How I Became a Professional Artist Part 1

How I Became a Professional Artist Part 1

When I was 14, I had my first art commission, back in 1991.  My mom’s friend asked me to draw a pencil portrait montage of one of her close friends. That started the ball rolling, and I did a few commissioned portraits while yet in high school.

During high school, my art teachers encouraged me to pursue a career  in the arts. I took that advice to heart and  attended Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in 1996. I did well, averaging a 3.8 GPA, but with the extremely high tuition cost I left after a year.

Since that time, I worked in several jobs over the years–dishwashing, ad designing, retail sales, vacuum repair, recycling–but I was always hesitant to do art full time.

It was just something that I thought would “happen” down the road when things lined up perfectly, or I got that  mysterious “breakthrough.”

Then, in 2008, I was 31 years old, traveling on the road away from home, days on end, working at a fairly high-paying but stressful training/manager job. I was gone so much that my baby son didn’t know even who I was when I returned.

On a Sunday afternoon, my mother in law asked me this question: “Matt, why are you continuing in this dead-end job? What is it do you think you’re meant to do?”

My first commissioned drawing, 11 x 14, pencil on paper, 1991.

My first commissioned drawing, 11 x 14, pencil on paper, 1991.

I said, “I think I’m supposed to be doing art full time.”

She replied pointedly, “Well, why aren’t you doing it then?”

“Because I don’t know if my bills will get paid.”

“What?! And God can’t meet your needs? He can’t take care of you?”

That was like a dagger straight to my heart. I knew God was speaking to me.

I prayed and seriously considered giving my two weeks notice.

And then, out of the blue, my boss flew up from the corporate headquarters near Cleveland to meet with me. I didn’t know what the meeting would be about. I thought of taking this occasion to give my notice, but a friend who had prayed with me advised me to not be hasty, and just let God lead.

We got a place at the restaurant and sat down.

My boss told me, “Matt, we like everything you’ve done for the company. You’ve hired and trained the service technicians we’ve asked you to and done a great job. But, with the recession, we’ve had to make several cuts in the company, and had to let some people go. Unfortunately, you will be one of them.”

I said, “That’s all right, John. God’s going to take care of me.”

He was amazed. “I didn’t expect you would take this that well. It sure takes a load off my chest.”

Commissioned wedding portrait, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas, copyright 2015, by portrait artist Matt Philleo

Commissioned wedding portrait, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas, copyright 2015, by portrait artist Matt Philleo

And so I had the sign that I should step out in faith and do art full time.

I had a family: a 1 1/2 year old and another baby on the way. But although I was a bit scared, I knew that now was the time.

I announced this decision to people at my church, that I was now a full-time artist. Not everyone thought it was a wise idea, but immediately, I received several portrait commissions from people there. God really blessed my decision and I had confirmation right away that I was on the right path.

I’d like to say everything’s been a bed of roses since then, but I’ve had many tests of faith. 

I will share more about that in my next post.

How about you?

Are you currently in a job right now that you feel is not your calling? (I understand, sometimes it’s necessary to be there for a while.)
Or are you in a job you love?
What was your journey to get to where you are now?
Or the journey you would like to take to get to where you want to be?
Share Your Thoughts!
If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback below! I will personally get back to you. Can you help me spread the word? Please share this post with your family and friends by using the social media links on the left side or below. Thank you!

"I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands."

Inscribed6a_500px

"Inscribed," Pencil on Paper, by Matt Philleo

One day, when I was discouraged I read a verse in the Bible, in Isaiah, 49:15-16, where it says, "Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands." This verse brought such encouragement, that I created this original work of art to share the incredible love of God with others, including you!


Get a free 8 x 10 copy of this drawing that you can use to print, share, or as wallpaper!

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