My commerce degree was essential to becoming a full-time artist: How Did I Get Here?

Transitioning into the art world at 32 after a 10-year corporate career led to Shana Wilson painting Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the cover of Time Magazine.


As a 1988 Bachelor of Commerce graduate, the idea of painting Ruth Ginsburg for the cover of Time magazine some 20 years later was like imagining a scene out of a movie for U of A alumni Shana Wilson. After working for about 10 years in various corporate positions, Shana picked up a paintbrush at 32 and hasn’t looked back since. 

Shana found that there were many advantages to transitioning from the corporate world to the art world later in her career. Understandably, many younger artists typically have to take on full-time jobs to pay rent on top of pursuing their art but Shana was able to embrace the flexibility and security that came with pursuing a new passion later in life. “I was able to dive into my art and never have to walk away from it.”

“It has always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to paint, but I never went down that path because I worried it wouldn't pay the bills.” Yet the opportunity to change career paths presented itself after Shana’s daughter was born and she decided to leave her corporate job. Teaming up with a good friend who also happened to be a new mother, they took the leap and opened a small interior design firm. While Shana initially ran the business side of things, she also found herself doing a lot of sketching, and working with colour and fabric, and ultimately she was reminded of her love for graphic design. 

Prior to entering the workforce, Shana was determined to shape her university experience so that it would lead her down the path of embracing the corporate world with aspirations of becoming the CEO of her own business. This mindset suited her desires and goals at the time, but looking back on her experience, Shana would love to be able to tell her younger self to simply embrace the arts: “Had I known that I had the ability to pursue art within me, I might have started a lot sooner.”

Shana with Presenting Herstory for TIME

That isn’t to say that Shana regrets any part of the path that led her to where she is today. She is continuously thankful for her business degree because it made the difference for her to be able to excel as an artist in ways a traditional art degree might not have. In many ways, working in the art industry is similar to working in the business world as rather than having a product to market, the artist’s identity is being marketed through their art. Completing a commerce degree gave Shana a skillset that she asserts is invaluable in the artistic industry. “I just wish I’d been more open and embracive of the arts sooner.”

For those looking to break into the art world, Shana shares that “It's a really good time and a really hard time to be an artist” due to the work of social media. Rather than needing to find a traditional public venue to showcase and sell their art, social media has equalized the playing field by giving artists more and easier access to sharing and selling their art to an audience. However, the number of people sharing their art on a given platform is also in the millions. “You still have to find a way to be good enough to get your work seen, so it's a double-edged sword. But you have so many more opportunities in front of you.”

As someone who started their artistic journey later in life, Shana’s advice to aspiring artists is honest and unyielding: “If you expect to make a living out of it, you have to have the most demanding and honest reviews of your work possible.” Regardless of where you are in your art journey, Shana maintains that “the biggest thing as an artist is, be honest with yourself and your talent level.” Being a perfectionist that is prone to giving up whenever something doesn’t meet my expectations, Shana’s advice is a sobering reminder that the only way to improve at something is to recognize where you need to improve and move forward from there.

On top of being a raging perfectionist, I am also the type of person to throw myself into the deep end or not go swimming at all. Shana’s gradual transition from working the traditional 9-5 to being a full-time artist reminds me that the stages of life we go through resemble an upwards slippery slope more than a staircase. “Like anything, my art ebbs and flows. There are times when I don't do as much, and I think it’s healthy to take a bit of a break on occasion because you come back fresher.”

Chatting with Shana was a beautiful reminder to me that life doesn’t end once you leave university. You don’t stop growing just because you aren’t going back to school in September. It might be even easier to grow and change into who you truly want to be once you’ve gained some experience and done a little bit of living. 


About Francine

Francine is in her fifth and final year of the secondary education program with the fun combination of being a physics major and English minor (she swears there’s more overlap than it seems!) She is very importantly also an avid lover of bread and cats. When she's not spending time working and studying, you can catch her reading a book, playing video games, or finding various ways to be a loaf.