Jane Labowitch picked up her first Etch A Sketch at age four and "never stopped using it." By high school, Labowitch, also known as Princess Etch, was a pro. However, she struggled to decide whether to take a risk and pursue art school or play it safe and major in mathematics.
"One day I was in my AP Calculus class, and I was doodling in the margins of my homework, and I looked down and that was my lightbulb moment where I was like, this is my passion," Labowitch, 30, tells CNBC Make It.
But following her passion came with a hefty price tag. After high school, the Michigan native relocated to Chicago to attend the American Academy of Art, where she got a bachelor's degree in illustration. After graduation, she was left with about $53,000 in student debt.
By living with a roommate, working part-time while doing commission Etch A Sketch art and ditching a car, Labowitch was able to start paying $750 a month on her student loans shortly after graduation, and brought her debt down to $13,484.58 by March 2022.
"I was very adamant toward attacking those loans," says Labowitch. "I would say around 20 grand of that was Sallie Mae specifically. And I was particularly determined to get that paid off first before my federal loans, knowing private loans kind of play by different rules."
To pay off the outstanding balance, Labowitch got creative. By leveraging her TikTok following and unique Etch A Sketch art, she managed to pay off her remaining student loans in 30 days.
Like many millennials, Labowitch joined TikTok at the beginning of the pandemic. She started experimenting with live streaming her drawing process after losing in-person opportunities.
"I had lost a lot of work that I was doing with my sketch art, like teaching workshops, going to live events and doing live portraits. So TikTok was kind of this new avenue to explore to see what I could do with it."
Labowitch started out accepting donations on her live streams to buy new limited edition Etch A Sketches. She had no idea that she'd start making money as quickly as she did.
"I found this very silly Etch A Sketch on eBay. And I said, 'alright, everybody, any funds that I receive today are going toward the purchase of this ridiculous item I don't need in my life.' And it was incredible. Just like that, in an hour I had raised $60. I did it again for a farm-themed Etch A Sketch and, bam, $40."
Shocked at the support her followers gave her to obtain these "arbitrary" items, Labowitch decided she would do live stream art for a bigger cause: wiping out her student loan debt.
On March 31, Labowitch informed her TikTok followers that she'd be doing live streamed portraits for "rose" donations. Roses are the lowest form of currency users can exchange on the app, each worth half a penny.
Though donations weren't required, many of her viewers were happy to help fundraise after seeing her talent. In order to pay off her $13,484.58 in loans, Labowitch would have to raise 2,696,916 roses from viewers.
To keep track of her progress, Labowitch drew a giant "rose-ometer" and hung it up on her wall, coloring in her progress after each live stream.
"I got 5% of the way to my goal in one day. From that point, I just kept updating everybody on how things were going. And I got a lot of support."
With the support came many critics, who suggested Labowitch get a "real job" instead of doing live streams for cash.
"In the beginning, I got a lot of people saying, 'Oh, you're never going to do this, keep dreaming.' And the more it went on, the tune changed to like, 'How dare you have the audacity to do this?'"
Despite the naysayers, after 30 days and 117 total hours of live streaming, Labowitch had made enough money to pay off her loans and then some, a moment she can only describe as "completely surreal."
"It's the largest single lump sum payment I've ever made in my adult life. Just to hit that button and recognize that over $13,000 was just being withdrawn from my bank account in one fell swoop. Incredible relief is probably the best way to describe it."
Shortly after paying off her student debt, Labowitch decided she would start another fundraiser for a new computer setup. But shortly after, the overturning of Roe V. Wade made her put those plans on hold.
"I decided I'm going to take a break from this particular fundraiser that I was doing. I did a smaller fundraiser for Planned Parenthood. But what I would ideally like to do is use my platform for future philanthropic endeavors, finding the right causes at the right times, while still being able to maintain and sustain myself."
From June 24 to June 30, Labowitch received 28,716 TikTok "diamonds," each worth 5 cents. This translates to $143.58, which she rounded up to $150.
Labowitch is continuing to do live streamed Etch A Sketch art for her 475,000 TikTok followers, in addition to commissions and running her own store on Etsy. She hopes her journey empowers others to follow their dreams and embrace who they are, even if they're pursuing what others may deem a "silly career."
"Just capitalize on you, because you're awesome. I think that's true for everybody. Just embrace who you are, have no shame, and people are gonna love that about you."