How can you make the most of your day job as an artist?
Having a day job can be a blessing and a curse – if you get it right, you can be your own patron, paying your way towards artistic and financial freedom; if you get it wrong, you can end up tied to your job, unable to free up time, money or energy to make your art at all.
You may even be wondering whether it’s a good idea to have a day job at all, or whether you should go all-in straight away and throw caution to the wind!
Here are some things to consider regarding an artist’s support job.
A paycheque can actually give you freedom
The thing about having a “day job” is that it might be held in some derision by certain snooty types, but it can actually give you a lot of creative freedom.
I’m not a “jobbing” artist. I don’t have to draw or paint anything I don’t want to, because I have a part-time job that pays my mortgage and bills, and a second online income stream from blogging. The things I make aren’t dictated by buyers or gallerists – I can choose to work only on what I want to.
What kind of support job is best?
Well, what’s best for you?
You may be able to find work in a creative field, but many creative jobs are poorly paid in relation to other industries – because there are so many people who are willing to work for less either because of enjoying the work, or just believing in a dream (pointing at the scourge of unpaid internships).
It might be easier to support yourself with a part-time job that’s totally unrelated to your field of interest than to work long hours at a job that pays mostly with its title.
What matters most is how you choose to define yourself.
If your answer to the question, “what do you do for a living?” starts with your salaried job, you’ll probably be unhappy with anything less than a job in your chosen field.
If you couldn’t care less about what brings in the beans, then you could be better off compartmentalising your employment and your vocation, and working away until the latter can become the former.
Having an independent definition of yourself helps you to ignore other people and their attitudes, and carry on with whatever you choose to do to support yourself whilst pursuing other goals.
Full time/part time?
No matter where you work, more pay and prestige are usually exchanged for either more responsibility or more time on the job.
You can make a lot more money if you work at your day job full time, of course, but there are only so many hours in a day, and only so much you can take… you’d soon run out of steam trying to manage a thriving art practice on top of a full time job, especially if you have a family as well.
Be realistic about how much you can do
I’m sure some may disagree with me, but I’m of the opinion that working a full-time support job is too much. I do have a family to look after as well, so in my circumstances it would be impossible for me to cope – something would have to give, and of course it would be my art practice in that situation.
Making a part-time wage work
My answer has been to cut down on our outgoings and expenses in order to need less income. Simple stuff, but not as popular a solution as it should be.
See your creative practice as your main job
Whilst working your support job, you should be actively pursuing your creative work, whether that’s gigging or making art.
If you’re not doing that, the 9-5 gig isn’t a support job, it’s just a job! If this is the path you’ve chosen to go down, accept that you have two jobs and you’ll need to actually work at both.
How can you find a day job in your field?
Think about all of the varied aspects of your chosen artform.
What goes into the creation of that industry as a whole? Art isn’t only about selling paintings, and music isn’t only about being on stage. Those are only the visible end of the wedge.
If you want to go into music, why not learn about all aspects of the music industry – production and publishing, as well as performing? If you want to work in the art industry, look at everything that goes on in the background – technical support, curation, administration, publishing or even modelling.
There are a lot of niches within the broader fields of the arts, like twigs on branches on a tree; so a production potter will be doing very different work to a theatre set designer or songwriter, but they will all be using specialised skills that are relevant to their creative vocation. Start looking closely at what goes on behind the scenes of your chosen industry and all the different roles required to make the wheels go around.
When are you a success?
Are you only a success as a creative if you can finally quit the day job?
We have a flawed concept of being successful only in relation to how much money we can earn through some activity. If it was all about money, there’d be no such thing as a successful parent, for example.
Try this instead: being able to support yourself financially, whilst having time and energy left to do what you want.
Yep – only what you want, not what you think you should be doing, or what someone else thinks you should be doing.
All-or-nothing culture is harmful
I believe that an all-or-nothing culture surrounding creativity fuels a lot of unproductive and damaging myths and habits.
Accepting this culture can lead to mental ill-health as well as forcing people to work for free (for someone else’s benefit) because they think they need to do this to “succeed”.
Deciding to quit the day job
Of course, there may come a point where you’ll need to decide whether or not to ditch the day job and go all-in with your creative work… there’s always an element of risk to this, but that’s unavoidable.
What you can do is plan ahead for this point. After all, if your goal is to work full-time in your artform you’ll need to have a plan, otherwise it’s a dream, not a goal.
How do you minimise the risk? Budget and save.
From the time you start working at your support job, start setting some savings aside for your freedom fund. Where’s the rent for that dream studio going to come from otherwise?
For more help with combining personal finance with professional practice, register for the Art & Money: Personal Finance + Professional Practice course.
Review your goals
Set a time limit to review your progress and think about what you want to accomplish and what you want to change. After some time (maybe every 6 months) of working and networking, you should have an idea of what’s going well for you and what you’re not happy with.
It’s ok to review your goals; you’re going to grow and change with time, and besides, your circumstances may not want to play along with your plans.
Maybe you’ll decide to leave the day job… maybe you’ll find one you enjoy so much that you’ll never want to leave!