Painting portraits to sustain a lifestyle with no money

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Sergey Balovin is a Russian artist who discovered a calling when living in Shanghai, China. His neighbor at his apartment complex was moving out and giving away some things she didn’t need anymore. Sergey noticed an easel and asked if he could have it. She said it was a gift from a friend and she wasn’t planning on giving it away. They agreed that Sergey could have it if he gave her some art lessons in exchange – that was when Sergey realized the prospects of what could happen with bartering. He thought about what he could create using his own skills and talents, and he came up with the idea of doing portraits.

He began straight away, and with his new easel painted people’s faces in exchange for food, clothing and decorations for his apartment. Eventually, he didn’t need any money because his portraits paid for everything he needed. He titled this project “In Kind Exchange,” and it has been quite successful so far, with thousands of completed portraits. Sergey does two portraits for every sitting, one for the recipient and one for his future exhibitions. He has lived money free for a couple years now and recently took his lifestyle to a new level by embarking on a world tour where he is having “Portrait Parties.” Anyone can invite him to their city as long as he has the assurance of a place to sleep while there, and provision of a ticket to his next destination. He is currently biking his way to Rome where we caught up with him to have a chat about his travels so far.

VN: It seems Kind Exchange has provided you many tangible gifts. Do you also do portraits for services?

SB: Yes sure! In Shanghai where I have spent the last two years, I receive free haircuts every month at a salon. I also get services like massages and access to local saunas.

VN:What have been some strong memories on your journey around the world for the project?

SB:My journey has just started with 2 month into it, so I think the most interesting adventures are still waiting for me. But every day is different from the other, when you are traveling. I write a blog called where you can find photos, videos and stories about the journey. The only issue is that I write it in Russian as I have no time for translating. But soon (I hope in May) you can see a documentary about my World Trip. Russia Today TV–channel is working on it and it will be in English! (continued below)

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VN:Do you see yourself continuing to exchange as a long term lifestyle? Are there some suggestions you can give to people who may want to, but are hesitant?

SB:At the beginning I thought of this lifestyle as temporary, yet now I can not imagine how I can come back to money. My life is much more colorful than it was before. I think everybody can try it, but first of all you need to realize that you pay for this type of freedom. Not with money, but you should give up something like a trade or skill.

VN: Can individuals ask for their portrait online and have it sent to them in exchange for a gift?

SB:Yes anyone can ask me to make a portrait online. I can make it from a photograph or through Skype and then send the photo of the portrait by email. I can even send the original work if the customer is willing to pay for the delivery.

VN: Thanks Sergey and best of luck on your journey

SB: Thank you so much!

Follow Sergey on his journey from his website and blog

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Photo Credits: Shanghai 24/7

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