by Carolyn Edlund
Vermont colored pencil artist Corrina Thurston started her business despite health limitations. She shares what she’s learned and how others with limited energy can also thrive.
AS: How did you get started working as an artist?
CT: I started drawing in 2010 after two years of struggling with an unknown illness. I was bedridden, confined to a darkened bedroom due to a perpetual migraine, fatigue, pain, insomnia, nausea, anxiety, and more.
One day I picked up a pencil and started to sketch from my bed. It started as a therapy for me and as something to help me feel at least somewhat productive at a time when I felt like I was nothing but a burden. Being able to draw, even for short periods of time, gave me something I could focus on other than the pain. It gave me something to look forward to each day.
As time went on, I realized I had a knack for drawing. When I started posting my pieces on Facebook, the response I got was overwhelming.
AS: Now you are recovering. What is your plan to build your art career given your current circumstances?
CT: In 2014 I was finally diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, Bartonella, and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Treatment will take a number of years.
With treatment, I’m continuously getting better. I still have limited energy, however, and my health and productivity vary from day to day. As I work toward becoming healthy again, I have severe limitations that affect my business.
Like most people, I’m struggling with the need to create a regular income, and I’m devising a plan that works around my limitations to meet that goal.
- I’m adding e-commerce to my website so I can sell directly via my own site. I received a grant from my local art council to help with this cost.
- I’m developing online courses. These courses will be made into a series and I can create them at my own pace, which is key! And once they’re finished and uploaded, they can be sold over and over again, creating passive income. Anything that can create passive income and can be sold multiple times is the best for my type of situation.
- I’m selling reproductions of my artwork via my Etsy shop, including giclee prints, greeting cards, calendars, and other products.
- I’m also using print-on-demand sites where all I have to do is upload my artwork and they can turn it into a multitude of products, where I receive royalties (more passive income).
AS: How do you plan to work around your health limitations?
CT: The hardest part of starting my business has been telling myself no. There are things I can’t do right now because I don’t have the energy to do them, and it took me a long time to realize that that’s okay. If I wake up and have a migraine, trying to push myself to work through it is only going to make it worse. Instead, I focus on what I can do on my good days and take baby steps toward my goals.
I have to stay flexible above all. Flexible and determined. My goals are written on my whiteboard so I can see them every day. If I feel well one day, I choose a step that will take more energy. If I’m not doing as well, I choose a step that takes less energy. As my business grows, I’ll be hiring an intern to help out. That way I can delegate production tasks and focus the energy I have on more skilled tasks.
AS: What advice would you give to other artists with limited energy or limited time?
CT: There’s a lot of advice I could give, but the most important would be to:
- Cut yourself some slack. It may seem at times like your situation is hopeless, like you are a burden, like your goals are too far away to ever achieve. Even people who don’t lack energy feel the urge to give up. Don’t.
- Move forward in small steps. Keep your goals written in front of you so you can view them every day, and create baby steps to reach them.
- Don’t multitask. Focus on what you’re doing. When you switch back and forth and try doing multiple things at once, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
- Work on one project at a time. If you work on and finish one project at a time, you feel productive. This is really important if you have limited energy.
- Stay flexible. Things will come your way for which you could never have prepared. Both good and bad. Stay flexible and adapt to these situations in ways that will help your business, but not hurt your health. (And it’s okay to say no!)
- Be open. Don’t try to hide your illness or whatever is limiting your energy. Be open and honest about it with your clients and they’ll understand. If you can’t work on a deadline, like me, tell your clients that upfront.
- Be positive. Think of all the things for which you’re grateful on a daily basis. This will help you accept your limitations, whatever they may be. This is difficult, but necessary. If you accept your limitations you can learn to work with and around them.
- Build a supportive network. Whether online or in your community, or preferably both, slowly build a network of people who support what you do.
- Whenever you need it, rest.