Don't Quit Your Day Job - Yet, Dave Santillanes

I get asked occasionally how I knew when the right moment was to make that leap to full-time artist. It’s definitely not an easy question to answer but for me it was about more than money. About 2 years before I officially quit my day job to become a “full time” artist, I occasionally took a day off from work just to paint.  Having only a few weeks off a year, each day of freedom was precious.  On one such occasion I planned a solo trip up to Rocky Mountain National Park - to a remote lake in the Milner Pass area.  The trail head is about 2 hours from my home.  Not wanting to forget anything I set all my equipment by the door the night before so that the next morning at the crack of early, I could quickly load it all into my jeep and hit the road with no time wasted.   Early the next morning the pile of gear by the door became a pile in my jeep and I headed off on the great adventure.

As I arrived at the trail head and began unloading my gear, something didn’t feel right.  As far as I could tell I had everything I needed for the hike.  I even thought ahead and wore my flip-flops that morning so I could change out of my hiking boots after the exhausting 12 mile hike.  And that’s when it dawned on me.... the flip-flop idea is even better when you actually remember to pack the hiking boots.  At this point, naturally, my first thought is “I’m screwed” - time to pack up and leave.  But when you’re as excited as I was to paint and every thought for the past week was about this trip, you don’t do the sensible thing - you continue loading up your 50 lb pack with gear hoping some brilliant solution to this problem will suddenly reveal itself.  In fact my big “Plan B” was to just wear the flip-flops and my concern was more with figuring out what to say to other hikers when asked “why!?”.   Then, suddenly, while all this is all happening, a shaft of light beams into the backseat and if by divine intervention I see, beneath the pile of trash, a pair of golf shoes that had been missing for a month.  Hallelujah!  It’s a miracle!

In hindsight finding a pair of very uncomfortable shoes probably wasn’t as miraculous as I just made it sound - especially considering that the unnamed lake I was heading for had no trail to it. It involved off-trail “bushwhacking” down steep mountains, over rocky ledges, through mud and swamp. And anyone who’s walked in golf shoes for 18 holes knows that the prospect of walking in them for 12 miles across this type of terrain sounds something more like hell than divine intervention. But unbridled passion will make you see things in funny ways and for me it was a godsend. Soon my concerns focused again on getting out of the parking lot without having to explain my choice of footwear. In fact, I even contemplated writing a note of explanation in case I was discovered at the bottom of a ravine with these ridiculous things on.

Once I got to the top of the ridge the hilarity of my situation struck me and I snapped this photo.


As it turned out I survived the 12 miles in my golf shoes with nothing more than some large blisters and very sore ankles. And the rest of the experience was amazing. When I got to my destination and began painting, a herd of elk moved in around me - being serenaded by bugling elk while you paint is an experience not to be missed. I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do.

It’s been a few years since the golf shoe hike, but looking back I’ve learned a few things.  Aside from the obvious - like always pack my hiking boots before a long hike, and never clean my car - I also realized that having a day job wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  There’s a purity to passion that reveals itself when you only have a limited time to pursue it.   And even more so when it’s not diluted with the stresses that come with making a living at it.

Evening at the Divide, 9x12, oil

Evening at the Divide, 9x12, oil

That day on the mountain was one of my most memorable solo trips ever and I sometimes wonder had I been a full time artist at the time would I have even made it to my destination that day.  Maybe I would’ve just jumped back in the car and returned to the studio to get work done for the business side of art?  Nah! If the answer to that question is ever “Yes” I’ll start looking for another day job immediately.

So to answer the ultimate question of when is the right time to quit that day job - my answer: when there’s no danger of sacrificing the passion that made you want to pursue art in the first place just to “make a living”.  It’s that moment you are climbing a mountain in your golf shoes with your paintbox on your back and you realize that having a good pair of shoes wouldn’t make you love it more.

Autumn Divide, 12x9, oil

Autumn Divide, 12x9, oil

To see how Dave's day job is going, visit his website.