I’m a full-time secretary at an accounting firm, but what I really want to do is to concentrate on my art full time. I hate my job – it’s stressful and I work 50 hours a week, which leaves little time for me to work on my personal project: illustrating a children’s book, which I hope to accomplish before the end of the year. I have a husband who can support me for a few months (I’m so ready to throw in the towel!) but I’m not sure if it’s the wise thing to do since work is hard to come by. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to sustain myself after I’ve completed the book as well – or if there’s going to be anyone snapping it up, which is really frustrating.
Should I continue with my full-time job and work on my project on the side, or should I quit to focus on my book full time?
I attended a talk recently, where a couple of illustrators and writers were talking about their experiences and process when writing a children’s book. At the end of the talk when it was Q+A time, I raised my hand and asked them this question: “How do you guys earn enough to do this for a living, since you only produce about 2 books a year?” The room turned to me and murmurs could be heard rippling through the crowd – they were curious after all; I just stood up and verbalized what half the room was thinking. Both of the illustrators said that they had part-time jobs in addition to working on the book. The whispers in the room got even louder, and I could see that the young illustrators in the room were a little taken back by their answer.
But I wasn’t. And their answers merely proved a point that I’ve been trying to drive home.
When you’re starting out as an illustrator, or if you’ve recently graduated as one – you’ll need to think of it as a business. And you, as an entrepreneur. The ability to draw is just one of your skill set, among many other skills that you’ll have to pick up along the way. It’s a tough journey, which is why I don’t recommend going at it full time when you’re just beginning – just like any other businesses.
For example, I stayed in my job as a magazine editor for a full year while running Pikaland – writing everyday and collaborating with artists on projects, going to the post office, coding up my blog and shopping cart (there wasn’t an elegant out-of-the-box solution back then!), and to top it off, a daily 2-hour commute. I slept about 5 hours everyday and crammed whatever free time I had into Pikaland, which meant no TV or unnecessary outings. I was also mindfully networking and finding opportunities for freelance writing commissions so that I could pad up my savings for a rainy day. Only when I felt that I had deserved it (and saved up quite a substantial amount to last me at least a year) – and that all my hard work was beginning to bear fruit – that I handed in my resignation letter. It wasn’t easy, but those small steps that I consciously took everyday helped pushed me towards my goal.
So my advice for you, Rachel, would be this: instead of jumping right away into the deep end, I recommend a slow but steady approach: get a less hectic part-time job, so that you can focus on honing your skills and work on your project. What if you can’t get another job? Then I’d recommend negotiating shorter hours with your boss or cutting back on your working days (hey, it’s no harm to ask!) without sacrificing your work performance so that you can find your audience. While this means working a little harder at the beginning, you’ll get less stressed about not being able to make money from your work while you continue to hone your skills. And let’s face it – it’s rare for artists to shoot to the front of the fame train on their first try. Persistence is key.
I’d also recommend setting a goal for yourself – just like what I did. Make a list of things that you hope to accomplish – whether it’s getting freelance clients, getting paying customers, having a book deal in hand, or opting for another less hectic part-time job – before you can give yourself the green light to dive full-time into your art.
Illustration – just like any business, is built on relationships, and the earlier you cultivate the necessary relationships that will help bring in work; whether it’s with your audience or your clients, the easier it will be when the time comes for you to take that leap and dedicate your time to creating.
SHARE YOUR STORY:
Have you ever quit your job to focus on your art full-time? What lessons did you learn from it? How did you manage the transition? I’d love to hear your story, plus any other advice you have for Rachel!
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