Juggling work and illustration. Creative careers and career changes



  • Hi,

    I was wondering if anyone else here was having this issue.

    I work all week in a job that is not creative and struggle to find the time to keep going on own artwork. My job is quite full on as I am an Naval architect (I design offshore vessels)

    What types of jobs do people on here do? Are you working in creative industries?

    I use every piece of spare time I have for my art but wonder if I would be better off in a creative job where I can improve my skills at work too. I feel like my progress is so slow. But I don't have any qualifications in that area so would need an in and some more training.

    Has anyone here done a big career change and how did it work for you?

    Thanks Sarah



  • @sarahelliott489 Wow, that is a question that feels very personal to me... I have done a huge career change back in 2012. I have an advanced degree in science and I have worked as a research scientist in the pharmaceutical industry from 2002 to 2012. That is a lot of career time in that field. I had a great time, actually, but I ended up feeling trapped somehow. I had this poem by Robert Frost on my pinboard at work: "The road not taken" - you can read it here:

    The road not taken

    It kept me thinking about the choice I had made NOT to go into illustration when I was 18 (that is a story for another time) and that last paragraph made me cry every time I read it. And then I realized that life really is a long haul (health permitting) and there was no reason whatsoever why I would not be able to travel the other road as well...

    That was 2011 and I enrolled in art school (AAU cybercampus) that same year. I have just finished my MFA and had the time of my life. After the first year in art school, I literally dropped all I had reached career-wise in science to take an intern (!!) position in corporate communications in the same company. It is not what I wanted to do, but it was, as you say, a "more creative job". It turned out to be a blast, and since late 2013 I work as art director there. I have now enough traction to ask for a part-time contract, which I have just obtained as of last week - so now, with art school finished and less "day job" hours, I have some more time to try and go into illustration for good.

    Every story is personal and depends strongly from the context - so I am not sure there is any learning out of this. If I look back, everything makes complete sense and I would not change a single thing. Science allowed me to move out of my home country (hopeless Italy) and travel a LOT - and was generally awesome work. As I was doing cartoons for scientific journals, I got in contact with corporate communications, which gave me a foot in the door for a massive career change that has opened so many more opportunities. The fact that I was earning good money allowed me to attend art school in the US without making any debt - and this was only possible today, in the day and age of the internet: 25 years ago I would have just gone to some fine art academy in Italy and studied the life of renaissance artists instead of illustration and animation...
    Working in corporate comms, surrounded by designers and video producers, I have learned a TON of stuff that I think is really important for any commercial artist today: design, typography, even motion graphics and video editing.
    And of course I always have my background in science, and one day I may tackle some fun educational projects for children and make it all come together.
    My take is that every experience is important and every situation has countless opportunities. Naval design sounds enormously creative to me - why some really famous concept artists have degrees or experience in architecture and engineering. You may want to check out the biography of Syd Mead, Scott Robertson, Ryan Church and many others.

    Well, I feel like I am rambling, but this is my story. I still do not know if I can make a living with illustrations, but at the end of the day, there are so many interesting roads to take anyhow!



  • This is a question that resonates with me...for various reasons I did French and Italian at university, instead of art...but doing the degree made me realise that I'd never enjoy being a translator. So after graduating I searched for a creative job instead, and got an editorial job in magazines...technically it's the writing side, but really there's a whole miscellany of tasks - organising promotions, writing, subbing, proofreading, coming up with ideas for features... I really enjoyed it and gave me a lot of useful skills (that I use even now)...but it wasn't art, so it wasn't really what I wanted to do long-term.

    I changed tack really gradually - doing art freelance on the side while in my full-time job, then launching an art-related business on the side, then going full-time freelance, then as the business got big enough that became the main focus.

    So it's definitely possible to change focus, but it's always going to be different depending on each person and their situation...there are so many factors to balance together. It's so hard to know what is the 'right' choice, and maybe there is no 'right' for some people...just different choices, all interesting in their own way like @smceccarelli describes. I think you don't want to stay in a situation so long if you will regret it later in life, but I agree that being a naval architect must give you amazing skills in many ways.

    Good luck with it whatever you choose :-)



  • I went to art school 20 years ago, received a BFA and left the school totally disillusioned with art. It took 15 years for me to realize I should have been in an illustration program and not fine art, but a husband and two kids later leaves little time for artwork of any kind. However, it is still something I want to do and I usually plug away at it after everyone is in bed. It will take me longer then the kids just graduating now, but Bond said it best - never say never. At least I am journeying in the right direction even if I don't reach my destination.



  • I'm an accountant and business manager, but I guess art is always the dream. Not sure if I'll ever get to where it will ever be a full time job, but I don't see myself ever giving up on it. I'm 38 now so every year that goes by it seems less likely that it will happen.But you never know and it makes me happy. I'm trying to focus more on projects now than trying to get illustration assignments. I think I have a better shot of selling my original ideas than trying to compete with younger( and in a lot of cases) more talented illustrators.



  • Thank you so much for all the lovely replies.

    Its nice to see how different everyone's experiences are.

    I guess as long is I can find time for some art in my week I am moving forward and with SVS I am already seeing a big improvement in my work.

    I hadn't really thought of my current job as that creative but after a think I realize that the parts I like doing are so I might try to move to a company where I can get more involved in the aesthetics and concept of the vessel.

    This has given me lots to think about and it has been nice to hear how so many people have the same thing.

    A sad thought is that I wanted to go do an art foundation at 18 but my mum said it would be self indulgent! It was a shame as she just did not understand the industry and how there are so many creative jobs out there. It sounds like this happens to a lot of people.



  • Hi.
    I have just decided to stop teaching,get a barrista job and do illustration! I got ill,I had to reassess what I was doing,teaching was literally making me ill due to the stress levels.I can honestly say I am happy not to be going into another class😊



  • P.s
    Doing illustration through Svs means I can go at a pace which suits me and my family,I have 2 teenagers who need to be constantly fed....re previous decisions,experiences etc nothing I ever wasted,and it's vwhat I'm doing now that counts,good luck .



  • #evilrobot...
    So much pressure to be at a certain standard by the time you're 21 or younger! Where does the notion come from that an artist should be established by 21?slightly worrying as with perfection there Is no room for growth or personal development.I believe that art should be allowed time for growth and development and for change.I'm 45,does that mean I'm passed it,heck no! I have years of experience in my favour,and rear view mirror,and miles of opportunities ahead.I ain't dead yet!



  • Hey Sarah!
    I can relate strongly to your situation!
    I studied architecture (regular building), currently working in an architecture firm and am also struggling with the lack of creativity in the workplace. I recently started to intern at an animation company (mostly advertising video production and motion graphics) on Fridays and studying through SVS in my free time after work which has been incredibly helpful.

    Working full time in a creative studio doing illustration or other creative visual design would be ideal and I am aiming for that (currently working on a illustration portfolio) but have yet to make the full time change. I've found it daunting to start moving into an area different to what I have studied (I didn't study art in high school or university) but every step (online classes, daily practice) towards the goal counts so much.

    Out of interest, what does one study to become a naval architect? I find it fascinating!



  • Hi @sarahelliott489! I went to school for illustration(at FIT) and I currently work as an in house illustrator for a t-shirt company…and even with illustrating full-time I find it very hard to find time for my own work. B/c being creative all day pushing someone else's dream is getting harder and harder for me to start pushing my own. I find it hard to find the time to work on personal projects. Since I’m being creative at my job all day when I get home working on my projects is sometimes last thing I want to do. There are times when I have to force myself to get my own work done and then I wonder if I’m making the right choices for my art b/c I’m forcing the work…But don’t get me wrong I do like my job I draw everyday, I draw things I would have never wanted or thought to draw and I’m get to work on composition and text treatments. But I know that the art I’m creating for my day job is stuff I would never put in my personal portfolio straight out so b/c of that I wonder if it’s worth staying…And with the time 40+ hrs a week I spend at my day job I do feel like I'm moving so slow in my own personal career goals. I recently had a conversation with my wife about goals and where I’d like to see myself in the coming year. She made a great suggestion to write down my long term goals and then write down the short term goals that will get me to my long term goals and take it day by day. Eventually I will have checked all those short term goal boxes and reached my long term goal. I think the toughest thing is being patient and knowing if you do the work and take the time you will get there. Jake has a great video about achieving your goals and ways to make time so you can check off your goal boxes: Achieving Your Goals - https://youtu.be/ALQ3gjRpmXQ
    Quitting Your Day Job-
    https://youtu.be/B2rujb6Osmk
    I always reference these videos whenever I need a career/goal/life check! :)



  • @bluesky71 I am 44 - feeling with you! Just started working seriously towards a career in illustration when I was 39. I have also embraced the notion that being this age is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. I do not aim at a studio job, so I am not competing with younger people for the attention of a recruiter. All the life experiences I have had (and kids!) are gold-worth in so many different ways.
    And as the saying goes: "he who thinks that all fruit ripens with the strawberries, knows nothing of grapes"
    Life is a long haul....



  • Thanks for everyone's replies. Its great to hear everyone's stories.

    Guess you are right that whatever you do in your day job you will always want to do more of your personal work which you can't really do unless you quit work totally and be a freelance illustrator.

    I think I just need to find a good balance and understand it is going to take me a long time to get where I want to be.

    To answer @brad I went to Southampton university and studied it for four years.


  • administrators

    Great thread guys. This is a very tough issue for everyone and never seems to get easier. What we all want is:

    1. Do work that you want to do and get paid enough to not have to do anything else.
    2. Have the freedom to shape your artistic development and continue to get better as an artist.

    Unfortunately it never seems to happen this way. It's always a give and take, even as you get more successful in your career. As your work becomes more known, you do get paid more money. But with that, more teams of people dictate how your work should be. I get massive lists of "changes" with everything I turn in now. Whole groups of people are looking at it and weighing in on every little detail. Granted, a lot of their money is riding on it so it makes sense. Sitll, It's very frustrating at times. Sometimes I just want to do a freakin' painting without a million people weighing in on it before I get started.

    My professional life consists of so many different avenues on income, that there is little time left over for playing around with art. I try to make time for it, but with a family, teaching, all the books, gallery shows, and licensing images, there just isn't any time left over in the day.

    So we all deal with this in one way or another. Honestly, if you really love drawing and painting, I think the best thing ever would be to have a part time job in something OTHER than art. And then just paint for yourself on the side and have fun with it. Once you go pro it's a whole other beast and it's just as hard for us who have been working in it forever as it is for you guys starting out (although the problems are different).

    As Mel Milton says, keep on keepin' on and let's try to make the best art we can.



  • @Lee-White Glad you chimed in on this thread. And by that I mean it's important to know that it's not just the unpublished who struggle.



  • @sarahelliott489 I have the same problem. I work as a web developer during the day. I don't have much free time since I also have a baby of six months old.
    Every spare moment I have goes to a creative project of some sorts I made up for myself, but it's not much, maybe a half an hour a day.
    I'm following an evening class at the moment to become a graphic designer, it's difficult but I believe it's worth the effort.


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