“My mission with art is to help people feel seen and loved” Aida Murad, artist

Many times, we stop to think about how can we make a living and still have a passion for what we do. For artists and painters in particular, this is not just a full-time job; it is a way to find peace and their place in the world. Artists Aida Murad and Orla Walsh share what it takes to shift passion to career.

For many of us, we have a moment in life where we are asked ‘do you like what you’re doing?’ It is often the case where we don’t really know the answer. In the creative fields, the answer is frequently: ‘yes, I do;’ but it can come with stories of hardships and effort to make these dreams a reality. Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day of your life.” For artists who choose to make their passion a career, the road is long and hard, but they are assured this what they are meant to do, and they work for it.

Aida Murad is an Arab US-based artist who recently turned art into her full-time job. She started painting seven years ago, after she experienced a traumatic health experience that semi-paralysed her. Doctors at the time said she would not be able to use her hands again, and the question ‘why should we hire you?’ in interviews for different jobs kept demotivating her, questioning what made her special. One day, she bought paint and started using her fingerprints – something that was unique to her as it is to all of us – to make her first paintings. She never stopped since.

After starting to paint, she still worked in fashion e-commerce and helped start-ups set their strategies and marketing. In November 2021, she made the decision to make painting her full-time job. Being self-taught, it was not an easy transition, but she has cultivated intuition and her gut feeling through the years. She was confident that her passion for her art and energy to put on the work would help her through the challenges to come. “It became so miserable to do anything, but art,” she says, “I am not doing it just because it became profitable. When I put effort into my art, my sales started increasing and then I gained confidence and felt, ‘Yes, I can do this’.”

For Orla Walsh , an Irish artist from Dublin, the start of her career came in quite an unusual way. After going to art school for about two years, she left and took a course in graphic design. Later, she worked in the field for about five years and it wasn’t until after her first child was born that her husband suggested she started painting again. It has been 22 years since making this decision; her children are grown up, and art is in her everyday routine.

For artists, it is about what sets you apart. In business, it’s about how you start selling and make your clients list. Selling artwork is more than making a profit. “Sharing your art, it’s almost like being naked, it is personal,” says Aida. “I don’t like selling things, but I feel joy connecting with people who love my work.” She remembers her first sale was a piece about a woman’s period, something taboo that is seldomly discussed and rarely represented in art work, which she exhibited in a coffee shop. Nothing fancy, but it was where she felt safe to be ‘seen’. She does abstract and ‘channelled’ art, explaining it represented her spirit “moving” through her. “My mission with art is to help people feel seen and loved,” she said; she expresses it through beautiful artwork of nature and animals in order to “make us company, so we are not alone.”

Orla’s first selling experience was different. She hung her paintings in a public art exhibition at St Stephens Green. They were Heinz ketchup bottles. Then, the corporate head for Heinz Ireland found her and told her to take them down because of copyright infringement. She thought she would be sued, but instead the company got in touch again and bought her art to display it at Heinz World Headquarters in Pittsburgh. They were her first six paintings sold. After that, she started selling straight away, finding herself “very lucky.” As with the bottles, she paints pop art. She says it “was not intentional”, and just happened. Later, working on a campaign for Heinz UK, they sent her the advertisement to make the piece and bought its rights. It was then that she realised “Oh my God, I can make money from this.” The journey has since taken her through many similar experiences.

Selling is by itself a tough business, but selling art has its own twists. Recent years have seen many initiatives incentivize people in pursuing the creative fields as careers, minimising the stereotypes of a “starving” creative. Encouraging all age groups to pursue passion projects and make them a profitable career through hard work, satisfaction, and fulfilment. Nowadays, artists have options: work by themselves, or with a gallery.

Aida has never used a middle-man, no one represents her. Still, she has held sixteen exhibitions in galleries; with the most recent exhibiting her work as the 2022 artist in residence at Georgetown

Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Centre located in Georgetown, Washington D.C., United States. Whereas Orla’s work was sold initially through galleries, over the years she gradually built a client list and a profile, the need for a gallery was no more as it could be only her and the buyer. “It was harder years ago with no social media,” she recalls. “You had to be in a gallery, you had to be seen, if not no one knows your work is there. Nowadays, you can post a photo of a piece and sell it 20 minutes later.” Social media has opened doors for both starting and experienced artists in sharing their work and passion with potential customers, and art lovers or enthusiasts alike. Nonetheless, traditional ways of galleries are still important in the eye of veterans and rookie artists with their help and expertise.

Dermot O’Grady, owner-director of The Green Gallery , has been in the art business for thirty years. Always interested in art, he started his first art galleries as a side job. Later, he left his job in the hotel business to make it a full-time job. At first, the artists he worked with were on a commission basis. They delivered their finished pieces, but he then chose the work to exhibit and sell. Every sale is directly through him, as is the nature in any gallery. He says: “Many artists wouldn’t want it any other way, they are in their studios creating and working.” He receives everything: surrealism, impressionism, pop art, abstract, all sorts of paintings selling them from small prints of €20 up to original works in excess of €10 000. “Art has nothing to do with class at all. If you have the art in your heart and soul …with collectors, they become attached to them. It is a piece of them. They know a good piece when they see it.”

Art is more than a business. For Dermot, it is “in your everyday vision… Everywhere you look is art. The clouds, the signs across the streets where you walk… the beauty of it all, is art.” In the eyes of Aida, it “is a product, but is also a creation. It is much more than an object, it can be a tool for healing, empowerment and inspiration.” And for Orla, it is also “happiness in itself, somewhere you can be incredibly content … It’s a creative and lovely place to be.”