Turning A Passion For Painting Into an Income at 104

Published on December 15, 2019

I’m going to guess that you probably don’t know Carmen Herrera. She’s 104 years old. A Cuban-American living in New York. She’s my new idol.

Her age has everything to do with this story. But not because she has pushed past the century mark. See, Carmen’s my idol because she sold her first painting at the age of 81. Now, some of her abstract works hang in Britain’s Tate Museum.

I first picked up a paint brush in 2017—then a 51-year-old with an urge to express an enlarged creativity gland by way of something more than black words on a white page. Moving to Prague a year ago only exacerbated the desire, given the painterly ambiance this city exudes and its long history as muse to artists of the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, Kafka, and so many others.

A score of canvases in different states of completion rests against various walls of my apartment. Supplies fill six oversized drawers. When I don’t have friends over, my main room looks like a Jackson Pollock painting threw up.

Like Carmen, I tend toward geometric abstracts, or increasingly political and social commentary. Maybe I’m good at this…maybe I’m not. I really don’t know. But I do harbor a certain fantasy that one day my paintings will hang in a gallery or a museum, and that I’ll actually earn a bit of money pursuing this passion.

That’s the thing about snow on the roof—art doesn’t really care where any of us are along life’s continuum. Youth has cornered certain markets, for sure. But creativity isn’t one of them. Age gives us insight. It offers wisdom. It gives us an economy of motion and a push to completion that rests on the notion that our days are shortening. It encourages us to abandon the rules and do as we please because we have no one to please other than ourselves. After a career thinking outside the box to solve problems, age allows us to think outside the lines when we’re creating whatever artistic vision has suddenly invaded our head.

It’s all just another way to deliver the overarching message I routinely urge: Modern retirement—Retirement 2.0—is our chance to live our passions. Maybe that’s painting. Maybe it’s photography or macramé. Maybe it’s running your own food truck…or living off the grid in some forgotten Central American surf town…or farming organic rhubarb on your own piece of Montana and then selling rhubarb pies and jams at the weekend market.

When I had a young family and I was chasing ever-larger paychecks, passions hid themselves out of necessity. Sure, I thought about them every now and then, and I daydreamed myself into believing I could go buy an easel and a bunch of oil or acrylic paints and dive right in.

Then reality, like that always-annoying Good Angel, popped up on my shoulder to spit all over my daydreams.

But now, as I think about what makes me happy, what I enjoy at the most visceral level, and what I can see myself doing late into my years when the daily deadlines no longer beckon…it’s always travel and it’s always painting. Painting makes me that happy when I’m consumed in the process.

So that’s my wish for you today. That you look to Carmen Herrera and see in her late-to-the-party success the passion that’s still trying to escape from inside you. Maybe like Carmen you can turn that passion into an income stream.

Or maybe you don’t.

No matter.

Because the point of pursuing a passion after a working career isn’t necessarily the money. It’s living your version Retirement 2.0 as richly and joyously as possible.

Original piece authored by Jeff Opdyke

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