NASA Engineer Turned Pet Portrait Artist

NASA Engineer Turned Pet Portrait Artist

by Sema Martin

Art has always been my passion. Ever since I can remember I have always been coloring and drawing and you could always find me in the corner with the latest coloring book. But as you get older you are told by society and teachers to pursue a ‘real’ career, and that art is just a hobby. Obviously, I know now that this is nonsense but back then I thought of following my other passion, Space. I completed a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering and another Master’s at the International Space University where I had the opportunity of interning at NASA Ames for the summer of 2016. It was such an incredible experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I still felt like something was missing. After picking up my pencils for the first time in so long, it felt so wonderful and easy and I could feel the passion flowing back into my life. After drawing a few animal examples I was asked by various family members to draw their fur babies and the birth of my pet portrait business began.

The Kitten and the Butterfly
16x11 inches, colored pencil on paper

At the time I was doing a Ph.D. in ‘Lasering metallic powder for in-situ resource utilization’ and as interesting as it sounds it didn’t excite me as much as my next commission did. That’s when I realized what I really wanted to do with my life. Draw. It was a terrifying decision to quit my Ph.D. and everything I had been working for, for the last 10 years but I felt there was a definite time for change. I had reached the point where all I could think about was my next drawing or my next commission or the next set of pencils to purchase.

I didn’t feel the same about my engineering career anymore, but I was afraid that I would be throwing all my hard work away if I quit. Being financially stable was my first worry. Would my pet portrait business be enough?

I had been using my bursary to pay for my life in Sheffield and I used any extra money I made from commissions to pay for our wedding that year. It was wonderful and I was pleased to have the extra income, but I wasn’t sure if it was enough to live on. I worked both ‘jobs’ for 9 months before deciding to take the leap. I had a wait list of 5 months for my commissions and I had to put my prices up, so I thought that was great progress. I also had a proper website, business cards, and my business felt ready to go. To ease the financial transition my husband and I moved to Wales for the much lower costs and to be closer to his family. We were able to find a three-bed house that was cheaper than our studio flat and therefore I was able to expand my studio and have more space for more work. Cutting down our expenditures helped ease the transition and allow my businesses to pay for us so I could start my life as a full-time artist.

Sema Martin in her art studio

I currently make less money than I did as an engineer but it is enough to get by and draw full time and my business has only been running for under three years so there is plenty of room for improvement. I can still pay all my bills and buy food as well as more pencils when needed and the best part is that I can create my own structure. I don’t have to answer to anyone, only to myself to make sure I create my commissions on time as well experimenting with other art projects. There isn’t a single second of my day when I am not doing exactly what I want to do and what I have planned to do. All my hard work is for me and my family directly, not for someone else’s company. I love the simplicity of having my own business, the harder I work the more sales I make. There can be lulls in the year when people do spend less money, so it is important to record those times and make sure that you save money in the months you are doing really well.

In order to make sure I am financially stable I always save 10% of every sale towards a rainy-day fund or pencil fund. Materials are so important to the business because if you run out of the much-needed black pencil then you can’t do your job. So, it is important to have that little pot to keep up the resources that help your business to function.

Three Happy Kittens
16x11 inches, colored pencil on paper

Running your own business does mean that you have to be so much safer and intelligent with money because unlike a job when you know you get a certain amount at the end of the month, you don’t necessarily know when you will make your next sale. I like to do organize myself so that I have enough money pay for my current month and the next month before I spend any money on luxuries such as clothes or eating out. I call it ‘A Month Ahead’. This really helps my husband and I plan our financial situation so if we want to go on holiday or do something special, we know our main living costs are covered first. He is also running his own business, so we are both living the same way and helping each other. Anyone that is currently in a job and wanting to be a full-time artist I would tell them to go for it. Be organized financially and in tough times when you haven’t made a sale in while, don’t give up. It is so easy to think, ‘oh maybe I should just get a job again’, seriously don’t. Getting through the hard times what differentiates you from the people that made it and the people that didn't. Keep at it and you will get there.

About Sema:

Entirely self-taught, Artist Sema Martin made the leap from a NASA Aerospace Engineer to Fine Art Artist in 2016. Her love of nature and wildlife brought her to the Welsh countryside where she now has a studio in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park and a thriving International Pet Portrait Business.

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Comments (1)

A woman who has inspired people and shows the world that a person can achieve in there hobbies too. I am wishing her a success and to have a achievement in her future

Vignesh - Jul 23, 2019

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