I first saw, and fell in love with, Martha Rich’s wonderful work in the early 2000’s. Since then, I have had the good fortune to become friends with Rich and exhibit her work. She even contributed to my “Launching Your Art Career: A Practical Guide for Artists” book. She is talented, energetic and incredibly generous. But most of all she’s an absolute individual. Rich has carved her own path in the art world and it’s been a pleasure having a ringside seat.
Over the course of almost two decades Martha Rich has built an impressive resume. She has participated in dozens of exhibitions, her commercial art has been used in music videos, advertising campaigns and countless publications, and she’s won multiple awards for her work. She is also a dynamic speaker who shares her experience and knowledge at various conferences and with students at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and both Drexel University and Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia. Martha’s most recent mural can be seen at 1016 Buttonwood in Philadelphia and you can purchase merchandise featuring her artwork at BlueQ. I can personally recommend their shoulder totes. They are the perfect size to hold both a purse and laptop, or one naughty cat.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Martha about her exciting and unconventional path to success and what advice she would offer young artists.
Your journey to becoming a full time working artist was unusual. Can you share a little bit of your story?
I decided to become an artist after 15 years in the corporate world doing middle jobs in cubicles wearing pantyhose, getting divorced and then taking art classes at night. Two of my teachers (Rob Clayton and Christian Clayton) in that night class told me I should be an artist. So I quit the corporate job, took off the pantyhose and went back to school at 35.
What advice would you offer someone who really wants to make a big change and pursue an art career, but feels nervous or doesn’t know how to take that first step?
That is hard. I tend to only make big changes when something bad happened to me (divorce, being laid off etc.) that forced me out of my comfort zone. That being said, I would say start small. Take a night class. Or just a workshop. Or do an online course. Pay attention to how you feel. Do you like it? I remember taking that night class and being sooooo excited to get there each week. I did way more work than the class called for and it gave me a sense of joy. I knew it was what I wanted to do. Everyone’s path is different but what is consistent with people who succeed is that feeling of having to do it no matter what. If you are expecting overnight success it probably won’t work for you.
I really admire how you managed to carve your own path, and do so much as an artist. You do commercial work, show your art in galleries and create site-specific murals. You’ve licensed your work and also sell it yourself online. How have you managed to develop such a broad career and was it intentional?
It definitely was not intentional. It happened slowly and by chance, but the chances happened because I was always putting my work out there in different formats. When I was first starting out and freelancing was slow, I made up projects that were fun for me and kept me making things. Those self-driven projects are what propelled my career in the direction it has gone, that and all the new technology that was and is happening.
Artists are expected to do so much and wear so many hats these days. For any young artist struggling to manage their time while making art and building a career, what do you think are the three most important things to focus on?
Most important for me are:
1. Always be making work and always try new things.
2. Build your community and surround yourself with hard-working, driven people.
3. Don’t compare your path to other people’s paths.
You are well known as someone who is extremely supportive of other artists and arts professionals. Knowing you, I know that generosity is simply part of your nature. But many young artists feel competitive with each other and are reticent to share resources. Can you share any anecdotes about how being supportive and generous with others, even when it didn’t benefit you directly, has actually helped advance your career.
Hmmm this is tough to quantify. I just get pleasure seeing young artists, or any artist, go on to have exciting careers. It just makes sense to help them out. We have to support each other. It’s a tough world out there. You need other people to get you through the downs. I can’t tell you how many times my friends convinced me not to quit! Being on an island alone ain’t fun.
Is there anything you know to be true now about being an artist and building a career that you wish you’d known when you first started out?
Don’t use credit cards if you can’t pay them off at the end of the month. Ha!