An artist’s life is defined, as all humans are, by change. Many, like Pablo Picasso, undergo countless transformations throughout their working lives, while others, like Jackson Pollock, start creating a certain kind of work and then go in an entirely different direction. And still others ,make a big transition into the arts after working in a different field; before becoming the collagist we know today, Barbara Kruger was a layout editor at Condé Nast.
We interviewed four artists working across different media to tell us how they made their important transitions from one career or genre to another. Read on to learn why they made these pivotal changes–and how they made it work in the long run.
Stéphanie Kilgast: From Miniature Food to Sculpture with a Message
Stéphanie Kilgast got her start as a miniature food artisan; she spent a decade creating tiny versions of popular dishes for dollhouses and jewelry. “Donut charms, cookie earrings, and fruit tartlet studs were the base of my income, and I was doing financially well,” she tells us. “However, on a personal note, I always felt my work was lacking some artistic purpose. What I did was skilled but meaningless; it was pretty but empty.”
Around five years ago, her perspective on art–and the world around her–shifted. She learned about the devastating realities of animal agriculture and its effect on the environment. The revelation influenced her personal life–she adopted a mostly vegan diet–and it also colored her work.
“In 2015, I decided to sculpt a different miniature fruit or vegetable every day, in order to talk about the environmental impact of meat production, but also, more obviously, to show the sheer variety of plants you could eat,” Kilgast remembers. “This challenge, which I consider to be my first artwork, was a turning point for me. It was a lot of work. I easily spent five to six hours every day for that challenge on top of everything else, which pushed me close to a burn-out.”
By 2016, Kilgast was doing it all, juggling both her commercial clients and her fine art practice. But over time, she switched over to focusing solely on her art. She says, “In 2017, after careful consideration, I stopped the miniature food work completely and dived into the great unknown of the art world.
“I was very afraid to make the change at first, but I knew that miniature food was not what I wanted to do anymore, and it was simply a means to earn an income. Money is rarely motivation enough for work, and it certainly wasn’t for me.”
Two years later, she’s thriving. Her ongoing sculpture series, Discarded Objects, combines man-made items (often waste or trash) and intricate clay figures of flora and fauna into work that exudes harmony and hope. Like the many plants and animals in her work, Kilgast discovered new life in an unlikely place.
Erick Hercules: From Opera to Commercial Photography
“I began singing at the age of eight–at places like Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, the VMA’s, etc,” Erick Hercules tells us. For twelve years, through the age of twenty, he worked as a professional classical singer.
“As a child, when you find a talent and then pursue it, people innately think that this talent is a reflection of what you ‘should’ become,” he says. “I thought this was me all through middle school, high school, and then later into conservatory.”
During his fourth year at conservatory, however, something changed: “I realized I had been listening to other people telling me what I should be doing instead of pursuing something I truly wanted to pursue.”
Before that, photography had been a hobby and an outlet, but Hercules wondered if it could become his passion and calling. He made the decision to change course after speaking with his voice teacher, who told him, “You are an artist. The most valuable thing you can do is follow your heart, and it will always lead you to great things.”
After making the switch, Hercules felt reinvigorated. “Learning photography rekindled my passion for doing art for art’s sake,” he tells us. “It rekindled by passion for creating something because I valued the process, not because I had to memorize something just to perform for an audience.”
That initial spark of curiosity and creativity hasn’t dimmed one bit in the time since. “As much as I loved singing, it had become a job to me, and even rehearsing was painful,” the artist admits. “Photography taught me the value of practicing something I truly loved again. It brought me back to working eight hours a day on my craft and not feeling time go by because I was having so much fun.
“Truth be told, photography woke up the true artist in me more than singing ever did. I still sing on Sundays, to keep the voice going. I’ve learned to love singing again, although I now know I will never be a true performer–just a guy who likes singing, but loves taking pictures.”
Thomas Voillaume: From Computer-Generated Images to Real-World Installations
“I was an independent webmaster for seven years,” Thomas Voillaume, who goes by the moniker APACH, tells us. At around the same time, he earned his masters in image art and technology, so much of his time was spent on the computer–whether he was earning his income or creating personal work. For a while, he balanced both, but at the age of 29, he took the plunge and devoted himself to his art full-time.
“I also returned to the village of my adolescence in the High Alps in France, where I could better focus on my work and my goals–and where life was easier and cheaper,” he remembers. The move also spurred him to get out from behind his desk and go exploring outside. He was tired of sitting in a chair; he craved adventure more than anything else.
“I needed to confront the real world, build things, and use my whole body,” Voillaume remembers. “I needed to feel alive! So I started to have a concrete art practice. I didn’t deny or discard what I could do on the computer, but instead, I tried to materialize what I did before with software. I wanted to make them for real.”
In the time since his transition into the arts, Voillaume has used his 3D mapping skills to create tangible installations in the studio as well as in natural landscapes, including a wooden kraken in the ruins at Val d’Escrein and a giant humanoid sculpture on the seashore. Accepting change wasn’t easy, but he’s grateful he found the courage to change course.
“I did not have any choice but to make this change,” he admits. “If I had not done it, I would have gone crazy. My old job not fit me anymore. If I had not been able to be an artist, I would have become a gardener or anything else where I could use my hands. Many people who work in digital media are changing careers as they grow up to do something more concrete and manual. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding to blossom in a job that you’ve created for yourself.”
Aleksander Małachowski: From Engineering Classes to Architecture Photos
Around six years ago, Aleksander Małachowski graduated high school and entered university. “I really didn’t know what I was supposed to study or what I wanted to study,” he tells us. “All my friends chose engineering, so I did the same. Little did I know, [that] moment would change my whole life.”
Once in school, Małachowski realized that engineering was not the path for him. Uninspired by his studies, he started an Instagram account as a creative outlet. At first, it was just that–a place to express himself artistically. He remembers, “I felt inspired to start exploring my hometown, Warsaw, with something I always had in my pocket: a phone.”
With time, he started to take his photography more seriously. “I immediately found that people were using Instagram for portfolio purposes. They were sharing their graphic designs, films, photographs, etc.” he says. His photos got better; he found a style and a voice. Now, he’s an architecture photographer with an instantly recognizable aesthetic.
“I changed course because I felt deeply that I was not fulfilled as a human being,” he tells us now. But that’s not to say that his background in science and engineering didn’t influence his artistic endeavors. “My previous scientific studies led me to look for the intersection between photography as an artform and the organized, physical world,” he says. “I referred back to my knowledge of geometry and symmetry to create my minimalist work.”
After graduation, Małachowski dove into his art wholeheartedly. “Pursuing my studies in the arts required tons of support from my girlfriend, close friends, and parents,” he tells us. “To be fair, it’s not easy to change your focus to art after you’ve just finished three and a half years of training in engineering. But thanks to the people around me, it was possible.”
To learn more about building a creative career, check out Andy J. Pizza’s Make Creativity Your Career: Six Exercises to Create a Successful Side Project, now on Skillshare.
Header/thumbnail image credit: Skillshare Top Teacher Peggy Dean for Liz Kohler Brown’s Collages on Your iPad in Procreate + 35 Stamp and Texture Brushes
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