Monetizing a Hobby

Last week my partner in everything, Russ, was talking about a tweet he had seen on monetizing hobbies. He said that it was sad so many people felt compelled to monetize their hobbies. I said “I don’t know. Some people can’t have their hobbies unless they monetize them. Dad never could have had all of those boats unless he had been willing to build and trade them, and I never would have felt the freedom to do all that smocking if I hadn’t been able to make it pay for itself.” He said “Exactly.”

For a little back story, Dad built his first wooden boat at around 10 years old in his father’s backyard shop. He probably built more bass fishing boats than anything else, but he also built race boats (hydros), sport fishing boats and put at least one cabin cruiser in a pre-built metal hull. He built engines too. In fact, that was what he did best. When I was young, there was always a way to get on the water, and whatever it was would run perfectly tuned while you were there, and fast. I truly miss that part of my life, not for the speed, but for the access to the water.

For me, it was fine and/or creative needle arts, particularly English hand smocking, a type of hand sewing most often seen in baby clothes. It’s time intensive and something most people can only afford if they do it themselves, buy second hand, use them for generations, or, sadly, if the original hand sewing workers didn’t get paid a living wage. I funded my love of English hand smocking by teaching classes and selling supplies. I also designed smocking patterns, had my work published in my favorite magazine and attended conventions. My soft spot for the art began, in the hope chests and family portraits of the generations before me. It was a privilege to have the time and resources to do it, and I made sure none of the cost took away from the family budget.

One day, I’d like to have the time and resources to research and write a book on textile arts of all sorts, fashion, decor and fine art and the relationship these time consuming arts have with income inequality. It is a multifaceted issue that weaves itself through all of the arts and the economy. Beautiful arts take time and practice. But, people have to earn a living. Many arts are dying, the numbers and kinds grow with time. It’s sad to see these things go and beautiful to see that creativity and the human need for expression still survive.

I didn’t see the Tweet Russ referenced, but we were probably looking at the same rub. The age old advice is to never turn your hobby into a business because you will lose the escape and gain another obligation. But, many (like me) don’t get one without the other. Is it a privilege or a burden? Yeah, that’s the rub.