Building an Incredible Digital Art Career: Part 2 Paying the Bills & Being Persistent
We’re back with the rest of our advice for those looking to build successful digital art careers. This time we’re talking about keeping your lights on while staying on track with your artistic goals, plus we advocate for the value of persistence. If you missed steps one through three, check out the first part of this article here.
Step 4: Pay the Bills, but Don’t Lose Sight of the Goal
Perhaps the hardest part about being an artist seems to be the constant clash between needing to keep the lights on and the magnetic pull to create work that doesn’t generate much or any income.
Many an artist has been led astray by a part-time job offer that turned into a full-time career.
That's precisely what happened to Klaudia Penkwit.
“My life was heading in a completely different direction than I’d always hoped for and imagined,” Klaudia told me. “I was really down about it. I hadn’t really been drawing a lot for the last five years since I’d started working.”
Klaudia’s temporary job, taken only to pay the bills, turned into much more than she anticipated. And after years of ignoring her passion for drawing, she was on the verge of burnout, complete with full-blown panic attacks.
“That’s when I decided to change my life,” Klaudia said. “I was fully prepared to actually quit my job if they hadn't approved me reducing my hours.”
Klaudia almost let her art career fade away, but instead, she listened to her body and soul, bringing an atrophied passion back into the light.
Yes, she still has a job, but she’s made art the priority. And her story isn’t uncommon among the PaperLike artists.
All this is to say: you will also most likely need a job while you build up your art career. That’s okay. I also worked a lot of jobs I didn’t like before I got to where I wanted to be (right here, baby!).
But, the question is: what jobs can you take on that will allow you to create your art as well? Glad you asked (well, technically I asked). Here’s a list of the jobs our artists have had, most of which come with a flexible work schedule or odd hours, allowing these artists to keep their priorities straight.
- Freelance graphic designer (obviously)
- Event coordinator
- Part-time freelance project manager
- Part-time coworking community manager
- Cartoonist at a theme park
- Working for an art retail company
But there will come a time when it is time to make a bold move, one that will likely include quitting your job or starting your own art business. And that brings us to our next step.
Step 5: Persistence and Risk-taking
There isn't a successful artist alive that hasn't taken a massive amount of risk. Whether it was the time they quit their well-paid full-time job to pursue personal projects or the time they moved across the United States not once, but three times to continue working in the arts industry, there's a lot of risk-taking in art.
In fact, both of these are real examples.
The first was experienced by Stephane Lopes, who quit his job in May 2018 to pursue lettering full-time and work on some big projects in Paris. That was until his company saw the work he’d been doing and desperately wanted him back.
"The same company that I was working with called me back in October," Stephane told me. "They created a new job for me because they wanted me back so much. They'd seen what I did as a freelancer, working on a massive advertising campaign in Paris. So, when the boss saw the campaign, he just called me back and said, 'okay, you've got to come back and work for us again!'"
Now Stephane has the best of both worlds, a great job and the time and flexibility to work on personal projects and practice his lettering. All because he took a significant risk.
Next up, we have Nolan Harris, whose art career has pretty much been his only career.
It started when Nolan, aged 18, applied to be a cartoonist at his local theme park for the summer. They rejected his application for two years, but Nolan kept at it. The third year, the park hired him.
Nolan kept working that gig through college.
“While all my college friends had summer jobs in restaurants, I was doing art. That helped me stay sharp, so I was ready to take a job as an artist when I graduated and left college,” Nolan said. “Taking summers off worked against a lot of students. I’m glad things turned out as they did for me.”
But persistence isn’t Nolan’s only claim to fame. He’s also taken his fair share of risks.
His first was taking a low-paying job for a retail art company.
“That was the first time I learned what debt was,” Nolan told me. “The company wanted me to relocate to Richmond, VA, but the compensation wasn’t adequate for that type of cross-country move. I had to max out my credit card to buy furniture for my new place. Sales turned out to be lower than expected too. In all, it was a hard time.”
Nolan relocated two more times for that company, but he wasn’t doing it for the money, he was doing it for the education.
“I actually learned a lot about running a business. Sure, it wasn’t the best or easiest experience. But what I learned helps me be successful today,” Nolan explained.
Now, Nolan runs his own art business, Over the Line Art, employing other aspiring artists in the process.
“We started the business as a retail booth, doing caricature art at the Space Needle and Seattle Waterfront. Things went well, and we expanded. We are now at 40 different festivals and fairs each year in addition to our permanent Space Needle and Seattle Waterfront locations,” Nolan told me. “It took me leaving my corporate job and starting my own company for me to get out of debt. I’m so glad I took that leap of faith.”
If you look at both Stephane and Nolan, we can see that they’re incredibly persistent and willing to take risks to serve the muse. But they aren’t stupid.
While these risks might seem big to some, each move was made with a goal in mind and a plan. And the plan was only executed when the timing felt right.
What does this mean for you? Here’s what I think:
- Work your ass off; hard work makes for better art and a bigger audience
- Jump on significant opportunities when they inevitably arise and go all-in
- Never look back
If you're risk-averse, I understand. But consider this: you can always go back to that part-time-whatever job if it all blows up. Then you get to do it all over again. There is no failure. There is only the next opportunity.
Bonus Step: Getting Instafamous
We’ve already written extensively about growing your Instagram profile. I’ll include the highlights from that article here, but if you want to read the full piece, check it out here.
There are four major components to growing your Instagram profile:
- First, you must make more art to make better art. If your account isn’t growing, you’re not dedicating enough time to your craft.
- Post almost all your art. You don’t know which pieces your audience will love which you don’t like.
- Post your work when you’re online and stop worrying about the “right time” to post. There is no right time. Just post.
- Engage, engage engage. Do collaborations, participate in contests, comment meaningful thoughts and feedback to others. Engagement is not the icing on the cake, it’s at least half the cake itself.
That concludes our exploration into building fantastic digital art careers. We’ve learned a lot by interviewing some of the most talented and successful digital artists from around the world, and we hope you’ve enjoyed their insights. Keep following along as we talk to more.