Sculpting an Artistic Second Act
Forget art for art's sake. These people -- a jewelry designer, a soap maker and a pair of studio owners -- traded less-fulfilling jobs for occupations that allow them to make a living from their artistic passions.
Here's a behind-the-scenes look at their transformations, along with their advice for others who want to pursue an art- or craft-based encore career:
Rich Sandomeno, 40, Los Angeles
Then: Truck mechanic
Now: Jewelry and accessories designer at his own studio, Spragwerks, and contestant on Lifetime's Project Runway spinoff, Project Accessory
How he got started: The New Jersey native worked for 15 years as a diesel mechanic in a union job he could have kept until he retired, but he felt something was missing. He took art classes at night and gravitated to jewelry design. Convinced he'd found his calling, Sandomeno quit his job, sold his condo for startup funds and gave himself a year to make it. A friend with a tattoo parlor sold some of his first pieces and mentored him on running a small business. "The rest is history," Sandomeno says.
Making art pay: Based in Los Angeles' Echo Park neighborhood since 2006, Sandomeno makes metal and leather rings, necklaces, key chains and other pieces in a style he calls "subtly wicked with an industrial twist." His handiwork has appeared in magazines, commercials, movies and TV shows, but he still takes side jobs to pay the bills; right now he's disassembling another artist's sculpture after a museum showing. He's one of five remaining contestants on Project Accessory, but viewers won't find out who wins until Dec. 22.
Best part of the job: Being financially self-sufficient allows him to follow his muse. "If I don't have the cash, I don't do it," he says.
Artistic inspiration: American sculptors Edward Kienholz and Joseph Cornell, and fashion's Alexander McQueen
What's next: A New York City showroom recently agreed to represent his work, and Sandomeno plans to launch a line of women's jewelry and purses in February.
Advice: "Get a mentor. Don't be afraid to ask questions." When you're starting out, "Have another way of making money, because you'll need it to fund yourself."
Candace "Candy" Sweeney, 45, Jackson, Michigan
Then: Children's music teacher
Now: Artisan soap maker and owner, NaKee' Natural LLC
How she got started: Five years ago, one of Sweeney's sons was diagnosed with cancer. She wanted work she could do while caring for him that also would add to the family's income. She started making soaps using organic palm and rice bran oils and other natural ingredients and selling her products to friends and family, at craft shows and online.
Making art pay: Sweeney's son got better after chemotherapy, but by then she was hooked on making soap. She built up sales at local farmers markets and retail shops, and hired someone to sell her products at Avon-style home parties. Last year, the business was profitable for the first time. This fall, she produced 2,000 bars for holiday orders, which account for about half her annual revenue.
Best part of the job: Working around her children's schedules, and hearing from customers how good their skin feels from using her products
Artistic inspiration: Lela Barker, a soap maker whose Bella Lucce product line took off internationally. "She's an amazing businesswoman who had no prior experience with business or college or anything," Sweeney says.
What's next: Continuing to add retail customers, with a goal of breaking into a major organic grocery chain
Advice: "It takes a lot of guts and patience. It takes guts because it's risky. You're creating something from scratch and hoping the world will like it. It takes time and money to start and maintain a business. Don't do it if you're trying to earn an income right away. Look at your competition without copying. If you're starting out with an art or craft, there's always going to be someone who's done it before. I can't tell you how many times people have copied my stuff: It's flattering, but it's not cool."
Renee Maloney, 42, and Cathy Deano, 57, Mandeville, Louisiana
Then: Maloney managed an orthodontics practice; Deano was a personal chef.
Now: Owners, Painting with a Twist art studio chain and franchise
How they got started: The women met when their children were in kindergarten and became friends working on community fundraisers. They were motivated to start a business after Hurricane Katrina flooded Deano's house and several of Maloney's husband's businesses. They invested $5,000 each to open an art-entertainment studio where adults could take a painting class, enjoy a glass of wine and go home with a finished canvas. "For two or three hours, you weren't focused on the flooding, the bills or the kids. It was a playground for grownups," Maloney says.
Making art pay: Nine months after starting the company, the pair opened a second location. By 2009, they had four locations in and around New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and started selling franchises. Today, there are approximately 60 Painting with a Twist locations in 15 states. The women have 15 full-time employees and contract with local artists to teach classes. They have copyrighted 1,700 original pieces of art for customers to copy during lessons. They have expanded to offer classes for groups, fundraisers and children (minus the wine). When things get hectic, they take a class to relax. "Cathy's much more naturally artistic than I am, but I enjoy the structure of someone telling me 'Take this step, do that step,'" Maloney says.
Artistic inspiration: For Deano, it's Monet. "She's in awe that anyone could be that talented," Maloney says.
What's next: Continuing to open two or three franchises a month through 2012, and spending less time on administrative duties and more in the field with franchisees
Advice: "Do what you love and you won't mind working hard," Maloney says.
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