How did you earn a living and pay your bills in the beginning when you were just getting started as an artist?
When people are just getting started doing their art more seriously, often with the end goal of going full-time with art (but not always), they usually have to supplement any earnings with something else — a day job, a side gig, whatever.
So we asked our Allies how they made it work financially while pursuing their dreams of doing more art.
We were all working on the side. Frankly, I was with Sweetgrass [Productions] for five years and I never really got a paycheck outside of per diem for the entire time. I would call it almost like a commune. We were barely able to cover our basic living expenses, our rent and food. Sweetgrass tried to cover some of that and we supplemented it with working ourselves.
In the summer I would work on marine debris clean up boats out here in Alaska — picking up garbage basically — working on fishing boats and that kind of thing.
But just the way that that company was set up, we didn’t really care. We were young and wanted to create cool things and didn’t care about eating ramen all the time and not getting paid. So yeah, it was a good run while it lasted.
Right now I’m a full-time professional athlete, which is pretty crazy to say. I have to pinch myself about that.
I definitely used to have to work quite a bit in the off season to make ends meet and to make it all happen. Salomon’s support has helped me kind of change that mix a little bit.
But ultimately, I don’t see anything wrong with having to work a little bit on the side. I am very fortunate and grateful that right now I’m making a living as a professional athlete.
Editorial was the greatest way to get your name out there. . . . While you didn’t get paid that well on a page rate editorially you could make it work. It wasn’t going to get you out of your van and pay your rent necessarily, but you might be able to get part of a trip paid, especially if you’re using your truck and driving around the West or something like that.
I had to be photo editing on top of it to make my whole situation work. I was making magazines half the year and I was traveling half the year and stocking my shelves.
I worked in the service industry for a long time. Actually cooking is my second biggest hobby after art painting.
I always wanted to put little notches in my belt within the culinary industry. I was a pizza maker for a while and then I love coffee so I was like, Oh, let me be a barista. And then I was a sushi chef for a while. I was also managing restaurants and things like that.
Those jobs allowed me the flexibility to focus on my art. I could go to the restaurants, put in my eight hours, then get off work and not have to worry about it again that day. Plus, if I needed to get time off of work to do my art, usually the restaurants would allow it because I always put that out there whenever I started a job. Some of them were so cool that they would let me take six months off at a time just to focus on my art clients.
Basically we lived off of my art sales for a few years when we were still doing Kilby [Court, an entertainment venue in Salt Lake City, Utah]. And when we had Kilby we bought an old house, it was the cheapest house and it was awful. We remodeled that (we remodel houses too) and sold it for three times what we bought it for. So we used the equity of that to start this business.
I mean, real estate is probably what I would say is how we’ve been able to keep going. . . . It’s definitely difficult. The first couple of years in business we really struggled to make any money at all. We still don’t make a lot, but because of our real estate investments, an Airbnb and rentals, we make enough to get by. We’re not getting rich. We’d like to get rich, just to be comfortable.
I mean, I really didn’t. It took me a good six months to start seeing some returns from it, which is a lot better than most. But still, it was a little iffy. It wasn’t until I started doing live art and getting into more of the public space that I started seeing people recognizing my work and pulling the trigger when it came to purchasing. I first started pricing my work to move and then, as I started selling consistently and frequently, I started raising my prices.
I didn’t really make that much in the beginning at all. I had a little bit of savings when I came back from Tanzania, but I was, more than anything, just broke. I only had the support system around me, some friends and my friend Adam — who bought this building and allowed me to have a studio here for pretty cheap. It was also good that I had been doing artwork before that time because once I started doing art full time, people recognized my work. They were like, I followed you five years ago when you were in school doing art and now, you’re doing art full time and I see it changed — let me actually buy a piece now.
When I first started out, it was really difficult. My early success was more so due to the support that I had around me and then just the right timing. A lot of times you can do everything right but it’s just the wrong timing. You know, if I did it in 2008, I’d still be broke. Right now the city is supporting art. There are lots of grants out, businesses are required to have artwork if they’ve done any development over, I believe, a million dollars and there are more art consulting firms plucking artists out from the community, so that helps too.
Well, when I was first sponsored I was still working even in the winter. Ski-bum style for sure, just trying to work as little as possible. I worked in a lot of restaurants, did some carpentry work. . . .
But definitely transitioning into skiing as a [full-time] job, there was no instant moment that happened. Certainly I’ve had years like, Wow, that was a way better contract than I had before, but nothing was instant.
When you’re in a major ski film, from the athlete side you’re like, Yes, I made it. But then realistically you look at it and you’re like, Well, a lot of people see these movies but not so many that you’re famous from having a small part in one video, you know what I mean? So it took a couple more years to get the momentum, to make it my “job.”[But] I’m still doing side hustles. I mean, I think that’s something that people who have been involved in the ski industry will understand. The financial side is like a yo-yo. You lose one thing and it’s, like, that doesn’t exist anymore so you gotta find another thing.
So each year it yo-yos a bit and that’s still something I deal with now.
I spent a lot of time scrounging, and luckily I had people to scrounge with, like Christian [Buliung] who worked at a restaurant. When we had no money, he’d bring home some breadsticks or soup. So there was always food.
There’s a long time where you’re not making any money, but that’s okay. Because this is what you have to be doing just to keep going. So you all pull some change together and buy some potatoes or something. I think as long as you’re eating, everything’s going to be all right, which we were.