What do you do, exactly?

On my recent outing to the Asian Children’s Festival of Content (AFCC) in Singapore a few months ago, I had a bit of a problem telling people what it is that I do.

Am I a blogger? Well, yes, partly – I have a blog, yes. Does that make me a blogger? Hmmm.

Am I an illustrator? Yes, I can draw, and I’ve been commissioned a few times. But, read why I’m not a professional illustrator.

Am I a writer? Yes, although I loathe putting myself out there as “strictly” a writer. You know the sort – they’re comfortable hanging around other writers quoting books word for word as though it’s some sort of a competition, and I’m sure I lost that gene somewhere along the way.

Am I a teacher? Yes, I am. Although I didn’t get a Masters degree in teaching or in the subject that I teach (creative thinking applied to illustration) nor am I planning to. It’s hard for me to reach this point of being comfortable calling myself that, but hey, rave reviews from students surely must count for something; that, and the exhilarating feeling of actually finding out that I’m making a difference, however small it may be.

Finding a way to incorporate all of that into my name card is quite challenging, and well, introductions are for me a slightly awkward affair. But the truth is, what I’m dealing with isn’t just unique to my situation. What happens when your career (and life) is made up of lots of slashes? Writer / illustrator / teacher / blogger? Or what about accountant / artist? Plumber / journalist / illustrator? Should I call myself an artist who can write, or a writer who can draw?

We’re more than just one label. Mother / daughter / father / son / friend.

What we are, is unique. And it’s this complex tapestries that makes us who we are. If you shy away and hide away certain parts of yourself, you’re denying others the opportunity of experiencing what makes you special.

I’ll give you one example, and I like to draw on my own experience with this:

Writing, in many cases is much like drawing. Writers get hired to illustrate a story, but only instead of pictures, we use words. I used to get writing commissions from a magazine where they had a very set writing style that I had to adhere to, and it was an absolute chore. They had told me that my writing style was “too personal” and had a habit of being too “illustrative” (I kid you not!) So I stopped taking on their work, and found others who actually liked my style for the exact same reasons. They paid four times as much and were so much more fun to deal with. So I stopped taking in clients who wouldn’t allow my talents to shine, and instead went after the ones who would above all, understand my strengths and apply it to their advantage. I’m happy, and they’re thrilled.

What I had done, was to stop being just a writer. I stopped churning out words that could easily be put together by anyone who powers up Microsoft Word and then start typing. So what does this mean to you? Are you just an artist, or an illustrator? Do you move that paintbrush or pen only when you’re commanded to? I figured not.

I’m more than just a writer. I’m a writer who can draw, and I also teach. Oh and I have a blog that ties everything that I love together.

Hello there, my name is Amy and it’s nice to meet you.


So tell me, what do you do exactly? What sort of slashes pepper your life and career? And how have they made you different from the rest?


If you’re more than just an artist & illustrator, come check out my new class Work / Art / Play, where we’ll focus on bringing out your strengths. We’ll touch on modern strategies on how to make money from your art, while having fun too. There’s only 6 more days to sign up, and class begins on 16th September. Read more details and see the complete syllabus by clicking here!


[The term slash-career was coined by Marci Alboher, and you can read more here / Rooster illustration by Christian Robinson.]

17 Replies to “What do you do, exactly?”

  1. Eleonora says:

    You were right Amy, I love this post 😉

    Telling people – or even my mom… – what I used to do/I do for a living (here the first slash already!) has always been challenging.

    To help people look really surprised and most of all doubtful, I decided to get a degree in Philosophy of Language AND a degree in Graphic Design.

    Then I got jobs in various agencies as a graphic designer and at least I had a day-job-in-a-nice-office to make things look more respectable.

    Then I went freelance. I started teaching on the side. I wrote two novels for fun. My husband and I met, married and founded our own agency.

    Then we left everything, moved to a new country and started again.
    He changed his labels. I changed mines.

    Now I am a mom/wife/friend/sister/daughter, my most important roles.
    But I am also a graphic designer/digital illustrator/project manager/artist.
    And I like writing too. And I want to teach again.

    My mom still asks the both of us when we will find “a real job” and why my husband – who now works on movie sets in the light department – doesn’t wear a suit to go to work.

    And I am starting to feel quite ok with my many labels and I stopped trying to have people understand them 😉

    1. maria says:

      I have ideas.
      Which is vague.
      But it’s what I do.
      So I decided to be creatives’ bff.
      Because, even if it seems counter intuitive, creatives are the ones who constantly need ideas. Bigger, better, faster. Or subtler, smaller, easier. Whatever. Creatives live on their ideas, so i am there to support them and think together.
      And I also paint and draw and embroider!
      Thanks for the post!

  2. Nicky Ovitt says:

    I think you’re ahead of the curve in identifying this trend of ____ slash_____slash_____. Where it may have once been a sign of inability to focus, it now seems that we can celebrate numerous talents and share slash do them well!

  3. chapman says:

    how great ! i wrote a very similar post yesterday on my blog (but in french lol) on how i was quite fed up with people not understanding what i was doing – probably yes because i dont know how to explain it to people who do not have a clue of what i m doing and that i can actually make money with it

    i m actually teaching online – just like you- to craft sellers and mostly femal entrepreneur and here in France it looked like a non job – i m also writting articles for magazine and now a book on this subject but i dont even think it s enough – so yeaj now i have a second life online, partners and associates i work with all day i ve actually never met but i love what i m doing and i m earning money so…. !

  4. Samantha says:

    It is hard isn’t it…I never know quite what to say. I don’t like saying I’m an artist for some reason even though I think I am and I also work from home for a not for profit craft group and give talks to people about lots of creative things like doing markets etc. I kind of just mumble over the things I do and hope that’s good enough 🙂

  5. cotey bucket says:

    Great stuff Amy!
    I totally feel this one. I went to a crafters round table a few weeks back and when a presenter at a table asked me what i do I’d just stall out and then try to blurt everything out at once. I started using the term creative as a catch all, but I feel even my definition of that is expanding by the day. Let’s just invent our own new titles and give a little nudge to the evolution of language. Cotey Bucket=Human Doing 🙂

  6. Kristin says:

    I know how you feel. I had that moment several days ago. I am illustrator and a designer. With knowledge of marketing added to the mix. Then I am also starting some side hobbies.

    So it’s a bit difficult at times to define something for someone. But I enjoy explaining my passions to people. I know I don’t fit the normal mold, but who really does?

  7. Emie says:

    I can’t remember where I hear this term but someone listed their “job” as Possiblitarian… a unique word they made up that suited their life’s work…

  8. I agree with this article entirely. I’ve worn so many hats in my career.
    I’ve been a surface/pattern designer for the fashion industry, I’ve deigned promotional material, i.e. lookbooks, postcards, web promotional material. I’ve also been a teacher, which was a very eye opening experience in terms of the way profit based educational institutions function. I would love to teach again but probably on my own terms.
    Currently I am wearing two hats. I am a technical coordinator for a hosiery & accessory company which means I take art from the design department and realize it into actual socks, tights, hats scarves etc. So I am able to use my knowledge of knitwear & textile construction. I am however trying to slowly transition my textiles career into one of an illustrator and surface pattern designer. Which means that in my spare time I am drawing & painting, researching, promoting myself which doesn’t leave much time in a day but at one point soon I aim to take the leap and work for myself.
    At that point I’m sure I will wear many hats as well!
    I think it’s a reality of this economy and how the arts are shifting focus.

  9. Eleonora says:

    I read a book a lot of time ago – I would like to remember the title now! – where the author pointed out how wearing many hats in the past was considered the mark of the “genius” (think Leonardo da Vinci here) and now it seems to be the opposite.
    If you do many things, it looks like you are doing that because you are not good “enough” in any of your areas of interest and you have to juggle many “jobs”.
    Some people probably need to focus on one career, and it works fine for them, and I spent many years asking myself why I wasn’t able to be like them.
    But I am starting to realize this model doesn’t work for everyone.
    Some people really need to wear many hats to thrive!
    And we are just going back and claiming that “genius” role for us 😉
    (Ok, maybe Leonardo was quite unique, but you know what I mean!)

  10. Tania says:

    Thanks for this great post, I started bloging because I want to figure out just that. What do I really want? I love art, photography, design,fashion, and teaching but it’s very hard for me to think of myself just doing one thing for the rest of my life. For now I am exploring art and design at the the Junior College level even though I already have a B.A. in Liberal Studies/Minor Psychology. Blogging is helping my creative side grow and be more in tuned with what truly makes me happy.


  11. Scott says:


    Great article Amy. I currently wear a few hats.

    My first hat is my job/career hat. I currently work for Walt Disney Interactive, working on their online games. In this role I focus on Social Media, moderation, customer service, Q&A, online safety and a bunch of other projects.

    My second hat would be my illustration hat (my true passion). I cram in drawing when I can as well as balancing a healthy social life!

    It can be tricky at times but I think I have found a healthy balance. I signed up to Work/Art/Play to get more out of the time I spend on my illustration and hopefully this will lead to something else in the future.

    People tend to get confused when I explained and think I draw for Disney (I wish).

    Can’t wait to get started in a few weeks

  12. Emily says:

    Hi Amy,

    This was a great post and it really got me thinking about what I do and what I have goals of doing/being in the future! I usually say I’m an illustrator, but there is so much going on beneath that one word. I currently make greeting cards with my illustrations, but I so many more dreams of what I want to do in the near future. One of my big goals is illustrating children’s books.


  13. Dana says:

    Great post … highlights many issues:) This is a touchy question because so many people equate what they do at their job with their identity or even their personal worth. Currently I earn no money, but I am a whole person who contributes to the world in significant ways. In a few months, I’ll start working full-time at my seasonal job, but it won’t change who I am or elevate my worth. As long as someone contributes love and beauty to the world, I don’t care what else he or she “does.”

  14. Ros Harriott says:

    Love this!! I have “designer” written on my business card but I would really just like to call myself a “creative”. And I’m a Gemini so a pretty fickle one! I just have to create something each and every day and if I go a stretch without that creative outlet I physically don’t feel well! My blog helps me just go with the flow of what inspires me and explore new opportunities and thoughts, my day job designing clothes pays the rent and my home is my interior design outlet. I’m still figuring out a way to wrap it all into one but then again why do we need to do that? Be yourself, be individual, create a unique you and don’t worry about a “label”.


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