How to Turn Your Art Into a Career, According to Professionals Mikey Ting and Carissa Karamarko

How to Turn Your Art Into a Career, According to Professionals Mikey Ting and Carissa Karamarko
This article is sponsored by Set For Life.

It takes courage and passion to not only chase your dreams, but to turn those dreams into reality. It’s a drive that lives inside all of us, and perhaps for this reason we are fascinated by those rare characters that actually make it happen. Those who turn their art and their passion into sustainable career. People like Mikey Ting and Carissa Karamarko.

Together, the two created Studio Ting, a creative studio based in Preston, an inner northern suburb of Melbourne. There, the two channel their raw artistic energy into furniture, design and art; purposefully led by “things and ideas that feel good”.

Since 2017, Mikey has been making custom furniture as well as resurrecting found art from dusty retirement and painting them into relevance with typography; heart-led and bold in both colour and sentiment. 

Meanwhile, Carissa began her career as an artist in 2018, and has since been a finalist in numerous art prizes, including the Geelong Contemporary Art Award, Muswellbrook Art Prize, and the Mosman Art Award. Through her practice as an oil painter, Carissa uses the still life genre to explore an intuitive connection to colour and objecthood.

We caught up with the two of them to find out just what it takes to truly turn your dreams into a reality.

Lifehacker: Hey Mikey & Carissa, let’s start easy. Tell us a bit about yourselves.

Mikey: We are a couple in life, art and business. Carissa is originally from Sydney, I’m from New Zealand and we both call Melbourne home. We love training, we love listening to (and working to) Bruce Springsteen and Nick Cave, and we spend all of our time dreaming and talking about all the rad stuff we are putting out there into the world.

Can you tell us about your artistic journeys as individuals and as a creative duo? Where did it all begin and how has your art evolved over time?

Carissa: Putting myself out there and trying new things has been embedded into my personality since before I can even remember. My mum loves to tell the story of me when I was younger, entering every single event at the sports carnival, coming dead last in most of them but still having a huge smile on my face, just happy to be there and to be giving it a go. 

That trait has followed me throughout my life and especially in creativity. I’ve always had a wide range of interests and talents across the spectrum of art and music, and have followed these down to so many different places. Prior to my painting career, I first studied audio engineering out of school, followed by music business management. After I completed my studies, I briefly worked in the music industry, all the while painting, drawing and creating. 

I later went on to study graphic design which was just heaven for someone like me in the sense that it allowed me to try out so many different elements of design and see what works, all in the safety net that school provides. After studying, I worked as a graphic designer and illustrator in a few different capacities before focussing on painting. The studio feels like a ‘coming home’ of sorts in that I can incorporate a lot of these different ways I am creative that don’t necessarily fit into painting — it’s really liberating. 

Mikey: I’ve always been interested in drawing, writing and performing. I moved to Melbourne 11 years ago to pursue my music career, touring the world with a rad band. Once that finished up, I really became enamoured with making things, first from wood and then steel. I eventually launched a solo business making custom furniture. 

Around the same time, I began painting signs on odd things, eventually landing on old, vintage framed prints. Now I guess that’s what I’m most well known for. It’s got elements of design, illustration and typography, and it’s all done by hand. Sometimes I’m guilty of being a bit self-deprecating about my art but under the humour and cheekiness, there are some real meaty themes in there. I love it.

How did the idea for your studio space come about and what inspired you to chase that dream of creating a space to dive into all your creative disciplines?

Mikey: We started the studio during the first Melbourne lockdown! As a creative duo, our strengths and characteristics dovetail together beautifully. We both share a passion for design, for process and for making things, and because of our very different backgrounds and talents, our work lands in some pretty unique territory.

Carissa: We share the same perspective on life and art, the same desire to make our lives as big, bold and exciting as we can imagine and it naturally led to us creating a space for not only our art-making to flourish but for these big ideas, beliefs and energies to live.

Mikey: We wanted a place that could harbour and nurture not only our individual creative output, but also an umbrella for other ideas we thought were worth exploring as we ventured more and more into the design world. Furniture, murals, interiors; we needed something to not only unify it all, but I think to legitimise it, if I’m being totally honest. So far so good. It’s the dream

Carissa: At the heart of both of our art-making is a curiosity and love for creating — that coupled with our strong inclination to kick the status quo into oblivion really left us with no choice but to create the studio of our dreams. In the early stages of defining the studio, we had this moment where we realised we could literally structure the studio however we wanted and that it could be as wild as our dreams are — and that was so freeing! 

Making it as an artist isn’t an easy feat. Have there been moments where either of you felt like packing it in — if so, how did you get through those moments of doubt?

Mikey: I don’t know about packing it in. I’ve seen enough interviews and listened to enough podcasts to know — and believe — that self-doubt is a common occurrence out there. The art-making isn’t the tricky part at all. So many humans out there make great art and in such unique ways. My favourite way to disarm unhelpful feelings is to take a step back, look at what I’ve made and ask myself if it is an honest representation of me. If it’s not, it’s usually bound for the bin. I feel like most of my creative ruts happen when I stop making things for me. Capitalism, man.

Carissa: For me, creating has never felt like a choice, it’s always been my ‘automatic setting’ in some ways (a thing of enormous privilege) so I’ve never had the urge to pack it in necessarily, but what I have felt at times has been this feeling that I couldn’t do it and that turns into the fear of what happens if I can’t do this thing anymore. Neither of those things are ever true and I am quick to remember that. But, I think it is part and parcel with being a creative person and also having little separation between self and art. 

What’s next for you both? Anything exciting on the horizon for your art and studio?

Mikey: The studio is set to release a whole bunch of rad new furniture items next year. Dining tables, coffee tables, side tables and a couch – all available totally customised in colour/materials/upholstery etc. They are truly wild and we love them. We’ve also got some bigger interiors projects on the docket with some great Melbourne brands and businesses — we hope to add more to that list in 2022! It’s going to be so nice to have a full year to just sink our teeth into.

Carissa: We’re also super keen to work with fashion brands on in-store collaborations or product activations. Personally, I have my next solo exhibition with Saint Cloche in March that I am currently painting.  

Mikey: The studio is a real natural extension of what we both do as creative people interested in art and design and building fun things. It’s all about being brave, being proud of ourselves, and just going out there and giving it a crack. We are learning on the job, succeeding while making mistakes and it’s exciting. Being able to do it together is just the best thing ever. 

Carissa: Couldn’t have said it better.

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