Alumni Today: Rebecca Eichten (‘08), works as a freelance artist

When students are told to pursue a career that they love, there is often a symbolic, implied asterisk at the end of the sentence: Excluding any artistic pursuits. Rebecca Eichten (’08), however, had different plans.

From a young age, Eichten has had an affinity for artistic endeavors. In third grade, oil pastel painting opened her eyes to other mediums besides pencil and paper. In high school, photography, ceramics and drawing and painting classes exposed her to a greater scope of the art world.

Based on what she learned, Eichten sought to develop her skills as an artist at San Francisco State.

Her junior year, Eichten studied abroad at Italy’s Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze. As she walked along the same hallowed halls in which Michelangelo had once taught, she worked on a collection of drawings and paintings and became more focused on the work she knew she would do for the rest of her life.

Eichten then seized the opportunity to intern at an Anthropologie store through a  mutual connection with an Anthropologie merchandiser and landed an internship there her senior year.

Eichten was introduced to Anthropologie’s visuals department, where she worked on the in-store displays and installations, the window displays, as well as the merchandising of all the home products.

“I always strived to be in visuals at Anthropologie because I was able to apply my artistic skills and get paid to be creative,” Eichten said.

After graduating, Eichten moved back to San Diego and continued working with Anthropologie full-time. On weekends she wasn’t working at Anthropologie, Eichten designed wedding invitations and wrote out wedding signage. What was a niche service soon became her first steps toward entrepreneurship.

Given the attention her art had wrought, Eichten moved to assemble a portfolio and a website. When demand and product expanded, she created her online store.

Her real turning point, however, emerged out of a children’s set of Crayola watercolor paints.

One of the Anthropologie displays Eichten was tasked with filling was meant to emanate organic energy. She placed plants as well as her botanical watercolor paintings in the display. Customers took notice of the plant-filled display, particularly the paintings Eichten had included and asked if the paintings were for sale.

The attention brought on was enough for Eichten to question her path in life; ultimately she decided she might be able to sell her art.

“My job at Anthropologie was great, but I wasn’t getting paid amazingly, nor was the amount of time and stress really compensated for,” Eichten said. “Though I am so grateful for everything I learned there, I realized I could make the same amount of money, or come close, [by] following my dream.”

Within the same year, Eichten applied to Makers Arcade Holiday Fair, an event that showcases local artists. There, she sold the same watercolor prints that had set her on the road towards self-employment. The event, she recalls, became one of the best moments of her life. A moment in which she recognized how she was able “to make my own money with something I had made.”

What began as a small spark of an idea turned into a career filled with passion and risk.

“I realized that the only way to find out if I could make it as a full-time artist was to take the leap,” Eichten said. “I know that sounds crazy, but you have to be brave and willing to do whatever it takes to follow your dreams.”

Part of being brave is knowing when to be scared. Despite a belief in oneself and a fierce desire to accomplish something, there are still things that can go wrong. Eichten had risked comfort and facility for the sake of her craft, her passion.

“With starting your own business there are always going to be slow months. In the last two years I’ve definitely had some moments where I was super tight on money [and] it makes you feel like you’re not being successful,” she said. “But it’s also one of those things that comes with being a freelance artist. You don’t have a consistent paycheck, it’s just kind of project to project.”

And when one particularly slow month arrived, Eichten was unable to pay her rent.

“There have been a lot of tears,” Eichten said. “There are a lot of sacrifices you have to make in the beginning to make it work [and] you will have to find out what it costs you to live your lifestyle.”

Bouncing back from low points is difficult, but Eichten continues by “[having] a change of perspective.”

“I think it’s really about not letting yourself get discouraged and really putting your foot to the ground and going and seeking out whatever you can do to get the next job,” she said.

In order to make a living as an artist, Eichten takes on several artistic roles.

From calendars to greeting cards, from pillow cases to art prints, from murals to graphic design, she uses her skills in different ways to realize her dreams.

Last December, Eichten was selected by Lululemon to be featured as part of an artist highlight for all of San Diego. As part of the feature, she designed and installed the store’s holiday window.

Her upcoming project involves painting a geometric and botanical mural at Communal Coffee.

“It’s a serious hustle if you want to be a full time entrepreneur,” Eichten said. “Most people don’t realize how many different hats I wear to make it all possible. It’s non-stop. I am constantly working, always thinking [and] stressing about my business.”

Something as simple as Etsy, an e-commerce website that specializes in selling handmade or vintage items, can help launch a person into entrepreneurship. When Eichten began selling her products on Etsy, her customer base broadened to countries around the world.

Calendars featuring her art were bought across the U.S., Australia, China and Italy, making her business international.

According to Eichten, the hardest, most important part, is to try.

“If you want to follow your passion, there’s so many ways you can do it,” Eichten said. “If it is something that you feel really passionately about, take the leap and see if you could do it. The only way you’re gonna find out is if you try.”