This post follows the good news about my article "A Surprise Career as a Quilt Artist". Most of the time I am very happy with my choice in careers, and most of the time I am upbeat in my posts, so I apologize that today I am not going to sound so happy. I also apologize that there are no pretty pictures to go with this post.
I have actually been feeling rather stressed the last two weeks. Why? Taxes were looming, I was busy and left them too late, and had to do the work myself. I filed my taxes this past weekend and learned that my gross income has now reached the level where I am required to register for HST (harmonized sales tax). In Ontario a gross income of $30,000 or more means you have to collect HST on all services rendered and all goods sold. It also means you can claim back all the HST you paid out on items purchased for your business.
I have always felt that we should not discuss our incomes publicly, but I think I am going to make an exception here because I think it is OK to talk about it when you have a point to make and if your income is low;-)). On the one hand, it is a wonderful thing that my business has grown to this point, and that I’ve actually managed to make my living doing what I love for the last three years. Although I am not a high earner, I feel I have been successful given that I am able to get by doing what I love. But, today I ask, what price success? My reward is that I get to do a boatload of work to track and remit HST on everything I do and sell when my NET income is far below my gross income. It seems like such a lot of work for so little.
This brings me to some things I want to say about the realities of being a quilt artist and teacher, and some of these things may actually offend some readers. I have conversations with people regularly that demonstrate to me that some do not understand that this is more than a hobby to me. This is my career. Last week I was asked by someone how my husband feels about me gallivanting around the country? My response was "I am not gallivanting, I am working". My husband is happy that I have a job. I have had people ask me why I am working so hard and when I am going to slow down and take some time off. I remind them that when I had a conventional job I got anywhere between 2 weeks and 6 weeks vacation, depending on where I worked and my years of service. I am my own boss now, and if I want to go away for a week, I can do so as long as I have no professional commitments at the time (i.e. teaching, lecturing, shows, etc). I do take a few weeks of vacation each year, even though I may still do some work during them. When you have your own business there is always something to do.
I used the word "professional" to describe myself a few sentences ago. I have never particularly liked the word because it sounds hoity. I am not using it to describe my behaviour, but rather to communicate the fact that I do what I do as a profession, making my living from being an artist, teacher and dyer. I am proud that I am able to do this, and I am willing to sacrifice some things to be able to do what I love. I don’t usually comment on other people’s career choices, but I certainly receive comments on mine. A while back I was on a teaching trip and was billetted at the home of two retired teachers. The husband of the quilter decided to tell me that he thought it must be a horrible job doing what I do, to which I replied "I love what I do". His next comment? "Well you can't possibly make much money". Well maybe not as much as a high school teacher, but I may be just as happy (OK, today I'm not).
For most people making quilts or art is a hobby. This may be why there are some who don’t understand why I work so hard and push myself so far. I do belong to a professional association, but there are a huge number of members who have become quilt artists in their retirement. They may have a pension to support them now and don’t need to push themselves the way I do. At 49, I have to be successful at what I do or I will quite simply have to go and find a regular job. Finding some success as a quilt artist can be a lonely thing. You have different interests than learning the latest technique. You might want to talk about the challenges of travelling so much, about how to price teaching, what shows to enter, etc. Where is my community to talk to? Who can I call today to talk about their experiences with HST? Is there another quilt artist and teacher in Ottawa who is charging HST?
I am not looking down on hobbyists. However, I think that because quilts and art are viewed as a hobby by many, and particularly because quilts are viewed as a woman’s thing, is what contributes to some individuals and groups not understanding why I charge the rates I do or why I charge mileage. In what other business would someone travel across the country to teach for $400 a day and in what other business would they not expect reimbursement for travel? I need a car to do my job. If I can't afford to buy another car on the day mine wears out, it will be a sign that this business is not viable. Why would I travel without reinbursement? Would you? I am also worried that the extra expense of charging HST to groups is going to make it less likely they hire me.
That, my friends, is my whine for the day. I don’t want to whine too much because I really do love my job most of the time, and everyone is going to tell me to get a real job if I don’t like things the way they are!! This too shall pass. If you have comments or opinions to share I’d love to hear them.