustrations and just released a 2013 calendar. I love the interactions I have with my customers now. I always strive to create things with them in mind. I’ve even started a new series on my blog where every week I write a silly story for them so they have something fun to read during their work day. Embracing my talent allowed me to grow as an artist but embracing my customers has allowed me to gain what Borders never had – fans!
While I’m not 100% sure what next year will bring, I know that I can truly say that I’m part of that 10%. A competitive nature, blind ambition, and experience in how NOT to run a business got me to my dream of being an artist. My goal for next year is to help other people, especially art students, become part of that 10% because I truly believe the world will be a better place if there are more artists and makers.