Donna Bernstein of www.donnaberstein.com gives a great JobShadow about her career painting and drawing horses.

What do you do for a living?DonnaB1

I’m a contemporary mixed-media artist.

How would you describe what you do?

Both creating original, compelling art as well as running the business of art. I balance my time in the studio with the time required to market and promote myself and my work, exhibit in shows and events, and expand my reach as an artist. This can be very time-consuiming, but there is no way around it. One thing have learned; the more you do it, the better you get at it.

What does your work entail?

When painting or creating sculpture – although most of my work at this time is two-dimensioinal – it requires the mind-prep for the size and feeling of the work; the colors and feel I am working intuitively on. I think everything in your life affects what you express on a canvas. Sometimes you can have the perfect idea and the perfect plan – and see it clearly in your mind. Yet in the execution almost everything changes – at least for me – because everything I create is a bit new from the last. There are some pieces that resemble each other, and if someone loves a piece that is sold I can make another piece similar to their size and specifications. I love working on commission with designers and private clients. But in my studio I am always pushing myself to do something new and different – new and different for me. I don’t keep repeating the same thing.
The continuing thread of my work is the pleasure of working with the form of the horse – a favorite of mine. He seems to be able to embody whatever it is I want to say.

What’s a typical work week like?

Flexible. Generally I do my business work – emails, contacts, photo work, entry to shows, contact, etc – in the a.m., and leave the p.m. for being in the studio. My work day can start at 6 a.m. or 10 a.m., and go to 6 p.m. or 10 p.m.  There is no set time. When in process on a piece with a deadline, you go until it is done. This lifestyle works for me, though it may not be for everyone. You have to be self-regulating, self-starting, self-reliant. You are your own boss of your own company, and I never forget that.  Professionalism and courtesy are key.

How did you get started?

I have drawn and painted horses my entire life.  I have also worked in real estate and publishing during my life. I think this is what gives me a sense of the necessity of the “business of art”. I love both aspects, because I believe that creativity is an essential part of business, too. With a life changing move to Idaho about 10 years ago I picked up my art full time, then started marketing, etc. And I haven’t stopped.

What do you like about what you do?

All of the above. I tend to be a focus, committed person. I love having something in my life that I eat, breathe, sleep. But this is just my process. Someone else could do it entirely differently, and be just as happy and successful. You find your own sense of purpose and process. I do alot of charity work; I contribute my art to causes I believe in, I paint live at events and fundraisers as well. I work with local students trying to find their way in the arts. All these things – and others, I’m sure sure – open up to you when you immerse yourself in something. As they say, if you build it, they will come.

What do you dislike?

Having your work rejected on any level. It’s hard, and yet at the same time you come to know it’s good because you absolutely learn more about what you are doing, how you are doing it, where you belong, and that, sometimes, all of the above just doesn’t matter – and you just keep going.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

Per piece generally, i.e. sales of art and commission work. No hourly or salary, as I am an independent artist. There are many jobs for artists who prefer a different lifestyle, i.e. as graphic artists or as freelance in addition to their job, or as an artist for a publishing house, where you create specific art for the company, on staff.

How much do you make? (*optional)

$0-25,000 ____

$25k-$35k ____

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Additional comments:

How much money did/do you make starting out?

It’s like driving a fast car.
You go from 0 to ….!

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

DonnaB2I am largely self-taught. I’ve had very few classes. I have worked a bit, and/or observed and talked with artists I have come in contact with whom I admire.
The learning never ends. There is no question I was born with talent and vision. But it takes more. And it doesn’t stop. And neither can you as an artist.

What is most challenging about what you do?


What is most rewarding?


What advice would you offer someone considering this career? 

I think it’s something that chooses you, as silly as that may sound. What I mean is – it is something that you don’t think about and apply for necessarily – it is something you just do. More than likely anyone reading this article is already creating a lot of art, and maybe just looking to re-focus his or her direction, or gain a little insight.

Rather than looking for a job to ‘apply’ for.   But I could be wrong!

That’s the beauty and magic of art.

How much time off do you get/take?

Hard to say as it varies a lot .  I know when I need to get things done and I know when I can take a break.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

That it’s easy.  Some people look at a painting on a wall or at a show and I think have no concept of the trials and tribulations, work and detail, it took to get that final piece from inception somewhere in someone’s mind to the finished item on the wall or sculpture stand.  You will be amazed what art will ask of you.

And unless you are in it – like most fields – you cannot fully grasp what it takes.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

Continued growth and success. Greater sales, notoriety and respect for my work.

Growth as an artist, and a deepening of my skills and expression.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

I wish whoever undertakes this work does it with a sense of real freedom to create, without judging or criticizing themselves too hard, though that will happen. Sorry to be trite, but it is true – you just do it. Sometimes I just have to close myself in the studio until something starts to happen. Process, process. Often, when I work with young people, or a parent with a child is showing them my work and they ask me about it, I love to turn to the child and say, “Do you want to know the secret of art? The real secret of art?” and of course their eyes grow larger and their attention becomes totally focused on me.

And I say, “Just don’t stop. Just keep doing your art, and you will get better and better. That’s it.”

Dora – in the movie, “Nemo”, said it best. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”