Finding a Job that Jives with your Creative Practice

Hello all! My name is Nicole, and I have been a somewhat incognito member of the Artisans Gallery Team up until this point. I would like to say hello! and introduce myself: I'm an artist and illustrator living in Davis, California, known in this online world as blue bicicletta.

I'm here today because I'm an avid blogger---I love to write about art, creativity, and this wild, creative, complex journey of being an artist. Most recently, I shared one of my posts on this last topic over on the AG Team flickr group, and the lovely Paula asked if I might like to share it here on the blog. I am so happy to be able to do so---I hope this post helps you in your life as an artist and beyond!

One of the biggest concerns I see in my own life and in the creative community in general, is that little nagging question: how do you support yourself financially and do your creative work at the same time? Whether or not you dream of becoming a full-time artist/maker/musician/dancer/actor/writer/etc, there may come a time when you will need or want a side job to make some cash, or to take the pressure off making money with your art and just do what inspires you creatively.

I’ve had my fair share of random jobs {more than I can count on two hands}, both full and part-time. But most recently I have stumbled upon a winning match for me in the side-job arena as a courier for my city. And so I started thinking that maybe there were some basic characteristics of my job that would apply to what a creative person might be looking for in general in a side-job or day-job. The following guide is what I came up with. I hope this will give you some ideas on where to start looking for a job that can coexist with your creative life.


1. The fewer hours, the better.
This may sound completely obvious, but the fewer hours you work at this outside job, the better. The purpose of this job is to help support your art habit, not cramp it. Take a serious look at exactly how much money you need to support yourself—I mean, really—whip out the calculator on this one and plug in some actual numbers. Of course, different jobs pay differently, but go into the job search knowing exactly how much money you need to survive. Also, take a minute to figure out if there’s anything you can trim from your expenditures. It may be difficult to think about this, but what is art-making-time worth to you?

2. Pay attention to scheduling.
There is a difference between working from 9 am to 2 pm vs. working from 1 pm to 6 pm. Both of these shifts are five hours long, but the first shift starts in the morning and ends in the afternoon, which can make it feel like you’ve been working all day. The second shift leaves you the entire morning for doing your creative work. This may sound like a tiny difference, but trust me—that first schedule is stealing more than 5 hours—-unless you’re a seriously early bird, you won’t get any work done before 9 am. Get really honest with yourself and seek out a schedule that leaves you maximum creative time and the optimal situation for you—your best time to work could be morning, noon, or night—you decide.

3. Put your art first.
As I started to mentioned in that last point, but I can’t stress enough—reserve your prime waking hours for your art. I prefer to put my art first, literally, so that I wake up and go immediately to my creative work. Then, by the time I get to my odd job at 1:30 p.m. I have already worked 4+ hours on art, and I can sit pretty knowing that I’ve let my creative spirit run wild. If you get most creative after dark, find a job that will give you nights free (don’t forget to leave time for other things like errands, etc). You could also look for a job that has you working every other day, leaving you full creative work days in between.

4. Find a job that lets your mind wander.
Creativity loves space and time to run free in your mind. Artists need actual time to do their work, but they also need ample time to let their minds work on their next creation. If you can find a job that keeps your body busy but lets your mind wander, you’ll be able to do double-duty and feel like you’re playing even when you’re working at your day job. Working as a courier I can easily let my mind wander while I’m driving around dropping off mail. Many days I come home with a pocket-full of small pieces of paper jotted with creative ideas. This makes me feel like my day-job work is not only financially productive, but creatively productive, and it gets me ahead of the game on my next creative project.

5. Find a job that lets you be yourself, at least most of the time.
The single most soul-killing thing about many day-jobs is that we creatives often feel like we have to pretend to be someone we’re not while we’re working. We have to pretend to care about selling random objects or providing excellent customer service, or about the policies of this or that company. We have to fake it. This makes the time we spend at said jobs feel completely contrary to who we really are, and therefore that much more painful. Look for a job that allows you to be yourself most of the time—you can look for an environment you would feel comfortable in, a creative company that interests you, or in my case, a job that lets you work independently most of the time—when I’m just driving from office to office delivering mail, I can listen to the radio, think creative thoughts, and just be myself. This makes the whole thing a lot less painful.

6. Remember what you hated most about previous jobs and find one without those qualities.
Again, this sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes it just seems easier to keep getting the same kinds of jobs—you have experience in customer service, so shouldn’t you continue on that path? Well, if you enjoy chit-chatting with customers, then go right ahead. But if constant interruptions and having to smile all day drive you up the wall (like me), then you’re just leading yourself into your own personal hell each time you get another job like that. For me, the top two most stressful and annoying things are: one: being constantly interrupted and having to put on my “fake face” all day long and, two: sitting for hours in front of a computer screen inputting boring data with absolutely no room for a creative thought. And yet, before my current job, I had a whole string of jobs that relied on these things—in fact, the last job I had before courier incorporated both of these things. I felt physically ill every time I approached the office. I would sit in my corner, staring at the ceiling, dreaming about the building burning down. Yes, it was that bad. Finding a job that will jive with what you really love (read: will not steal every ounce of positive creative energy in your body) is more about what the job is not, than what it is. Figure out the top two or three things that kill you and use that criteria every time you look at a prospective job. And then, JUST SAY NO.

7. Use your creative powers on your resume.
You’re creative right? You like telling a good story—whether it be through words, images, music, or dance? Well, how about using those powers on your resume? You can be a veritable chameleon in the workplace {hopping from one field to the next} if you can put your creative powers to work on representing yourself. Let me be clear here: I am not telling you to lie—but what you can do is reframe your skills in the light of the job you’re applying for. Study the job announcement you want to apply for, underline the skills they’re looking for, and try to find as many applicable skills from your work history. Look at all tasks you have done both large and small. Say you have been a customer service assistant, but you would like to become a baker. You may not have followed detailed instructions for making brioche in your previous job, but what about all the detailed instructions you followed to input customer orders? See it as a creative exercise: use your imaginative brain to translate your past work into the basic skills your future employer is looking for.

8. Recast your job as what it really is: an opportunity to support your creative work financially.
So many of us define ourselves by our jobs. People ask us at a party, “what do you do?” and we automatically blurt out whatever way we earn our income. The one big key that will turn having a day-job from drudgery to opportunity is the way you think about it. Think of it as slave drudgery and you will continue to let it run your life. But if you can recast it as an opportunity to work for yourself—to put one set of skills to work for the general benefit of your whole, then you can let the job just be a job and not your identity. All of the ideas above will help you with this point—the less painful the job is to your person, the easier it will be to see your job as not a death sentence, but a workable side-experience that can not only enrich you financially, but: enrich your creative life, give you a break from yourself, get you out of the house, and help you pay your bills.

9. Don't let people make you feel bad for not having a "real" job.
Many people hassle creatives about “growing up” “getting serious” “getting a real job” {meaning: a job that’s on the career track that they can understand}. It’s hard not to let these comments get to you—you want to be a useful, law-abiding, contributing citizen. But the truth is, you already are—if you’re making time to do what you love {your art}, then you’re giving your ultimate contribution to this world—much more of a contribution than you could ever make climbing a corporate ladder that makes you want to jump out a window—even if you never make one single cent at art! Your contribution to this world is about love, it’s about passion, it’s about sharing your best, most expansive thoughts. To do that, you only need to make time—make time for your art, and then no matter what, you are a success.


paula said...

thank you for taking the time to contribute this article (which yeah i saw on your blog and loved). i too am a 'full time artist' and i have to sometimes do work i dont want in the lean times...this was inspirational and just what i needed to see!

Design By Raven Muse said...

I am currently an artist in "flux" with life and how I think about jobs. This really was a perfect post and something I really needed to read. Helped me to take the pressure off my work as an artist, give me permission to do so and make the paying gig just that, a gig. Something on the side to not take so seriously and maybe I will even enjoy it more. :) Thanks!

kathiroussel said...

i enjoyed your post-and can really relate to #9-- it's essential to keep your perspective and vision held strong in the face of nay sayers-- i grew up in a family that had zero interest in the arts--it was a constant struggle to maintain my position and faith in my creative drive. eventually, due to my stubborn nature, i prevailed and the negative viewpoints began to fade into the distance as i left them trailing off in the dust!

great advice for those who might be wavering. stick to your guns and know that creativity brings good to the world and for one's own well being!!
thanks a bunch nicole-- i've been enjoying your work for some time now-- may you enjoy continued success and growth!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the inspiration

Star of the East said...

Wonderful read!
Etsy is my full time job but still if one day I need a job I will definetly keep your words in mind, they are so true!

Waterrose said...

Excellent information. We also have our own family business, so carving out time for my creative work makes me feel terribly guilty sometimes. So I set up a schedule for myself that allows me to accomplish positive results in both areas of my life.

Anonymous said...

Great to hear from all of you! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!


Marie said...

this is so important! Thanks for such a great post! I really love your work!

keep on trucking!


ArtPropelled said...

Excellent post!

StudioZen said...

This is such an informative and inspirational read!