This article was originally published on The Abundant Artist
Paul Gauguin was a stockbroker for 11 years before he decided to become a painter. With this career change, he split with his wife and children and ruined his own life. He became depressed and even tried to commit suicide.
Some people hear that story and think, “Why in the world would anyone with money want to quit their job and become an artist?”
As an artist yourself, dear reader, you probably identify with this man’s plight. Working a day job is just the worst. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Some artists have had crazy demanding day jobs and still managed to build a successful art career. Kelly Rae Roberts was a social worker.
But with these two polar opposite examples of success, the question still remains: How do I build an art business while I have a day job?
It’s tough, no lie. There’s a reason so many young artists refuse to get a job – how can you make art, show it, and sell it when you are working for someone else for nearly all the daylight hours? The answer, you need time to be creative.
Plus, if you’re not a young artist you might have other things to think about like romantic relationships, children, pets or even (gasp) vacations and relaxation time! What’s an ambitious artist to do?
You Have to Want It
Above all, here’s the issue: you have to want it enough. You have to want it so much that other things don’t matter.
You have to want it so much that you’re willing to forego television, movies, sleep, nights out with friends or exercise. You have to be willing to sacrifice a lot of what you want right now for what you want your life to look like in the future.
You don’t have to totally neglect yourself or let everything go, but you have to want it so much that you wake up thinking about art and go to sleep thinking about art.
If you have a good job, or even an okay job, you have to ask yourself: do I really want to become an artist full time?
It’s a hassle. You’re going to work long, grueling hours with little to show – probably for years before you have a big enough nest egg to quit and enough collector interest to keep up your momentum.
Lisa Call is an example of an artist who still has a great day job and an active social life. She does her art when she’s not working, and she’s perfectly fine with that. You can have that life. There is nothing wrong with that.
How to Do It
Still with me? You’re sure you want the life of a full-time artist? Before we get into the nitty gritty, here are a couple of good quotes from artists who do it all.
Matt Leblanc – “When I was working full time and working on building my art business, I was always telling people that I was training for a business marathon. If it doesn’t hurt and you don’t feel like stopping, then you are not working hard enough to succeed.”
Hugh Mcleod – “If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you.”
Kelly Rae Roberts – “Starting an art biz while still working a day job is absolutely possible. You’ll need a few things: a vision for what you’re working toward, passion as fuel, and commitment to go the distance one small step at a time.”
Matt, Hugh, and Kelly Rae are all artists that worked demanding day jobs while building their art business. Notice that they don’t sugar coat what it takes. The truth is, most artists don’t spend enough time on the business side of their art business. You may prefer to be in the studio, but if you’re not making enough money from your art to live on, then you need to spend more time marketing and selling – it’s really that simple.
After talking to dozens of artists who’ve made the full-time day job to full-time artist transition, here’s the takeaway:
- Be insanely conscious of your time. Your art business is your second job. If you were working for someone else, they would expect you to show up at a certain time. You have to set the same expectation for yourself, and for your family. Let your people know that you will be spending every Tuesday night on your art business, come rain or shine. If you don’t have a whole evening each week, then make it 20 minutes per day. Something is better than nothing, and consistency is better than binges with long breaks.
- Sacrifice. What can you cut out of your life to achieve your dreams? TV? A recreational soccer league? Can you cut down work hours? Find the time consuming things you like, that you don’t love as much as your art and business, and push them to the side while you’re building your future.
- Take care of yourself. While you need to work hard, you have to maintain the engine of your new business – you. Eat well. Get enough sleep. It’s a marathon and you’ll have to fuel accordingly. This also applies to relationships. Talk to your spouse and your children. Let them know what you want to do and they will support you – if you keep your word and continue showing up. Remember to exercise.
- Focus on the two most important activities. Sales are important. Fulfilling orders is important. Everything else should be closely scrutinized. Will it lead to a sale? Are you budgeting enough time to finish commissions? It won’t be the smoothest transition, things will almost certainly get messy, but it will be worth.
- Have a goal and an exit strategy. Know what you’re working towards. How much money do you need to make? Can you get by with less than your current income? What will you do when you hit that goal? I wouldn’t recommend burning your day job bridges. Things happen and you might need some day job contacts to supplement yourself, and your business, in a pinch.
- Don’t break the rules at your day job. You still have to do a good job at your current job. You can pull back on new projects, though. Be sure you’re working on your job while you’re at work, and keep your art business related activities to lunch and your breaks. If you have noncompete agreements in place or similar contracts, be sure you’re not violating them.
- Live like you’re already on your own. Cut down your expenses. Come up with a plan for the money you have coming in to feed your business without starving yourself. It may mean leaner times, but you’ve got to be smart to get the big payoff.
Having your own art business can be the most fulfilling thing. It’s an incredible feeling to realize that you will pay your rent by selling paintings that came from your own brain and hand. If this is truly your passion, then you will find a way to do it.
Cory Huff is an online art business expert and founder of The Abundant Artist website where he has art business courses available for artists including Facebook Marketing for Artists, Artist Websites That Sell, and his flagship programs on How to Sell Your Art Online. He also has a free 8 day challenge to jumpstart your online sales where you’ll receive 8 emails over 8 days with action items to make a sale online.
Cory Huffis the founder of The Abundant Artist, and has been helping artists sell art online since 2009. He has helped hundreds of artists figure out how to navigate the hidden path of the fine art career.
Harper Collins published his book, How to Sell Art Online: Live a Creative Life on Your Own Terms, in the Summer of 2016. His writing has appeared in Professional Artist Magazine, multiple newspapers, and dozens of radio shows and podcasts. He has guest lectured on marketing at schools like Southern Methodist University, Pacific Northwest College of Art, and the Fashion Institute of Technology and given workshops in multiple countries.