Meet The Artists Who Quit Their Jobs To Pursue Their Entrepreneurial Dreams


Ditching the day job to pursue a hobby full-time is something that most people have probably dreamed of. The biggest barrier is finance; giving up a salary for the uncertainty of self-employment is a risky move, but for those who go on to achieve that goal, the risks have proved to be well worth taking.

From construction worker to coastal artist

For Tom Inglis, as a youngster, painting was one of his greatest pleasures. When he left school, he trained as a carpenter and began working in the construction industry in London where he’d grown up, and continued to paint in his spare time.

He says: “I studied art at school but didn’t get on with the teacher, who said I painted too quickly and should take longer over it, so I didn’t pursue it as a career option. It wasn’t until I started watching the American painter Bob Ross on TV that I realized it was OK to paint quickly.”

Inglis spent time working overseas, in the U.S., Australia, and in South Africa, where he met an artist who created landscapes of the local townships out of cardboard and bits of wood. “His work was amazing, and it got me interested in the idea of ethical art,” he says. “It also made me realize that what I really wanted to do was give up my job to paint full time.”

It wasn’t until some 20 years later, after moving to Norfolk with his family, that his dream finally became a reality, and it was Covid-19 that presented the opportunity. “When the pandemic struck, the building firm I was working for had to close, and I spent the whole of lockdown painting,” says Inglis.

He also pursued his idea of ethical art, by collecting discarded wood and using it to make frames for his paintings. “In the end, the reclaimed wood became my canvas, and I painted on old doors, window frames, even an old guitar,” he says.

When restrictions eased, Inglis began looking for premises where he could paint and sell his work locally. He hired the old village post office in Brancaster Staithe, on the north Norfolk coast and set up his studio, with startup costs of around £1,000.

With the area’s iconic salt marshes, beach, and harbor just a stone’s throw away, he had no shortage of subjects to paint. And being based in one of the area’s most popular tourist spots, he had no shortage of customers keen to buy his art, which rangesin price from £45 to £600, with average prices between £180 and £250.

He says: “At this stage, I didn’t want to go back to my old job, but I knew I had to sell enough paintings to make a living, so I decided to give it a year.”

Eighteen months on Inglis is painting full time in his studio, where he makes 90% of his sales, exhibiting at galleries in Norfolk and London, and also selling online at Etsy and via social media. He says: “It took a long time to get here, and the pandemic was the catalyst, but I wouldn’t swap what I’m doing now for anything.”

From cabin crew to wedding photographer

As a member of the cabin crew for a well-known airline, Marc Bates was used to a hectic and often stressful way of life. To relax in his spare time, he took up photography as a hobby. However, in 2007, after losing his beloved grandmother, he started to question his career choice, as the pressure started to take its toll. He left the airline industry, took a year out to spend more time taking photos, and also discovered the world of wedding photography.

“I started as someone’s assistant, carrying their camera equipment, setting up group shots, etc., but I learned a lot about the job,” he says. “Photography was always my dream career, but it was a secret dream. When people asked my photography I would tell them I took wedding photos, but only as a side hustle.”

But the side hustle didn’t pay enough, and Bates had to find an additional source of income. He briefly returned to working for an airline, which he describes as one of the best and worst decisions of his life.

“It was a toxic work environment and my mental health suffered as a result,” he says. “Work-related stress turned into depression and anxiety and I was signed off work.”

He then landed a job as a private driver for a well-known hairdresser, who as an added perk, offered Bates free business mentoring, equipping him with the knowledge, the confidence, and the motivation to turn his photography side hustle into a full-time job.”

Starting a photography business isn’t cheap. Fortunately, Bates had a friend who worked for Canon and allowed him to use her staff discount to buy his first camera, a brand new Canon 5D MK2, in 2011. Over the next five years, he acquired all the equipment he needed, some of it second hand, to be a full-time wedding photographer, some of it second-hand.

His determination paid off when he was twice voted Best UK Wedding Photographer in 2018 and 2020 by the UK Wedding Awards, and he now flies all over the world, not with the cabin crew, but as a destination wedding photographer.

He says: “Regardless of how prepared you think you are to make the switch, it requires a leap of faith,” he says. “I believed I could be successful, but ultimately it was still a gamble. It was also the best decision I have ever made, so you just need to go for it.”

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