Running a small business while having an art practice: fun or folly?

I started this new phase of my life which I like to call Full Time Tapestry Person almost four years ago now. Before that I was mostly Part Time Tapestry Artist and Whatever I do to Pay the Bills Person.

Of course once I quit that job with the benefit of a paycheck every two weeks and health insurance*, I had to figure out how to pay all the bills with income from something related to tapestry. Because no matter how crazy-pants it sounds, I was determined to focus all my time on tapestry.

Fortunately for me, I love teaching. Therapists, at least the good ones, are natural teachers. And before I became an occupational therapist, I got an undergraduate degree in music focusing on piano pedagogy. I wrote a preschool piano method as my undergraduate thesis and ran my own piano studio to help pay for graduate school. I suppose that was my first business.

Teaching a workshop in Pueblo, CO. Photo: Laura Barger

I realized I loved teaching and so it was fairly obvious that I could try to support myself by teaching tapestry. After all, many sorts of fiber people make a living by teaching their craft. Workshops, conferences, private students: they all help keep the lights on.

The thing is, I'm an introvert. I'm a pretty big introvert. I need my quiet time and traveling is exhausting for me. I can put up a good show and I definitely love doing it for 3-5 days, but you should see the wreck I become in the evening and the puddle of mush I am when I finally get home to my own couch. I will continue to teach in person because there is no substitute for meeting people where they are and being able to see their smiles, sense their frustrations, and see exactly what it is they are or aren't doing when they are trying to learn tapestry. But I'm not one of those teachers who can teach 20 workshops a year. And you'd have to to even begin to make a liveable wage in the USA.

But a viable option to add to this seemed to be online classes. It was a fairly new space for crafters and I didn't see anyone filling it in the area of tapestry. So I jumped in.

And I'm still here.

I have learned things I never dreamed I'd have to. I know about things like markdowns and task automation and how to make tech magic happen with a freebie give-away. I also learned how to operate a video camera and how to edit the footage. The list goes on and on. Things I never thought I'd know.

But the real challenge isn't in the tech. Turns out google is a really great resource and there are now online classes for every program you could imagine (and many you can't--for instance I just learned about a piece of tech I can use to offer payment plans for my online classes. Amazing!). has been a lifesaver and when I had to get Adobe Creative Cloud, I quickly realized their how-to videos are extensive and excellent. Thank goodness because learning InDesign has definitely thrown a monkey wrench in my plans lately.

The real challenge

The real challenge is managing two great loves at once.

I love teaching. I think I'm good at it. Sure, there is always more to learn and I make mistakes and then figure out how to do better. I don't want to stop teaching.

But I also don't want to stop making art. A deep part of my soul loves creation more than anything else. I love yarn and dye and putting expressive ideas together in tapestries small and large. I can't stop doing this for as long as I am able... and if I can't run a loom any more, I'll find another way to fill that need. And I think the best teachers are also practitioners.

The challenge comes in finding time for both. It is so easy to let beliefs about money run our lives and I have been thinking a lot about how that plays out in my own business lately. I have spent most of the last four years focusing on teaching both because I love it and because it brings in more money per hour than weaving tapestry (and it always will, sad to say). But rather surprisingly, I've found that when I do take time for myself, my students respond in wonderful ways. I headed off for a month-long artist residency a year ago sure that my business would suffer horribly from my time away from the computer. Turns out it was one of the best months my business has ever seen. I attribute that to two things. (1) I did launch the Weaving Tapestry on Little Looms class right before leaving and it was something people were waiting for and (2) the things I made while on that residency were inspiring to people. It got them weaving and they wanted to tell me and each other about it.

The truth is that I work a lot. I put in many hours teaching and I do that because I love it. I also need to make art. With that in mind and with a very large commission on my plate, I have cleared most of 2018 from in-person workshops with the exception of my own retreats. That is my choice for 2018 and the balance between weaving and teaching will shift from year to year. I'll rely on the retreats I'm organizing to get my in-person teaching needs met and I'll spend much of the rest of the year weaving a nine by nine foot tapestry. Of course I'm also always developing new online courses and I have a few coming up in 2018 also.

I don't know if anyone has a real answer about how to balance this particular artist problem, but I do think I'm getting better at it. The first step is just realizing that I can't ignore the artist part for the sake of making a living. At least not forever.

What self-care do you need to do to help yourself be the best you can be? Self-care has to come right at the beginning of our to-do list. I am  more creative and work much more efficiently when I have taken some time to recharge and be creative.

So take care of yourself this week! The holidays can be rough for many people. Might I gently suggest sitting down somewhere quiet with a loom for a bit?

The photo header in this post says "Serendipity". I feel like my life has been full of serendipity over the last 4 years. This is also a wonderful yarn store in Buena Vista, CO. Visit if you're passing through.

* even if it did come with a lot of chasing children around a therapy gym on my knees and praying no one would bash their head in on my watch.