Until age 33, I often said I didn’t have an artistic bone in my body. In my family, I was viewed as the unartistic one and was told that I should be a counselor or teacher, but not an artist. My unexpected path to becoming an artist began as a way to relieve stress from a rewarding, but very demanding, day job. Up until that point, my hobbies came with explicit instructions (paint-by-number, knitting, cross-stitch, etc.), but I secretly yearned for a more creative outlet. Then I remembered how I loved to collage as a 10-year-old. On an inspired whim, I collected a pile of magazines, ripped them up, and created my first collage in more than 20 years. This simple beginning eventually led me to selling my art and quitting my day job to create a business doing what I loved most.
In my first year as a full-time artist, I bounced back and forth from loving the blissful, self-expressive process of creating a collage, to feeling pressured to create sellable art. The more I tried to create art that I thought others would like (and would buy), the more blocked I became, severely doubting my ability to earn a living from art.
Luckily, I stumbled upon Anne Lamott’s inspirational book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, where I learned the concept of creating bad first drafts. As a result, I relearned how to create collages just for the fun of it, working quickly without thinking about whether anyone would want to buy what I created. To my surprise, by focusing on creating art for the sake of creating rather than with a sale in mind, my amateurish collages often magically transformed into something extraordinary. With this simple technique, my collage portfolio quickly grew, and I sold a lot of art. My full-time gig as an artist joyfully expanded for the next four years, and I loved every part of it, including the business of art.
Then, without warning, my life took an unexpected turn. In 2004, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and not long after, my 24-year marriage to my high school sweetheart ended. After my body healed, I went back to my day job with the intention of saving money for a year, three years tops, and returning to full-time art as soon as possible. From day one, I plotted my return, but with every year that passed, I fell more in love with my job, including the secure income and health insurance, making it very difficult to leave. Before I knew it a decade passed, and in all that time, I rarely had the time or energy to create a collage.
My journey back to art started in 2015 when I committed to stop making my day job an excuse for not making art. I created two daily schedules, one for when I worked in my home office, and the other for when I was on the road (I often traveled five days in a row, three to four weeks a month). I scheduled art into almost every free moment, starting at 5:00 am, even on weekends. To create art while traveling, I brought my studio with me. By packing two suitcases, one full of art supplies (paint, matte medium, canvases, collage papers, scissors, drop cloth, etc.), I transformed every hotel room into an art studio where I created art after working all day.
Because of the unwavering commitment I made to myself in 2015, I learned to work with what I had, created a lot of art in the process, and finally found my way back to the thing I most loved. On January 1, 2018 I will be leaving my day job after 12 years, and once again returning to full-time art. As you read these words, I am blissfully painting and cutting paper for a collage, having the best time of my life.
Catherine Rains creates mixed-media collages, using art as a vehicle for inspiring herself and others to awaken who they were meant to be. Catherine’s work has been featured in galleries and juried fine art festivals across the East Coast, and she now focuses on selling her collage paintings and collages through social media. Visit Catherine’s website at catherinerains.com, and follow her on Instagram: @thehotelartist.
This column is also featured in our January/February 2018 edition of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. View our lookbook preview to see more of the inspiring mixed-media art featured in this issue!