Erin M knows how to play the long game. For the past three years, she’s been learning the rules- and making some up along the way- after quitting her bar job to pursue art full-time. It was a risky move- she had a three year old daughter and only a few steady clients at the time- but it proved to pay off. She’s now the unofficial “Chalkboard Queen of Honolulu,” and is looking to expand that title statewide. It didn’t happen overnight, but now, any bar or restaurant or wedding or party on Oahu with a professional chalkboard sign was almost certainly done by Erin. Her resume boasts wall-sized murals commissioned by Sierra Nevada and the full interior design of CITIZEN pub on Big Island.
With guerilla advertising offers from huge corporations (replete with nondisclosures, so they will remain nameless here) rolling in, it’s kind of a trip to recall how she got her start: updating the tiny specials board at the place she was waiting tables. Erin’s path to inevitable domination is an unreal tale of how patience pays.
We snagged a few minutes with the busy artist to ask her about building up her one-woman business and all the awesome and less awesome aspects of becoming a self-employed creative.
What finally inspired you to quit your day job and go to art full time? Was there anything that happened that made you feel like it was gonna work out, or was it more like now or never?
There was definitely a tipping point where the work was coming in so fast that I couldn’t concentrate on my “day job” any more. The fearing of quitting it, and going against so much good advice about always having a fall back- was nerve racking. Being your own boss is not as glamorous as it sounds.
What’s the coolest job you’ve been commissioned for, and how did you come across it?
One of my favorite pieces to date was a board I did at Ferguson’s Irish pub in Chinatown- I’ll never forget the morning Murph [the owner] came up to me and said, “Hey Erin- I’ll give you a bottle of this awesome wine if you draw up a nice wine of the month board for me.” The wine was Blue Eyed Boy by Mollydooker Wines- it featured a small black and white photo of a boy stomping grapes. Murph jokingly said, you can just do the lettering- that picture’s too hard, and myself thinking, don’t tell me I can’t do the thing, cause I’ll do it. An hour later, one of my coolest pieces to date was finished and on the wall of the bar. About a week later they got a call from Mollydooker Wines in Australia, they had seen it online, and were asking if I could ship it to Australia. It now lives in the vineyard owner’s wine cellar.
On a related note, what’s been your biggest disaster professionally since striking out on your own?
I tried doing live painting for weddings at one point- the first one went ok, but the second one was a much different crowd- not so impressed- and it was windy and raining, my canvas kept blowing off my easel and I felt like the wedding guests were just looking at me like, what a dork. Not something I’ll be doing again.
Was there ever a moment of sheer panic, like WTF have I done? If so, how’d you stay calm and come back to your art?
Not yet- but I have a feeling that moment might come soon, as I take steps to expand and grow the business. It’s very scary to relinquish some control and trust others to be passionate about your vision. But I have been patiently waiting for the right team members to come along, and that time is here- and I’m excited to take another big leap of faith.
What do you think the biggest challenges facing independent artists like yourself are?
Valuing our art, our time, and our selves highly enough.
If you could’ve been an overnight sensation, would you change how things went for you, or do you think that taking your time was necessary or better for your growth?
In the beginning, I did dream of overnight success, but then again- it was just exciting to get UP and get noticed! But I have learned so, so much over the last few years, and honestly couldn’t have handled things moving any faster than they have. To tell you the truth, the last few years have gone by so fast I do kinda feel like an overnight success!
Finally, what advice can you give to artists and entrepreneurs who are desperate to quit their day jobs?
Don’t quit your day job! Find a way to bring your creativity and cool ideas to where ever you are at – I’d never be where I’m at now if it weren’t for sticking with my waitressing job at Murphy’s and just finding a creative outlet there! There are SO many opportunities for creativity even in the most mundane jobs.
You can check out Erin M’s art on Instagram @the_artery