Are you a “Real Artist” If You Have A Day Job?

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How do you define being a “successful artist”?

Many artists definition of success rest solely on being able to support themselves entirely from their artistic endeavours without having to do any other work to make ends meet.

However, is this a realistic view of success?

The majority of artists will, in reality, have other work too as part of the rich pattern of their everyday life…

This, contrary to what some people say is NO BAD THING!

The truth is, successful artists often have lots of strings to their bow

Just because you have another job doesnt mean you are not a “real ” or successful artist. In fact, working in other areas separate from your art can have distinct advantages…

  • Having a defined and confined time for you creative work can focus your art and make you achieve more in the shorter space of time that you have to work in. Faced with unlimited time it’s easy to take your eye off the ball and lose focus.
  • >

  • Our economy is changing {see my recent post – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised} In this new and shifting economic landscape, having multiple income streams is a very important survival strategy which will enable you to surf the vagueries of the art market.

  • If you are combining raising a family with your art, you may not be able to spend 100% of your time creating but may be able to find a balance which works for you.

  • Your “day job” may provide inspiration which feeds into your art and helps to fire your creativity.

We really need to change and widen the definition of SUCCESS in the art world…

The down side…

As in all things there can be a down side…

The common problem with other strands of work, comes when the “day job” takes over and hurts your creative energy leaving you too tired to do anything else.

Many years ago, when I worked in advertising agencies, my job was pretty creative but I was expected to start at 8am and leave at 8pm or later – After a sweaty commute on a crowded tube I had barely enough energy left to eat, let alone create. Life was pared down to a bleak cycle of getup-commute-work-commute-eat-sleep. In that situation it is really easy to make yourself ill by trying to draw out more energy than is “in the bank”

Like everything, it is important to find the balance between work and art which is sustainable and right for you. This can take a long time to get right.

If you are struggling with this balance at the moment, keep taking small steps to getting yourself into the right situation and position. Don’t give up. Creating may be difficult at the moment but if you keep fighting for it you will get there in the end…

Artists on Twitter say…

I wanted to find out how artists combine the spheres of work and creativity so I threw the question open to my friends on Twitter. The replies that I received were positive proof of the fact that it is possible and also very normal to be a “real artist” and juggle other commitments and income streams too.

Many many thanks to everyone who replied. I hope you find their thoughts enlightening and reassuring.

My question…

Artists. Do you have a “day job” too? Please tell me what u do. Do you love or loathe it? Does it help or hinder yr art? For a post..

And the answers from artists around the world…


For 3 days a week I work as a research consultant on education/technology projects – the geekiness offsets/informs my art 🙂



I’m studying an MA in Art, and find it difficult to find work alongside this. I’m freelancing for a website and doing bar work.



I have a day job as mgr at an accessories boutique. I love it but it eats up a lot of time. I do all the creative stuff there

Himself & I share studio space in our petite apt. It gets messy….



I do, I work in Human Resoures, don’t love it, it helps financially but hinders taking time away from creativity



I used to be a software engineer manager. It consumed my life and made me sick after too many long hours. Almost no art made.



Programming || depends on the day – a zen-ish like is the average || ++ discipline, supplies$, – steals time to work



Hey. Got a day job. LOATHE it. Totally. Work in accounting. Go figure.



Other job: web designer. Sort of a neutral effect on my art; doesn’t take away creativity, but doesn’t contribute either.



Hi Helen, working as a pt teaching assistant + artist gives security of regular £s + people to talk to 🙂



My day job is tattooing. It helps. And yes, I love it!



Policy Writing pays the bills and buys my art/photography supplies!



Art is my day job, and I fully expect to be paid accordingly for this. Still waiting for the world to realise this!!!



Web strategy/editing. Like it. Hinders only b/c it takes most of my day. I steal time to write. Early am, train, late night…



It helps…. IF I make the choice to let it be a steppingstone rather than a stumbling block.



My ‘day job’ is tattooing, I love it and I think they help each other.



I work for the FAA as an electronics technician. I love it but it does hurt my art and energies because it’s often like 2 jobs



I’m an art teacher for a secondary school.. I love it. I feel like it encourages my own creativity! I do get tired, though…



I hope you find these artists inspirational. They are absolutely REAL ARTISTS finding their own balance.

Do you work alongside your art? Please share the work you do with us in the comments below…


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13 replies
  1. B. Thompson
    B. Thompson says:

    I have done both and when I had a full-time job and painted part-time I thought does one really have to work full-time to be an artist?
    For the past 20+ years after quitting my job in the creative field I have been a full-time artist.
    I support myself, my wife and children via my art. My wife also works fulltime in our art business . We live totally from the sales of my art.
    Creating art full time and living solely from one’s art revenue is my definition of a “real” artist.

    If one makes art AND has a job (part-time or full) or has another source of income (inheritance) or a spouse with a job one can rely on to pay most of the bills I would refer to that person as a “part-time artist” or a “creative person” or a “hobby artist”.
    Until one experiences & lives the life of supporting a family as a full-time artist, then one never gets to enjoy the creative stress of creating art that sells or the dreadful thought that if the “real artist” thing does not work out of then having to go back and get a “real job”. 🙂

  2. Chartered Accountant in Toronto
    Chartered Accountant in Toronto says:

    yes you are right, day job is a problem for our art but we cant do anything about this one, because we might give equal importance to our jobs to survive, but we might try to save as much energy as much we can, and also we need to utilize the off day, need to reduce other social activities at weekend and stay with our art.

  3. Bud
    Bud says:

    well some people so talented that they have both day jobs, manages to do freelance job, have time for painting, sing in a band, write articles to sell online. that unbelievable? yeah it is! i know some of them in my place and they’re so awesome so i envy them so much!!!

    can we really say that most artist are deviant? co’z they prefer doing the extra ordinary? tell me your ideas.

  4. Elisa Choi
    Elisa Choi says:

    Hi, Helen:)
    My day job is quality lead for ISO20K. It’s a demanding job and eats most of the day until I went home tired from commute and work. Most of the time I choose watching tv as a rest for me (still do) but these days I am trying to choose making art as a rest and leisure activity for me. So yeah, I am making a choice to improve myself as an artist. It always start with a choice. Great stuff as always Helen! 🙂

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Thanks Elisa.
      You are so right that it always starts with a choice and even a tiny amount of art done at night grows into a large body of work over time.
      Sometimes you cant beat slumping in front of the tv for relaxation though 😉

  5. Bob Ragland
    Bob Ragland says:

    I could hardly wait to answer this.
    Real artists don’t starve.
    Real artists do what it takes to be an artist.
    I am a NON-starving working class artist.
    Being pure leads to the poorhouse.
    Money matters, so a real artist makes some, to have bread,shelter,art
    See my blog-

  6. alison
    alison says:

    Hi Helen,

    What a great fun post 🙂
    I live on a Greek Island so I take on part time contracts through ODesk, which helps pay the bills! Oh and I’m currently looking after three 12 week old puppies until I can re-home them, so not much painting going on right now, ha.

    I think it’s nice to have a balance between the left and right brain so I’m all up for taking on multiple projects and you’re right, you can get inspired by your day job and ‘boring normality’ funnily enough.

  7. Megan
    Megan says:

    Wow, this seems to be the topic of the week! I just read a different article on Pikaland about almost the same thing (

    I think that, even with a full time day job, you can still call yourself an artist. I would still call someone who plays an instrument a musician, whether or not being in a band was their only income. I think so many of us (myself included) have a fantasy of just holing up in a nice cozy home studio and doing nothing but painting for 8 hours a day while their art sells like hotcakes online, but reality is that most people have to do other things to make ends meet. Especially when you have a family!

    I have an administrative job during the day, and I’m very lucky in that my job includes a lot of in-house design work. It’s nice having a creative outlet at work, even though it’s not “art”. I also have kids at home, so I understand what you mean about not having a lot of time left to create at the end of the day. Some of my most precious time is when I can include my older daughter to sit down and color with me while I work on my own artwork. Luckily, she’s artsy too!

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Alison. The job of looking after puppies sounds wonderful! But you are right. It is good to balance the left and right brain.

      Megan. You sound like you have struck a nice balance with your day job and sharing your work with your daughter is a lovely thing to be able to do. I’m going to attempt that a little more I think…

  8. Lori McNee
    Lori McNee says:

    A ‘real’ artist does not have to be a fulltime artist. I juggled a successful art career while rearing my young family and mainly painting at night. A ‘real’ artist strives for quality over quantity.

    Thanks for the fun post!

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Thanks Lori

      Absolutely. In fact I find that now I have less “spare” time due to looking after my kids, I get more done creativity wise. When I had endless time I faffed around and wasted it and got nothing done. Now the emphasis is definitely on quality over quantity.

      So many well known artists have done other work too. Just 2 that immediately spring to mind – LS Lowry {rent collector} Aubrey Beardsley {insurance clerk} I hate to see artists made to feel inferior for having other work too.

      Thanks for your positive comment.


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