Art As A Job: Why You’re Not Too Creative To Be A Professional

art as a job

There’s a pervasive idea that artists can’t hold down real jobs — or even jobs as artists. They’re too free-spirited, they’re too creative. They can’t be hemmed in by traditional working hours or even traditional expectations of professionalism.

That, says freelance graphic artist Brandon Rike, is absolutely not true. Art is work, he says. And if you want to get ahead, you have to treat it that way.

In his CreativeLive class, Simple Methods for Custom Lettering,  Brandon, who has designed t-shirts for some of the top musicians in the world, explained the importance of treating art as a job.

“If you’re one of those people who loves to say how artistic you are…that’s not my type of people. I am all about being artistic. I’m all about being a free spirit. I get it,” he said. “But there’s structure involved.”

Structuring your work as an artist is essential on every single level. It impacts where your work comes from, how much work you’ve got, how fast you can turn work around — and, as a result, how much money you’re actually making. Basically, the more structured and professional you are — the more you treat art as a job — the more money you make at that job.

Brandon says that, to balance the need to be artistic and the need to make a living as an artist, he’s rigorous in structuring his time. He saves room to be unstructured and creative — he meditates, and sets aside time when he can just play — but, he says, once that’s done, it’s time to get back to work.

Another key element to taking making art your job is to set firm client expectations. Make sure that your clients know, too, that you’re serious and that you’re a professional.

“What I want them to know,” says Brandon, “is that I am a machine. Treat me like a machine. I can do this stuff for you. Whatever deadline you need…I don’t want them to think that I need time to like, get in the vibe. Because there’s no time for that.”

Graphic design — and most kinds of creative work — is about deadlines and deliverables. As much as being creative and artistic is a factor in making good work, so, too, is turning stuff in on time and making your clients happy. And a good way to make sure your clients are happy is to set deadlines and expectations that you can measure up to, stay connected with the needs and desires of the client, and then deliver exactly what it is that they want to see.

Organization and speed also directly relate back to your bottom line.

“The only way I’ve found to make a good living is to do a whole lot of little projects,” Brandon says, which means he’s got to be meticulously organized and extremely aware of what’s due and when. Time-management tools, time-tracking, and living and dying by a calendar are not only great ways to please clietns — they also result in more money in your pocket.

And, perhaps most importantly, your own organization and structure ensures that you get to do art as a job. Without the professional aspects of being an artist, it’s just a side-project or a hobby — which can be great for some people. But if you really want to make art full-time, you’ve got to treat it like work.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.