Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An Art Related Job -Worth It? Or A Trap?


Do you get a kick out of watching someone else eat a nice juicy steak - or do you want to tear into one yourself? (or a veggie burger :)

I often hear students receive the advice to get an art related job that's "safer" and easier to land than pursuing their desired choice of becoming a freelance illustrator, writer, or fine artist - so they can later make the transition to what they really want to do. The art related jobs are usually something like art director or graphic designer, animator or even an editor. I would think that in some ways this would be somewhat offensive to art directors, graphic designers, animators and editors who really love their jobs. They're living their dreams and probably don't want to work with people who are settling.

I've had many friends, students, and acquaintances over the years who have opted to work in an art related field. Most of them have NOT transitioned into their dream career after many years in their second choice and many of them never do.

Using your creative mind is taxing - your brain is a muscle - so working 8 hours in in an art job will wear you out. As one of my graphic designer friends puts it, "I've just given all I have to do my job - the last thing I want to do is come home and work on becoming an illustrator."

Compare that to another friend who works in a non-art career. He told me, "All I can think about while I'm at work is getting home to work on my painting."

I'm not saying that it's never a good idea to work in an art related career. One exception that comes to mind is the person who dreams of creating their own "blank" and can learn how to create their "blank" while working for someone else on their "blank" and getting paid to do it.

Choose wisely my fellow artists - regret isn't fun and you don't want to be that person who wishes they hadn't wasted so much time figuring out what they didn't really want to do.

I created the painting above about 10 years ago and I can still remember what it felt like to be free to work on exactly what I wanted to paint at that time. Nothing compares to living life on your terms - free to express yourself creatively.

36 comments:

  1. Man, I love reading your blog will. You have such great insight on all the real world questions and things that young artists might not otherwise think about. In this particular case, I don't know if there's an easy answer. Aside from the benefits of an art related job that you mentioned, you also could be making valuable contacts that you wouldn't otherwise have "on the outside". I think it really all comes down to your own personal work ethic. I don't think there are only 2 types of people, the one who's too tired of working on other people's art all day to pursue his own and the person who just can't wait to get home from his office job to do his artwork. I think there are many other types of people and situations out there. But it's something interesting to think about.

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  2. Great point Eric - it really does come down to the individual in the end. I'm not saying it's impossible to work in an art related career and transition to what you want to do - just think that for most it might be harder for the reasons I mentioned. The truly committed won't let anything stand in their way.

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  3. Enjoyed your insight on this topic! I totally agree with what you said about "Nothing compares to living life on your terms - free to express yourself creatively."! ^__________^

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    1. Thanks Ni - we only have so much time and then it's gone...

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    2. Yes,Will! I truly enjoy your blog,and your amazing arts!!!!! You inspire me to keep going!!!! And, I will do just what you said,and never waste my time!!!!! Happy creating! ^_____________^

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  4. eight hours a day, plus kids, plus house, plus shopping, plus life... leaves very little time for your own creativity. For anyone doing it all there probably has to be someone there helping to take up the slack in order for them to have the time to pursue their dreams...

    even for the committed there are only so many hours in the day ;)

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    1. You're right Karen - I didn't mention all the things that demand our time and for most of us they are many - I wish I had appreciated the time I had when I was in school and single :)

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  5. All I have to say is <3 <3 <3! always insightful

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  6. This post is 100% about me. Have you been reading my thoughts Will?

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  7. I guess I'm one of those guys who copped out and got an art related job. But it has provided for my family during really hard times. My wife has been able to be a full time mom and our family situation is good. So there are benefits to copping out. On the other side of the coin I have been very committed and have taught myself how to paint landscapes in my free time. I'm in several nationally known galleries and have had several opportunities I might not have had otherwise if I had stuck with being a full time illustrator.

    There are lots of strategies to becoming an artist. A good book is Refuse to Choose that talks about alternatives to career paths, Very good stuff.

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    1. I wouldn't call it a cop out at all - we all have to make ends meet while we're working on our dream - the main message of my post was when considering a job that isn't exactly what you want - perhaps getting a job that is NOT art related will lend itself to transitioning...it's sometimes easier if you aren't spent creatively after a day at your job. Sounds like you're pushing through - good luck!

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  8. I'm usually in line step with you on everything Will, but in this case I don't think I am. I see where you're coming from, but as Eric said above, there are more reasons and thoughts going on in this situation.

    In my case, I tried to "do what I love" right out of school. It's been 4 years now and it's just not working. Now, I'm not going to say that it won't work, but "doing what I love" isn't paying the bills, so I need to do something that does pay the bills.

    Now, here is where my opinion comes in: I want to get a "regular" art related job because doing art is the ONLY skill that I have. I have no experience to do anything else BUT art. So for me, that's the reason I'm applying around for art related day jobs. Luckily for me I CAN draw all day long and at the end, draw some more. It's almost like a drug, if I knew what doing drugs was actually like.

    Anyways, that's my two cents. But yes, I can see your point, and you DO make some good points. But, there are LOTS of reasons for artists to get art related jobs until they can get paid for their passion like they would want.

    Keep up the awesome posts. They get people thinking.

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    1. Very good point and I thought of talking about this one but didn't want to make the post too long by including every possible exception. You'll note that I did mention in the post that there are exceptions to this reasoning and you bring up a really good one.

      All things being equal I think you're better off in an unrelated field so you're excited to work on art when you get home - that's all. But I do realize that when you're trying to feed a family you need to get a job where you can earn the most money - even if that means using up your creative energy helping someone else with their dream.

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  9. I've taken a risk and have been building a killer portfolio for around 4 months now. I'm on the verge of my first book job which is incredibly exciting. I started with your photoshop tutorials and have come on leaps and bounds. The risk is that my money will run out soon if this job falls through. The uncertainty is both a blessing and a curse I think. I REALLY don't want to go back to a 9 to 5 desk job putting money in someone elses pocket.

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    1. Living on the edge does provide excitement...and fear but at least you have that sense of urgency right? We tend to move faster when we can feel the flames right? :) I wish you all the best but no matter what happens you will learn a lot by what you are doing and that's priceless.

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  10. Will, I'm not sure that what you call my "art related job" is any less of an art job than you have. I'm sure that most fine artists would consider your work as an "art related job".

    Mine is a different artistic journey than yours, but different, not better or worse. Am I where I want to be as an artist? No, And I hope you aren't either.

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  11. You obviously didn't really read my post. My job is an "art related job" to what ever you do. Did you not read: "I would think that in some ways this would be somewhat offensive to art directors, graphic designers, animators and editors who really love their jobs. They're living their dreams and probably don't want to work with people who are settling."

    In no way do I think that being an editor, art director, graphic designer, animator, etc. is second to what I do. This blog is focused on those who are or want to become illustrators.

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  12. Wow. Where to start? Will and I were at BYU together--so I've known him 20 years, and have watched how our careers have diverged and overlapped.

    First, to the points regarding the "security" of a full-time job. IT DOES NOT EXIST. I am an illustrator-turned-full-time-graphic-designer. And a pretty good one I like to think. I have worked for 11 companies in 18 years. I only left 2 of those by choice.

    To the people saying "I've tried but it's not working" I can only say: get better and be aggressive business-wise. I have never known anyone great who was ever hurting for freelance work...but it doesn't just roll in by itself.

    To those starting out, my advice is to learn to live, or stay living, lean. We tend to fill up our lives with "necessities" which can create financial obligations which are difficult to unyoke oneself from--and thus can hinder you moving in the direction you would prefer to go. Trust me. I learned this lesson the extra hard way.

    Next, there is no "copping out". We all live in a real world with real obligations and real consequences. No one, particularly myself, would fault any of you for doing right by yourself and your family. But trust me, the daily grind of an "art job", even one that you like a lot, can sap your personal creative energy faster than you can imagine. And it only worsens with time.

    Lastly, I'd say it's a common human thing to view choices in an all-or-none way. Like: "I can either work a job forever, or I can sculpt forever, but not both." But that is not true. Very few of our decisions are ever truly permanent (e.g., having a child). Life and careers are cyclical and go on stages. It's all about timing. Maybe the best decision now IS to find a job. Three years from now, it may not. Trust your gut. It'll steer you straight.

    Best of luck to everyone in your creative endeavors!

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  13. Will, I feel like I have lived this post. I began an in-house illustrator/design job right out of college. I was excited about it, and I learned a lot of the real world skills which are so valuable to me today. The downside was as an in-house artist the company owns everything you create. I was also required to do very mainstream designs. I lost any sense of what my own style was. Every night I would stare at my sketchbook, but was unable to create. As you mentioned, I didn't have anything left. It took about 4 years before I was able to create personal work, and I approached it as if I was completely starting over as an artist. A few years ago, I purposely took a design job that is farther away from the illustration field, and it helps to keep the 2 worlds more separate. Besides the income and benefits, the day job challenges me in new ways. And at the same time, all day I can't wait to get home to sketch and paint. Some nights I'm way to tired to be creative, so it's not a perfect system, but we do what we gotta do. :)

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    1. What you described sounded a lot like some former Pixar and Disney artists I've talked to - the part about not knowing what to draw when they're on their own with a sketchbook. I'm glad you've found the balance!

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  14. I totally agree! While I had an art-related job, I didn't work on my own artwork at all. It is a wonderful thing to be able to use all your creative energy in the way you love the most. Whether that's in an art-related job, or working for yourself!

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    1. I find it interesting that many of us have had this experience but I'll bet most of us weren't warned about this in school - in fact one of my students told me just the other day (the inspiration for this post) that another teacher told him he SHOULD get an art related job. Sometimes I think teachers regurgitate without really thinking about what they're saying - I'm sure I've done that too...

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  15. Excellent post, Will, and so true.I've lived the very thing you're talking about, trained as an illustrator, but have spent my career as a graphic designer. My advice to anyone young or starting out is to think very carefully about the early direction that you take. When you get a long way down a certain road, it can be difficult (but not impossible), to turn back.

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    1. So true! - reminds me of that saying, "There there little luxury don't you cry...you'll be a necessity by and by." Once we get used to a certain income and lifestyle it's hard to upset the apple cart for a different desire.

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  16. Funny, the older I get the more I decide that most things are totally predicated on the individual. What I love about your posts, you give real food for thought. I can tell too, you deal with incipient artists, because too often you set your foot upon the path the journey though always a surprise, can be totally off the map of goals. Maybe we should all be encouraged to start our careers prior to tween-dom, so the parent subsidy will take up the pesky income problem? That's why I'm planning on going through my second childhood, and hopefully taking what I learned along with me. Good post as always!

    Agy Wilson

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    1. If we peel back the layers you're absolutely right Agy - individually we all have the power to overcome, conquer, resist, push past, change, etc. So you could say my post is more of a warning against a choice that might make it harder to attain the original goal. I actually did just what you mentioned - got the gentle push out of the nest. I lived with my parents - worked an art related job part time while I worked on my illustration career full time - so you could say I was lucky - because I was :)

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  17. I worked an "art related job" to get me through school and for a couple of years after graduation. The day I was laid off (also the day that we brought our second child home from the hospital) was the best/scariest day of my life. Best because I now had the freedom to pursue my artistic dreams and yet scariest because there was no visible means of income. I am happy to report that 18 years later- I have not (aside from teaching illustration at a university) ever gone back to the "art related" or any other job and I can't see myself ever doing it. The freedom to create is worth the sacrifices.

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  18. I went the commercial route and have worked for many years as a graphic print designer for the apparel industry. While it has provided a steady income, and i've enjoyed the opportunity to ply my craft, being creative in the corporate world & having to design on demand has taken it's toll. I'm burn't out and caution art Students & Interns on being sure before taking this path. The majority of my graduating class no longer work in an art related field because making a living in a very competitive market became too difficult & soon art became only a hobby for them. If I had to do it all over again, I would work part time & follow my dream the other half.

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  19. I have been having this argument with my boyfriend off and on since I graduated. He l;listens to me vent about my crappy retail job, and then tells me that ANY art related job would be better than what I'm currently doing. i can't make him understand that graphic design is boring to me, and not at all related in any way to what I want to be doing
    (I'm a burgeoning children's book illustrator). He almost had me convinced the other day, but after reading this posting, I feel vindicated. Sure, I hate working in retail, but it keeps the fire burning to push harder to get my books out there.
    I have to also mention that when I was in art school and being forced to produce art on demand, I had very little inspiration. Often coming up with an idea was a struggle. When I entered graduate school and started working on a single project of my choosing, no longer being forced to produce work I didn't care about in mediums I was incompetent in (can't paint worth a damn!), the ideas started flowing hot and heavy. I have a good sized notebook filled up with things I want to work on! I feel that if I were doing graphic design work, the ideas would dry up again.

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  20. I have a non-art related day job right now, and I wouldn't have it any other way while I work on getting my freelance career going. Like you mentioned, an office job does not tax my creativity, and all I can think about all day long is getting home and illustrating. I am certain that, even though building a freelance career is a lot of work, no full time art job would be as satisfying. Great post!

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  21. Very interesting post. Just this week I have had three offers for an "art related" job. I am both excited and nervous because I know that my family would greatly benefit from the security, insurance etc. of the full time work. I am very nervous because I don't want to have that "yoke" as one of the other posts mentioned. I don't want to give up my dream but at the same time we would love to have a house some day...some day. It is good to read other's experiences but tough to make the leap in either direction.

    PS. I am having troubles reading the crazy letters to prove that I am not a robot. Does that mean I am?

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    1. To everyone - I read each and every post but sometimes don't have time to comment on all of them. I love all the feedback on this one - thank you!

      Anonymous - I feel your pain. I probably should have stated that if your mindset is right you can have a success story by taking the "art related" job. I have a friend who's been doing it - he's rare - but proving that having a budding freelance career is also possible as he works full time as an in-house illustrator. Good luck - I wish you all the best!

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