June 2006: Halves
After the Sketch
Color Theory, Part 2
Heraldry, Part 2; Color and Fur
When You Don't Quit Your Day Jobby Joleen Flasher
Almost every amateur artist has that grand dream about when they'll become a 'Professional Artist'. They'll ditch the mind-numbing day job and spend the rest of their lives pouring themselves into their art. It's a great dream and there are numerous articles available on the Web detailing how to make the jump and how to tell if you will survive it. If that's your goal, good luck, and this article isn't for you.
What about those of us who don't have that dream? What if our marketing/people skills are non-existent and painting a commission gives us hives? What if we actually *gasp* like our day jobs and are building a career outside of the arts? Where do we fit into things? More importantly, how do we fit art into our already full lives without going insane?
As far as where we fit, my personal experience says we are jammed into a very cramped and often overlooked corner of the artistic world; not really hobbyists but yet not full fledged professionals, according to many people. Trust me, whether you label yourself a professional, amateur, hobbyist, or a whatever, the label won't make nearly the impact on your art as devoting time to it will.
Below, I'm going to give some tricks I've picked up through the recent years. Undoubtedly, some of it you will have heard before. Some of it will directly contradict what you've heard before. Keep in mind that I'm coming at this from a very specific point of view. I have no intention of giving up my beloved day job, and I have every intention of continuing to sell my art. That means that my approach to being an artist is a lot less hardcore than some. Some artists will tell you that you need to subsist on five hours of sleep a night, never see daylight, have no human contact whatsoever, and devote every spare minute to your art. That may work for a while but do you really want to live that way? I don't. I plan to have my tech career, sell my art, and still be relatively sane ten years from now.
Without a doubt, the biggest hurdle we non-art-career folk face is the lack of time. The day job eats up most of the waking hours. In what little remains, there are family obligations, the basics of living (need to buy groceries sometime), sleep, and that mythical thing called a social life all vying for place. No matter what medium you use, art takes time. Marketing your work and showing it takes more time. Running it all as a business, complete with tax forms and accountability? Yep, still more time. You've got to find it somewhere.
There are numerous tricks to finding sketch time. First off, get yourself some sketch pads small enough to carry around easily. Next, get comfortable with drawing in public. It is almost impossible to whip out the easel and paint on the go, but you can always find time to pick up a pencil and draw a few lines. Practicing art almost always takes a back seat to creating fully realized art and yet we all need more basic practice. Those five minutes waiting for someone to call you back is the perfect time to work on different eye shapes or noses. If you live in a city with public transportation, you might want to reconsider how you commute. Sketches produced on the bus might not be fine art but they are wonderful for honing basic skills. On top of that, sketching in public is a surefire way to way to find buyers. You'd be surprised how many people will buy something from you just because they saw you creating it.
Depending on the nature of your day job, you may be able to secure a little bit of art time throughout the day. If your job is the type that has large stretches of downtime and your employer doesn't mind you painting at work, then by all means use it. If you have a more structured job, then you may have to wiggle art in to the cracks. Don't feel guilty about taking the occasional five-minute sketch break. If your job allows coffee or cigarette breaks, then they won't throw a fit about a little drawing here and there. Obviously, don't let this interfere with your actual duties at work or else you may find yourself becoming a full-time artist whether you want to or not.
Also, while they are rare, some employers have 'anti-moonlighting' clauses that effectively prevent you from having any sort of secondary source of income. Double check your contract to make sure you aren't barred from trying to make money off of your art. If such a clause exists in your contract, bringing your sketch book to work might not be the smartest idea.
After the workday, you've got the evenings and weekends. This is where most artists cram in our painting hours. From talking to others and from my own experience, the standard we all start out with seems to go something like this: We come home, nuke something for dinner, and then paint until the wee hours of the morning, sacrificing health, social life, and sleep in one glorious wave of creation. Whether we're creating art or stomach ulcers is up for debate.
If you try to do this every night, five nights a week, with two days of painting on the weekends, you're going to burn out badly. It might take a month, it might take a year, but eventually you'll despise either your day job or your easel. You're also going to use up whatever goodwill you have from your friends and family. Your day job will suffer (the whole lack of sleep thing) and you will find yourself wondering why you ever thought art was worth the effort.
Short story: don't do this if you want to remain sane.
Those mad dashes of painting are fine when you have a deadline or burst of inspiration, but it shouldn't be your standard way of operating. Since you do have the steady income, you don't need to kill yourself for your art. Despite common myth, you shouldn't be suffering just to create something beautiful.
One of the major things I've found that helped me was to set up a fairly strict schedule throughout the week. On certain evenings, I paint. One day out of the weekend, I paint. Nothing short of an emergency is going to stop me from painting. However, I also set aside time for grocery shopping, doing the laundry, and seeing friends. Moderation is the key here. If you are serious about keeping the day job and being an artist, you're going to have to learn just how much time you need to keep separate from the art to stay productive. Don't forget to keep a little personal time in there. A walk in evening may be better for your art than three hours swearing at your brushes. If you're feeling too guilty about not painting, remember that art stagnates without new sources of inspiration.
You should also look at what art related activities are eating into your painting time but not actually producing any art. Setup and cleanup are two big ones here. I work pretty much entirely in watercolors due to the fact that my cleanup time with them is nothing. Swish, swish and I'm done; whereas with acrylics, it would take 20 minutes to get all of the paint out of my brushes. If you have the space, dedicating a corner to your art will save you a few minutes of lugging stuff out of the closet every time you want to paint. Likewise, set yourself up a decent Excel (or similar program) worksheet to do your bookkeeping. You'll appreciate it come tax day. Be diligent about keeping it filled out and up to date. Nothing is more frustrating than hunting through three months of old receipts when you know it would have taken thirty seconds if you'd filled it out when you bought the item.
Above all else, learn your average production speed and set yourself reasonable goals. Don't accept a commission that is going to take twenty hours and is due in a week when you know you normally only get to paint five hours a week. That's setting yourself up to fail. Keep records if you have to, but figure out how long it takes you to paint before you commit to anything. It goes without saying that once you commit to something, you deliver it.
Once you've set aside a time, how do you make the other people in your life leave you alone so you can actually use it? One advantage the full timers have is that they can say, "This is my job, I have to do it or else I'll starve." You, however, pay your bills through the day job and everyone knows that. The art is just a hobby to them and therefore it is not important. This is where you're going to have to have a backbone and actively show it. Insist that your work is important, insist that you have to devote time to it, and believe it.
Once again, having a schedule will help you. Your partner is less likely to be upset about you painting every Monday if they know you're willing to hang out on Tuesday. Remember that some people just won't understand why a hobby (to them) is so important to you. You can try to explain it but I've found with many people, it's an egg that you can't crack. Sometimes you just have to stand your ground and say, "This is how it is. I'm sorry if it upsets you that I can't go bowling tonight."
Like anything, you make time for things that matter to you. If you find that you are constantly giving up art time to do other things, then perhaps the art doesn't matter to you as much as you thought it did. That's not a bad thing; there are many things more important than art. Adjust your expectations according to the life you are living right now so that you aren't constantly beating yourself up over avoidable failures.
It's not as easy as it sounds, keeping the day job and trying to be an artist. Make no mistake, the moment you take a commission, send art to a convention, or start reporting art-based income on your taxes, your art has become a second job with all the benefits and drawbacks that entails. For some of us, though, it is the only way to do things.
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