How to Juggle a Full-Time Job and an Art Career

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As artists, we dream of spending our days happily painting away in our studios, without the burden of incessant emails, phone calls, or deadlines. In reality, however, art often takes second place, relegated to weekends or late evening hours. 

Most artists don’t have the luxury of leaving their jobs to focus on their creative pursuits, especially in expensive art capitals like London or New York. What’s more, keeping your job will take the pressure off of trying to make a living as an artist, which could affect the quality of your art and build unnecessary stress. 

Although challenging, there are effective ways to balance your day job and your art career, without sacrificing your spare time and ending up with a good dose of burnout. Here’s how to keep your creativity alive, without straining yourself and your finances. 

Create a Designated Workspace

Christiane Palpant on the road with her paintings
Christiane Palpant on the road with her paintings

Whether it’s a corner of your room or a separate studio, having a designated workspace for your art can help you stay organized and productive. Your workspace should be comfortable and inspiring, with everything you need within reach. You don’t need a lot of room to create, but having a designated area can help you stay focused and avoid distractions. To save time on setup and storage, choose a place where you can leave your supplies out at all times, such as a work desk or a utility cart.

Christiane Palpant used to split her time between landscape painting and a demanding career in finance. Although she has recently shifted her focus to teaching, juggling her professional and artistic life still poses a challenge. In the past few years, however, she has devised unique strategies that work for her. “I create an easily accessible space to paint. This helps to eliminate any excuses for not painting,” she says. “Even after a long workday, I have dinner, take time to refresh, and then go to my studio by 7 p.m. Thankfully, this is a nice switch from computer work or teaching a class. I find painting refreshing and restoring.” 

Optimize Your Schedule 

Time management is essential when it comes to balancing your art career and a full-time job. You need to set priorities and make a schedule that works for you. At the beginning of each week, mark down slots on your calendar, based on your commitments. Find creative ways to make it work. If you have a regular 9-5 job, you can use your lunch break to work on your art. Alternatively, you can devote one or a few hours to your art before or after work. 

New York abstract painter and physician Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue has learned to use downtime to her advantage. “While my job is demanding, it is pretty flexible on a day-to-day basis.” She says. “I also have the ability to work from home so it is not uncommon that I will paint a layer or two, then let it dry while in a Zoom meeting.”

While we recommend that you plan ahead of time, your schedule doesn’t have to be set in stone. You can modify it week to week, if need be. Remember to take into account your energy levels when picking times to make art. If you are usually tired in the evenings, for example, complete easy tasks that don’t require a lot of effort. You could make a quick sketch, prime your canvases, or look for photo references for your compositions. Last but not least, be realistic and remember to schedule time for leisure and relaxation. 

Use Your Work as Inspiration  

Lawrence Armstrong in his California studio
Lawrence Armstrong in his California studio

Chances are you are going to spend a lot of time at your desk. Why not kill two birds with one stone and use your job as creative inspiration? To make the most of your time, analyze the areas that could fuel your artistic fire. If you are a portrait artist, use your coworkers as subjects or take snapshots of your workplace as references for your paintings. If you make collages or sculptures with recycled materials, look around for old magazines, fabric, or any other object you could incorporate into your work. 

California-based artist and architect Lawrence Armstrong is the chairman of Ware Malcomb, an international design and architecture firm. He makes vibrant mixed media paintings inspired by Abstract Expressionism and Modern Architecture. Armstrong explains the impact that his professional occupation had on his art, especially his latest series of paintings. “My work, although abstract, is definitely influenced by my career as an architect,” he says. “The idea behind Layered Vision, which is how I define the concept behind my art, derived from architecture, layering of space, sound, time, emotion and thought.”

Abstract painter Louise Shields works as a Deputy Conservator with the Santa Clara County Public Guardian’s Office. Her art brings awareness to historical events and people who made significant contributions to the perception and treatment of underprivileged communities, namely African American, Latina, and Native American women. While her job can take a heavy emotional toll, it provides new avenues to explore in her paintings. 

“A few of my paintings have been a direct result of my experiences and situations from my full-time job,” she says. “For example, I created the painting, Fiery Sky, after I appeared in court with one of my clients who I believe did not receive justice. I felt a mix of emotions that were bigger than myself and poured them out onto a huge canvas using red and black to capture and evoke the strong emotions felt that were resonating with me.”

Build a Support Network

Balancing a full-time job and an art career can be exhausting, so it’s key you create a support system among your artist peers. This will allow you to share ideas, receive constructive feedback, and have a shoulder to cry on when things get tough. Besides, joining forces with other artists and curators will allow you to take advantage of a greater number of opportunities, such as submitting exhibition proposals, finding art studios, or participating in art fairs. Make sure you attend art openings and keep your social media and website active, so that galleries and curators know what you have been up to.

Armstrong talks about the benefits of interacting with other creatives. “I really enjoy talking to other artists about their inspirations, their techniques, and also their business experiences in the art world,” he says. “Quite often, we share information with each other when considering a new gallery or representation.”

Have Fun! 

Finally, don’t forget to have some fun. Remember why you are making art in the first place. Treat it as a sacred space for you to unplug from the daily grind and nourish your soul. Put on some happy music, dance around a bit, and let your worries flow out of your mind and body. 

“For me, art is therapeutic and remains one of the most pleasurable outlets that I can ever imagine,” Shields says. “Art nurtures my soul and encompasses so many areas of my life. Find that happy place!” 


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