I recently participated in a group Facebook conversation with an artist who was making the switch to creating art full-time.
She got a lot of great advice on how to find her niche and other aspects being a full-time artist, but the discussion got me to thinking about artists and day jobs—and what we rarely talk about when it comes to making the switch.
And ultimately, I came up with 4 reasons why it might actually be better to keep your day job.
I know we all think quitting our “other” job is the epitome of success as an artist. We dream about the day we can say, “I’m a full-time artist.” The glamour is just too much to resist.
But I think there are several reasons to give some serious consideration before moving to full-time artist status. Here are a few discoveries I made when I first went full-time:
1. More creative time doesn’t equal more income
When artists contemplate going full time, they’re usually thinking about all the time they’ll have to create art.
If you’re anything like me, you might not worry about income for the simple reason that if you had all the time to put into art that you currently give your day job, the money should just naturally start rolling in. Am I right?
The truth is that that doesn’t happen. Even if you are diligent in creating eight hours a day, just making art doesn’t equal making money.
Yes, the freedom to create at will is exhilarating. Worrying about paying bills is not. Lack of a steady income (often also known as “that day job”) killed my creativity faster than anything else when I went full time.
So if you’re the least bit queasy about getting those bills paid, it’s probably not in your best interest to quit your day job. Instead, keep the money rolling in, and figure out ways to create faster and more efficiently.
2. Also, you may NOT have more time to create!
Yes, you read that right!
Being a full-time artist doesn’t mean you’re free to create all day long. (At least, if you also intend to sell the art that you make.)
A successful artist needs to market art as well as make it. In fact, the best thing to do may be to consider marketing as your new day job, because it will take about twice as much time to market your work as to create it.
This was something of a shock to me: it turned out most of the artists I spoke to admitted they spent 80 to 90 percent of their studio time marketing or doing customer service. The remaining 10-20% is spent creating.
If you keep your full-time job, you won’t have as much time to market, but you also won’t need the income.
3. Your day job may actually fuel your creativity
I’ve worked a day job most of my life. Most of those years, my day job had nothing to do with art. For a long time I worked at a newspaper, and another stretch of time I worked in an office.
And that actually proved to be to my benefit – the change of routine and atmosphere actually boosted my creativity when I got home and hit the studio.
In contrast, the twelve-months I worked in an artistic/creative job (I was a graphic artist) were among the most difficult month’s I’d ever had in my personal creative journey. I’d get home after eight-hour days and the last thing I wanted to do was go to the studio!
So take the time to consider the way you work in the studio before you quit your day job. If going to a “normal” job lets your creative side run free unrestricted and in the background, then being a full-time artist might not be for you.
4. And let’s not forget creative exhaustion
I’m writing these words from experience—when I went full-time the first time, I soon found that I simply couldn’t create for eight hours a day every day.
On my best days I might manage to paint for five hours (those were few and far between.) My average was about three hours. After that, I hit a brick wall of exhaustion. Usually creative exhaustion, but also sometimes physical. It was shocking how tiring creativity could be.
So when I had the opportunity for a part-time job, I jumped at it. Not only was the additional income very helpful, so was the time away from the studio.
That job was as gallery director for a small group of local artists, so it supported my art by giving me the opportunity to work with art and artists during the day. My creative well was replenished by each new exhibit, and by the other things required of a gallery director. I think I did more painting during those five years than I did in the three years I was a full-time artist.
In short, being a full-time artist isn’t for everyone
That’s the bottom line. And if you’re one of those people, it’s OK! Many successful artists also hold down day jobs, and many of them are also family people, with all the responsibilities that go with that (let’s be honest, that’s basically a third job to go along with the other two).
Sure, it’s fun to dream about the day when you don’t have to go in to work, but in some cases, that dream can quickly become a nightmare if it’s not what we’re best suited for.
Of course, I don’t know your specific situation—I just know how my own art suffered at times when I was a full-time artist. So of you really want to ditch the day job and be successful, I applaud that goal. Just make sure to have a plan for the issues I mentioned above, and take an honest look at yourself as an artist, at how you work best, how you recharge, and at your financial needs.
I know I would have benefited from thinking things through a little more the first time around—hopefully the things I’ve learned from my own mistakes will help you as you consider this next step in your own art career!
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