Any person who wants to make an art or craft their career in 2019 faces challenges that go beyond talent and dedication. Even if you’ve taken our Lifestyle Assessment and know you’re a Maker, you can’t just claim yourself as the next David Choe or Vera Wang and expect the world to go wild for your art while you work anonymously in your studio.
Being a Maker takes cultivation of your influences and your public connections. It takes hustle and artistic communities. It demands feeding off the energy of other creative minds and studying the outside world before you look inward.
Mostly, it takes realizing what being a Maker means once you’ve set down your paintbrush, bandsaw or video camera for the day.
Philadelphia collage maker King Saladeen was an artist before he knew what that meant. When Saladeen was just starting down his career path, his best friend told the burgeoning visualist he had to define the word “artist” for himself before anyone would look at, much less buy, his paintings.
“[You] need to start hanging around artists. You’re an artist, but you don’t do anything art people do. You don’t know anything about art, but you have … something.”
Following this advice, Saladeen started frequenting First Friday art festivals in Philly until he sold his first painting. For him, it wasn’t about the money, but he suddenly understood the look in a buyer’s eyes when they weren’t going home without his creation.
Los Angeles furniture designer and entrepreneur Rahil Taj spends at least 16 hours a day in his studio, crafting wood and metal into the mid-century modern and industrial styles of RAH:DESIGN. Despite tireless craftsmanship, it was extra networking effort on the front end that made his career possible.
Taj describes almost leaving the furniture design world to try his hand as an actor. But he gave it one last push and made enough connections to meet clients and make his studio a reality:
“If you know others in the industry doing something similar to what you are trying to do, then reach out to them. It’s easier now with all of these social media platforms. Someone is bound to get back to you.”
You wouldn’t know it from her short films — with their LA skyscrapers and poolside vistas — but Shelby Parks is definitely a creature of her studio. The video director and editor thrives when she’s creating mood boards for her YouTube and Instagram-based projects, or coloring her videos in post. But it’s actors and models, she says, that give her energy and draw her outside of herself.
“You talk to them about their day and about their life and be super encouraging. That’s what people need during a shoot — to feel confident and like they’re doing the best job ever, and that they’re Brad Pitt, basically.”
Jill Aiko Yee
Most of the time when we think about Makers, we think of their output.
But after seven years of honing her self-titled fashion line, Jill Aiko Yee advises aspiring designers to work just as much on their inputting. Find mentors, she says. Research your favorite designers; learn as much as you possibly can. That’s what led Yee to manage every level of her creative fashion line for women, making connections through social media and crafting marketing strategies that accurately represented the pictures and principles of fashion in her head.
“I don’t really fit into the traditional mold of a fashion company — that’s been the joy and pain of it both … create your own universe.
Ruth E. Carter
All the Makers listed on this blog have achieved amazing things, but only one has an Oscar. When it comes to holistically pursuing a craft, you’ll want to listen to Ruth E. Carter.
Yes, the costume designer for films like Black Panther, Selma and Malcolm X spends countless hours on set working with directors and her design teams. But to characterize Carter as some kind of reclusive sewing genius would be wrong. It’s her outward intuition and her ability to interact with the world that makes her one of the most sought-after artists in Hollywood.
“Everybody wakes up every morning and puts on clothes,” Carter says in our interview. “Clothing is an emotional experience.”
To access that emotion, Carter recalls taking herself out to the theater, well before anyone would hire her onto multi-million dollar film sets. She would absorb the stories on stage and try to recreate the designs she saw there. If you listen to the way she talks about researching ancient African cultures to create Wakandan wardrobes in Black Panther, her belief in first looking to the real world for inspiration hasn’t changed.