Brisbane has a thriving arts scene but it is tough out there for creatives writes Rachel Quilligan.

For some, the urge to create is an overwhelming passion, dictating the course of their life and habits. But the days of arts patronage are long gone, and now painters, sculptors, writers and their ilk have to navigate a path that balances their artistic tendencies with the humdrum of financial security.

We caught up with some of Brisbane’s art talent to find out what life is like for a modern day artiste.

Shaping people

Mela Cooke, vice president of Sculptors Queensland, has been sculpting for 23 years and says her career as a physiotherapist influenced her choice of materials.

“Being used to three dimensions, being used to bodies, made it easier for me to move right into sculpting,” she says.

“I start in clay—it’s very relaxing to work in clay—and then I cast in bronze because it’s very long lasting and enduring. I think people are very aware of painting but not so much of sculpting, so it’s nice to have people seeing sculpture.”

While Cooke sold her physiotherapy business a few years ago, she says that it helps to have a second income from her partner alongside selling her art.

“I do sell quite a few, but I think you might starve to death if you’re completely relying on selling sculptures,” she says.

Fellow sculptor and painter Di West agrees. “Sculpture is always a little bit behind paintings,” she says. “But Queensland Sculptors are really proactive and we’re getting more and more out to the viewing public.” West works as an interior designer to supplement her artwork and says a lot of people in creative industries also do art on the side.

“It’s about being a creative person,” she says. “A lot of movie stars are painters and sculptors; it’s quite surprising.”

Street skills

It’s a sentiment shared by Gimiks Born, a local artist who uses spray cans as his primary medium.

“If everyone could get remuneration for how much skill and work they put in it would be great, but it’s not always like that,” he says. “It’s a very tough industry out there for artists. The term ‘starving artist’ is pretty true.”

He’s just created a piece for the Pillars Project – an 11-metre-high mural on the concrete bridge pillars in South Brisbane.

“When people see it they say ‘how do you do it? How do you translate from a conceptual sketch on an A4 piece of paper to a wall that’s 11 metres high by eight metres wide?’ It’s just practice, and stepping back and making sure your proportions are all on-point.

“Large projects like this come into the light and people see that there is an arts scene here in Brisbane and they get inspired by it,” Born says. “There are a lot of people working hard to grow the arts scene, but it’s two steps forward and one step back. But people are always trying and that’s good.”

Painting by numbers

Local painter Margaret Ingles says having exhibitions is the easiest way to drive sales.

“Some people do all their own marketing and sell their work – I have exhibitions and that’s how I’ve always sold my work,” she says.

“I like that galleries will take on your work and do the marketing. They’ve got the client base. “They do all the stuff that most artists don’t like to do or aren’t that good at – at least, I’m not!”

Creatively connecting

Painter Cecilia Hine says having an online presence can be good to connect with fans, but it doesn’t often result in sales.

“I put up progress photos because people like to see artwork as it is progressing,” she says.

“Before I was working in a vacuum but at least I know people are seeing my art now. But I think people buy more if they come to an opening and meet the artist, rather than buying things online.”