For most people concerned with the everyday pressures of making financial ends meet, these are the two most feared words in the English Language. In 1991, longtime Sherman Oaks resident, Laurie Bender, heard these words from her employer. After graduation from UCLA with an art degree, Ms. Bender spent the next 17 years in the garment industry in Los Angeles, employed as a designer/merchandiser for various well-known manufacturers. She earned a comfortable six-figure income and managed a staff of 14 employees. When the company was sold, Bender became rapidly dissatisfied with the new situation.
Her discomfort eventually led to her termination, and to an unavoidable crossroads in her life. In interview after interview, Ms. Bender realized that she had achieved an unmatchable salary level, and was older than other job applicants willing to work for less income. Ms. Bender remarks, "I had already been there, done that. It was time for a drastic lifestyle change."
A weekend painter for several years, Bender usually spent Saturday mornings in the Santa Monica Mountains, painting "en plein air." Now that unexpected free time presented itself, Ms. Bender devoted all her waking hours to producing a body of work of such landscapes as Topanga Canyon and Malibu Creek State Parks. "The only people who had seen my work up until this time were other students, family and friends- no one who could or would give me an unbiased opinion. I hungered to put my work out in front of the public, and see if it would be validated, or whether I was painting just for my own enjoyment."
One weekend, Bender attended a local outdoor art show and met an artist who ultimately became her mentor- he told her if she was serious about exhibiting and learning the "tools of the trade" to show up at his studio three weeks hence. Ms. Bender did indeed show up. With his guidance, she planned to attend her first outdoor show to be held in Palm Springs.
"I set up my booth, hung my artwork, and priced it according to my mentor's suggestions. Before I knew it, a doctor and his wife came up and said they wanted to purchase one of the paintings that was marked $1,000. It was all I could do to act like I'd done this before."
To this day, Ms. Bender has a quote about "commitment" given to her by a fellow artist as encouragement- sitting on the top of her desk: "Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always in effectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance that kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the Providence moves too." Ms. Bender owes her success to that kind of commitment, she says. "When you finally find your passion in life, and commit yourself to it 100%, all kinds of miraculous incidents will start to occur. It's as if the universe recognizes you're finally on your right path."
"The toughest thing I've had to get used to is the unpredictability in my income flow. Now I can say that I'm comfortable with the notion of being uncomfortable!" Bender said.
"I was brought up to believe that all things are attainable if your work very, very hard," Bender states. Unlike many other artists, she actively promotes and markets to her customers. One of the things she specializes in is going out on appointments to client's homes and advising them on framing and hanging the artwork.
Today Bender is a nationally known award-winning artist. She exhibits at prestigious outdoor art venues all over the country. Her original watercolor landscapes start at $4,500. Bender's works are in so much demand that she only paints specific pieces to order by her clients.
"Having you own business is the fulfillment of a dream. What I will tell you is now I have the toughest boss of all-me! It's empowering to know you can do it, and that knowledge changes everything," Bender said.