By Nicole Hennessy
“I’ve always had a passion for art,” says Owen McCafferty, referencing a photo as he paints his version of a blind musician and his dog. Looking at it up close, he studies the image, adding depth and detail to his piece.
A finished abstract piece drying in front of him, he explains, “I’m visually impaired.”
With a part-time retail position, McCafferty, like many artists, paints on the side, increasing his productivity since he began taking classes at JoAnn DePolo’s studio and gallery a few months ago.
Sitting next to him at a table covered in paint, DePolo watches him work, giving him small tips.
She says, “Now remember, you put down the groundwork, so you just want to enhance what’s there.” And, “Watch your amount of paint.”
DePolo currently has about 10 students, many of whom have no previous painting experience. She does a lot more than teach them to paint. She teaches them how to market themselves and sell their work.
In a separate studio in the back, her twin sons, Andrew and Jared, work on compositions. In another gallery, rented wall space shows mostly student work, all available for sale. Renting space to hang work, teaching and offering her own classes are a few of the tactics DePolo uses to remain open and working as a full-time artist, something mystifying and usually discouraged.
McCafferty corroborates this, citing a time when he was told it is not possible to work as an artist.
Across town, Gina DeSantis, a successful potter who works out of Lakewood’s Screw Factory, recalls similar discouragement.
After graduating from Kent State University in 2006 with an MFA, her intent was to become an art professor.
But “six years later I was frustrated and overlooked,” she remembers. That’s when she decided to take the time she’d been putting into job applications and focus on making and selling her art.
One year later she is now self-employed, selling her pieces in state and local shows, by appointment and online, in addition to teaching pottery courses in her studio.
“Yes, you can be a full-time artist,” says DeSantis. “You can make a living doing what you love.
“However, you must be prepared for 70-hour weeks, debt, hectic holiday schedules and trying to make ends meet. If you are not willing to do these things, you do not want it badly enough.”
All the time DePolo sees bankers, attorneys, nurses and other professionals come in, lamenting a never-started art career or a hobby that was set aside until there was more time, which eventually gets filled up with other responsibilities … and she encourages them to bring art back into their lives.
One of her students, Rita Hassett, recently quit her full-time job designing custom kitchens and bathrooms to pursue painting and jewelry making, and, with her husband’s support, she is able to make it work.
Like the professionals DePolo mentioned, Hassett says, “I didn’t have any time for art and hobbies.” She had the drive to work creatively, recalling woodworking she did when she was younger and looking for creative courses to take when she could; but, she says, all of her creativity got sucked into architectural drafting.
She flips through recent paintings on her phone, pointing out sunsets and underwater scenes, craving her next scuba diving adventure, which she and her husband try to do twice a year.
Currently working from her dining room table covered in supplies, Hassett’s next goal is to build her own in-home studio. But for now, she values working in DePolo’s space, looking forward to invaluable critiques and advice –advice like learning to deal with rejection, as well as how to price work, stretch pieces by selling prints and other marketing techniques.
More than an hour into his one-on-one session, McCaffery puts down his paintbrush and says, “That looks good; I’m gonna stop for the day.”
Since he started working with DePolo, he’s sold a few pieces and currently has a painting hanging in the North Olmsted City Hall.
In fact, most of the DePolo artists have sold original works or prints, proving to her that no matter what, “if you’re inspired to do something, get out there and do it.”