I get all kinds of email and asked TONS of questions about all sorts of creative things and once in a while I will take the time to answer many of the frequently asked questions here on my blog!
If there is one question I get asked more than anything else, it would be what is my advice for taking the leap into being a full time artist and entrepreneur? While I am not an expert, I do have experience under my belt when it comes to taking the leap into full time artist. Today I thought I would share a little of my insight, experiences and the best advice I can give when it comes to walking away from a day job to pursue the life of an artist.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
I have always known I wanted to be an artist. I am not sure the exact age but art and creativity have been in my blood since the beginning. I have two parents who are potters and ran their business from home. This meant creativity and self employment was a big part of my life. Thankfully my parents fostered my interest in art at an early age. Growing up I took drawing classes, participated in art shows, contests and sold my art at craft fairs.
It wasn't until I graduated from high school that the concept of being an artist became real for me. While I had always identified myself as an artist, I fell in love with art in college. From that point on I knew I would do whatever it took to pursue a creative career. Like most, I worked lots of day jobs while working on my portfolio, showing my art and taking on freelance jobs. I landed a really great job in marketing that allowed me to be creative but it never satisfied my craving to make art on my terms. I finally got serious about my dreams and set out to quit my job- a long 5 year process that started with making a plan and setting a lot of goals. After time spent working long days at a day job, lots of rejection, tears, persistence and never giving up, I built a successful creative business. I was able to get to the point (financially and creatively) to quit my day job and take the leap into full time artist and entrepreneur and have never looked back
MY TIMELINE/WORK HISTORY (the short version)
Went to college, majored in painting and printmaking, took lots of breaks from school, switched universities 3 times, traveled Europe, worked all kinds of jobs (creative and not so creative), finished school, landed a 9-5 job at a university, continued to take more art classes (for free- thanks to employee perks), worked on lots of freelance art jobs, made thousands of dollars during the holidays selling hand painted ornaments and cards at craft shows, had a handful of gallery shows, got a second job working at a gallery, took a vacation to California, met my husband, fell in love.
Moved to San Diego, California and landed a job at the University of San Diego in the marketing and fundraising department (this was the opportunity that changed everything for me), worked at USD in a variety of different positions- 6-7 or seven to be exact, made the decision to really launch my creative career and go after my dreams, kept working freelance, selling products in my free times, made TONS of art, built my portfolio, used the computer at my day job (after hours) to begin my online shop, my website and my blog!
Started my blog-this changed everything- except I didn't know it at the time! I started with lots of really short posts about my life and photos of my art. No plan, no branding, no idea how to utilize my blog!
Appeared on the the DIY network tv show Craftlab and become inspired to try some new things with my art. I started using my blog in a more intentional way, began teaching at art retreats in my free time, came up with concept for a book and got really focussed on my creative goals.
Wrote my book, continued to gain experience teaching at art retreats, continued to work in marketing, used all of my vacation and time off to work on my creative business, started getting intentional with my blog posts, photography and was using my blog as a place to promote my Etsy shop, market my book Canvas Remix.
Finally reached the financial goal (of making the same amount of money from my art as my day job) and was able to walk away from my day job.
This was the year that I really decided to go in a specific direction with my blog and my business and this changed everything. I defined my brand (with flexibility and room for change), I set a lot of goals, I got really serious about growing my blog, teaching as much as I could, made lots of art and said yes to every opportunity that came my way. This was the year that readership, opportunities and growth happened really came FAST!
My business continued to rapidly grow and I know that it is a direct result of my planning, organization and creativity. The last 3-4 years have been the time when my creative business has grown the most.
One of the smartest things I did before "taking the leap" was to spend a lot of time doing research. While I knew I wanted to be an artist or at least find a creative job, I wasn't sure what this looked like in reality. So I began educating myself about the things creative people were doing to earn a living. I read articles, books and spent hours on the internet educating myself about creative careers. This process actually opened my mind to the possibilities and direction that I could take my own art and career.
MAKE A PLAN (with lots of flexibility)
As romantic as it sounds to quit your day job and make the leap into pursuing your dreams, it is a SCARY and risky decision. And since I am a practical kind of gal, I fully believe you should only take a big leap when you have a plan. I know this sounds boring but I know from experience that making a plan will create a solid foundation for your dreams. I spent years dreaming of quitting my day job and it wasn't until I actually made a plan that things really started happening. My own was a five year plan. After crunching numbers and working through a lot of pros and cons, I had to face the the fact that I was not in a financial position to quit my job overnight- we needed the money that my job provided. As hard as it was to face this reality, it helped me to create a plan that fit my situation. While I could have made things happen faster, I was most comfortable giving myself lots of time and flexibility (with the safety net of my day job) to experiment, grow and take risks with my creative side business.
TIP: I have learned over time that while it's great to have a plan, circumstances, priorities and real life can happen and completely change the direction of a plan. I like to make plans that include flexibility and space for change.
BE A FINANCIAL PLANNER
Part of taking a leap should involve saving money or least creating some kind of budget for your dreams. My situation was pretty simple- if I could make the same amount of money with my art that I was making at my day job, then I could take the leap into being an entrepreneur. I am not a money person so in the beginning this was very overwhelming. I did not have the confidence or trust that I could make "real money" with my art that would pay the bills or support our family. But over time, I was able to see that with a budget and a simple financial plan, it was possible.
TIP: I kept things really simple when it came to my creative business and finances. During my five year plan to quit my day job- the money I made from my art went right back into my growing my business OR it was put into savings. We treated my art income as savings for the future with the hope that it would grow and become the little nest egg we needed when the time came to take the leap.
ITS OK TO GO SLOW
My journey has been LONG and slow and most people aren't looking for a long and slow journey- it seems these days we all want things fast. But in my experience, it is rare to find success overnight. Instead, many artists and creatives that I know have worked for years learning, practicing and working at other jobs while making art. While I knew I wanted to be an artist, I still had to survive and pay the bills which meant a 9-5 job. I had to accept the fact that my leap into being an artist would be slow. Once I came to terms with my situation, I had an easier time feeling satisfied and fulfilled with my reality.
SCHEDULE AND SET SMALL GOALS FOR YOURSELF
While I love BIG exciting goals, I've found that small goals and baby steps have made more sense in my own journey. I like to recommend only taking on what your schedule can handle, completing one task at a time and then moving on to the next. Sometimes these little goals are quick and easy while others will take lots of evenings and weekends to complete. But in the end all of these baby steps equal action and forward motion towards your bigger goals and eventually will lead to taking the leap into your dreams.
Back when I had to work my 9-5 job I kept my goals small. Yes, I had big dreams about earning a living working as an artist but I had to work, live on a budget, was limited with time. I had to tailor my goals and plans to fit my reality. I planned according to what was going on in my life and that typically meant setting smaller more attainable goals. There were some periods of time when I was able to set and meet a lot of small goals while other times I was lucky if I met 1 small goal in 6 months.
Below are a handful of small goals that I set and met during the years when I was working a day job and had limits on my time:
Apply for 1-2 holiday craft shows to earn extra income.
Work on building a strong body of artwork.
Update portfolio each month with new work.
Find freelance illustration work through friends and word of mouth.
Research and reach out to galleries where my art would be a good fit.
Teach a free community art class to practice teaching.
Apply to teach at an art retreat.
Practice photography skills
Photograph artwork and handmade goods to have on hand for marketing
Learn Photoshop and Illustrator
Create a website and blog
Open a online shop
Email fellow artists to network
MAKE YOUR DAY JOB WORK FOR YOU
The big dream so many artists have is to quit their day job and go full time with art. But I am here to tell you that it's ok to have a day job and it can actually work in your favor. While I have worked just about every job under the sun, a lot of my professional life was spent working jobs that had some element of creativity or allowed time (and energy) to make art in my free time. I think the reason it took me so long to go full time as an artist is because having a day job really worked for me. All those years I was getting a paycheck and insurance, which meant I had a nice safety net. I could take risks with my art, I could fail, I could turn down opportunities that weren't the right fit, I could take my time, I could take baby steps and I could make my own rules. All of this changes when you head out on your own and while working for yourself is wonderful, it can be scary. A day job, while challenging, can provide the security to plan and position yourself for eventually taking a leap.
NEVER GIVE UP
It took me fifteen years to make my own leap into a full time artist. Not one day went by during those fifteen years that I didn't sit in my cubicle and ache for making art and the dream of being an entrepreneur. I spent most days feeling like I was living the wrong life- like the work I was doing did not fit who I was. But during those years, I never gave up. I searched, I worked, I made art, I practiced, I learned and slowly I grew a tiny creative business. Six years ago I was able to walk away from my day job and here I am today running a successful creative business that supports our family.
Through this experience I have learned that making a big leap can take a long time and often the process won't look the way you envisioned it. I want to tell you (as trite as it might sound) not to give up a goal, an aspiration or your passion. I never imagined that it would take me until age 40 to meet my financial goals and have my professional dreams come true. There were so many moments when I wanted things to happen faster but something about the slow journey has made the reward that much sweeter. To the dreamers out there...never settle for anything less than the dreams you have for your life!