Are you a full-time working artist or do you also have a day job or side gig? What are your reasons for choosing one path versus the other?
Thoughts from full-time artists:
The economy just went down the toilet and I was like, I feel like this is a bad time to be doing this. [Laughs]
So I think the big take away from that was like, until you have the income you need, you can’t— if you want to be an artist, you have to have a lot of ability to take risks. You have to be able to take financial risks and take artistic risks and be able to take a leap no matter what. But if you don’t have any money, you can’t enter into or go to festivals, you can’t rent a studio space, you can’t pay for a show, you can’t pay a jury fee, you can’t buy prints. If you don’t have any risk tolerance, then your reward tolerance is just in the gutter, you know?
I think having a full-time job or having a part-time job that can sustain you and then working your plan and showing art is the most important thing. The job that I was working the second go around, that gave me the autonomy to take risks that I wanted to take. But I know a lot of artists where it’s really tough for them to buy the inventory they need or to pony up the money for the show they want to show at.
The purpose of painting isn’t money-driven but I didn’t want to be on a computer anymore. So my desire was really to try to figure out how to make money.
Ten years later I’ve successfully moved away from the computer and now am pretty much making art on canvas for a livelihood. And that has now also morphed into translating those original works into marketable products and wholesale.
So I’m now able to make a living off my art but it’s not going to end there. I really want to try doing sculpture or things that are 3D. I don’t know what that means in terms of a market or making money but all still hands-on, nothing with technology.
I loved teaching but I knew my passion was art and wanted to keep pursuing it and keep doing it even when stuff was hard. So I quit and went into art full time. It’s been nine and a half years doing full-time art. . . .
I just kept doing it. Thirty, forty people graduated with me from art school and years later I found out only like two people are really doing art still.
You just have to have that drive and passion and not give up even when you’re like, I’m not making money this year. You just gotta be like, No, this is my goal, this is my job and what I want to do. You just keep doing it, keep doing it. And if you have to have a little side job to make it work, you have a side job.
Thoughts from artists who also have day jobs or other ways they earn a living:
There’re a lot of really positive things to teaching [elementary school] and I really, truly love it. And just as the business and art end are so different, so is teaching.
There are also benefits that come with teaching. I have summers off, which is one of the busier times, and I have that time to actually focus on my artwork. The festivals and fairs that are out of town are all during the summertime, so it’s not like that interferes with teaching.
Something to consider is, you know, you don’t get any sick time with art. There was a time where I was sick and it was really hard to make that choice and hard to show up. But with teaching, I mean, you get sick days, you get vacation days. But as a business owner, while there is that flexibility, there’s also not. You have to be there, which can be challenging. My husband is also a teacher so he helps me as much as I need in the summertime and wintertime too.
It is nice having another job where it takes a little bit of the pressure off, of I have to do this, I have to make something. In some ways it’s nice creatively, to be able to do it because I want to, not because I have to. And that’s kind of how I’ve always approached it. Doing art is my livelihood but I also have another job. Financially I could do art full time right now, but I don’t know if I want to. A fear of mine would be that the pressure would somehow change it, would make it less enjoyable. But I love the pressure too, and work really well with that pressure, creatively.
If I could give anybody advice it would be, it’s not creativity’s job to support you, it’s your job to support creativity, whatever that looks like. And I stole that from Elizabeth Gilbert because I heard that in a podcast and I was like, Oh my god, I love that.
A lot of times artists think that creativity and the arts have to support us, but I think we’re the most free when we do whatever we can to support creativity. Then we give ourselves permission to do what we want. If nobody buys it, whatever, we still get to do what we want. And that allows me to take more risks, to try things. People may think, This guy’s an abstract artist and he paints squares, who’s going to buy that? But you take that risk and people will. They like to see that, I think. And if I like a piece and I’m happy with it, then chances are somebody else will. That’s important.
I love my job. But I also love creating, so it’s finding that balance.
So I want to get rid of stuff that’s just mindless and boring. I think 70% personal and 30% commercial would be great. Because then I can still work with fun clients. And the personal art side is filtering into the design side anyway. Companies are wanting that, almost merging them a little bit, which is nice.
I haven’t delved into it full time in the summer yet because I’ve got that guiding job which I quite like and want to keep. That job is nice because I have zero cost of living in the summer if I’m able to sublet my room in Salt Lake, which I have for the past couple of summers.
It’s a super busy summer but all our living is covered down there. So besides my cell phone bill and health insurance I don’t have any other expenses, really, throughout the summer. And that just allows me to save a bunch of money so I can have a little bit of a buffer when I start shooting again in the wintertime.
In the wintertime the past two years I’ve been doing photography full time. And that’s enough money to continue to do it and to do what I like.[Going full time with photography in the winter] was more of a gamble than anything. I worked in Southern Utah all summer through the end of October and had a good bunch of money saved up from that — enough that I knew that even if I didn’t land any photo jobs throughout the winter that I could continue to pay rent and eat.
And the winter prior to that I’d gotten some decent photography jobs and a couple of them carried over to that next winter. So I knew that I always had a little bit of photo work and I felt like I could get quite a bit more. I just kind of went for it.
Well with art, man, it’s not something you can count on. You can’t be like, I foresee next month being really good with art sales. Or, A lot of people are going to hit me up. So it’s something I don’t ever count on. Everything that comes my way is just a bonus that I don’t really shoot for.
With Instagram it’s nice because it does give me the capability to just say, Hey, stickers for sale. And all of a sudden I’m making a couple hundred dollars to help me out. It’s nice to have that power to generate funds that I can almost count on with social media. I don’t think I’ve ever posted anything for sale and no one went for it. I never had that moment where I was just like, Well fuck, I might as well not have even posted it.
I work a night shift for Hope, it’s a place for people with disabilities. And on my shift they’re sleeping so I just stay awake and draw. So there’s that eight hours and then sometimes I’m so wired I’ll just keep going at home. But it can be tricky at home now because there’s the family dynamic. And so a lot of times I don’t want to draw when I’m at home because I want to spend time with my family. When I draw, I really just gotta draw.
One of the reasons I do what I do is to have freedom in my time, and that includes in the summer. I do want to balance it out, go on a camping trip, a surfing trip, whatever it may be on my own schedule. I had a pretty great arrangement with a guy I was working for because they really needed skilled hands, so I had the rare position where I was able to leverage that.
That’s the trickier thing— how do you find those things that do have synergy? It goes back to our conversation before, like, What are the things that do align with what I do? Because a lot of people don’t want to hire someone who’s like, I’ll work for two months but then I’m going to go ski in the summer, or I want to go to Chile for a while. So you end up working for people you’re personal friends with who really understand the situation.
But as far as just going out and getting the job you want that pairs with skiing? That’s not an easy thing to do or doesn’t exist.