Saturday, August 13, 2011

What Makes a Full-Time Artist?

Recently, while reading Alyson Stanfield's blog,, I came across a passage she was quoting from Julia Cameron’s Letters to a Young Artist  regarding being a full-time artist. Here's the quote:

I don’t know where we got the idea that being a full-time artist meant no day job. Being an artist is a matter of consciousness. Having a day job doesn’t alter that. I have seen more artists damaged by unlimited time than limited time.
"Sunday Best", 2011
10"x10", oil and encaustic wax on panel
In the post, Alyson asked her readers what they did as their "day jobs" and had over 100 comments. It was obvious that very few of them were creating art exclusively and most people had other jobs in order to pay the bills. This got me thinking about my own battles with wanting to be a full-time artist and I asked myself the question "Is it important to have art as the only job you do or is it really just the state of mind of being a full-time artist that is more important?"

Over a year ago I quite my day job to paint full-time. I was a middle school math teacher and needed a break from the hustle and bustle of teaching and grading papers. I saved up enough money to support myself in months of low sales and I busted my ass getting my work into five galleries, along with the necessary marketing I needed to do. It was a great nine months of waking up whenever I felt like it, going to the gym, and then heading to the studio around noon to paint for at least 5 hours a day. It was my dream job and I was enjoying it immensely.

"Smile for the Camera", 2011
10"x10" oil and encaustic wax on panel
Then January came along and I was asked to fill in for a teacher who was going on a leave of absence. I was to teach pre-calculus and advanced algebra at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco. Despite the perfect schedule (I would be done teaching at 12:30), I was conflicted with the decision that was in front of me. Could I give up my dream job of painting all day, everyday and take the job which would mean I would go back to painting once I was done teaching? It was a hard choice. Ultimately, I decided to take the job since my husband had recently quit his job go into free-lance audio engineering and audio/ video editing, which was his dream. One of us needed to have the steady paycheck that included benefits for the both of us and I decided that would be me.

Turned out that taking the job didn't really impact my painting much. I was still getting in the same amount of hours in the studio but now I had health insurance and the security of knowing that my bills would be paid at the end of the month. My  mentality of thinking that I was a full-time artist didn't go away. I still felt like THAT was my primary job and teaching was something I did on the side, rather than the other way around. When people asked me what I did for a living, I said I was an artist FIRST, and if I felt like it, I mentioned that I taught math also. I stopped identifying myself as a math teacher and started identifying myself as an artist, which I had never done previous to quitting my day job. I was a full-time artist and believed it regardless of what I did on the side to pay the bills.

"Beach Bar", 2011
10"x10", oil and encaustic wax on panel
Would I love to go back and paint all day, every day? Sure. I'm not going to lie and say that wouldn't be ideal for me. But now that I know that being a full-time artist is more of a state of mind, I don't feel bad about teaching in the mornings instead of painting (the School of the Arts asked me to continue teaching there and I have decided to take the job). I still go in to my studio every day and I am as productive, if not more productive, as I was when I had unlimited time to paint. I am still living my dream of being a full-time artist.


  1. I like this post and I like your answer for the question, "What do you do for a living?". (I changed the question in my head to, "What do you do to live?")

  2. Great post, Jhina. I sat in on your presentation at this summer's conference and was very impressed with what you had done in prep for taking the big step of quitting your day job. I am further impressed now with how you are able to balance the return to a day job schedule and a studio schedule. I think we artists have to find that balance that best suits our creative working needs. Plus, defining ourselves as artists no matter what else we do to pay bills, clarifies it for ourselves as well as for others.
    Thanks for sharing.