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Art as a Second Career

What happens when life gets out of the way

Who hasn’t dreamed at some point of being an artist, writer or actor? That dream usually turns into a hobby when paying the bills becomes a reality. But those who never let go of the idea are finding ways to start second careers in doing what they love.

Dorothy Atkins: A Prayer Answered Too Soon

Dorothy Atkins always kept a notebook with her during the hour-long commute between her home in San Jose and her job in San Francisco. She’d jot down words of wisdom that she’d heard from friends and family and make sketches to go along with them.

Atkins quietly prayed that her drawings would eventually turn into more than just a hobby to pass time on the train and that someday she’d have her own art studio. “There’s something about putting prayers out there in the universe,” says Atkins, 69. 

Eight years ago, Atkins’ prayers were answered.  Her boss sat her down, placed a box of Kleenex on the table and told her that the bank where she’d worked for 20 years was downsizing. She had two choices: move across the country with her department or retire early. She left her job that day.

“My life was changing from something I had done 20 some odd years,” Atkins says. “Losing my job, it was like a death in the family. It wasn’t planned.”

It didn’t take her long to decide she would use her severance package to start a greeting card company, From Where I Sit. Atkins’ cards are from her collection of old black-and-white family photos. She adds a family “pearl of wisdom” at the bottom, and leaves the inside blank for a personal message.

Atkins got her cards noticed by asking buyers from some of her favorite shops if they would be interested in selling them.  Most agreed to add a few to the shelves. Eventually, people started writing and calling about the cards.

“It was the best thing that could have happened to me,” Atkins says of losing her job. “If I had not been pushed, I don’t know if I would have gone in this direction.

Atkins says she learned some tough business lessons along the way. She misused a lot of her startup money because of lack of research in distribution and printing costs. She also had to teach herself Internet marketing.  Now she has a blog with video and has found cheaper ways of making her own paper.

With a lot of hard work and some old-fashioned networking, her cards are available in places such as Canada, Hawaii and New York. She says it doesn’t pay as much as her previous job, but her greeting card business supplements her retirement income and allows her to make her own hours.

Atkins’ advice to other dreamers out there: “If there is something you are passionate about, you can’t let go of the thought. Even if it feels silly, you have to take a chance.”

Cindy Griffith and Ira Sollace: Finish What You Start

Cindy Griffith, 56, knows it’s never too late.

When she was growing up, she wanted to be an artist like her dad. He was her mentor and encouraged her to be an artist if that’s what she wanted to do. Then he died suddenly.

Though she had hoped to attend art school, Griffith instead chose a more stable career in state government.

“I just kind of put it off,” Griffith says. “But something started to click with me about three years ago. I started to have a clear vision of what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure how I would get there in this economy.”

Today, Griffith is married with an adult son. After nearly 30 years of working for the state of Vermont, she is back pursuing her artistic passion and now doing painting.  Last year, she opened Hunger Mountain Arts with her husband, Ira Sollace. Griffith plans to retire next year and she hopes to pursue her art full time.

“I’m realizing that it’s never too late,” Griffith says. “Age is just a number. You are only limited by yourself.”

Griffith works with oils and pastels, using the natural environment for inspiration. Her work has been displayed across Vermont and the Northeast. She travels to festivals and shows on weekends with her husband.

Griffith says promoting a new venture can be tough. She took business classes and read several books before opening the studio. She also continues to study her craft by taking art classes.

“At some point you have to gauge the level of professionalism you can obtain. Do you want to be a neighborhood artist or just make art for your friends and family? From there you can take it as far as you want.”

Sollace, Griffith’s 60-year-old husband, also works for the state of Vermont. He sells his wood creations at the couple’s studio. He says art is a passion that he and his wife have always shared, but life just got in the way.

“I enjoy doing what I love,” Sollace says. “My son is now doing it as a hobby. It’s something that has brought all three of us together.”

Latisha R. Gray is a freelance Web producer and writer based in Washington, D.C.

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