Thanks to the internet, Calgarian Cari Buziak is living an artist's dream.
She paints all day, sells to customers around the world, and earns more than double what she used to in a full-time job.
"It's so much fun. I have the freedom to try anything I want," says the 26-year-old Celtic fantasy artist and illustrator, who founded Aon Celtic Art & Illumination (www.aon-celtic.com) two years ago.
"I don't think I'd have a business if it wasn't for my Web page. I think I would still be painting for an occasional show, and maybe trying to find a gallery that would like to hang a painting."
Buziak's website serves as an online gallery, attracting an average of 25,000 hits per day - and that figure is increasing every month.
Her small art studio in a downtown apartment is a study in contrasts, where Buziak blends medieval painting techniques with the latest technology - a Macintosh computer, used for all aspects of her work including layout, design, database management and order processing.
Drawing her inspiration form age-old Celtic images, folklore and myths, Buziak relishes putting her own unique twist on ancient designs.
"There's lots of rich detail," she says. "I'm like a magpie - if it's got more colours and more glittery gold, the better."
Largely self-taught as an artist, Buziak learned to paint from her husband Derek Mah, a graphic artist. Buziak was inspired to try Celtic art after taking a calligraphy class, and has continued to explore her Irish heritage by studying the methods of Celtic scribes and traditional art techniques such as gilding and illumination.
At first, she painted for fun and sold some of her work at Con-Version, an annual science fiction and fantasy convention in Calgary.
Business took off when customers started asking for more products - such as prints, posters or T-shirts carrying Buziak's designs. After a year, she was able to quite her day job as a clerk at an art supply store, and she hasn't looked back since.
Buziak sells 90 per cent of her work from her website, which she updates once a month with new paintings.
"It's a live portfolio 24 hours a day," she says. "It's not having to make cold calls or drop your resume off at galleries. You're not sending packages off hither and yon wondering if they'll ever call you."
Buziak, who works 36 hours a week, earns approximately $3,750 a month gross from her Web page through direct sales and commissions.
She has done all kinds of work, including book and CD cover illustrations, Celtic greeting cards, decorative knotwork designs for Irish step dancing dresses and other commissioned works.
Buziak has both individual and corporate customers, with individuals making up the bulk of the sales. An estimated 60 per cent of her business comes from the U.S., Europe and the United Kingdom, with the remainder from Canada and Japan.
"The internet makes country borders irrelevant," notes Noah Heller, who has commissioned Buziak to do a wide range of creative work for an online computer game developed by his Connecticut-based company, Realmcraft Inc.
"Cari could be on Mars with myself in Antarctica, for all I'd notice. The only time I ever notice she's not in the States is when she sends me a package and I see the customs slip."
Pennsylvania businessman George Fennell says if it wasn't for the Net, he would never have known about Buziak's work.
"I think it's one of the finest detailed paintings of Celtic design and artwork I've ever seen," says Fennell, who has purchased several of Buziak's paintings over the web.
Merrill Lynch's Hong Kong office is another customer who found Buziak's work on the Web. After spotting the image of a phoenix on her website, the office e-mailed to ask about using the painting for a financial report cover.
"It was exciting, and kind of humbling," Buziak recalls.
The internet also makes it easier for her to do business with Calgary-area customers, bringing added convenience and saving time.
"Whatever she designs for me, I can see it in colour on my computer screen before it's completed," explains Barbara Blakey of Blakey School of Irish Dance, who contacted Buziak to design performance costumes for dancers.
According to Buziak, the Internet holds great potential for artists. But many are still stuck in what she calls "the fine-art mindset : taking slides and visiting galleries as the only way to get your art sold."
For anyone who is interested, she suggests taking one to two months to learn about the Internet, part-time during evenings or weekends.
"You need to really make an effort at it. Send your address around to newsgroups and search engines; make a good page," she says.
"Once you learn, the sky's the limit."