The Artist's Road to Success Is Not Without Its Detours

by Joelle Steele

I always knew that I was born to be an artist and a writer. So, when I was just 16, I established this wonderful plan: I would attend art school, move to Paris, write novels, create fine art, and have my work exhibited by a prestigious yet trendy gallery.

Yeah, well, that sure didn't happen. Instead, I got a degree in Language Arts — a double major in English and Linguistics — and a couple of vocational certificates in ornamental horticulture and interior design/color/space planning. I moved around in California from Monterey to San Francisco to Los Angeles, back to Monterey, and then to Washington state. I did tons of writing, and I eventually created enough fine art to fill a closet, and eventually a gallery.

When we're meant to do something — even if we're not altogether sure what that might be — we can and do make it happen. It may be subconsciously, not according to plan, and with some detours along the way.

While I seemed to do everything in my power to not pursue a career in art or writing, it happened anyway. It started with my first job, as an entry level illustrator for an advertising agency. Two years later, I detoured into commercial space planning and used writing to promote it. Another two years and I was the creative director for a book publisher, a solid introduction — and a fortuitous one — to the publishing industry.

However, as life would have it, I again detoured a few years later, into a job as a landscape designer. This was a major turning point for me, because when that job ended in 1983, I immediately went on to build my entire career around landscape design, art, writing, publishing — and the horticultural industry in general. For over ten years, I published a monthly horticultural trade journal, wrote literally hundreds of articles and monthly columns for various trade magazines, had six books published — illustrated two of them — and took up botanical illustration as well. And when that didn't seem to be enough, I started publishing other periodicals and expanding my writing topics.

Since 1994, I have enjoyed an extension of my horticultural career in which I continue to write (and illustrate) how-to articles and books for that trade, but now I also write many kinds of non-horticultural how-to and self-help books, as well as short stories, articles, poetry, and novels. And I have also been self-publishing many of my own books, which allows me to do book design as well as illustrations and covers. What had seemed like career detours are now so obviously — to me anyway — part of the plan, the plan that I didn't intentionally create, but that was evidently meant to be. Everything I have ever done, ever learned, has turned out to be merely a step in the evolution of my career — a collection of steps that led me to where I am today.

Detours are just indicators of change and areas of growth, both inevitable parts of progress. Enjoying those little side trips by embracing rather than resisting the changes, is what it's all about. Because, in the end, all the roads you take will lead you to become whatever it is that you are truly meant to be.

This article last updated: 04/02/2012.