Boston-based artist Clint Baclawski shares the motivations behind his rewarding artistic career, and how his art helps pay the bills.
As told to Brandi Diaz, Julianne Jensen, and Sarah Pascarella
I grew up in central Pennsylvania, went to RIT for my undergraduate photography degree, and did post-baccalaureate work at Bucknell University. I then came to Boston for grad school at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
It was a big shift for me to move from more of a traditional photographic approach to more of a fine art realm. I’d been experimenting with reinventing the idea of how one looks at photography throughout graduate school and that just continued afterwards.
I was really fortunate to get a full-time job at Mass Art, where I’m still full-time employed. I feel like it’s just been a continuation of graduate school over the past years: I utilize the facilities, I’m still able to check out equipment, I get access to the woodshop. The best part is I get to meet creatives doing like-minded work all the time.
I went to graduate school primarily to teach, or so I thought. When I got out, I fell into the job I have now and I really thought I’d only be in it for six months, maybe, and I found out I loved it. I loved the routine of going to work every day, coming home, and finding the time to make work.
It was through that process of carving out time to make my art that I realized that I could stay at this job and be totally fulfilled—I wouldn’t be a starving artist. I could still feed myself, my creative habits, afford to buy clothes, and just be able to live my life and still make my work.
Somewhere between undergraduate and post-baccalaureate, I really lost interest in freelance work. When I was freelancing to pay my bills, I was paid once in a couple of pairs of very expensive sunglasses, and that just really made me lose a lot of interest. I know that’s not the case for many people shooting freelance, but it just pissed me off. I was featured in some magazines, and waiting around for a paycheck and waiting months sometimes to see my work actually come to a printed page was really frustrating. There was little reward in that for me, and I realized I didn’t want to do these little one-off freelance gigs.
This may sound odd to some, but my routine is I’m a dad. I have a full-time job that starts at 8 a.m., so I’m up early and I commute in with my wife, and we have a lot of good dialogue on the way in and on the way home. I don’t watch tv, and I’m not really consumed by pop culture. I focus a lot of my time, even if I’m not making work, on thinking about projects: How am I going to connect with so-and-so, where am I going to get my next idea from. Driving in to work, I’m thinking about art, I’m planning where things are going to go on the wall for my next show. Then I try at least every night to get at least an hour’s worth of work in. That may be just on my computer Photoshopping a picture or researching materials that I’m going to use on my next installation, or messing around on SketchUp.
My wife and I have a shared Google calendar, so I’m able to look ahead and see where I can cut away for a day. Lately that’s been on Saturdays, so I really maximize our weekends, and I’ll plan ahead to do a personal day where it’s just all about making art. Those days are really when I’m hyperfocused on doing what I need to do and I have little wiggle room for other things that come up throughout the day, so normally I’ll throw my phone on airplane mode and just go to town.
I have my own studio. I really utilized the ability to have access to [Mass Art], but in addition to that I’ve carved out a way to have a working studio out of my house. After my son goes to bed, I have a window of usually two hours or so that I can dedicate to working.
I’ve also identified three artists whom I admire and respect and [we have weekly calls]. All three are friends of mine and I started this out as an experiment. I composed an email saying this is what I’m after: I’m after gallery representation, exhibiting my work outside of Boston. I laid out a list of goals: This is what I want to get, and I’m wondering if you’re willing to help me get there, in some way. I would be honest, candid, transparent about where I’m procrastinating, and where I could use assistance, what grants I should be applying for, shows I should be pursuing or passing on.
I also treat my work as a business: I’ve been doing a good job at keeping things even up to this point, but [for my upcoming show], I know I’m going to be charging a lot on a credit card, I’m hoping that I’ll get a sale or two to pay that off, and I’ll then immediately put forward any income that I make from the show right back into my work. I keep my art account and my home account separate, and from every paycheck I put a certain amount right into that art account. With my next major sale I get, I’m hoping to set up an LLC; I’m hoping to do a patent.
My advice to other artists? Find a way to stay creative, at least for x amount of time every single day. Even if it’s just 15 minutes, you’ll be able to stay where that part of your brain is constantly being focused on making your work and making it happen, and then slowly you’ll figure out a way to make that 15 minutes into a half hour, then 45 minutes, then an hour, maybe more. Maybe it becomes your full-time focus.
See Clint’s work online at Clintb.com.
Brandi Diaz is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Boston.
Photos courtesy Julianne Jensen
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