Connecting The Dots Through Art

What I Would Have Done Differently To Become An Artist

Cyclops, 2011 Toned Cyanotype Print

There is a Star Trek TNG episode that I remember, where a man had the ability to change the timeline of the universe. His entire race died from some cataclysm and he was the only survivor. He was trying to save his people by altering the timeline.

What would you change in your past to alter your future?

I’ve been thinking about this question ever since I decided to retire early to do art.

Here are some things I would change, and it’s not what you think.

Don’t Put Your Money in a “Very Safe Investment”

This is what I did in the past. I didn’t invest in the stock market for a majority of my savings. They essentially sat in the bank account earning 1% interest. I don’t know what I was thinking. I ignored the market. When the 2008 stock market crash happened, I still didn’t pay attention, thinking, well I don’t have money in it so why worry about it? What I should have done was jump into the market then, and buy mutual funds cheaply. That would have been the perfect time to buy low. I’m a buy-​and-​hold type of person so I could have make a killing in the past 10 years.

Avoid Investment Advisors

I did have a little bit of tax deferred investments inside a 401 K, and for those I should also have taken control of my financial future. I just didn’t do that. Instead I paid high management expense fees, upwards of 2%, that became a drag to my overall investment returns. The amount of lost opportunity from the power of compounding over 20 years is staggering. I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t bother learning about investing my money. The best person who will look out for your interests is you. You have to take control of your financial destiny.

I’m doing this now.

I’m learning how to invest. Nothing complicated: just low cost Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) — which are essentially the same thing as mutual funds. Investing in low cost ETF index funds is better than relying on any investment advisor. As long as you stick to mutual funds & ETFs, investing shouldn’t be that complicated.

But What About Becoming An Artist?

One result of all these financial planning and retirement analyses is that I’ve made peace with starting out late as an artist. All this time, I’ve been blaming myself for not being brave enough. I could have been an artist much earlier. I would be more “advanced” than I am now.

It does not really matter now. I could have done art but then given up in my 30 s. That could have happened too. There are many variations of how things might have turned out.

I’ve completely changed my mind on this artist-​as-​a-​career thing. If you were to ask me today how to become an artist, my answer would be as follows.

How To Become An Artist

Go the conventional route. Go to college. Get a practical job. Save a majority of your earnings. Retire early. Become an artist.

I sound like my parents. They were right after all, but only to a point. They weren’t right about the retiring early part.

So say you graduate college at 23, get a job, save like hell for 15 years, retire at 38 and then become an artist. You could probably do it in 10 years (that would be a good blog post to write about, with numbers and projections).

Yes, this method involves a lot of delayed gratification. Saving a large percentage of a meager salary at 23 years old takes a lot of determination. But if art is really what you want to do, then 10 years is not a lot of time.

And what do you do during those 10 years?

You hone your craft, experiment, and develop your art skills.

There is only one problem with this plan.

It assumes you know what you want to be at 23 years old. I didn’t know what I wanted to be during those years. I was essentially lost. Lost like this guy.

Adrift, 2013 Cyanotype Print With Digital Drawing. 9″ x 17″. Limited edition of 12. © Jonah Calinawan

That’s why college, saving your earnings, and investing in the stock market become even more important. Build your retirement nest egg as you figure it out what you really want to do. You can then retire in 10 or 15 years once you figure it out.