The Open Window: Leveraging Your Day Job for Your Art Life

Insights on Creativity by Quinn McDonald

Quinn McDonaldThe artist who balances a day job and art sighs, “I wish I could get rid of the day job. I’d be a real artist, then.” Don’t fall for that trap. Making your art shoulder a mortgage, health insurance, groceries and clothing does not make you a real artist, is just makes you frantic.

Defining yourself as an artist has little to do with how much money you make and a lot to do with how art makes you feel. If art is an important part of your life, helps you make meaning of the world, helps you see your purpose in life, well, then, you are an artist.

If you are churning out illustrations to pay bills, picking creative projects for their ability to make money, pushing creative decisions through your bill-pay process to make sure they are the decisions that will earn the most money, well, then, you are working in a sweatshop of your own design.

The biggest conflicts in mixing a day job and artwork is time and energy. You work all day and come home tired. Art seems out of reach with the energy resources you have. So you skip the art and yearn to give up the day job. Not so fast. There are other choices—including a combination of priorities and time management.

Take advantage of summer schedules. If your work allows “ten-fours”–four days of ten hours followed by a long weekend, take advantage of the Friday as your art day. That leaves the weekend for family time.

Ask about flex time, if you don’t have ten-fours. Manage your time differently. You’ll have to look at your top three priorities—generally gym, art, and errands—and juggle them creatively. If you can get to work early and get out early, you may move your gym sessions to a very early time slot, run errands on the way home, and arrive home at a time that allows studio time. If you are a morning person, you might get an art fix right after you wake up.

Get enough sleep. No matter how you carve out art time, you will have to make sure you get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to poor decision-making, memory loss, and depression. None of these contribute to your art life. You may have to change your priorities to record your favorite TV shows. You may have to trade chores to free you from homework duties or supervising bedtime for your children.

Pick a day. Make art the priority. Pick a day each week, and make art your priority on that day. Leave work on time. Combine errands the day before or after. Watch your schedule so you don’t pick the day you are driving the kids’ car pool. A weekend day is fair game, too.

There will be change. You are not going to escape change. Change is not easy. Your family might complain. Enlist their help. Be ready to be knocked out of your comfort zone. Most art is made there, anyway.

Check out some of Quinn’s previous blog posts:

The Open Window: The Authentic You

The Open Window: First Aid for Creative Injury

The Open Window: The Placebo Permission Slip

Quinn McDonald is an artist and certified creativity coach who helps artists through transitions in their lives and work. You can e-mail your business-of-art questions to Quinn is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art (North Light Books).

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