Let’s face it, you probably didn’t become an artist for the money. Those that DO make their full living off it often took a very long time to get to that point, and many full-time artists I know are still extremely frugal and careful with finances. Between time gaps between contracts, dry commission spells, low sales in times of the economy struggling, and people who want to pay us in “exposure”, many of us have found ourselves choosing between being an actual “starving artist”, and working a day job to pay the bills.
What do you do?
As someone working a day job, how often have you been asked “What do you do?” and answered “well, I work in (x retail store, etc), but I’m trying to be an artist.”? Sound familiar? I’m going to challenge you to answer that differently. If art and creativity are your passion and what you want to do and what you are doing in any small form now, the next time someone asks “What do you do?”, I want you to proudly answer “I’m an artist (sculptor, writer, designer, etc)!”.
You ARE a real artist. Right now. All day, every day. Sara Benincasa has some great thoughts on this – shifting your mindset to seeing your day job as your side gig/side hustle, instead of the other way around. You aren’t going to be a real artist someday, you are one NOW, even if you’re sitting in traffic on your commute or taking dessert orders in a restaurant.
Still not convinced? Sara suggests asking yourself some questions to determine if you’re a real artist – they include: Do you make art? Do you stay up when you should be sleeping because art? Do you spend time at the day job daydreaming about using the paycheck to pay for art related things?
Did you answer yes to ANY of those? SURPRISE, YOU’RE A REAL ARTIST.
The myth that you HAVE to make your money purely from your art to be in artist is exactly that, a myth. Real artists can have jobs. We like to eat. You are an artist all the time, whatever you’re doing.
I love the way Sara puts this. It’s actually a huge mindset shift. Many people I know, and even myself have said “I’m currently working in _, but I really want to be a writer/artist/etc”. We put the art on the side because we have been taught our worth in this world is based on our income. But if we flip that? If you say “I’m a artist!” and say it proud, but then also admit “I have a side gig pet-sitting”…that feels better. It also helps if you are feeling trapped in your day job. If you flip to thinking of it as your side gig, it helps it feel a LOT less permanent.
Try to find a job you at least like
Obviously, it’s not always possible to find a paying gig doing exactly what you want, but often there are things that are what I like to call “passion adjacent”. My husband Harrison, until recently, was working doing caricatures in a theme park. While it was not the exact art he wanted to be doing, and was definitely more time out in the sun and working with crowds than ideal, it still allowed him to use his drawing skills every day, and have a community with the other artists who worked there. He also met many outside commision clients through that job, and in down time between guests he could doodle and sketch. Currently, since he’s in school again working on art, his day job is not art related but is still related to one of his passions – animals. He’s working in a pet day camp/boarding facility and sends me pictures of the cute 4-legged guests all day.
Up until fairly recently, Christine Knopp (Kikidoodle) was teaching art. I’ve known talented costumers who worked at fabric stores and graphic designers who worked for printers. Look for jobs that include subjects, tasks, or skills that have a connection to your art or a passion, and use at least a portion of your creative brains.
Sometimes, though, it may not be possible, and you may be staring down a stint as a dishwasher. That is PERFECTLY OKAY. Keeping a roof over your head and food on the table is important.
How am I supposed to do this?
- Continuing on the theme of changing your mindset, Cali Bird encourages you to remember life isn’t all or nothing. You CAN work your day job and have an art career at the same time. Is it hard? Yes! But it’s possible.
- Cali also suggests breaking your creative projects into small chunks – things you can do in 30 minutes/an hour at a time. If you can carve out small chunks each day, you can find you’ve had several hours of creative time by the end of a week and feel like you’ve made progress versus staring at the whole project. Break big projects down into smaller pieces.
- The Artwork Archive suggests making sure you have accountability with a mentor, coach, or buddy. Something where you have a regular check in and they will ask about progress on what you said you’d be doing. Also, keep things slow and steady, one piece at a time – the important thing is to keep moving and working even if it’s slow and over longer periods of time. Remember that you can’t do everything, and that’s okay.
- A mentor told me to stop being a perfectionist (I know, easier said than done). You’ll always find more to tweak. Instead, aim for 90%. Set your personal bar a little lower and recognize that your bar is quite probably set well higher than your audience sets it. We’re our own worst critics.
- Create systems and rituals so you maximize your time and it becomes a habit. Dedicate a set amount of time per day or per week as committed time to work your art business – even an hour a day. Schedule it with yourself and stick to it.
- Cory Huff, acknowledging it IS hard work, reminds you that your time away from your day job isn’t just about creating, it’s also when you can promote and market yourself/your art. So he suggests being jealous with your time – you will need to make sacrifices in terms of Netflix binge time, parties with friends, and other activities to prioritize your art career.
- In relation to your day job, Cory also says to have a goal and an exit strategy. Know exactly the numbers your art needs to be bringing in to allow you to leave. Make plans for a reasonable amount of time to get there. Remind yourself of what you’re working for and towards and make real plans.
- Yes, you’ll be tired. Yes, there will be sacrifices. However, remember you’re still human and that self-care is vital to managing this balancing act. If you aren’t eating, sleeping, and recharging yourself, no amount of balancing will help.
The 5 Key Takeaways I want you to have
- Regardless of where your money is currently coming from, remember you are a real artist and art IS your job.
- Break down large work into small chunks with identifiable milestones & checkpoints.
- Have accountability systems – on yourself, and from others.
- Be super jealous of your time and how you use it.
- Prioritize self-care – eat, sleep, take breaks to recharge.
You can also download this graphic of the list: