All in a (Creative) Day’s Work

A collage of three photos showing (from left to right): Ryle Ramirez standing and wearing a Hawaiian-style shirt with artwork on the walls in the background; a head shot of Danielle Desmarais wearing glasses with bright blue frames against a dark background; and Conrad Walz wearing a white shirt, dark vest and black hat, singing and playing guitar onstage.

Ryle Ramirez (l-r), Danielle Desmarais
and Conrad Walz

All in a (Creative) Day’s Work

Three artists share how they get creative when it comes to paying the bills and practicing their art

Sometimes, the idea of “the starving artist” gets glorified. In reality, it’s rarely that noble. Many artists do embrace multiple sources of income to make ends meet; some work unrelated jobs so that their art can remain pure enjoyment rather than a means of earning money. Calgary Arts Development’s 2020 survey of arts professionals found that only 19 per cent of professional artists reported earning all their income from their art practice. In fact, some professional artists earned at least 90 per cent of their income in 2019 and 2020 through non-arts work. Clearly, these creative minds are actively challenging the idea of what it means to live and work as an artist.

We delve into the lives of three artists holding full-time day jobs outside their art practice and how they integrate art into their daily lives. These Calgarians’ stories illustrate the balancing act required on their journeys to creative fulfillment and self-expression.


Photo of Ryle Ramirez in a room filled with art on the walls

As a recent high school graduate hoping to further his education and pursue his love for contemporary visual art, Ryle Ramirez came to Calgary in 2015 from the Philippines. Unfortunately, the need to support his family meant immediately joining the workforce. From graveyard shifts in the fast-food industry to demolition in Fort Macleod to studying to become a paramedic, Ramirez had to put his artistic ambitions aside.

The inner turmoil came to a head on the day of his final exam for his paramedic certificate. “I was in my basement, ready for school, staring at the ceiling for four hours,” he says. He realized that if he went through with the final exam, he would be charting a course towards a life he didn’t want; it was one other people wanted for him. So he didn’t.

Ramirez now works with international courier service DHL in a flexible work environment where he feels supported in his art endeavours. In fact, you’ll often find him drafting new visual works during his lunch hour. This newfound balance with his day job lets him dedicate time to work out of his northeast Calgary garageturned- studio. Ramirez draws on his work experiences, and his artworks depict the “face” of his struggle — often centring a subject embroiled in inner conflict, juxtaposed against a lively background, reflecting the vibrancy of the people around him.

Ramirez wouldn’t trade the hardships he’s endured; they led him to where he is today. He started at Mount Royal University this past September to pursue interior design, and he has this advice for other artists who may be facing similar challenges in practicing their art: “It’s doable, and it’s hard. Don’t expect it not to be hard. But you choose what struggles benefit you in the long run.”


Left to right: Headshot of Danielle Desmarais, Danielle watching a production in theatre seats with a child, performers in costume

Life-long competitive dancer and theatre school graduate Danielle Desmarais balances her role as a human resources advisor at Calgary’s Peter Lougheed Hospital alongside her passion for dance and musical theatre. “Having my full-time job gives me that opportunity to enjoy theatre and not feel like it’s about the money,” says Desmarais.

As her career with Alberta Health Services took off, Desmarais found a home for her creative side in community theatre. At Front Row Centre Players, she choreographed her first show — a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, met her now wife and gained further creative opportunities. Her recent choreography credits include Theatre Calgary’s Little Women, Naughty… but Nice! with Forte Musical Theatre Guild and StoryBook Theatre’s Ella Enchanted.

When it comes to her HR job, she feels that even though things can get busy, both fronts of her life “merge” in a powerful way. “My job is all about client interaction and making connections with people, and I feel like theatre really gives me the confidence to do that.” Desmarais also talks about her theatre work with her clients, helping them get their kids involved and bringing them to shows.

She credits volunteer-based theatre companies like Front Row Centre Players, Morpheus Theatre, Scorpio Theatre and Urban Stories Theatre with helping herself and many others find fulfillment. “I’m so thankful for those companies because without them, me, my wife and so many of my friends wouldn’t have the opportunities that we do — to have a full-time job and still keep our passion for theatre alive.”


Left: Conrad Walz playing an electric guitar
Right: Conrad Walz in studio

Conrad Walz’s passion for music began at an early age through piano lessons and family jams, but when his dad brought home a guitar, it truly lit a spark. Soon he went from learning to play his favourite heavy metal and classic rock n’ roll tracks to writing his own music. However, the realities of trying to make a living off his artistry quickly set in. “It became obvious along the way that if I wanted to have things like a house and be able to go on trips, the music wasn’t going to pay those bills,” he says.

Following his father’s footsteps, Walz made a career for himself in carpentry as his primary source of income, working as a contractor on renovations and construction. Aside from the odd bit of inspiration now and again during his workdays, he says his music serves as a cathartic outlet separate from his day job.

With songs that range in theme from being “really happy” to “really pissed off,” Walz has been praised by the likes of Neil MacGonigill and the late David Ward for his songwriting and musicianship that spans seven albums, both as a solo artist and as a band member. He describes his most recent record, Bitesize Pieces, which was released last year, as “a sweet and salty taste of rock n’ roll with hints of darkness just under the surface.”

This article was originally published in the 2023 edition of Create Calgary, an annual magazine launched by Calgary Arts Development in 2022 to celebrate the work of artists who call Mohkinsstsis/Calgary home.

You can pick up a free copy at public libraries, community recreation centres and other places where you find your favourite magazines. You can also read the digital version online here.

Magazine front cover of Create Calgary