Monday, September 28, 2015

frequently asked questions: taking the leap into full time artist

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.

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)

The early years where I spent my entire childhood making art, leaning art, showing and selling art. In 1993 I graduated from high school with the first three years of my college education funded by art scholarships

1993- 2000
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.

2001- 2004
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.

JUNE 2009
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!

2011- 2015
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. 

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.
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. 

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


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.


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!

To read more about my journey as an artist-

jump start a creative career- HERE

coping with creative burnout- HERE

the art of chasing a dream- HERE

the art of setting goals- HERE 

the art of blogging- HERE and HERE

the things I haven't shared- HERE

stronger than I ever knew- HERE


Tonya L said...

Best. Post. Ever.!! I know I want to be an artist but I don't know how and am in the researching phase. I'm going to keep this post to refer too. I never dream it'll take a long time but I know practically that it will. That's something I don't like to think about. Setting small goals may make it feel less long and more successful.

studioGypsy said...

you are beautiful. thankyou for this! xoxo

evelyn pocasangre said...

wow inspiring for sure. as an artist myself, this post of yours is going to help me. thank you

C. Jaeger said...

Planning versus dreaming... Excellent points! Thanks for sharing!

Annika said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and thoughts so generously!

online nursing degree program said...

Nice blog, thanks for sharing the information. I will come to look for update. Keep up the good work.

janeine said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
You've been extremely candid in these q/a posts and videos that you do. And I cannot thank you enough.
Savia Jane

Abigail Naval said...

Great post! and one that is honest about the hard work and time that needs to go into it.

Edwidge De Mota said...

Thanks a lot Alisa, as always our post is very inspiring and today it's helfull and "vivifiant" (sorry I'm french and it's a french word to say that bring a fresh wave, a fresh breath an inspiring encouragement ... Or something like that ... ). When I met your work, there is one year, it was like omg ! We were seperated at the birth ... Loolll . More seriously your journey is the reality of my dream. And follow you every day encourage me to continu each day even when it's a little steps .. But always on the direction of my goal. Thanks a lot Alisa .... Have a good day and long life to you to your family and to your work

Kim said...

I have been a creative spirit since birth and a family that allowed "messes" taught me to follow my dream. But getting married and having children kinda pushed me off the side of the road and the need to feed and clothe them was most important. They are grown now and although I am older than dirt, I am pursuing my dream and if i live long enough I just might reach the goal after all. but I am enjoying the process either way. Thanks for all your encouragement.

Holly Young said...

I just discovered you & your art through instagram. Lovely! Thanks for sharing your journey.

sharon stanley said...

alisa, your journey is so inspiring and you've done such a great job of discussing it here in a way that will be so helpful to others who also want to make art full-time. you were so wise to make. a. plan. so often especially today, we live a drive-thru-happy-meal life. we want it, and we want it right now. i'm in my 50s and it wasn't till my youngest child graduated high school that i really got serious about writing books for kids and making art. though i stayed home all those years, there just wasn't the time to devote to making my hobby into a business. like you, i made a plan and set small achievable goals. i think that is so important. you've done a wonderful job of being encouraging and practical. well done you!

Alice Tischer said...

Thank you so much, I'm really grateful, for this post. I'm starting my creative business, and always wanted to be like you. I don't have words to explain my feelings, one day, I promise you, I'll write my journey on my blog and I will remember this day that I was reading your post! I'm brazilian and my dream is to meet you ... One day I'll do it!

Vivyane Veka said...

Wonderful and encouraging post !
I've been following you for a while now and it's always been with great pleasure. You are such a positive person !
Thank you for all the sunny days you bring into my creative journey =)

Kelly said...

I have been reading your blog since you started in 2005. It seems like forever ago. I remember the day I found you, calling my mom and telling her how wonderful your art was!

Anonymous said...

I think it takes a village to become an artist.

Dolores Jablonski said...

I needed to hear this or see this. thank you!

Jenn said...

When I first started following you, you had a post similar to this about how long it took you to become a full-time artist. THANK YOU thank you thank you for this post. I think it's such a good, grounding story - that someone who grew up artistic still took a long time to get to being able to support themselves full time. Looking at others who fell into a niche and boomed overnight is not the example the rest of us can expect to live up to. You're the pattern that is much more realistic and I thank you again for sharing your journey so openly. I find this much more attainable and realistic for me.

Iris Fritschi-Cussens said...

Thanks so much for this. I am on this path, and I know it's the right path, but it's the time & dayjob issue that I've been struggling with (not helped by critical outside people judging my worth as an artist directly to how much money I make from it). I know that I'm making a small income now, and if I keep setting goals this is going to grow and grow. It's so massively helpful to read you saying that it's OK if it takes a long time.

Dawn said...

So much wisdom here. Thank you.

Ilana Polakiewicz said...

Thank you, Alisa! You are very generous. ; )


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