Being a full-time artist during COVID-19

Austin Robinson Working in his home studio. Photo courtesy of Austin Robinson.

We interviewed Austin Robinson, a full-time successful artist and asked him how he has gotten through the pandemic and his home flooding. We chose to interview him for students that aspire to be a 9-5 artist.

The Clackamas Print: When did you quit your 9-5 job and become a full time artist?

Austin Robinson: I left my last traditional job in July of 2018.

TCP: What was your pushing point to cause you to quit your job?

Robinson: I left this job due to building stress within the restaurant I was working in. I was severely underpaid and was making more money with my side art business than I was working 40+ hours as a kitchen manager. I decided it would be better to put more time into art if it was paying enough to cover my finances. At the same time, I started going to a tech school for an electrician program as something to fall back on.

TCP: Where do you promote your art?

Robinson: I promote my art mainly on YouTube and Instagram. I also use a few other social media sites, but don’t have as much success on those. When I do in-person art events, I also make it a point to say hello to everyone that walks by and try to hand out as many business cards as possible.

TCP: Where do you sell your art?

Robinson: I sell my art in an online shop that I run, as well as art markets around New Jersey (when they’re available).

TCP: Were you scared of the outcome of your new lifestyle as a full time artist?

Robinson: In the beginning I wasn’t afraid of the outcome of pursuing full time art. I had quite a bit of money saved to cover my bills for about 3 months at least. I was also going to school and was anticipating finding an electrician helper job, so I was only dipping my toes into being a fulltime artist. The fear emerged when I decided that I didn’t want to do anything other than create, and ended my time at the tech school. At that point it no longer felt like I had anything to fall back on and it was a struggle at first to manage that fear.

TCP: How do you feel about the saying, “if you work doing something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Do you feel this is true or not?

Robinson: I’ve always had a huge issue with the saying, ​“if you work doing something you love you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s absolutely not true. I work more now, than I ever have doing any other job. It’s a ton of work not only creating, but managing the business side of things, shipping, and running socials and marketing. It is absolutely a job and it will feel like work. I love doing it and it feels rewarding and satisfying, but it still feels like work.

TCP: How did the pandemic impact you, your work, and the sales?

Robinson: I started paying attention to the coronavirus news coming out of China early in January so I was well aware that things could be getting crazy by the time the shutdown happened in March. Sales basically halted the minute everything shut down. Thankfully at the same time, my youtube audience was picking up significantly and I started making a lot more money from that to make up for the drop off in sales. At first, there was very little change in my day-to-day with the pandemic. I already spent most of my time inside painting so not much changed there. Things started to feel weird when I began to run out of supplies and couldn’t get any due to stores being shut down and online stores being sold out. At this point I kind of shifted towards doing more digital work and learning more about animation.

TCP: How did you react to finding out you lost your art, when your house flooded?

Robinson: I am currently really struggling with my emotions towards my home flooding. Now that things have calmed down some I finally have time to really feel everything and it has been incredibly tough. Some of these questions may not get the most detailed answers, as a result. 

When my house flooded, a lot of my completed woodcut art was hanging high enough that they were okay. Every piece that I had been working on however was destroyed and there were a few pieces that were too low on the wall to survive. I lost an entire binder of about 50-60 paper drawings and paintings. I lost all of my supplies excluding a few paint pens. There honestly wasn’t much of a reaction. I believe my brain kind of focused on getting everything into a dumpster and not putting too much feeling into it. I believe it’s similar to anyone suppressing trauma.

TCP: How has it been since you’ve lost your art?

Robinson: Now that about 3 months have passed and I’m back in my rebuilt space, I’m struggling a lot harder with losing everything. It feels like I’m in a hollow shell of what once was. I’m actually working on getting some of the surviving art hung, today, to try and make it feel more like it’s mine again. Losing my art doesn’t feel as minor now that everything is rebuilt. It’s something that I’m just now getting to experience and it’s been a very tough time mentally.

TCP: What did you do about your orders you had for any art that was in your home at the time?

Robinson: Thankfully, I had shipped everything that sold before the flood. I was on a week-long trip to New York and wanted to be able to enjoy that time without thinking about business so I made all my shipments and shut my shop down that week. I returned home to the flood and didn’t reopen my shop until about a week ago.

TCP: Do you feel like there is anything else to add?

Robinson: Life is impossible to predict. You never know what the next day could bring, whether it be a global shutdown or 18,000 gallons of water in your home. Creatives, more than most, tend to be much harder on themselves and this year has been very rough on us all. I think it’s important that we all remind ourselves to slow down a bit and enjoy the moments instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future. Losing everything has taught me that I should try and just be grateful for what I have in each moment. It doesn’t mean don’t work hard and strive to be better, but I’d love to see creatives be a little more loving of themselves even when things aren’t great.

TCP: Do you have any art you’d like to share with us?

Robinson: I’m currently working on a new project called “The Town of Oddity.” It will be a home for all the art I make. I tend to use themes like arcades, bakeries, and businesses as inspiration for my art and now all of these concepts will have a town to grow in. I recently made this town sign to announce the future home of my art. Along with Oddity the first major business I’ll be focusing on is for a cartoon that I’m calling “Spvcecakes.” 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.