Managing the day job

 21 March 2011

Succeeding in a creative career can be a struggle. For some, the only way to achieve their ambitions is by combining their passion for creativity with a second job.

Retail assistant Samantha is also an illustrative artist.
Retail assistant Samantha is also an illustrative artist.

Low wages, few opportunities, tough competition. They sound like the barriers faced by most job seekers, but ring especially true for people trying to forge a career in the creative sector. It’s not a cliché that artists, actors and musicians moonlight as bar staff, it’s a reality.

But that’s old news. What’s interesting now is that people who are creative on a part-time basis are helping redefine what it means to work in today’s creative industries.

Who are ‘part-time’ creatives?

Does being a creative only half the time make you less creative than those who are creative full-time?

"I have very little 'free' time. As soon as I'm home from work, I settle in for a full evening's creating."

For some folk, there is no choice. Low and unstable wages can make it difficult for creative people to sustain themselves solely by doing creative work.

Amanda Robins, working as a copywriter and ceramic jewellery artist, previously tried to run a creative business but wasn’t able to sustain it. "Years ago I ran a handknitwear design company. It was a struggle to make a profit. I wanted to do it full time, but didn’t get the wholesale orders I needed to survive."

The Guardian recently reported that having a day job is the only way artists in the UK can survive. Those who want to work in the creative sector are therefore compromising by working in a part-time job unrelated to their passions.

It sounds like a tough option, but can a part-time creative career be a useful compromise?

Managing dual careers

For some, the chance to excel in a job that relies on different skills to their creative ambitions is a good balance.

Andrea Brewster, receptionist and driftwood boat maker explains, "I enjoy the interaction with people in my day job, which you miss when working on your own at home."

For others, the demands of two completely different jobs is much more of a constraint. Designer Samantha Eynon works as a retail assistant, but her dream is to work full time as an illustrative artist. Her ideal scenario is to have a more flexible part-time job "related to the field of work I want to be in, such as a gallery assistant."

Doing two jobs inevitably impacts on home life. Mary Foley works at an auction house in the week and, at evenings and weekends, concentrates on a paper-cutting craft business. "I have very little 'free' time. As soon as I'm home from work, I settle in for a full evening's cutting and creating. I’m very aware that my friends and family get somewhat neglected."

Double the job, double the challenge

The biggest challenge of pursuing two careers is being able to devote enough time to both. ‘Day jobs’ often have contracted hours, so creative jobs need to fit around them.

”I enjoy the interaction with people in my day job, which you miss when working on your own at home.”

Jamie Brind runs a prototype company whilst trying to sell Glowbiles: handmade children’s mobiles that glow in the dark. "I can only do the Glowbiles when the work is quiet on the prototyping front. Usually, the main job has to take priority. When I do get time to focus on Glowbiles, it means that my main job is slow."

Sometime, the day job can suffer because of the demands of creative commitments. Claire Mackaness works as an admin assistant, runs a card-making business and has a toddler to care for. "I never seem to have enough time on my hands and at busy periods, such as Christmas and Mothers Day, I take a few days annual leave and put my son into nursery so that I can concentrate on getting orders completed in time."

Another barrier Claire faces is the lack of recognition she gets for the creative side of her job. Her work is often labelled as a ‘hobby’, but she is keen to prove that it actually is possible to forge a creative career through perseverance and commitment.

Advice on becoming a part-time creative

If you’re considering going down the route of being a part-time creative, it’s good to bear in mind the following benefits:

  • you can do something you enjoy
  • you can ‘test’ a creative path without committing to it
  • it fulfils your creative urges, without suffocating you
  • it makes you multi-skilled
  • it gives you a more varied life.

There are also barriers facing part-time creatives:

  • time constraints are real. At different times each job will need to be your priority, even if the timing doesn’t match, the arrangement may not be as flexible as you would like it to be
  • you will need to take a drop in salary and your creative pursuits may not initially match a full-time salary
  • you may face a lack of respect from employers and colleagues about your ‘creative job’
  • your work/life balance needs particular attention. If you’re not careful you can end up with no spare time to relax

Becoming a part-time creative

There is no set type of person that becomes a part-time creative. It is a lifestyle choice that crosses demographics and all creative industries.

There are currently over two million people working in the UK’s creative industries including, art, design, craft, music and performance. As more and more people get attracted to those industries, they will turn to a part-time creative existence for a way to get started. Those who want to pursue their passions further may, over time, find a way to eventually break the mould and ditch the part-time part.

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