Most artists, myself included, have needed to work at a day job to help pay the bills. With daily chores and tasks after work, there may be very little time left to devote to creating art.

artist day jobsBeing an artist is certainly not a way to get rich quickly, though with a little work, art creation can provide a decent supplemental income – eventually leading to full time.  Actually, very few artists take the leap from day jobs to full time artists – but it does happen.

Many artists I know work at jobs totally unrelated to art making during the week, and create art on the evenings and weekends.  As for myself, I have worked as a logger, boat fibre glassing, labourer, fish plant worker, and more.


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I have been laid off from my my job as a fish plant worker – and have been out of the labour force for the past year. During this time, I have devoted my time to Artpromotivate and painting. But, just recently I have again found employment. I am now working at a temporary 9 week job, which will end in January of 2013. I am very thankful for this employment, as it will give my family much needed income during this Christmas season.  

For the most part, labour intensive jobs are the only type of employment available in this area. Finding time for art creation has been a real struggle for me while working at these jobs. After long hours working, I feel too tired to concentrate on painting – or write. During the weekend, I have chores around the house to take care of. But, I have learned to manage my time effectively so that I always have a painting in progress at my easel – and I am still devoted to writing articles for Artpromotivate, most of which I can write on the weekends while I am not working.

So, this post is meant to share some lessons I have learned about working as a part-time artist and a full time artist – which should help you decide whether quitting a day-time job to become a full-time artist is a good idea for you.

  1. Being a full time artist does not mean that artists work all the time at painting, etc.

    A large chunk of a full time artist’s time is devoted to finding exhibition opportunities, art promotion, packaging sold artworks, entering art competitions, tracking income, photography, attending art shows, and more. Part time artists, on the other hand, tend to be more focussed on the art creation, because the time often isn’t there for intensive promotions. Some may even rely on an art agent or gallery to promote art for them, who normally take a large amount of the profit.

  2. A day job can actually be an inspiration for artworks.

    crab paintingArt can be created from themes seen at work, or based on work skills. Using your workplace in this way, you will never be uninspired. Maybe you do not feel this way about the place you work. If you think your day job is boring and uninspiring, and do not want to think about it after you get home, try to see things there that will make good subjects for artworks.

    At the fish-plant where I worked, my usual place was on a production line. I worked at the same monotonous job every single day - lifting pans of crab, capelin and mackerel. I must have handled millions of those fish. When I got home in the evenings, I did not want to think about fish at all. But, I found that the more I painted them, the more my workplace became a source of inspiration – thus a much more enjoyable place to be.

  3. If you want to work full time, be prepared to commercialize your art somewhat.

    If you do art commissions, you will have to be very open to what the customer wants, and complete the artwork to their specifications (that is unless you do not want to do custom artworks). In order to sell art and make ends meet, you may have to find out what art collectors want, then create art based on those themes and styles. I know many artists who have two lines of work – one which is personal and uninfluenced by commercialism and the other which is specifically designed to sell.

  4. Managing your time

    Create your own Website!I have found that I can manage my time more effectively when I have less time. With a day job, the emphasis is on using time efficiently to create art.

    When I am without that day job, I do get more done in regards to art creation, but distractions abound. My studio is at home, so household tasks many times take priority over my art.

    Added to this is the fact that some people do not recognize being an artist as a job, and drop over unannounced or ask for favors because they think I have a lot of free time.

  5. Isolation

    With working full time as an artist, you will find yourself spending a lot of time alone, creating art. If you are accustomed to conversing with others in a daytime job, this may be a major shift – not having anyone else around to talk to. Sharing studio space may be a great way to overcome this problem.

If you are in a position to quit your day job to become a full time artist, try to decide if it’s right for you by weaning your way into it. Consider freeing up 2-3 days a week at first, before making any hasty decisions. Part time employment may even work better for you than a full time day job.

What do you think? What do you think is better – working a full time day job, part time day job or as a full time artist? Can you share your experiences regarding any of those?

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  1. Yet another great post, Graham and so heart-felt. Something tells me that the vast majority of your readers will relate; because as you say, most working artists must supplement their income by working in jobs that are usually unrelated to art. I can tell you that has been the case with me and my art career. Though lately I have been blessed with some outstanding commissions I still must cobble together a living between the commissions, never mind making room for my own personal artwork. While the commissions are 'great' they are not the same as free reign in front of the easel at all. So to answer your question, "No", I will not be quitting my day job as a commercial artist who does murals, portraits and even signs anytime soon. Luckily, I usually enjoy this occupation, even if at times it can be extremely challenging and difficult as I'm not getting any younger.
    I was fortunate enough to take a month off this fall after a big mural project during which time I painted my heart out to create seven new canvasses, strictly for my own pleasure. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven! But these new painting certainly do not represent 'income', other than the pleasure of creativity. So there's the rub. They will be on display in a new gallery opening up in Halifax however and with any luck they will be recognized for what they are: art for the sake of art, a free creativity vs. attempting to be 'commercial'. In my view, that's about the best way to eventually 'get out there' as a fine paint strictly for the love of it instead of trying to second-guess a fickle art-buying public. The biggest challenge for me is to wrestle a chunk of time away from earning a living to dedicate to fine art on a fairly regular basis. That's TOUGH.

  2. @Michael Gaudet Thanks Michael, great to hear from you, and welcome back! I must admit as well that it is very tough to allot time for painting, especially when I need to have a steady income to pay the bills. The priority for me has to be making money - because I have a family to support. But, my dream is to have enough steady income to devote more time to creating art.

  3. I feel your pain both Graham and Michael. I am an art teacher and have considered, many times, attempting to be a full time working artist, but it simply hasn't been a cliff I have been willing to jump off. I like my house, my electricity, and my healthcare too much. I have, however, recently taken a proactive approach to marketing and branding myself. I am hoping to at least go down to part time some day and really paint. I'm stubborn and will keep chipping away at it. Good luck!

    @Graham Matthews

  4. Living off ones Art?...thats almost impossible (if you are truly an authentic artist and don't follow the trends..sic:sell out?)..The inner problems of just being an artist and being honest with oneself is hard enough..its always a high and then a low sort of existence. So doing something else to 'live on' becomes almost a rhetorical statement. In fact (and just to pass the time between the lows and highs) one can't even pass an opinion on anyones Art these days without being vilified as a cultural moran (unless you heap praise on the creator of the art of course, that's called encouragement).
    So finding another job of paying work is the only path open to most 'non-favoured' artists and this especially applies to 'Painters' as, unfortunately) we are ' Ten a Penny.'

  5. I just want to post a huge thank you to you Graham. I read all of the emails that I get from you and visit often. You have so much great information on your site and it's always so easy to find. Great job my friend. I'm so glad that as an Artist I have such a valuable resource to go to when I have a question about something that pertains to my passion of painting. Have a great day and again my sincere thanks.

  6. @Mike Filippello Thanks Mike... That really means a lot! .. It's a pleasure posting these articles, and knowing that they are of help to some artists.

  7. Thank you for the article. I quit my day job to become a full time artist weeks before 911. For years I had been encouraged by my friends who were full time artists to quit my day job. Despite their encouragement and belief that I could do it, I was extremely frightened of quitting my corporate job for all the obvious reasons. In September of 2001 when it was announced that the company was laying off myself and other employees in my department I accepted it as providence and decided not to look for another job. It was deficult in the beginning especially as I began to exhaust my savings on my way to learning the business of being a full time artists. I remember from time to time my mother would try to help by sending me money. But I perservered. I got a part time job at an art store, confered with my successful artists friends and eventually began to be able to support myself. For many years I kept a part time job on the side but eventually I was able to be fully dependent on my art and even able, after I married, to let my wife quit her job. In a way it helped that my career was in computers and by quitting and not staying in the field I basically became a dinosaur forced to rely on my art for a living. I think the secret is commitment, community support and a lot of HARD HARD WORK! When the economy tanked I, like many artists, felt the effects. I was pretty successful so the effects came a little later for me. I must admit that these are trying times. But it is times like these that will boost your commitment and resourcefullness. You basically have to commit yourself to making it.

  8. Hi Graham, i am Neleisha. Thanks for this article. Its very honest and most artists would relate to this, including myslef. I am from Sri Lanka and u could imagine how difficult it is to get art promoted here and abroad...So fulltime emplyment is a must, as earning from a creative field is very limited locally. So u would find a lot of part time artists. But since of late theres quite a bit of social networking thats helping to promote artists,but still is not a gurantee of a its back to sqare 1 again.

  9. Hi ...i am Neleisha, this article was quite right and wud relate to me and most artists. First i must say a big thank u for the effort u put in to writing these... they really help. Coming back to the topic, i am a self taught artist from sri lanka and my stories not much different. There is very little opprtunities for artists here to sell their art ow wat they really wanna create... so most end up doinf full time jobs wihile crearinf art parttime. Recenty theres been a rise in social networking thats promoting art,but still it doesnt guarantee a sale.. so its always back to square one,, were u just create for the sole purpose of creating and not think about selling.

  10. It depends. I'm 20 and just starting with selling, and it might be easier for me because I'm not tied to a family and kids yet. I have little responsibilities right now, but even though, I still think I'm going to have to have two different incomes for now. The birthday and Christmas money is the little amount I have to fund my art projects so far. I'll probably have a night shift at a fast food place, but I'll defiantly start picking up the pace and work on art projects. Making a living on art defiantly is possible, but it's something that you have to work at like any other job. There's no sitting around and messing around. You need to paint, plus go out and promote yourself. Realistically, you can't be antisocial or refuse to go out and meet people. It's your way of allowing people to see your work and add to more potential collectors. If you're sitting there and hoping someone will see your work and will just hand you money through the computer, then you may not be thinking realistically and need a second job.

  11. Great article Graham! Many of the artists in my community work full time in a career that is not art related yet there are also a few that are full time artists and they have put in the time and energy to get where they are now. I think it is hard to gauge when the right to become a full time artist. It is a highly unpredictable life style yet there are those that make it work. I always try and learn from those that I know are successful and do my best to emmulate their best habits. You make a good point that there are those that need to hold some sort of employment that balances social interaction. I think many of dream of a day when all we have to do is paint but many of us cannot accurately invision what that may actually be like.

  12. Agree with you Denis besides Art dealer & Galleries won;t look at your work even do is excelente if you don;t have a referal !

  13. Thanks for your many articles for "us" artists. And good luck in your project. I, too, worked for a number of years, but my work was related to art, since included illustration and graphic design. Then while raising our two children I only worked freelance or part time. One day my husband's job was deleted. We struggled and my work was still not full time, but we persevered and survived. I did not do much of my own art at that time.
    I am not good at promoting myself or my artwork and wonder how I could manage if totally dependent on my art to be enough income for a decent living. Would have to really have a plan and/or find someone who was a promoter of art. Plus, then create art that people want to buy. But how do we know what people will buy?
    I do not think it bad to have another job, even if not in art, to bring in the "living" money. Then we are not so pressured to make something that is supposed to sell, but not really be us. What are the opinions on this?

  14. @maryOAart
    Hi Mary,

    I also do not think it is a bad thing to have a day job - even a full time or part time job outside of art. I've had a day job outside of art for many years. Having a day job does take the pressure off from just making art that's popular.. or will sell easier.

  15. @Graham
    It was always a number one goal for me to be able to draw or paint for a living, and I just wanted to say that this post was really inspiring & once I improve in art, I will definitely begin doing this, because what better job is there aside from doing what you truly love to do? lol :)

  16. Oh boy how timely is this article! I had a full time day job starting at 16 yo as a spray painter, then had a career as a teacher, technical trainer, product manager, technical manager, etc. All in the same collision industry so very loyal to the trade and art of painting cars. I gave this all up after 35 years to start my own (consulting) business. I have great contract for 20 hours a week with my ex employer so am lucky to be in this position. I can now spend the other time to build up my first body of work and learn heaps on how to promote and the business side of it all. Thanks a lot Graham, I learned a lot here! And keep reading, following on FB etc. You're a gem and have lots of respect for the effort you put in to help your peers! Cheers, Marc Vellekoop

  17. Try taking art seriously and watch how difficult it is to land a day job and or keep one. Meaning: If you have a day job work resume that looks like swiss cheese, and fill those holes with all the self-employment (art related) work you've done, i.e., social networking, research, ad creation, promotions, cold calling all of it....(so much work, not at the easel to be at the easel)....
    Then put up with the attitudes of people who insist artists live with their heads in the clouds and if an artist is so good at art......... well, then they can't be very good here at the day job! Try surviving at all as an artist, weather you give up a day job or try and do both, wait and see how this world, that could care less about Van Gogh while he was alive, and now can't pay enough for his work. This is negative sounding perhaps, however, to love being an artist and believe in yourself and your work is work!!!

  18. i dident go to college untill 1998, i did a prelimenary art course for a year then i completed the art foundation at kingsway in holmes road kentish was hard going,inever got to art school but i do a little bit on my art work every day. there is always some sort of polotics when shareing space with other people. i would not give up doing my art work .the world would be a worse place if there was no art in it. thanks fiona.

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