Cali Hobgood barely knows what time zone she's in.
She lives in Illinois, but she has spent the past two weeks driving from Naples to Southern California and then to
"Every year, my internal clock shifts back and forth a few times," said Hobgood, 50. A photographer who hand-colors her photos with oil paints, she has been traveling and showing her work for 20 years.
Like many of her fellow roving artists, Hobgood has carved out a living that allows her great freedom but requires a grueling cycle of driving, exhibiting and creating. Despite the grind, it seems they wouldn't want it any other way.
Hobgood has had her fair share of adventures while crisscrossing the country — from driving through dust storms in near-zero visibility to having the cover of her travel trailer blown off. She travels in a "tricked out" van modified to carry her pieces from show to show. For a big trip, she breaks out what she calls "the
"I've camped in the mountains in Utah on the way to shows; I've seen these incredible places," she said. "One night I slept out on the Overland Trail in Nebraska."
The Florida-California-Florida swing is just the beginning for Hobgood this year. Summer is especially busy, with shows in Kansas City, Chicago, Des Moines, Iowa, Milwaukee, Denver and Madison, Wis.
"Most of us don't fit into the regular world," she said of her fellow artists. "We work this way because it's what suits us."
It suits watercolorist Russell Yerkes, who walked away from a job in construction two decades ago and turned his painting hobby into full-time work.
"I never looked back once I walked through that door," he said.
Now 57, Yerkes travels 10 to 12 times a year from his Tarboro, N.C., home to exhibit and sell his work. He has made a successful career of it, earning dozens of awards at previous Winter Park festivals and elsewhere. But he acknowledges that it's a tenuous existence.
"After a long day driving, you have to re-energize yourself and put your game face on and be ready to sell yourself to the public," he said. "We're relying on the public to help support us. If you're not successful, you're going to run into debt."
The challenges of the festival artist's way of life were made more stark when the economy stalled in 2008.
"We're providing a luxury item, and we're the first ones to see what's going on," he said. "It's feast or famine, living by the seat of your pants. But after banging nails, punching the clock, I wouldn't go back to that."
When things go well, though, the lifestyle does allow for taking time off for long stretches. That's been the case for Hobgood, who can step away from the circuit for months at a time, to travel abroad, return to
For her, the festival circuit is as much about making connections as immediate sales.
"A huge amount of my business is when people have seen my work, take my card and think about it," she said. "Then, when they're building a new house, they'll decide to get something."
Although the downturn in the economy dented artists' earnings and may have forced some off the circuit, it has opened the door for new faces as well. One of those is jewelry maker Megan Clark, of Raleigh, N.C.
Clark, 30, was trained in college to work with metals and jewelry. She became a "bench jeweler" working for a jewelry artist. Then, the recession hit.
"After the third layoff, I thought maybe the universe was trying to tell me something," she said of going into business for herself. "It seemed like the perfect chance to take the plunge."
When possible, Clark prefers to return home after each show to create more work for the next one. She traveled to the huge
She travels with her boyfriend, who helps her set up and take down her display and artwork after each show.
"The display takes up the majority of my vehicle," she said. "I'm lucky that I can get around in a much smaller vehicle than if I was a painter or making pottery."
Future stops along the circuit for Clark include the Atlanta Dogwood Festival,
"I work probably a solid 60-hour workweek. It's [both] full time and part time," Clark joked. "But I'm very fortunate. I feel very lucky to be doing what I love to do."
For all the uncertainty and demands of the job, there's clearly a bond among the roving painters, sculptors and photographers.
"It's a camaraderie; artists are a big family," Yerkes said. "We develop great friendships and network. After being in the studio for months at a time, we have an opportunity to see what new direction we're all going in."
Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival
When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday ; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Central Park, downtown Winter Park.
Admission: Free (no pets allowed).
Parking: Available on side streets downtown, as well as in lots and garages in the surrounding area. Handicapped parking is available in a barricaded area on North Park Avenue between Canton and Garfield avenues.