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How These Artists Followed Their Dreams Despite the Odds

Dr. Nikki Martinez, Lead Contributor
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There are many people out there who are not following their passions.

They are working a “safe” job.

They followed a more stable course in terms of career and education.

These people listened to others who told them that “following your passion” was not sensible or realistic.

These individuals are often restless.

They are not content in their jobs, as they are doing something that is not in line with their passion.

When someone is doing what they were destined to do:

  • it feeds them
  • it energizes them
  • they love what they do every day.

It is like the saying, “Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”

The path to our dreams and jobs that emotionally sustain us is not always easy.

But it is worth it in the end – if we stay the course and persevere.

Some people cannot handle the instability of laying the path for themselves.

Others have listened to others discourage them from the path, while the rest are too afraid or do not believe in themselves enough to try.

If you have a gift, foster it, develop it.

Get involved with it regularly, even if that means working at it part-time.

Don’t forget about your dreams.

Otherwise, you will always feel as if something is missing in your life, making you wonder, “what if.”

Following your passions according to four artists and a gallery owner

They followed their passion and their dreams no matter what.

Learn what real perseverance and belief in self can look like.

Perhaps their words will resonate with you and help light a spark within you.

For more inspiration to follow your dreams, don’t forget to see our selection of passion quotes on finding your place in life.

Lola Gil, Painter

Lola is a positive, kind, and engaging person.

She is always driven to improve herself and her art.

“I feel in my heart that creating chose me or that it was embedded in my destiny.

I grew up with a creative father and grandparents who were avid toy collectors.

My mind was easily seduced through imagination from these early years.

As I grew older, more self-conscious, and out of place with normal people, I sunk deeper and deeper into a world of imagination.

Painting became my escape and, equally, my therapy.

Through each struggle life has sent my way, painting gave me insight and understanding.

I soon realized I couldn’t feel normal without painting.

It was a necessary outlet to keeping a level head. I could say obsession, but really it feels more like breathing. I am a self-taught artist, so every year I set myself goals for growth. I’m striving towards improvements of my own techniques, and that’s a long term/life term road.

It’s not always easy, but it’s a challenge that keeps me hungry for more.

I feel blessed to have such luck that supports a full-time art career.

Because of this, I have met people who are of similar mind and heart.

Ultimately, that’s one of the most important things in life.”

Following her passions and living out her dreams has impacted her outlook on life.

Spinestealer: Sculptor, Painter

This is a story of true perseverance and strength.

This is a story of someone who has dealt—and continuously deals—with many personal struggles.

However, still finds joy in art and cannot see doing anything else.

“I wanted to be an artist so badly as a little kid that I would sneak out of my house with art in my pockets and knock on neighbors’ doors, trying to sell my pieces.

I got a lot of dirty looks and ‘get a paper route if you want money.’

But it wasn’t really about the money. It was about my dream of being an artist and finding people to accept who I was, so I just kept knocking on doors. I had some years in my life where I gave up on art because people around me were so critical of what I was creating.

Eventually, my determination landed me my first big art show, and launched my art career when I was 21 years old.

I’ve always been just a bit too bold and foolish, with a big heart full of dreams and possibilities.

I always returned to art as a sanctuary and a way to connect with others.

There were a lot of times when I wanted to give up.

But now I’m doing right by the dreams of that little kid inside me who never gave up, no matter how many times they walked home crying, with unwanted art in their pockets.”

The lesson is that following your passion can become lucrative if you stay the course and do not give up.

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Gus Fink: Artist, Entrepreneur

Gus is amazing: not only in his drive but also in his unique style and vision.

He has a strong desire to share his style and point of view with others and be the inspiration he wished he had when he was younger.

“I come from a small town that seemingly falls apart more each year I visit my mother.

My friends made art with me but never took it as seriously as I did.

I always talked about how we could do something MORE with the creative process, no matter what it was.

So, at 20 years old, sitting at a telemarketing job, making minimum wage, and having a punk oddity shop with my friend at the time.

I decided to walk out and just focus on my art full time. I remember everyone saying how stupid I was and how hard it is to make a living as an artist. It’s true that it’s hard, but I was willing to sacrifice steady income with doing what I love

At first, it was making multiple small works of art as well as hand-making punk rock patches and 1” pin back buttons.

From there, I kept setting goals and working towards them.

Having my comics published to my toy lines being licensed.

Lately, I’ve done things I always dreamed of doing, such as creating apps and video games. Licensing t-shirts.

Working with all kinds of companies in the entertainment industry and arts.

Many gallery shows and so on.

But it’s never about what I’ve done or the money, as most things I do start with just pure sweat equity.

Passion being my main driving force, and the need to make the world a bit more interesting/creative inspired for the youth.

Without taking leaps of believing in yourself, you may end up in a very unhappy place.

Nothing great comes from not putting the efforts and hard work into it.

So, with all that said, each day, I never know what may come my way.

I don’t even know what I will create.

But that excites me each day and keeps me striving to become something better in the arts, entertainment, or just pure being here on Earth.”

Following your passions is essential for your well-being, but it is often not the easiest path in the beginning!

Elizabeth (Liz) McGrath, Mixed Media Artist

Liz has such an amazing background story.

She prospered from adversity instead of being consumed by it.

Following her passion sustained her through some very dark and difficult times.

She has held strong to her will and her vision despite all else.

Her unfaltering belief in herself has made her the success she is.

“Throughout my life, I was somewhat of an outcast. Born in 1971, one year before the Vietnam war ended, and having an immigrant mom from Singapore made me an easy target before I could understand the meanings for it.”

She has a difficult home life with strict Catholic parents (who both considered religious careers) who fought constantly.

At this age, she used “imagination games” to escape.

Her aunt opened an Irish pub restaurant.

She and her sister helped with the decor and worked with taxidermy, a theme you see in her work to this day.

Her aunt hired her as an artist at 10, and her path was sealed.

She felt it gave her a “sense of purpose.”

“For my 13th birthday, my parents told me we were going to the wild animal park. However, they left me at a Baptist girl home called the victory home for girls, which was later shut down by the FBI and labeled a cult, only for it to open again in Florida, where it thrived until five years ago.”

Life throws us curveballs and tragedies

All the rights she thought she had were taken away.

They locked her in closets, and she couldn’t have any possessions.

On Sundays, she was only allowed pen and paper to write inspected letters home.

However, she would draw for herself and many other residents, and this seemingly small allowance helped her survive the next two years there.

When she left there, she found herself in her teens, with a 7th-grade education and nowhere to go.

She took on fast food jobs and moved in with a wonderful Puerto Rican Family.

They asked her to decorate their daughter’s Quinceanera.

Other locals who noticed her skills hired her.

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This led to window displays with intricate details, all made by hand.

She was quickly building her knowledge and reputation and her “self-worth.”

She had some personal difficulties during the next few years, including a brief but violent marriage, and relays that she “worked at every fast-food restaurant you can name.”

This is when she got involved in the music scene.

“Doors really started to open for me. Director Fred Schur came to see my band and got a hold of me through my fanzine, and asked me if I wanted to intern at his animation studio. It was there that I really cultivated all my skills. I also became the house artist at Trashy lingerie.”

Meanwhile, she connected with Juxtapoz magazine, “I was able to show a piece at one of their parties. Greg Escalate, the co-founder, opened his own gallery, Copro Nason, where I had my first three-person show. To the surprise of everyone, my show sold out. I went on to show with Billy Shire at La luz de Jesus Gallery and was lucky to have him and Greg as mentors.”

She started another band with her current husband, Miss Derringer, and went on tour with Blondie, Reverend Hoton, Heat and Cracker, and Girl in a Coma.

“I’ve had my ups and downs, and continue to have those, but I really don’t know what I would do if I didn’t hold onto the belief that I was important because I made art. Whether that is true or not doesn’t matter. Whether I am good or not doesn’t matter.

In the end, you are what you believe you are.

It is not easy to support yourself with art or be an artist, but I have come to believe it’s not something you can choose.

It’s a gift you are given, an outlet you can use to escape or to impact others through messages or beauty, or even just help make an event special.

I never went to art school.

I wish I had, and maybe I will, but like the words of Marakimi the great Japanese artist said, in Japan, there is no low brow or highbrow all art.

Whether it’s a comic book, an intricately cut broom handle, or a masterpiece, it is looked upon as all being art.

There is no division.

There is no right or wrong way to make or enjoy art.

For me, if I have made one person happy, or was able to share an art tip that will make their journey more enlightened, that is success to me.”

Bill Shafer: Owner of Hyaena Gallery in Burbank, California

Bill is such an inspiration in following your passion.

He took a personal tragedy of what he thought would be his path and dug deep to envision a path surrounded by creativity.

Bill specifically seeks to show artists with a unique voice rarely seen in traditional galleries but evokes something in the viewer.

He has an amazing eye for discovering rare talent.

“I’ve always been a bit of an outsider.

I don’t think you really define things like this when you’re younger.

But I watched my siblings and the people around me.

I knew that what I wanted out of life was very different from the typical folks in Springfield, MA.

In high school, I was harassed on a regular basis by the police for having long hair.

Anything or anyone against the grain was considered unacceptable by most people around me.

Music became my solace.

When I graduated, I was awarded a full tuition scholarship. Because of my grades in advanced math and science classes, I was headed toward a career in the engineering fields.

The thought horrified me, and instead, enrolled in a local community college.”

His supportive parents were behind his choices.

“I chose the college specifically because their guitar teacher was Philip DeFremery, a brilliant former student of Andres Segovia.

After community college, I planned to go to the state college where he also taught.

In my determination to excel, I tortured my hands through non-stop practice.

Eventually, I developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands due to my relentless practice routine.

They forced me to drop out of school right before taking my juried exams.

I saw several doctors, and because of my age, they ruled out surgery as an option.

Then, I had a freak accident at home and put my right wrist through a window. A glass shard tore into my wrist, severing an artery and three branches of my radial nerve.

Several nerve surgeries later, I was left with almost no feeling in my right hand.

The feeling never came back.”

He was in a band and produced an album, but playing was becoming physical torture.

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“When I realized that my music career was most likely an impossibility, I turned to writing.

I had found that creativity, in general, is what made me happy.

I started with poetry and short stories.

A few of my poems were published, and I wrote a few paid articles for reputable and not-so-reputable publications.

I eventually wrote and published a four-issue comic book series, GlueBoy, about a little boy who sniffed glue.”

He worked various jobs in the music business and moved to Boston to run a chain of music stores for 10 years.

“In all that time, I surrounded myself with art and music.

The people I loved were all these weird outsiders, too.

I grew so dissatisfied, though, with music retail and how it reinforced my belief that most people don’t want anything more than what they have in front of them.

I realized that my greatest joy was introducing people to these wonderful things that were just outside the mainstream: musicians, artists, films, and anything that wasn’t getting attention from normal outlets.

Anytime I could share my love of these things with someone else, it was fulfilling for me.   

I moved to LA with the sole purpose of opening a store that would only sell things that I was passionate about.

The goal was to build a community that celebrated the outsider.

I had always collected art, and now I wanted to provide an outlet for artists who weren’t allowed to show in traditional galleries.

I wanted this to be the home for these incredibly talented people and figure out a way for us all to inspire and support each other, while making a living on our own terms. I found my gallery, Hyaena Gallery, to be a perfect model for what I was trying to create. A lone hyaena, away from its clan, has limited means for survival.

Together, however, a group of hyaenas can accomplish a great deal.

Even against much larger beasts they can overcome so many obstacles and survive… even thrive.

I’ve been doing this for 11 years now, and against all odds, we’ve survived.

Every day, new people come into the store and are inspired by art that they may not have seen otherwise.

Over the years, we’ve helped launch the careers of some of my favorite artists

Notable standouts would be folks like Jeremy Cross and Clint Carney, who’ve been showing with me since the beginning and are now working full-time as artists.

Harold Fox was another.

Harold was in his 70s, and we held his first-ever art exhibit several years ago, which lead to many sold-out shows for him.

Recently, too, we hosted the first-ever solo art exhibit for Shawn Vermette.

Shawn is remarkable since, for the last 25 years, he has been a literal artist recluse.

He’s never had a cell phone or a computer… never had a job, or surfed the Internet.

He’s just been creating art in seclusion for decades.

His art is mind-blowing, and the exhibit was one of our most successful shows in years.

Because of the show, Shawn was even commissioned to illustrate a children’s book.

This is why the Hyaena gallery exists.   

Success is a strange concept to me.

Opening Hyaena was the stupidest and best decision I’ve ever made.

I walked away from a very comfortable salary, working in Boston.

With the gallery, it’s been over a decade of struggle and sacrifice mixed with these genuine moments of bliss, where lives interact and are changed.

I guess success for me is freedom.

For all of us outsiders, the freedom to shape our own realities is essential.

My world is infinitely better for the people that the gallery has brought me into contact with… the artists, lovers, and lovers of art… it’s what keeps me pushing forward.”

I think Bill’s final thought is the thought I would leave you with. Keep pushing forward.

Be your authentic self

Dare to dream, and be brave enough to follow your passions and your talents.

While following your passion is not always easy, anyone who has gotten to the other side will tell you that it was well worth the journey.

So be brave, take those first steps, and don’t stop until you get to where you have always wanted to be.

You can do anything you set your mind to – if you never give up on yourself and will work for it.

This article was originally posted here.

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