Youth Voices

Art Work Part 1: You Can Become Who You Want To Be

June 5th, 2014     by Skittlez Gunn     Comments

Illustration by Erin McPhee

I was eight years old when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I still remember the moment, sitting in the basement apartment where I spent the first decade of my life. J.K. Rowling had just made it big. As one of the earliest Harry Potter fans, I knew right away.

Before that I’m not sure I even knew that writing could actually be a career. But when I found out J.K. Rowling had done it—and what a career she has—I knew I wanted to do the same thing.

Most people don’t settle on their dream career at eight years old, but many develop a passion for the arts at a young age. Yet many of those people ignore this passion. Somewhere along the way they hear that being an artist or a writer or an actress or a musician is hard, that it’s competitive, that they’ll probably never make it and should get a boring job instead.

I’m lucky in that my family always supported my writing. My grandfather is a freelance writer who’s even published a computer programming book. My grandmother studied ballet for years and ran her own ballet school.

Yet I still heard, over and over again, that I needed to find another suitable career. I’ve been told by relatives, teachers, even people I just met and told I was a writer. Told to work hard in school so I could go to university—because, you know, I really wanted to take out a nice big OSAP loan and be in debt by twenty—and find myself a nice, stable career while I waited for this writing thing to pan out.

Luckily I heard a different message from the writers I admired. Many of the greatest writers—let’s start with H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe—never went to post-secondary. Other writers waited until their forties to start writing and said often that they wished they started sooner. Still others quit writing when they finished high school only to return to it in retirement.

More importantly, I discovered freelance writing. Anybody with the skills and the determination can become a freelance writer. It’s how many different authors have lived while penning their first novel and how many more supplement their income. It’s hard, but any freelance writing blog will tell you that you don’t need a formal education to succeed in the field. What you need is knowledge and the ability to communicate that knowledge.

For my last year and a half of high school I went to Oasis Skateboard Factory, a school that’s actually an arts-based business. I realized that I wanted to start an arts based business: the Self Taught Artist Guild, which focuses on connecting artists from all over the GTA and giving them opportunities to promote and sell their work.

I made a plan, I won a grant, and now I’m working with a team of artists to prepare our first merchandise lines—mine and theirs. Oh, and my day job? I work as a freelance writer, writing a combination of marketing articles and articles designed to educate people about sustainability and healthy living.

What does all this mean?

It means you can do it too. Becoming a professional artist right out of high school is hard, but not impossible. New tools are being invented every day to make it easier to build an arts based career.

The biggest thing holding you back is your own self-doubt. With focus, determination and a drive to keep learning about the arts you love, you can build a career as an artist. Even taking one action towards your goals every day will make a huge difference.

As a young woman or trans person, you not only can become an artist, but you are uniquely qualified to pursue a career in the arts. You have more time to study your craft, more time to build a reputation, and less financial worries that tie you to a full time job!

So go for it!

Tags: arts, careers, youth

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