Is it possible to work full time and become an artist?
I’m not a professional in the industry, so I won’t be able to answer if it’s possible to become a pro while working full time, but I can at least answer whether or not it’s possible to make art while having a full time job.
A bit about myself. I work full time at an education company and the position is assistant level, so I’m not doing anything that requires me to think about work beyond my work hours. I work from nine to five, with a commute that’s about an hour and twenty minutes per way. In total, I’m working/commuting for about eleven hours and forty minutes. This doesn’t include getting up in the morning, eating breakfast, taking a shower, cooking and grocery shopping. I’d say the majority of my time is spent not working on art.
Despite that, how do I find time to work on so many paintings, complete so many drawings and dedicate so much time to anatomy, perspective, gesture and various other topics? Here are a few keys to successful time management, when the world isn’t built for artists with jobs.
Draw During Breaks and Travel
I draw on the train on my ride to work and on my ride back. If I’m going to spend two and a half hours sitting, I might as well be sketching. I use this time to urban sketch and practice different artistic concepts I’m working on. On some days, I practice gesture, drawing everyone quickly, trying to capture their pose, their movements, etc. On other days, I try to think more painterly and capture people’s expressions and lighting conditions. Sometimes, I just draw from my head. On some days, I don’t get a seat, so I just read a book instead. I have pdfs of art books on my phone and kindle books about art theory/philosophy.
Do I do this every day? No, but I do it a lot and try and keep it up even if I’m tired. I’ve found that if I’m tired from work, pushing myself to draw tends to revitalize me and stimulate me in a positive way.
Also, I draw during my lunch breaks. I sit down with my coworkers and we talk and eat, then I pull out my sketchbook and draw. I try to draw from life as often as I can, but I always have an art book handy to study from. My coworkers are understanding and it’s even inspired them to work on their own projects. We talk during that time too, so it’s not necessarily heavy study time, but an enjoyable creative milieu.
Bring a Sketchbook Everywhere
Whenever I have a situation where I’d like to build a habit, I always try and figure out what’s preventing me from doing it. For example, I used to carry around a large 14 inch sketchbook that was great for big landscape studies or capturing lots of detail in an urban sketching scene, but more often than not I was simply too lazy to pull it out of my bag. I purchased two smaller sketchbooks to carry around. One is a Strathmore Recycled Sketchbook, 5.5 x 8.5. It fits in any bag I have and uses recycled paper, so it’s dirt cheap. I would avoid Moleskines here simply because they’re expensive. If you’re rich, go for it, but I found that expensive paper leads to another pain point (I’ll talk about money and art in a future post). The other sketchbook I use is 3.5 x 5. It fits in my pocket for times where I don’t want to carry a bag. I bring a bic pen to go along with it, but the entire set up is easy to pull out, light weight and great for capturing quick studies when you’re out and about.
Cut back on Media
I’m not one of those people who believes artists need to complete eradicate media from their lives. But truth be told, I had a crippling video game addiction for the majority of my life, so I know just how much power media can have over a person. It’s easy to queue up for “just one more” game of League before the night is up. These products are designed to keep users engaged for as long as possible, it’s part of their business strategy. Netflix doesn’t even require users to hit play before the next episode stars. There’s only 20 seconds available before Netflix decides the next twenty to forty minutes of a person’s day. That’s a lot of power. The key here is moderation, but if you can’t imagine a few days without media, you might want to consider trying to “quit” media entirely for a bit. I quit video games for about a year before I came back with a new ability to moderate myself. It wasn’t easy, but I prioritized art and was willing to sacrifice for it.
Draw on the Weekends
This is pretty obvious, but I wanted to emphasize that I’m taking a class on Saturdays dedicated to painting. I have access to an instructor who can help me get past my barriers and I finish by 1 pm, leaving me time to do whatever else I want. I could work, I could write, I could read, I could watch TV, hell I could paint more if I feel like it (and I’ve done that many times). I’m not saying that you have to take a class, but there’s probably a chunk of time available on weekends that could go to this. It doesn’t even have to be every day. The goal is to simply find some time for extended practice/studies.
Attend Life Drawing or a Drink and Draw
If you live in NY or near any university, you can probably pay about ten to twenty dollars to attend a life drawing session. They’re great places to meet other artists or future instructors! Just googling life drawing in my area helped me find tons of classes and events. I found the Art Students League using that method, as well as various other life drawing events through apps like Meetup.
Implement the 10 Minute Rule
If all of the above seem impossible, shoot for drawing at least 10 minutes a day. It doesn’t matter when, just set a timer and work for 10 minutes. Everyone has 10 minutes, don’t even try and tell me you don’t. Don’t increase this number ever. Just because you went a month hitting 30 minutes, don’t increase the bar. It’s easy to set the bar too high and end up not drawing at all.
As more and more work responsibilities and life responsibilities take up my time, I find I’m drawing more than when I was a student and doing nothing all day. I finish cooking, then I draw. If I’m feeling daring, I pull out my acrylics/watercolors and paint. If I have a spare moment while at work, I’ll sketch on a note. More and more of my time involves painting, going to museums, going to figure drawing sessions. I’ve prioritized art to the point where now a lot of the media I consume is related to art. I read books about artists, read blogs by other artists (Primarily James Gurney) and peruse forums about art and concept art. My goal isn’t to become some concept artist at Pixar, it’s just to make art now and I’ve never felt happier doing it.
Check out the original post on my blog!