Part Time Job, Full-Time Artist: Rethinking the Creative Career

Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

2bb38f139ebe7ddbc178a30a66953983

 

Two years ago while I was attending a conference on children’s books in Singapore, I sat in on a panel that consisted of two writers and an illustrator. The one-hour long talk was about their journey and experience, and how they got to where they were, career-wise. When the Q+A session rolled about, I knew what I wanted to ask – it was at the back of my mind when I saw the slides of their journey and creative processes. It slid off my tongue: “How do you guys earn enough to do this for a living, since you only produce about 2 books a year?” 

The room buzzed a little, and murmurs could be heard. It turns out it might be a little sensitive – this topic about money. But I had asked in earnest, because their achievements were not to be scoffed at. However, it didn’t add up, because we all know how long it takes a book to get published. And was there a secret to holding out for a paycheque to cash out in the meantime? It wasn’t meant to put anyone down – I was just really, really curious.

Their answer? Both of them had part-time jobs unrelated to writing/illustrating. They were frank: they couldn’t possibly live off from their books (not at the moment anyway). They told the crowd that having a part-time job freed them of the pressures of having to rely on their books financially – which would ruin their experience of writing/illustrating one. 

It made a lot of sense. And I was thrilled that they didn’t sugarcoat the experience. They told the practical side of a story that not many people care to hear about. Maybe it ruins the perfect illusion – one that spreads the idea that artists are supposed to come out the other end, triumphant after years of struggling alone, working hard on their craft. Although some might find it a silly or even inappropriate question to ask (It’s too personal! No one wants to hear the negative stuff!), I felt it was important. And it’s a pity no one talks about it more within the creative field. 

Beyond the encouraging (and yet irritating) shouts of “Work harder!”, “You’re not doing enough!” and “You need to get out there more!” that’s ringing in the ears of every artists who has tried, failed and tried again, harder; it can mean so much. It means that the idea of an artist, sitting behind their desk, deep in the flow of creating work with no other obligations (financial or otherwise) besides their 100% focus on their art, might be a reality that’s not in line with what a lot of artists are facing. 

Yes, there is a percentage of artists who are able to do it full time, but they add a whole lot of other things to their repertoire too – some teach, some freelance on the side, and others pick up part-time jobs to substitute their income. Besides art patronage (which is harder to come by these days), there’s another way; one that’s not talked about more:  sponsorship. This article – “Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from – is a really great article about how artists are doing a disservice to others by not being honest about how they got to where they are. Replace “writer” with “artist” in the article and there’s not much difference – we’ve all gotten help along the way. The question is how much? Was it through your own efforts, or by someone else? No one really talks about where their money comes from (or maybe there’s not enough frank conversations around it to begin with in the first place). 

Some might not need to make money from their art – for some, the love of process is enough. But for many, the financial lift from selling their work isn’t just about making a living. It’s a sign that they’re doing what they love – and are being loved by others as well. Call it validation. Or maybe the fact that it could signal the beginning of a viable business (and no, it’s not a bad word). It’s a value system that rings higher than just dollars and cents.

Taking on another job – part-time or otherwise, doesn’t mean that you’ve hung up your artist hat for good. It just means that you’re being pragmatic and realistic. Money pays the bills and keeps the light on. It keeps your fingers warm enough to move when the temperature outside is freezing. It keeps you from hunger and pain, and it buys you supplies needed for you to work your magic. Above all, having a bit of money ensures that your basic needs are met, so that you can focus on creating great things.

Taking on another job – part-time or otherwise – is also a great way to add another dimension to your work, particularly if you have interests that run outside of art that you can capitalise on. Or perhaps you’re merely taking on extra work to fill the the gaps financially, and are not really into whatever it is you’re doing to help pay the bills. That’s fine too. Whatever works for you. Just remember: if you start to have a strong, adverse reaction to work outside of your creative interests, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate the impact it will have on your art. 

It’s a fine line to tread. You don’t want to be too comfortable that you neglect your art, but you want to earn enough so that you can take the edge off from financial burdens. So what’s the best way to go about it? Pick something that you’re good at. Something that you can do quicker, or better than others. Do something that comes second nature to you (and I’m not talking about lying back on the couch going over Games of Thrones).

I know a few people (myself included) who look for avenues where they can separate their emotions from work. In other words, they are able to distinguish and remove themselves emotionally while completing the task at hand. For example, if you’re a designer during the day, you’ll be using up a lot of creative energy – which makes it a bit harder to squeeze out creative juice for your own personal projects come night-time. The goal is to find that sweet spot between your interests and also what you’re good at – which you might find has no relation to art at all. I’ve known artists who are also accomplished accountants, gardeners and even magazine writers (yours truly).

So throw out the outdated notion of being a starving artist. Keep your hands busy and get out there while you scale your creative heights. Find a job if you have to – so you won’t have to sacrifice your artistic integrity or worry about things like being too hungry to think properly or if you’re struggling to stay afloat under the constant pressure of being evicted from your home. You’ll be able to stay true to your voice and your goals, and enjoy the artistic freedom it offers you.

One caveat though: don’t let the need or want for stability rob you of your passion in the first place. 

It’s a fine line to tread, but that’s a whole different subject altogether.

[Illustration: Jean Jullien]

Learn on Skillshare

Amy Ng
Follow me

Amy Ng

Amy is a teacher, writer and a self-taught illustrator. Her blog Pikaland, is popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce. Amy is also an adjunct lecturer at a local design college and has created online workshops for artists; teaching them how to use their unique strengths to create their very own opportunities. She believes that we each have a role to play and a story to tell –- and her personal mission is to help you discover what that is.
Amy Ng
Follow me

Posted by Amy Ng on 07/31/15 under artists,business,freelance
Comments Off on Part Time Job, Full-Time Artist: Rethinking the Creative Career

Comments are closed.

 

Submit your illustration:

 
Select an image on your computer:
Choose File no file selected