“I Thought I Could Never Make a Living From Art”

Candice Leyland, watercolour artist and art teacher, never imagined she’d be where she is today: making a living from her art. As a writer, I can empathize. One stereotype that still exists is that of the starving artist (or writer). In this blog post, I’ll share with you Candice’s thoughts on art, painting, creativity, and if you should only practise art to earn money from it.

Who Is Candice Leyland?

Watercolour artist Candice Leyland stands beside a watercolour painting of an iris (flower).
Watercolour artist Candice Leyland

Candice studied history and art in university and has her degree in studio art, where she did mostly photography. She had fallen in love with art in high school. However, after she finished her education, she got what’s often referred to in artistic circles as a “real job” and worked in a bank.

“I didn’t really touch art again,” Candice says. “I thought I could never make a living from it.”

Candice, like most students, graduated with student loans. How could art support her life while she had to repay debt?

Arts + Kid = New Life

It’s amazing what happens when you have children. I had stopped writing when I entered university and only picked it up about 10 years later, when I was pregnant with my first child. Candice experienced a similar shift when her son was little.

In fact, it had been so long since she had created any art that her friends and colleagues didn’t even know she had any artistic skills.

But Candice didn’t start off where she’d left off. Instead of returning to photography, she explored watercolour painting and urban sketching. Her first success was a watercolour of the corduroy road, an archeological find dug up in 2016.

 “It was relevant and people wanted it,” she says. “The way I sketched it…it was fun and topical.”

The City of Waterloo bought the painting, The Waterloo Region Record shared her story, she had prints made, and her dad bought several copies.

“That was my first big break,” she says. “I look back at that piece now, and I feel I could do so much better.”

That’s a common feeling creators have, but it doesn’t signal failure. Instead, it’s a milestone: we’ve grown.

And nothing motivates an artist more in their art than growth.

Growing as an Artist

Candice and I talked about how improving leads you to view your previous work from a negative perspective. But here’s the irony: enjoying your artistic side doesn’t come with some standard you reach and then stop growing. It’s not like when you learn to peel carrots: once you can remove that skin in maybe 30 seconds, you don’t need to grow anymore as a carrot peeler extraordinaire.

That’s the beauty of art: you keep growing, keep reaching points you never dreamed of. 

“We are so hard and critical on ourselves as artists,” Candice says. She explains what happens in her mind: “I’m putting myself to a ridiculous standard. I’m like ‘the brushwork on the left-hand side is amateurish and trashy and terrible.’ But people look at it differently. Viewers never pick it apart like I would pick it apart. That’s what I remind myself when I’m making it.”

“Now as a teacher,” Candice says, “the biggest thing is I hear that cycle going on in everyone’s head.” She tries to encourage them to move past it, because, hey, everyone does it, anyway.

The Starving Artist Stereotype

Candice and I tackled the starving artist stereotype, the one that says you can’t make a living at art. Basically, we hate it.

“I think some of it is a myth because everyone says this,” Candice says. “But some of it is business. It’s like an equation: business side, marketing, personality out there, is almost equal to your art.”

I couldn’t agree more. Here’s my point of view: If you want to make money off your creativity, you’re starting a business. That includes investigating different ways to earn money from your creativity. I don’t just write books; I also write marketing copy for clients.

For Candice, she found teaching as another viable source of income. “So it’s like finding different income streams.”

You might think that having different income streams puts more pressure on the creator, but Candice sees it differently. So do I. By expanding the different ways she lives in art, she’s not putting pressure on herself to make a living selling framed art pieces.

But for those who want to make a living selling their art only, it’s also not impossible, she says. “There is a lot of money spent on art, but it’s difficult. You have to give it a good try. It’s definitely possible.”

(If you want to learn more about different streams of income for writing, visit Joanna Penn’s blog.)

Watercolour of a fuscia flower, by Candice Leyland. Candice makes a living at art.
Artwork by watercolour artist Candice Leyland

Art Is Relaxing

You don’t have to make a living from art in order to practise it, Candice says. Art is important for stress relief. Create to relax! 

“I think creativity is important to have in your life in some form,” she says. “I think it’s really healthy for your mental health, whether it’s dance or writing or journaling or something. Not just work and Netflix.”

If you’re worried about the money needed for art, Candice says you can set your worries aside: Art needn’t require gobs of supplies. She points immediately to sketching, which requires paper and a pencil to start. If you want to try watercolours, you buy a set of watercolours, one brush, and paper. (I believe I actually saw a beginner’s set at Indigo with three colours you mix as needed.)

“Water colour is the cheapest to get into,” Candice says. “You don’t need turpentine, giant canvasses, or tons of brushes. It’s non-toxic, doesn’t smell, and clean-up is easy.”

In other words, perfect for any stage of life, even if you have little kids at home.

Art Teaches You to Accept Yourself

Candice does find adults stopping at roadblocks when they’re trying to learn art.

“Watercolour is unforgiving,” she says. “You have to allow yourself to make mistakes. Not every piece has to be a masterpiece. Sometimes just getting the techniques and painting for the sake of painting is really important.”

But, she adds, the problem doesn’t always lie with the artist. Bad supplies can also cause issues. For example, the watercolour kits for kids and other low-quality paints can lack vibrancy, or perhaps the paint just sits on the paper and doesn’t soak in. Candice says you don’t need to buy the top-grade, expensive supplies. But don’t get the cheapest you can find either.

“Set yourself up for success a little bit,” she says. That includes understanding that learning a few techniques at the beginning is important. “But once you learn them, you can paint anything. It’s like getting past that bump.”

Candice adds that you can express yourself so much better once you learn some of the theory. Writing a good story follows the same pattern: It’s easier to craft something strong and enthralling if you learn the basic techniques first.

Your Art Is All About You

But keep this in mind, says Candice: “Do it for you. Just get a sketchbook for the sake of doing it for the stress relief, for enjoying it. You can really turn your brain off when you’re creating.”

For Candice Leyland, that’s the most important part. “It’s almost like meditation when you really get into the zone. It’s a flow. It’s so important.”

Just like people don’t tell others doing sports to stop because it doesn’t bring in money, art hobbyists shouldn’t be told to stop their hobby because they can’t make a living from art. “It’s so enjoyable,” Candice says.

Candice teaches watercolour and other art forms online now, something the pandemic forced her to do. But she loves it and it lets her teach anyone, no matter where they live. You can find out more on her website.

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