Artist Ben DeHart arrived at a Hillcrest strip mall with cans of spray paint and boxes of chalk under his arm. The 27-year-old North Park man was not there to put his graffiti signature on the place. He was being paid to create the chalkboard sign detailing the specials for the month.

The spray can? That took the chalk board back to black. The chalk? That was to make The Wine Encounter‘s sign into an inviting design full of holiday cheer.

I watched as Ben drew beautiful strands of holly with red berries and bells.

“This is probably the only thing that would get me in the holiday spirit,” he said.

Some artists take day jobs such as bartending or construction that won’t interfere with their real work of creating art. Others, like me, have fulfilling jobs outside of art, but spend nights and weekends in the studio developing a dual career. Still others, like Ben, try to meld the two.

“I’m an artist/businessman,” Ben said in an interview last week in his studio at Space 4 Art, a warehouse where more than 30 artists have studios in East Village.

While his dream is to be a full-time fine artist painting abstract works that galleries markets and sell, he’s got lots of interim plans on how to make money from his skills. He creates signage for Trader Joe’s in Point Loma. And he’s also developing a graphic arts company that will incorporate his chalk art, a business he calls DeHart Designs.

“I didn’t want to do the starving artist thing — just work at Trader Joes and get my paycheck every other week,” he said. “That’s what the graphic design stuff is — it’s a way to get from here to there and still enjoy it.”

Ben got the chalk art job at Wine Encounter through a connection he made at Space 4 Art. The chalk art jobs for him are easy and fun. He’s been drawing since he was a kid and studied painting as a teen. Between ages 18 and 20 he had two galleries representing his work in Palm Springs. He sold one painting for $1,500, but then the gallery that sold it closed. The other closed shortly afterward, and the owner took off with his work.

“It was a big downer,” Ben said. “I didn’t want to pursue the professional art thing for awhile after that. I started taking classes in graphic and web design.”

His next art gig involved painting in a bar. The fact that no one would pay anything close to what he felt his art was worth cemented his resolve to find another way to make a living in the arts — at least until he could pursue his ultimate dream of being a full-time fine artist.

Right now, he said, he spends 10 hours a month on fine art, 120 hours a month on his graphic design/chalk art business, and another 120 hours a month working at Trader Joes.

“You can’t just live the rock star lifestyle,” Ben said. “You have to expect that things will take work and then you might get lucky.”

He hopes to increase the time he spends on fine art (like the piece below) as his graphic design/chalk art business takes off.

“My goal is to be an artist,” Ben said. “I want to see my work in galleries and to go to places I haven’t seen before and paint. I see that as where I could make the most money and be the happiest.”

You can reach Dani Dodge at, see her work at or become a fan at: Oh, and she tweets, too.

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