How many people do you know who truly love what they do for a living? How do you even get a job doing what you love? Surely there is no such thing. Is there?
Well there most certainly is, and I’ve spoken to 5 people who are making a living from doing what they love, to find out what makes them different from the millions of people who are stuck in jobs that are slowly destroying their souls.
Here’s some background on each of the people I interviewed:
Mike is a caricature artist and character designer from Newcastle upon Tyne. Check out some of Mike’s work at www.mikegiblinillustration.com
Soniei is a full-time contemporary artist from Novia Scotia, Canada. You can see Soniei’s beautiful Japanese art at www.soniei.com
Chantal is a full-time artist from Queensland, Australia. You can see her original artwork at www.chantalhandley.com
Here are the questions I asked, followed by each person’s response:
What do you currently do for a living?
Mike Giblin – My current workload is, I’d say, a rough 60/40 split privately commissioned caricature /character design work to live caricature at weddings, corporate events and so on.
Soniei – Currently, I’m a full-time artist.
Jonathan Hardesty – I’m a fine artist full-time. I used to say that I was a painter for a living, because I thought it was closer to describing what I did. However, when I started receiving requests to put up wallpaper and paint people’s living room I started calling myself a fine artist.
I work predominately with oil and charcoal. My time is usually split halfway between teaching and creating my own work for gallery sale.
Chantal Handley – I am a full time artist and mum! My time is split between working on art commissions and my children.
Paul Moyse – Difficult to describe. If I had to pigeon-hole my job I’d say I was a freelance artist, but this involves so many different areas. I consider myself a traditional portrait artist first, but I still enjoy other areas such as humorous illustration (caricature) and teaching.
How did you come to do what you love for a living? Did you have a ‘normal’ job before, and if so, how did you make the transition into a creative career?
Mike Giblin – I’ve never had a ‘normal’ job per se, unless you’re including part-time employment while I was studying (pizza waiter, cinema usher, art store clerk, and data entry inputter – in that order).
I went to work for Nigel Cooke’s live caricature operation in Blackpool pretty much as soon as I wrapped up my degree in 2001, which, although I’d always loved drawing, is where I first realised I could make pretty good money doing it. The following year I followed Nigel down to Alton Towers Theme Park, which is where I spent the following four summers honing my craft.
It’s worth pointing out at this stage that my artwork was REALLY shoddy at the start – it took me many hundreds of drawings to develop the caricature ‘eye’, improve my standard, and relax enough to make it a fun experience for the punters and myself.
Soniei- I’ve been a personal care worker, a tourist guide, an ESL teacher, a research assistant, a computer programmer, etc. etc. etc. I’ve had so many diverse jobs. Although some jobs were very fulfilling in the ‘help your community’ kind of way, I was always waiting and craving time off. Weekends never came fast enough, and Mondays came too soon. I was trying to be grateful for all that I had in my life, but if I took one hard look at myself I knew I was miserable.
I remember saying to myself several years ago, “If this is what working is all about, I can’t wait to retire”.
I then decided to take the time and invest in a relationship with myself. I got to know who I am (and believe me, I’m still learning) and what I’m passionate about. I wanted to be an artist ever since I could remember. I knew I’d be happy painting but tremendous fear was in the way of that career move. There was no promise of a steady paycheck and I had bills and student loans up the wazoo. That’s why I kept on taking jobs that were emotionally unrewarding but would provide me with a great paycheck.
One night, about 7 years ago, I reached my ultimate low point. I think the fact that my boss at the time was a bully, always yelling, belittling me and my coworkers, spreading office gossip and providing an emotionally toxic work environment had a lot to do with it. I had a level of stress and anxiety that I never knew one could have. Something had to drastically change in my life and there was no way I was going to let myself be a victim in my own life anymore. My frustration of my current circumstances fueled my longing for a better future and gave me the boost I needed to find the courage to pursue my passion.
So, with 110% support from my boyfriend, Peter, I made the decision to do everything that it took to become an artist because it really, really, really, really was the only thing I wanted to do. I quit my job, moved into a small two bedroom apartment with two other people, ate on an artist’s budget, hardly ever went out, learned how to run a small business (started with the book Canadian Small Business Kit for Dummies, no joke!), learned simply accounting, went to the bank for advice, worked what felt like 16 hour days/7 days a week for the first 2 years, etc. etc. etc. Was I exhausted? YES. Was I scared? YES!!! Was it worth it? A big fat YESSS!!!!! It was so worth it that I would do it a million times over!
Now I don’t care what day it is. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, it’s all the same to me. 99% of the time, I view work as play time, especially now that I don’t do custom paintings anymore. I’m creating art like I used to do as a child, freely. I’m truly grateful.
I hope that you have found your passion. If not, believe me when I say that your happiness is worth all the time and energy it takes to follow your dreams.
Jonathan Hardesty – Right out of college, I took an office job. That is one of the main reasons I decided to pursue art. I was 22 years old at the time, and I didn’t want to work in an office for the rest of my life. To me it felt like working a job like that till retirement was a type of slow death.
My situation was very strange because I had never sketched or painted a thing in my life before deciding to become an artist. I literally sat at my desk one day and went through my criteria for the perfect job. When I was done I knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort.
I tried pursuing drawing and painting on my own and quickly realized that I needed good training. When I discovered that there was a way of training that was very close to the classical method I knew I had to study that way. Everyone at my job thought I was nuts, and that I would never leave. But one month later I was gone. And I’ve never looked back since.
Chantal Handley – I am a qualified animator and graphic artist and spent 10 years working in graphic design agencies and animation studios. Those careers are now heavily computer and deadline driven and I would go for weeks without painting or drawing. When I had my kids I couldn’t work the hours needed to complete an animated project so I decided to go back to my original style of art.
Paul Moyse – I’ve always wanted to be a professional artist, but for many years I alternated between bowing to the pressure to get a ‘regular’ job and going after what I really wanted.
No one else in my family has done anything like it in the past, at least not professionally, so there was that pressure as well. I’ve had lots of ‘regular’ jobs over the years, mostly in retail, but they were never feeding my soul.
Were you ever discouraged from pursuing a career in art? What criticisms did you hear, and how did you overcome them?
Mike Giblin – My family and friends were never anything less than supportive, and encouraged me to follow my dreams wherever possible. One thing I would say is, when exploring options ten years ago the opportunities for caricature artists in the UK didn’t seem immediately apparent; it was only through quite a bit of digging around (and hours spent at the Central Arcade internet café – no computer in those days!) that I realised there actually were artists doing this for a living – and I could be one of them.
Soniei – I actually wrote a blog about this.
Jonathan Hardesty – Oh yes, I was discouraged at every turn by those around me. Try telling your in-laws that you want to provide for their daughter by becoming a fine artist and that will raise some eyebrows for sure.
My family and my wife, were the most supportive of all, but pretty much everyone else thought I was crazy. It was interesting because I had a large number of people tell me that fine artists can’t make money. The hilarious thing was that none of them knew any fine artists, and none of them had ever bought a piece of original art in their life. Most people I talked to had never even set foot inside a gallery.
So people were discouraging me from going into a field of work that they had no clue about. I overcame them, honestly, just by ignoring them and getting all the information. In fact, I have to thank those people because they lit a fire inside me. When I started on my artistic journey, I think I had something to prove and that was a good motivator for me.
Most of the people in my life are fans of me and my work now. But there were very few that were like that from the beginning. The first time I ever tried to draw something at 22 I showed the drawing to my wife. It was a self-portrait and it was truly hideous. Most of the time when I tell people that they say “Oh I’m sure it was really good, you’re just downplaying it.” Then I show them the self-portrait and they say, “wow that really is bad”. The amazing thing was that my wife told me that she genuinely thought I had the ability when she saw that self-portrait. Her confidence in me over the years has helped so much.
When I first started trying to learn to draw and paint I created a thread on the website called conceptart.org. I’ve posted almost everything I’ve ever done in that thread. Anyone that wants to see my journey and see things in detail can check it out here.
Chantal Handley – I was told from an early age that drawing or art wasn’t a career, that I would never make a living with it and I should pursue something else. I turned to advertising as at that time computers didn’t play a starring role in the creation of ads and everything was still hand drawn. Later computers replaced traditional art with Photoshop, Illustrator, Quark Xpress etc. so again following my artistic ability I turned to traditional 2D animation.
Paul Moyse – Good question! I would say the main criticism came from my father. I don’t blame him for wanting me to get a steady paying job, the fact that he did so with his career meant I didn’t have a deprived upbringing, for which I will always be grateful.
I always believed it was possible to do well as a professional artist, providing you are willing to push yourself, not only in promotion but in your artistic abilities. If anything, my father’s opposing stance made me more determined. If someone says I can’t do something, I want to prove them wrong, especially if I feel strongly about it.
What advice would you give to someone who is unhappy in their job, and thinking about trying to make a living from their creative pursuits?
Mike Giblin – Do it, life’s too short! However be sure to build a steady client base and establish regular work before taking the plunge full time. I had some extremely lean times in the early days, and was fortunate enough to have very understanding and generous parents that didn’t mind helping me out here and there until I was established.
Soniei – I wanted to start my own small business at home so that I could be my own boss, make the paintings I was inspired to create, be in charge of my own schedule and live a fulfilling life.
After reading dozens and dozens of business books, I was still waiting for a book that would show me how to start a small registered business STEP BY STEP! I had no experience in starting a business of any kind… until, voila! I found Canadian Small Business Kit for Dummies by Margaret Kerr and JoAnn Kurtz. No joke! This book made it possible for someone like me to start my own registered business within a few weeks. And, it was super easy!
The only other thing you might need to set up your registered business is software like Simply Accounting First Step 2010 (by Sage). If you don’t know anything about accounting, I was in your shoes. I’m still partly in your shoes, to be honest. I don’t know much about accounting, but Simply Accounting made it easy enough for me to do what I needed to do for my one-person business. I even got audited from 2006-2008 and I had no mistakes!
Jonathan Hardesty – My advice would be to get out of that job as soon as possible. Simplify the way that you live and make some changes so that you can pursue what you want to do.
If you’ve got a huge house sell it and get a small one. If you’ve got a BMW sell it and get a used Toyota. You will be much happier making art for a living and driving a beat up Toyota then you would be otherwise. What use is a huge TV that you can never look at because you’re always at work?
One of the saddest things I see is someone who is 65 years old that comes to me saying they’ve always wanted to be an artist. Often times, their parents told them not to do it or their friends told them it was impossible and they have never pursued it.
If you have the desire and the fire inside of you to become an artist it will never go away. You can cover it up for a little while, but it will always come back to the surface. Take a risk and go for it.
There were many times I felt like quitting, and even more times that I felt like I didn’t have the ability. Those people that are successful, usually aren’t the most talented. It’s the people that work the hardest that succeed. Throw yourself 100% into it and never look back. Be smart and responsible, but don’t live in fear.
Chantal Handley – I think deep down everybody knows what they really want to be doing or what they love to do. My advice would be to take that feeling and pursue it in whatever shape it may come in. Trust in your own ability and never underestimate yourself.
Paul Moyse – Go for it!! Personally I think there’s nothing better than jumping in at the deep end to learn how to swim. There are so many ways to be creative and make money, and so many people out there that are doing it already and willing to teach and give advice, free or otherwise. Ignore the negative voices, both in your head and on the outside.
Are there any aspects of what you do for a living that sometimes make you wish you had a ‘normal’ job?
Mike Giblin – Not really, I realise how lucky I am. Having said that, it can be quite a solitary existence and although I enjoy my own company, I do like to get out of the studio and see a real human face from time to time. There’s also such a wealth of online forums and ways in which you can connect these days that there’s really no excuse for living in a bubble any more.
Soniei – I have to admit that I do miss a steady paycheck. I miss that security.
Jonathan Hardesty – I think the only thing that makes me long for a real job is the changing income levels. It can be a little bit tricky, learning how to manage feast and famine during the year. Some months you will sell $10,000 worth of paintings and some months you will sell $10 worth of paintings.
You’ve got to learn to manage your finances with the year in mind and not that particular month. Taxes can be bad sometimes, and of course you have to buy your own insurance. The good absolutely outweighs these few bad things, though… trust me. I would never go back to working in an office if I could help it.
Chantal Handley – No
Paul Moyse – Nope!
Any other thoughts?
Soniei – Not only has being self-employed given me total artistic freedom, it has given me freedom in life overall. When I started working on my business, I craved control over my schedule. I also wanted control on WHAT projects I would work on and WHEN I would work on them. I wanted to learn what I wanted to learn when I wanted to learn it. I read and practiced principles of art, business and marketing when I had the time and energy to do so, not because someone else (a boss) told me I had to do it. I also feel like sometimes my life is aligned a certain way where I can take on bigger challenges or projects, and I do so at that time. On the other hand, sometimes my life is so hectic or I feel drained and I decide to take a break or just cruise along and not have any major changes happen in my business. I grow my business when it feels right to do so. I wake up every morning, and I decide what goes on my to-do list. It’s a kind of freedom I couldn’t get at my previous jobs.
Artistically, I pretty much get to do what I want to do when it feels right to do it. Sometimes I wake up and I feel like learning about marketing, so I do that. Sometimes, I just want to paint for weeks. So I do that. Sometimes I don’t feel inspired to paint, so I’ll work on updating pictures for my website, etc etc etc. I work from whatever my passion I have in my core at that moment.
I can also grow my business at my own pace. Sometimes I feel extremely physically and mentally energetic and strong, and that’s when I like taking on bigger challenges… that’s when I look for new ways to grow my business or evolve my artwork/skills.
I used to take orders for custom paintings (commissions) but now I never do, no matter what people are willing to pay. I have to paint what I want to paint at that specific moment. Painting what other people wanted was unfulfilling and made me unhappy. It repressed my own creativity. This decision to stop taking commissions has drastically lowered my pay check and significantly increased my happiness.
You can’t buy this kind of freedom.
Jonathan Hardesty – The only other thing I would say to aspiring artists is to make sure that you have integrity and passion in your work. You may not be the best, but you have to always give it your best.
I think one thing that kills an artist’s career is what I call the “good enough” syndrome. Don’t settle. Constantly strive to improve and get better and that will lead you to success. In other words focus primarily on being the absolute best artist you can be and the rest will work itself out.
Paul Moyse – Only that it’s highly important, if you do decide to quit the ‘day job’, that you specialize. This is something I’m constantly working towards. Choose your preferred area and work towards making that your primary business, whether it’s portrait painting, editorial cartooning, animation… whatever it is, learn that craft and reach for the top of it with everything you do. Whether you get to the top or not is up to you.
So what can we learn from these people who are all busy doing what they love day in, day out?
Firstly, being an artist doesn’t necessarily mean you just have to focus on one thing all the time. Most of these artists split their time between different things, whether it be painting, teaching, live events or childcare! There are countless different ways to earn an income from art. You don’t need to settle for just one.
Another important insight is that it’s much easier to make the transition to a creative career if you have some support and encouragement.
You will undoubtedly have people try to discourage you and tell you that you’re a fool for trying to make a living as an artist. This can be hard to overcome by yourself, but if you have at least one person close to you who believes in you and supports you every step of the way, then it will be much easier to silence the doubting voices.
Finally, you can’t be afraid of a bit of hard work! It will take time to establish yourself as an artist, and you may need to simplify your life for a while until you start to make more money. For a great guide to simplifying your finances, read this article on Minimalist Finances and Budgeting by Joshua Fields Millburn.
Above all, the overwhelming message that we can take from these guys is that despite all the challenges, it is definitely worth it. If you make the transition to doing what you love for a living, you won’t regret it!
Are you on the verge of trying to make a career out of something you love to do? Is there anything holding you back? Let me know if these interviews have helped or if you have anything to add you can do so in the comments below.