Sandeep Johal artist
Sandeep Johal in front of her mural Lady On Tiger

How I make money as a full-time artist


I’ve been making art in one form or another my entire life, but I never believed that a career in the arts was possible. I grew up without any South Asian role models in the arts coupled with familial and cultural pressures to pursue a career in medicine (Be a doctor! Be a doctor!).

But after getting degrees I wasn’t interested in, working jobs I wasn’t inspired by, and having a child AND a mid-life crisis pretty much simultaneously, it was time to re-evaluate.

Having my son, Safa, is what finally kick started my art career. Motherhood made me think about the kind of role model I wanted to be. How could I tell Safa to dream big or to follow his dreams if I wasn’t doing it myself?

Taking the leap

Having a child is a huge decision. Having a child in city world-renowned for its skyrocketing unaffordability is an even bigger decision. As my extended maternity leave came to an end in October 2016, my husband and I decided that since he earned more, I would stay at home with our son and take this time to fully pursue my art career.

Living off of one income wasn’t an easy decision to make, even though we had savings and no debt. We compared the loss of my monthly income to the cost of monthly childcare, as well as my husband’s monthly income to our monthly expenses.

After looking at the different areas in our lives where we could cut back and save money, we decided it would be feasible to move forward with our plan. It was scary, but I knew I couldn’t squander this opportunity so I committed 100%.

Sandeep Johal artist

Twins On A Lion and Lady On Tiger by Sandeep Johal

Investing in myself

I never understood the importance of investing in myself financially until I joined Thrive Art Studio in May 2016. Thrive is run by female artists Jamie Smith and Tara Galuska, and exists to support female artists at all stages of their careers by providing opportunities, resources and community for a monthly fee.

Thrive brought me out of isolation and increased my confidence tenfold, but more than that, it taught me how to value myself and my work.

Through Thrive, I found my art consultant, Pennylane Shen, whose knowledge, expertise, and guidance has transformed my art practice. I got clearer with my goals, more strategic about how to achieve them, and more comfortable with charging for my work. Although it can sometimes be hard to justify extra costs when you run a small business, investing in yourself is absolutely worth it.

Doing the work

Thrive’s motto is “Do The Work”. I work on my craft every day. I’ve gotten better, faster, and more confident. As a result, my mind is constantly filled with ideas. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but I’m no longer afraid of failing. Every failure is an opportunity for growth.

And speaking of opportunities, I quickly realized that I had to create my own so I’m constantly seeking out and applying to things, as well as saying yes to things that scare me like the 60’ wall I painted for Vancouver Mural Festival last year.

Running a small business requires dedication, hard work, and perseverance. I wear multiple hats from administrator to marketer to researcher, and so on. I have no work/life balance as it feels like I work 24/7, but I love it and I’m so grateful I get to make art for a living. I’m also incredibly grateful for my husband’s unconditional support.

Sandeep Johal artist

FLOW by Sandeep Johal

Balancing the budget

Since I no longer have a steady paycheck, I’ve had to make sacrifices. Staying at home full-time with our son saves us a ton of money on monthly childcare, but I’m not going to lie, it’s really challenging balancing motherhood with a full-time art career, especially with no family support here. I’ve come to realize that you can have it all, but just not all at once.

We’re renters. Although we don’t love our building, our place is affordable (less than 30% of my husband’s income), and situated in an incredibly convenient and beautiful neighborhood.

I’ve also cut my spending way back in all areas of life and am living by the mantra of “less is more”. My one indulgence though is buying art; I never feel guilty spending money on art and supporting other artists. However, I’ve recently started doing art trades, which is a great way to save money and build out your art collection.

Learning along the way

Because my art practice and Safa keep me so busy, I don’t have time for much else, so I’m very careful about how I spend my time. I have a choice to surround myself with positive people and I consciously make that choice everyday. It helps that I belong to a women’s art studio, which values collaboration over competition.

I’ve also seen the impact of being of kind to others. Kindness begets kindness. It’s brought me opportunities that have been instrumental in building my art career and I pay it forward as often as I can. As artists, it’s important to remember that the art world is small and reputation is everything.


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