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Posted under: Visual Arts Culture

From Corporate to Canvas: Chicago Artist Joe Medcalf Shares How To Turn A Creative Hobby Into A Successful Side-Hustle

Turning passion into a paycheck.

Every working professional can benefit from having a hobby — an activity unrelated to the work they do at their job. The interest should allow them to relax and reset, providing much-needed strength to keep going back to work, day in and day out. But what if your hobby could work for you? What if that thing you enjoy doing after work or on the weekends could actually be a source of income? For Chicago artist Joe Medcalf, that is exactly the case.

Known as J.A. Medcalf in the art world, the native of Grand Rapids, MI, is a self-proclaimed "life enthusiast” and "artrepreneur." Over the years, he has worked to turn his vivid imagination and lifelong passion for drawing into a thriving career as a painter while still balancing full-time employment in corporate America. While it took Medcalf years to turn his art from hobby to successful side-hustle, it only took a day for him to share key elements other creatives can look for when trying to do the same.

Medcalf on His Creative Passion

Medcalf is not new, but true to the artist game. His brand, J.A. Medcalf was established in 2016, due to his love for all things creative. Although he has always been passionate about art and creating, Medcalf was not always aware that art could be more than just a hobby for him.

“Over time I grew frustrated [...] because I was never satisfied with my inability to develop characters out of imagination,” Medcalf told Blavity. “Early [on in] high school, I walked away from sketching and shifted my attention to teaching myself to cut hair. I practiced the trade of barbering through college, and ran a makeshift barbershop out of my dorm room for extra income.”

No matter how hard he tried to shift gears and focus on something else, Medcalf still didn't feel completely fulfilled. He came to understand that there was no denying his passion for art and creating beauty from his imagination. With that confirmation, he had to determine the value of his former hobby.

On Getting Paid for Loving What He Does

In 2016, after reintroducing himself to art as a "sketch man," J.A. Medcalf started painting. He drew inspiration from infamous images of public figures; abstract depictions of Black celebrities and leaders; nostalgic visual narratives of children at play and all the wilds of his own imagination.

Medcalf found a deeper appreciation for creative arts and soon learned that others were falling in love with art through his work. Before he knew it, Medcalf was being commissioned to create one-of-a-kind artwork for family and friends, and they weren’t all asking for the “family hookup” — they paid for it. 

"With time, I recognized that there was a personal value and market value to what I was producing,” Medcalf shared.“I remembered a lesson about identifying value [...] where you find value, there is often a niche market to follow.”

J.A. Medcalf put his Western Michigan University marketing degree and paintbrush together to create masterful, intentional artwork for three years now. As word of his talent began to spread, thanks to family and friends he refers to as his tribe, Medcalf has found himself in high demand. He's led a number of paint and sip parties, performed live paintings for events, designed custom apparel, and recently hosted his first solo exhibition. 

On Time Management and Staying Self-Motivated

Simultaneously pursuing both creative and corporate passions takes a unique type of commitment, according to the artist.

“The biggest obstacle of managing my passion work and corporate life comes down to time,” Medcalf said. “It's imperative that I make lists, plans and action items of attainable tasks to achieve in my free time. There have been plenty of moments that I've been forced to find time, which usually comes with some level of sacrifice.”

Aside from time management, balancing such a life can become chaotic. Those who pursue creative gifts, entrepreneurship or even a side hustle can face a range of external and self-inflicted obstacles. Medcalf is no stranger to the woes of uncertainty and admits there were moments of self-doubt and tiredness that could have overwhelmed him to the point of quitting altogether. However, he prevailed.

“The biggest opposition has been me,” Medcalf said. "Early 2017, I realized that if I don't get out of my own way, then my creative potential will suffer. No matter what I choose to do in life, there will always be outside pressures. The difference in one's outcome is based on how you choose to respond to those said pressures.”

On Going From Hobbyist to Side-Hustler By Tapping Into His Network

J.A. Medcalf’s tribe also plays a big role in keeping him on task, helping him to not only maintain balance, but also the enthusiasm to not give up on himself or his passion. The altruism of family and friends — who offer advice, refer his services, promote his work and support his vision — has been a key component to pushing the J.A. Medcalf brand beyond his wildest dreams. They’ve helped the brand grow without losing its core integrity or burning out. 

Medcalf has also stayed grounded by fusing his established business knowledge with his creative output.

“My corporate career has heavily influenced the business of my artistry,” Medcalf explained. “I've been able to develop certain structures impacting how I run my business that is aligned with basic startup or business management principles. This perspective was obtained from the eight-plus years advancing my corporate career.”

Just like a good businessman, Medcalf understands the importance of leveraging his network, and realizes the reach and impact social media can have on creativity and revenue. He intentionally curates content on his social accounts to draw attention to his artwork. Additionally, he makes sure to humanize himself by sharing his community and social involvement as well, creating balance and remaining accessible to his supporters and colleagues.

“Social media is my biggest monetization tool. I'd estimate that about 85 percent of my sales are birthed through my Instagram or Facebook profiles," Medcalf said. “[It] has also helped me to study what's happening in the emerging art market.”

A little extra research can even help determine if a hobby turned side-hustle can grow into something more.

On Helping His Hobby Grow Into a Full-Fledged Business

After all, taking it to the next level as main hustle is the ultimate dream.

Though he is currently balancing his hustle and corporate job successfully, J.A. Medcalf has hopes to soon make his days in corporate shorter. Medcalf spends ample time studying art, artists, the competitive buyers' market and price negotiation — all in preparation to become a full-time painter. 

“I love the idea of being able to comfortably create full-time,” Medcalf said. “I am constantly working toward developing a sustainable plan to bring this to life."

Takeaways We Can All Learn From the Artrepreneur's Journey

To fellow creatives, here is a charge for us all: Let us ingest and apply some of the hidden gems from the pages of artist and businessman J.A. Medcalf. Be vigilant in pursuit of your craft, realistic about your goals, get you a tribe that will hold you down and know your self worth before putting a price tag on your work.


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