Alicia Dunn spent 25 years in the advertising industry in Los Angeles before trading in that life for a beachside home with an art studio in San Diego County. (Courtesy of Alicia Dunn)
Columnist

What do people dream of when they near the end of their careers and look ahead to retirement? For many, it’s to do the things they have dreamed of for much of their lives.

They might even hope to turn a lifelong hobby into a second career. All the better if it’s an income-producing second career.

“Nyhaven,” a painting by Robert Holewinski of Lake Mary, Fla. (Robert Holewinski)

Of course, that’s not possible for all hobbies. But when people do find a way to make it work, it can be a dream come true.

That brings us to Alicia Dunn, Robert Holewinski and Diane Abt — three people who retired from corporate jobs to live their dreams as artists. Their work is sold on the San Francisco-based website UGallery.com.

Alex Farkas, the site’s director, says UGallery was founded with the idea that it would feature young artists, but it has unexpectedly morphed into a baby boomer showcase.

“Forty-five percent of the artists [who sell on the site] are 50-plus,” he says. “We have artists up to 84. That’s our customer base as well. Our average buying age is closer to 65 than to 45.”

“We have artists in their encore careers,” Farkas says, “artists who had professional lives in the corporate world. When they retired, they decided this was the opportunity to pursue their passion.”

Here are three of them.

“Shadows of Light,” a mixed-media artwork on composite board by Diane Abt of Oakland, Calif. (Diane Abt)

Alicia Dunn, 56, Encinitas, Calif.

Dunn spent 25 years in the advertising industry in Los Angeles before trading in that life for a beachside home with an art studio in San Diego County.

“I worked in advertising forever,” she says. “People assume I worked as an art director, but I worked in account management and strategic planning. My specialty was market research.”

Dunn’s eventual passion was born when she took a brief break from work when her kids were young. Though she had never painted, she took a class.

“It triggered something, something that was dormant,” she says.

When she returned to work, she “dabbled” in art. “I never thought of it as a career,” she says.

Much later came the thoughts of early retirement from advertising.

“What would I do?” she asked herself. “I didn’t want to do what I had been doing, something that would consume my life. I didn’t want to work in an office. I didn’t want to work for people. I had no idea what it would look like.”

What she did have was her paintings, which had accumulated over the years as she enjoyed her hobby. Someone offered to buy one. She held a garage sale and went on Craigslist. Little by little, her hobby was turning into a second career.

“I came upon it more organically,” she says. “Before I knew it, I found what I would do. It wasn’t so much by design. I wanted to do something that wouldn’t be consuming. Now [art] is completely consuming. But it’s who I am. I feel passionate about it and I do well with the art business.”

Dunn has now been a full-time artist for 10 years. Her advice to others: “It’s about identifying the things that make you happy and figure out how you can monetize that.”

Robert Holewinski, 67, Lake Mary, Fla.

Holewinski starting painting at 18, when he was in the Army and stationed in Korea.

“I started painting because in Korea there was nothing to do,” he says. “I didn’t want to go to the NCO club and start drinking.”

After the Army, he moved to Washington to take a job with Johnson & Johnson as a package designer. He stayed for 13 years. He also worked for the Franklin Mint and Astor Chocolate in New Jersey. Then he and his wife packed up and moved to Florida. His dream was to work for the Walt Disney Co., and a few independent contracting jobs there turned into a full-time job in a new department that was creating merchandise for Disney’s parks.

When he retired a few years ago he was looking to rekindle his passion for painting. He joined UGallery in 2010 and has since sold 20 original paintings.

Holewinski is both an artist and writer. He started writing in 2013 about his experience in Korea, producing a book in narrative free-verse poetry. He has since written two more books and is working on a fourth. He sells them online through Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

“I’m just loving it, to be able to write my way of writing,” he says.

Between his painting and writing, he is busy.

“I finish one or two paintings a week,” he says. “I paint for eight to 16 hours a week. Writing takes up an equal amount of time. The remaining time is putting my paintings up on websites and promoting my books.”

He says he tried to paint in several rooms in his home, but none of them seemed to work. So he paints in his two-car garage when his wife goes to work.

His advice: “Keep a hand in what you really enjoy, whether it’s evenings or weekends. As you start getting closer to retirement age, start spending more time doing it. For me, it was gradual. I was painting when I was working full time.”

Diane Abt , 75, Oakland, Calif.

Abt had a 35-year career in journalism before she turned her lifelong hobby of art into her encore career. Starting in 1968, she worked for CBS Radio, NPR, NHK in Japan and was the first Silicon Valley correspondent for Bloomberg News.

She began to draw, paint watercolors and studied calligraphy when she was in Japan for seven years while her husband was chief of the Knight-Ridder news bureau there. That’s also when a friend asked her what she was going to do next.

“I said I would like to see what happened if I painted every day,” she says. “I was surprised that those words came out.”

When they returned to the United States, they settled in Oakland, and Abt decided to get a studio outside the home. “I didn’t want to be isolated,” she says. “I looked for a studio in a building where there were other artists. That forced me to show my work.”

She found the right space in nearby Berkeley. The first thing she had to learn, she says, was that art as a hobby was very different from art as work.

“Art as a hobby is escapist and fun,” she says. “Art as work required me to improve my craft. I took classes.”

She says she was pushed into selling her first piece before she was ready. She priced an abstract piece at $200 and got an offer of $180.

“It was thrilling to know that someone wanted to put money down for something I created,” she says.

Her advice: “I say go for it,” she says. “We never know what’s ahead — if I do this, what happens? You have to make a decision and live with it. I made a limited commitment to it. I said if it doesn’t work out after a year, it’s been cool. It’s been 13 years and there have been all sorts of surprises.“