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  • Robin Altman

My Life as an Artist


My parents knew I’d be an artist by the time I was 3 years old. As providence would have it, our family moved to Laguna Beach when I was 5. Laguna Beach is an artist’s colony, so as a budding artist, I couldn’t have been luckier to find such a supportive community. Most subjects in school were tough for me, but I always excelled in my art classes. In High School I applied for an art scholarship with the Festival of Arts Organization in town. I won the scholarship but still had to come up with a great deal of money if I wanted to go to go to the College of my choice. Principia College is where I wanted to go due to its great reputation in the field of art. Principia is a private boarding school and as such, it was very expensive. My father required my brothers and I to go to college, and to earn the money for it ourselves just as he had done. At 16, was able to secure a job from my cousins who owned a beautiful hotel in Laguna. I was a maid there for two months and thought I was doing fine when my cousin called me into his office and fired me for being too slow! Gripping the steering wheel of my little VW Bug, I drove home in tears wondering how I would be able to make it in life if I couldn’t even keep a job as a maid at my cousin’s hotel! A funny thing happened even before I reached home though. I became filled with indignation over being fired at such a menial job and felt a surge of conviction that I would never work for someone else, but rather work as an artist and govern my own career! When I told my father I wanted to work as an artist from that day forward, he was thoughtful and replied, “Well that’s ok if you want to be an artist, you just have to be one of the best artist’s if you plan to make a living at it.” Within a week my answer for self-employment came. I was asked by a friend to share a booth in the local summer art show in town called, “The Sawdust Festival”. I leaped at the chance! Except for lemonade stands I’d set up as a kid, this was my first real taste of entrepreneurship. I carefully matted and framed my artwork for the show and together we built our booth. However sitting there waiting to sell art was boring so I began to macramé shell necklaces for the fun of it while sitting at my booth. People asked me if the necklaces were for sale. Before long I was selling the necklaces like crazy along with an occasional painting! My father was amazed at the amount of money I was making. On the weekends I often made $300 to $400 a day! It became clear that I would be able to afford the college of my choice. In order to keep my scholarship with the Festival of Arts however, I couldn’t get any grade less than a “B” while in college. Needless to say, I had to buckle down hard in order to maintain those kinds of grades, but I wanted to be an artist in the worst way and I fought to stay in school and maintain my grades at that high level. Every Summer I returned to make money at the Sawdust Festival. Not only did I earn all the money I needed for college, but I also did well enough to buy a brand new car, a horse and take two college abroad tours studying art, traveling and painting through Europe. My professor was James Green, a renowned California regionalist painter. We painted in the countryside and had tours of some of the world’s finest museums while staying in the bigger cities. I also had a semester of art at the Laguna Beach School of Art and Design. After graduating from College with a BA, I returned to Laguna and exhibited my artwork in several galleries in town. After trying 10 times, I was finally juried into the most prestigious Art Show in Laguna, the one that had also awarded me my scholarship, “The Festival of Arts”. I’d found my own personal style of art by this time. I paint bright; whimsical scenes of everyday life that make people feel optimistic and happy. Helping people to feel positive and relaxed is my main goal in art. At this point I had a family but was determined to continue painting while at the same time raising children and working with our family business. We had a rental concession that served the Festival of Arts as well by offering binoculars and blankets for rent for the outdoor show there, The Pageant of the Masters. I would paint all year and sell my work at the Festival all summer while also running the concession. As an artist, I sold my work about as well as anyone in town did. However, at the age of 54 my marriage dissolved and at the same time the Festival of Arts decided to take over our concession to run on their own. 46 years of building a great Mom and Pop business was simply taken away over night. On one hand I felt freed from a difficult marriage, but on the other, because of the loss of all other income, it became more important than ever for me to be able to make my living as an artist. I was fortunate to soon meet my new partner in life, Paul McInitre. He is a local artist too but in the field of music. Paul is an accomplished Violinist. Every time I got worried about making money as an artist in a difficult economy, Paul went into his cheerleading mode telling me that I could still make it with art and not to give up! At the time, and even now, galleries are struggling to survive. I had to think of a way to reach out to more buyers. That’s when I decided to try selling my work on Etsy! Etsy has allowed me to expose my work to many more people. Etsy is easy to use and has great support for the shop owners. I like that I can calculate and purchase my postage through Etsy as well as type up sales slips and track how everything is running in my shop. I can make adjustments based on the information they give me on subjects such as search terms. I also get good feedback from costumers. Just recently Etsy provided its shop owners with a simple way to create their own, more formal websites as well as their Etsy Shops. It came at a good time because right after I created my website with Etsy’s “Pattern”, my own website failed due to its outdated configuration. That’s not going to happen on their program. I’ve been able to take my domain name, which is my own name, and have it redirect people to my Etsy Pattern site! The Pattern site also allows me to write an art blog, which my customers can join to hear the latest adventures that I’ve had. I share my Etsy Shop on Facebook, where many people have seen my work and either supported me with great comments or actually purchased my artwork. I started out by selling small prints of my paintings, but now I’m beginning to sell my originals on Etsy as well because I’ve found that there is a demand for them even though they are higher in price. I like to send notes to the people who buy my work on Etsy telling them how much I appreciate their business. I’ve even made personal friends with some of them. It’s gratifying to hear about how much they love the artwork that I’ve sent them. Sometimes they send me pictures of my artwork framed on the wall at their home! I’ve been selling artwork all over the United States and am now getting ready to open up my market to other countries. Etsy makes it easy to send products anywhere with their postage calculator. Thanks to Etsy I can still afford to make my living as an artist, a desire that started so many years ago and that’s still alive and well in me. At a time when some people would have a harder time finding a job due to age, I have no fear of losing my income. My business is growing and it’s even something I can pass on to my kids if they want to take it over when I’m gone. Thank you Etsy for the support you’ve given me in my art career! Thank you for helping me to continue doing the work I love while being my own boss!




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