How to Make Art with a Day Job

Most of the artists I know have a day job since their art doesn’t pay the bills, or not all of them, at least. It takes a lot of time and effort to get to the point where your art career is your primary source of income, but it is doable. I’m on that same journey myself: I have a day job as a graphic designer. That’s what pays the bills.

The problem is, having a full-time job makes it difficult to find the time and energy to make art. In addition to spending time in the studio, you have to promote your work and show your work and deal with the business side of things.

But how do you work around your day job?

Well, what it really comes down to is making time and being disciplined about the time you have available.

Something I’ve done in the past is create an ideal week schedule. My friend Dave Delaney has a version of this that he calls the #KillerCalendar. Mine is similar.

What you do is create a new calendar in Google Calendar with events that recur every week (or whatever frequency works best for you). When you add new events or commitments, turn your ideal calendar on or off in Google Calendar and you can see whether your appointments line up wth it or not.

But first…

Before you do that, you have to make a fair assessment of what time you do have and what you need to do without in order to do your art. This is where it gets tricky, because you’ll find yourself having to cut out something you enjoy so that you can work on your art. For me, it’s staying up watching stuff on Netflix.

It really comes down to 2 things: discipline and a schedule. Know what is worth sacrificing so you can make gains as an artist, and be willing to live with those sacrifices. If you tie these things together you’ll find the result very rewarding.

Let’s say you want to devote your Saturdays to working in the studio. But Friday night your friends want to go out. So you do… and don’t get home until really late. Next thing you know, you sleep until noon, and you don’t get started in the studio until 3 in the afternoon, and then your friends call wanting to go out again.

Maybe you should have told your friends on Friday, “hey how about tomorrow night instead,” gone to bed early, put in a full day’s work in the studio Saturday and then celebrated your hard work by hanging out with your friends.

What are you committed to?

Since I’m a father of small children who don’t get to see a lot of me during the work week, I have to block out time to get in the studio. I tell my family, “okay, I’m going to work on these paintings on Saturday from noon to five, and then we’ll do pizza-and-a-movie-night.” They’re fine with that, because we’ve made a deal with each other. But I have to hold my end of the deal. They’re counting on me to do so. After that studio period is over, I go back to my family.

Forgoing sleep to make art?

A lot of people choose to stay up late to work on their side gig, but it’s probably better to get up early. You can do a lot more in an hour when you’re fresh than in two hours when you’re tired.

Not getting enough rest will only make you less productive. Some people see their lack of sleep as a badge of honor. “I’m more dedicated to my job/craft/whatever because I got fewer hours of sleep than you did.”

That’s insane.

There are better things to give up. As I said earlier, giving up Netflix is something I can deal with. For you it might be going out for drinks with your friends.

I don’t think sleep is one of the things you should give up since that is sacrificing your health. It’s not a very good trade-off. Yes, you are gonna have to sacrifice something at some point, but consider what are you getting in return.

(And if your friends complain that you’re not fun anymore because you’re spending time in the studio instead of spending time with them, maybe you need better friends who support what you are doing!)

Try something. See what works.

Try something for a season. A month is good. You can do anything for a month.

For one month, try getting up an hour earlier (and going to bed an hour earlier) and work on your craft before going to your day job.

You might have to change mediums to something that works better with your time constraints. If you paint in oils, you might need to switch to acrylics for a while. (That’s what I did.)

If you write, try haiku or 300-word blog posts.

The trick is to commit to regular practice that works with your time constraints.

Over to you

What’s something you can do for a season to do your art around your day job?

Header photo via Unsplash