Don’t Quit the Day Job


Some of the sagest, albeit also loftiest, advice we receive in our lives is to “do what you love, so you’ll never work a day in your life.”

For many of us, this simply isn’t possible. Family, bills and a litany of responsibilities preclude us from making a career out of what we most love. This is often true for artists. We interviewed five female creatives who have been able not only to successfully cultivate their passions while maintaining their careers, but also to have found ways to incorporate them. From cocktails to cosmetology, these women have found avenues to express themselves and their talents in their 9-to-5, shift-to-shift work. Theirs is not just a balancing act, but a marriage of sorts; their professions enable them to pursue their passion, which in turn allow them to bring creativity into their jobs.

Abby Hopper, Illustrator
Day job: Wine and spirits representative, Opici Family Distributing
Instagram: @abbyhopper; @wildlimb

How did you find your first professional field outside of the arts?
I worked in restaurants the entire time I was attending art school. I’ve always been somewhat of a workaholic, and the restaurant industry taught me the social skills that art school didn’t. My growth in both passions has occurred simultaneously. Working in wine and liquor sales was a natural transition when I grew tired of the bartender vampire hours/being a poor artist. This job allows me to produce work on the side without the pressure of relying on it to pay my bills.

What do you find most rewarding about your profession?
Relationships. I get to tap into my contacts when I’m looking to show some new work. There are lots of symbiotic relationships in which I am able to coordinate with accounts to do creative and exciting things, and I’ve realized recently that I love throwing events. I’ve really been able to branch out and bring my creative abilities to the table while I’m in a sales role.

Se Jong Cho, Painter
Day job: Research scientist, University of Maryland
Instagram: @sejongee

How do you think your professional career influences your creative work?
My training as an engineer and scientist has influenced how I approach my work rather than the subject matter. Training as an engineer has taught me how to solve problems. Often, paintings or drawings require problem solving: How do I paint hands in a box with clouds coming out of it? This is a kind of puzzle I have to solve with each project, given my current skill set. I am getting better at painting with each project, because every time I paint is a new set of challenges. Once I crack the puzzle, I have something new in my tool box.

Do you have any pro tips for other female/female-identifying artists?
I didn’t paint for over a decade because I told myself that whatever I paint will be so insignificant, the effort is not worth it. Now I tell myself, “If I don’t believe in myself, who will?” I paint because it brings me joy, and the discipline has also improved me as a person. The Ph.D. process was like this — and perhaps life is too.

Mary Kate Larwood, Painter
Day job: Bartender, Sticky Rice in Fells Point
Instagram: @MKLarwood

Why so many media?
I jump between mediums quite a bit. I’m most comfortable with oil paint and graphite, but lately I’ve been trying to broaden my styles with different mediums. Because I’ve been doing chalk work quite a bit lately, I’ve been largely interested in typeface and calligraphy. I’ve also been teetering on the idea of creating a comic book, so I’ve been dabbling in more graphic marker drawings and tattoo-like styles. I don’t like to stick with one medium, so one month I can dive deep into something and completely turn around to something different a month later.

What’s your favorite museum or gallery in the region?
The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia is, maybe, one of my favorite museums when it comes to its layout and collection. The Barnes features a very impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Instead of displaying those paintings side by side like a normal museum setting, the Barnes arranges the paintings up along the entirety of the walls, making use of how different paintings relate to one another. It makes the viewer treat each individual painting as part of a larger whole and puts it into a context that many other museums probably wouldn’t.

Leah Sarrah Bassett, Painter
Day job: Freelance makeup artist
Instagram: @leahpiaaa

What has been one highlight of your artistic career so far?
I showed with Opera Gallery in SoHo NYC, now known as Allouche Gallery. They found me online years ago. The show was called “Young Blood.” I sold two out of three larger paintings that I had ever done, and I produced them within a few months just for the show. It’s unbelievable what deadlines will get out of you as an artist! We are still in touch now. Being an artist, you tend to cling to really silly insecurities that only hold you back. I’m finally ready to let it all out and expose my insecurities to the world. That was one of the most amazing opportunities I have ever had.

How did you find your professional field outside of the arts?
A beautiful friend and fellow makeup artist, Susan Heydt, convinced me to try it. She said I had to do makeup because I’m a painter already, am very social and love people. She pretty much grandmothered me into the whole industry, as I assisted her on some pretty amazing shoots when I was just starting out. One of the first gigs I had with her was at the U.S. Senate with my favorite photographer at the time, Mark Seliger of Vanity Fair. He complimented my green hair, and I powdered Sen. Ted Kennedy. It was an amazing experience. I tell Susan all the time that she is my guardian angel. She really changed my life.

Colleen Carter, Painter
Day job: Master stylist and colorist,
Alpha Studio

What do you find most rewarding about your non-artist profession?
The ability to stretch the creative connection to an extremely unique medium. I truly enjoy deciphering any hair issues my guests present to me. Think long division, but for hair. There are also those days when the simplest task makes everything work a little easier. Maybe it’s a reshaping of the bangs or the discovery of a hair product that makes life that much better. The “art” of hair is not exact. It’s a wonderful individual journey that will take its twists and turns throughout your life.


Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here