The “Cash Poor, Starving Artist” Fire Sale

“It’s a hobby,” he demanded. “It’s art,” I retorted with a snort.

He responded quite loudly, “Well, you’re not making enough money off of these things and I don’t feel like living like a starving artist.”

Dulled with a sense of truth, and a bitter slant of my eyes in his direction, I put the embroidery needle down, moved the canvas back to my workspace, closed the door….and put my embroidery floss away.

And I’ll be absolutely honest with you, for I know he and I will will probably talk on this later, but there was a resentment that I felt, rather quickly, rather overwhelmingly.

When I was at my worst, I knit a little teddy bear and sold him online just to buy some food. Just to buy food! I was hungry! With the bear selling within half an hour, I walked three miles up to the nearest little convenience store and bought myself some cans of tuna for Mario and I to share. I felt exhilarated, hopeful that I could survive, that I could take care of myself.

I told people close to me at that time that within another 4 or 5 hours, I might be able to make another bear, and make a few more dollars. Maybe I could make this my living? “Yeah, well….It’s good to have goals, just make sure those goals are attainable….”

That was the last time that I ever spoke to that person in a very close and intimate level. I didn’t feel the need to share my exuberance with someone who wanted to make me feel….well, that it was a silly hobby, that my joy was a waste of time, that the moments spent creating something were the pursuits of a destined pauper.

Damned good thing I didn’t listen to them, or anyone else like them, for 10 years later (and 4,000 bears having been knit), I think I made the right decision. That little bear became a treasured little piece of my personal history, opening doors to worlds and opportunities that never ever would have existed had I listened to someone who said, “It’s only a hobby.”

What would I have done then? Way back then? I would have pushed through with such tenacity you wouldn’t be able to stop me.

So, I quickly pulled my thread and canvas back out, tossed on some more leaves, more rosettes, more French Knots and asked if Phillip would take a  picture of me with my artwork. He spent about 45 seconds taking about 10 pictures. He huffed, made annoyed noises, complained about the frigid 60 degree weather, to which point I just looked away and thought, “I only need 45 really enthusiastic seconds of your time, that’s all I’m asking for….” I finally snapped to my feet, grabbed my canvases and said, “Thanks. I think I’ve got enough pictures.”

When he handed me the camera back, I saw that last shot…and boy if a picture could tell a thousand words. (Or even more remarkably, if a picture could tell a boy a thousand honest feelings).

So, take a look at my embroidery pieces in my shop. These are the last of the “Backwards Canvas” series. (If you’ve followed this blog regularly, you’ll know the fun story behind the idea for those canvases).

I’m trying to prove a point, or at least two points if I’m to be absolutely honest. The first is that some people don’t think of what I do as a hobby. My writing, my knitting, my embroidery. They see the art in what I do, the value, the story behind anything I create. And the second point, is that I’m capable of my own joyful independence.

If you appreciate my blog and would like for it to continue, please donate. Every bit helps and I wouldn’t have the courage to do this without you. Thank you!




  1. This post resonated so deeply with me. I am on week eight of The Artist’s Way and am working through the grief of all the moments I have been beaten down by exactly the types of people you’re describing. I recently left the corporate world after trying for a decade to figure out a reason to keep beating my head against the wall working with people who would never understand me. The only reason was income, but I decided (as I was turning 50) that my mental and emotional health and my soul are worth way more than a steady paycheck. If I can’t make, I will never be happy. I am an artist. Yes, that may mean there are periods of time that I don’t get paid because I’m not on someone else’s payroll. However, it doesn’t mean that I can’t make a living doing what I was born to do. I am glad that you didn’t give up. The world really needs you (and all artists!) right now. I’m going to steal your phrase about joyful independence because I’ve never felt more free in my entire life. Thank you for these thoughts. They came at exactly the right time.

  2. Gregory Patrick – I am so thrilled that I was able to purchase “Indian Love Songs” from you. I even successfully opened a pay pal account! I was so touched reading yur latest post. Can I afford it? No – But its important to me, to finally be able to help you out, and to have yur first embroidery I feel Honoured and I will treasure it always. God bless You. Hugs Tobias, Eloy AZ

  3. As art, you need to sign & date your embroidery pieces, even number them and/or title them, as each one is unique – gives added cachet. Also, change up your colors – use themed palettes eg. Red tones, pink tones etc, which allows people to buy works to match their home decor. Don’t forget to use seasonal colors & themes.

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