How one Charlotte artist managed to quit her job and replace her previous salary with commission revenue

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Something had to give.

Sydney Durrett loved her full-time job as the design coordinator for custom home builder Corbett Hills Construction. But art had always been her life.

For awhile, she tried to do both.

“My design job at Corbett Hills Construction was the job I had wanted since college,” said Sydney. ”I told myself I can paint on the side… I can always paint on the side.”

And she did keep painting, nearly every day while accepting commissions and selling her work at pop-up shops, until it all just became too much.

That started a period of self-reflection and a hardcore number crunching session. She quit the traditional job and decided to give her art a full-time go.

Today, she’s making a living doing pet portraits, landscapes, skylines, bridal portraits, live paintings and designs for local Charlotte businesses like Lenny Boy’s CitrAphilia and Dat Pale Ale cans.

Sydney-Durrett-dog-portaits-charlotte-art

Here’s how she did it.

Over the holidays, Sydney did some serious soul searching and while watching Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone sing and dance their way through “La La Land,” everything crystallized. She knew what she had to do.

“I decided to make my art my career. I knew that working in my current role, as much as I loved the company, wasn’t as sustainable as I imagined… But my art really felt right. And in ‘La La Land’, seeing how one decision can completely change the path of your life — it was so influential.”

With her mind made up, Sydney sat down with her boyfriend Cameron and ran the numbers.

“I laid out all of the commissions that I was working on for the next three months. The commissions exceeded my current salary. Knowing that there was demand for my work, helped me to be able to decide to go after this full-time.”

artist-desk

Although her parents were reticent, Sydney’s determination and Cameron’s business acumen helped them accept and support Sydney’s choice.

Sydney began tackling the business side of living the dream and quickly learned that along with the monetary challenges of being your own boss, time management was her real Achilles’ heel.

The initial schedule Sydney established for herself became obsolete when she noticed that emails and texts were eating up the majority of her time.

“My days were just slipping away. I realized, ‘I’m not making money if I’m not producing paintings.’ So I’ve switched my focus to painting from 9 to 5 and then, when a canvas is drying I’ll respond to emails. But the hours when I’m painting I completely disconnect. I am now way more efficient.”

And even when everything is going perfectly, living the dream still comes with a steep price.

“There are a lot of things that I’ve had to say no to… I can’t go on vacations like my friends because my painting is my priority. It’s been a mental switch.”

Sydney-Durrett-lenny-boy-can-designs

Sydney did the artwork for Lenny Boy’s Citraphilia, Dat Pale Ale, Laughing Yogi, Life in the South and Tropicalus cans.

I asked Sydney for five quick tips for creatives looking to make the transition from employee to entrepreneur. Here’s what she said.

  1. Don’t quit your day job… yet. Sydney cultivated her customer base while holding down her other jobs, and only when her commissioned paintings exceeded her salary did she pull the trigger.
  2. Perfect your craft. She kept painting no matter what, and continued to love to paint in her spare time, honing her skills while building a catalog of work she could sell and use to showcase her style.
  3. Get the word out. Sydney utilized social media and grassroots word of mouth to generate buzz for her art and create more opportunities for exposure, like the Girl Tribe events around Charlotte.
  4. Be smart and honest with yourself. Sydney analyzed her income and expenses and only after a clear eyed evaluation made the critical decision to cut the umbilical cord of her “real” job to pursue her art full time. She also saw the opportunity to grow her art in Charlotte in ways not necessarily feasible in other locales. With the growing “maker” vibe in Charlotte as well as all of the community events surrounding art in Charlotte, now’s a pretty good time to be a talented and driven artist in our city.
  5. Hustle hard. Sydney has diversified her offerings to include commissions for in many areas, and in that way, she’s opened up a multitude of potential revenue streams.
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Jonathan Piscitelli
| @jonnypiscitelli |
Writer, DJ, Coach... Leave it better than you found it.