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case study

Robert Lyon artist (for Your Business)


When Robert Lyon turned 30, he decided to take a hard look at his future. Up until then, he had been working at a job and creating art at the same time. Although his work revolved around the world of art - he had worked as a production artist, picture framer, writer, photographer since the time he left school - he realized that he needed to choose between having a job or being a full-time artist.

A photography gig for a nature magazine brought this Southern Ontario native to the Maritimes. He instantly fell in love with the East and two weeks later, returned in his car, loaded with personal belongings, to follow his passion to become a full-time artist.

The initial years were quite lean as he struggled to establish himself as an artist, holding exhibitions to display and sell his work. Because his income depended on selling his work, he was under constant pressure.

He soon realized that not everyone wanted an original painting. This led him to design unique postcards and T-shirts with birds and nature scenes.

A mess-up with an outsourced screen-printing job for one of his T-shirt designs spurred him to make his own screen printing press. He realized that adding complimentary products to his offering helped iron out cash flow problems.

Marriage and children also disciplined him to develop a sustainable business model, which included moving his studio out of his house and setting up his own gallery. As his business skills developed, he realized that art and business were one side of the same coin. He loved the work-life balance he was able to carve out for himself. In fact, he once turned down a huge order from a major retail chain as it would have forced him to focus on the order at the expense of his small business.


With an established art business and a steady growth in cash flow, things were finally looking up for Rob. This was until he received a notice from his landlord to vacate the gallery space within 30 days. The space had been sold to a big chain store and all the seven tenants were being asked to vacate the rental premises. Retail space in the small town was limited and if available, quite expensive.

Rob soon realized the only long-term option was to buy his own place. Looking at various affordable options he found one property, which would fit the bill except that the place needed major renovation.

Access to traditional sources of funding the renovation were rather limited as banks wanted equity and guarantees to extend the loan. With the time running out, Rob had to act fast.


Instead of raising funds to pay someone to renovate, Rob decided to do the work himself. Relying on his experience and advice from family and friends, Rob took on the task of not only renovating the property but also building an additional 700 square feet of exhibition space. The work took most of the summer, with Rob doing the grunt work and only outsourcing technical work such as electrical wiring. The renovated gallery opened its doors to the public in early August 2010.

By investing his time in the renovations, Rob created sweat equity, which allowed him to build real equity in his business. Ironically, he is now eligible for accessing bank financing because of his healthy "equity" position.