For the last three months I was working in an office, living the ‘part time job, full time artist’ life.
Back in the summer of 2014 I applied for a very interesting position, made it to the last round of interviews and was deeply disappointed when the job was given to the other finalist. I was told that it was a difficult decision and we should stay in touch… I believed it and did keep in touch. I applied for something else, that didn’t work out either and I eventually gathered my courage to abandon the “ordinary path” and start a full time creative career.
A year later, I was offered the exact same job. The candidate who was selected over me was expecting a baby and they needed a maternity replacement.
By this time I was about 9 months into my “illustration business”, things were starting to pick up and it was a real headache to come up with an answer. Questions were going around my head like a tornado: Will I be able to work in an office setting again? Am I up for the challenge of this position? Doesn’t this mean “cheating” on my creative side? Isn’t this a step backward? Will I have any time left for drawing? What will I do once the 6 months are over?
There were plenty of reasons to say yes, but plenty of reasons to let the opportunity pass. I discussed it with several people, did a very detailed analysis of what would happen in either case and then, with a trembling heart, accepted the offer.
I started in mid-September and since then have been working four days a week. The transition went smoothly, the woman Im replacing has become a close friend and I really enjoy what Im doing.
Many people do things the other way around: over time they realise that creativity should have more space in their lives and adjust “real work” accordingly. For me, it wasn’t such a conscious decision. We are nearing the end of the year, so I feel its a good moment to take stock of how it is to be on the “part time job, full time artist” path.
– Going back to an office job usually means meeting people on a daily basis and being part of a team. I always knew I was a social person, and I did struggle with the lonely nature of working from home, but I didn’t expect that having colleagues again would have such a positive impact on my mood. One of the most striking things I realised is that I was funny. I hadn’t worked with a Hungarian team for 5 years and speaking my mother tongue every day felt not only refreshing, but it also allows me to make more subtle jokes than in a foreign language.
– The rythm in my office is very, very dynamic, I have respond to very short deadlines and people count on my contribution. I loved having my own schedule as a freelancer, it is superb to sleep in late and work until midnight if I feel like it, but when you start out, there are no deadlines. You are building a portfolio and mainly drawing things on your own initiative, for a Facebook audience that consists of your mom, half of her friends, and some of your pals, who never log in anyway… Having to be somewhere at a given time every day gives a more structured framework to my life and I can’t deny that I have become more dynamic. I have the boogie to continue drawing and now Im pushing myself over the limit, spending my Fridays and weekends on creativity. (Im actually really glad its soon Christmas, because I desperately need to stop everything and rest… One thing I haven’t figured out yet is how to balance between my two careers and my private life… Not a sustainable situation in the long term…)
Lately I haven’t had the time to accept short term commissions, but I kept up with the arrangements that were already in place. For this reason it is useful that the “foundations” of my illustration career have already been laid out: I can just reprint the cards I’ve produced last year, take them to the various selling points, participate in Christmas markets and so on. I really benefit from everything I’ve done while I was a full time artist.
– I was secretly hoping that I could use my new position to do some networking and promote my illustrations. I have started doing that, and have even been able to do some drawings on the request of my manager (for example, I designed the Christmas greeting card and the upcoming promotional materials). It’s fun to combine these two worlds and I am super excited to add these to the list of reference projects I have on this website.
– Money… doesn’t buy you happiness, but seeing a predictable amount of it flow into my bank account sure makes me happier. Starting a creative career makes you broke and (in the best case scenario) dependent on a loved one. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about basic survival, nevertheless, I felt super uncomfortable about money issues over the last year. I recently calculated that on average, I earned about half of the minimum Belgian salary per month, which is not bad at all for a first year illustrator with no training, but it was far from predictable and it definitely didn’t allow me to feel like a “grown up”. Objectively, I knew it was only the beginning, that it was the transition time and hopefully it was going to improve, but, for example, not having to worry about how to pay the printer lately has been a drastic change.
It is tricky to find the right balance with these money issues, because, if we take my example, I had the idea to produce postcards with my drawings. You need to have a decent amount printed to make the cost per card low enough, but printing a lot does cost quite a bit. And the earnings from them come through a long period of time because the online shop is not yet going at full speed and because the shops who accept to re-sell the cards only pay once they have actually sold the cards… Now, as a “relapsing office worker”, I don’t have to worry about these things, and Im hoping that by the end of my contract (in early March) I’ll have generated enough additional attention to my illustrations that it will keep me going. =)
– Last, but not least, I have become much more independent since I’ve started my own path. The fact that I could see myself progress over time (in terms of drawing technique, computer abilities, negotiation skills, self promotion etc) gave me self confidence. There was no one who could tell me whether I was doing well or not and I had to judge for myself. This comes in particularly handy in my current office job, where things are so busy that giving feedback is not high on the agenda. Im not saying that suddenly all my insecurities have been resolved, but building something on my own has given me some sort of inner strength that I didn’t possess before.
You know how sometimes in life you really feel that you are at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing? Well, this is exactly how I feel at the moment, and I have to tell you, it is fantastic! ;-)