Many of us have creative pursuits and get a lot of satisfaction out of the expressive arts. Some of us wonder if those talents can be translated into a meaningful career. Can one make a living through art? I am meeting with Sherrie Lovler, a local artist, who does make her living through her art. Let’s see what her career is about, and how she has made it a go of it.
What do you do? How do you describe your work?
I am an abstract painter inspired by the calligraphic form. I work with ink and watercolor on paper. I teach my method of painting locally, nationally, and internationally through my Lyrical Abstract Painting class. I am also getting known for my poetry. My latest book, On Softer Ground, features the collaboration between my painting and poetry.
My key source of income is my online business selling my calligraphy prints of famous poems and quotes. This provides a consistent income, and gives me the opportunity to follow my passion of painting.
How did you have the confidence to focus on an art career? Many people think of the starving artist, or look to do art in retirement, or as an adjunct to a day job. I am wondering what your thinking was in getting started.
I learned calligraphy in a high school graphic arts class and fell in love with it. In college I majored in studio art, but had no idea I could build a career based on calligraphy. When I graduated from college I had the good fortune of a mentor who taught me how to teach. I taught my first class in calligraphy when I was 22. This forced me to hone my skills as both a calligrapher and as a teacher. Confidence built as my skills built.
How did you build your career over the decades?
I started selling my calligraphy prints in stores and through a national catalog. In 1996, a friend designed a web site for me and I started to sell online.
Eventually I took several excellent classes in web design at the Santa Rosa Junior College to keep up with new technology. This is before there were ‘shopping cart’ sites, and I wanted to control how my webpage looked. I understood early on that the web is all about customers being able to find your work; it’s all about search engine optimization.
The most famous print I offer is a poem called Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. Through effort and luck I bought the domain, www.desiderata.com. As number 2 on Google for ‘desiderata’ I derive a good portion of my income from selling those prints.
I sell around 25 different poems and quotes, popular sayings, which I mat and frame. These are niche items that appeal to a small audience, but I try to make it easy for them to find me. I would advise artists to find their own niche market as a way to reach a specific audience.
Over the years the market has changed. Competition is fierce. I find it’s vital to keep my standards very high. One needs to stand out. It is not about a lower price. It is about quality, and having a unique style or skill. Additionally, advertising, social media, and good reviews are essential.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
My biggest challenge is to keep up with the demands of a changing business environment. Google changes their rules and I have to change to keep up. When they decided that mobile ready websites would have priority in their searches, I had to upgrade my site. When they said that websites should be secure, that’s another update.
I also need to keep up with new sales tax laws. I sell on Etsy and Amazon, too, so I continually need to keep up with these selling platforms and their requirements. The challenge is to take care of all the business aspects and not let those get in the way of my creative expression. It’s a balancing act of right-brain and left-brain activities. It all takes time and requires vigilance and persistence.
What are the greatest rewards of your career?
In my print business I touch people every day. Just today I received an email from someone who bought a print from me 27 years ago. He wrote to tell me that he still loves the work I did for him.
The real joy is that I get to do what I love every day. My passion is my fine art, my paintings. These lead me on an inner journey where I never know what will transpire. And I get to interact with people on a deep level. I am a part of Art Trails open studio tours in October, where people come to my studio to see and buy my art. This is my joy — to share what I do and touch others. It is a thrill to me for people to love my work enough to want it in their homes.
Do you have a personal philosophy about your work or other thoughts to add?
As an artist one needs to be well rounded and continually learning and growing. If one is going to pursue an art career I believe it is imperative to be a lifelong learner. I also feel it’s vital to be a part of a broader community, as art can be a lonely profession. I am very involved in our local art scene. Here in Sonoma County, we are lucky to have a vibrant art community with Art Trails, First Fridays, the Sebastopol Center for the Arts and several excellent galleries and museums. I keep my hands in many things at once. It’s a complicated life, but a very rewarding one.
Thank you, Sherrie. You are an inspiring artist with a robust career and beautiful artwork.
Readers, you can reach Sherrie at: Sherrie@artandpoetry.com. She is excited to be teaching Lyrical Abstract Painting in France next summer.
Onward in your career development and success,