Frequently Asked Questions :: Transitioning to Full Time Artist


Hello friends, I’m back with another Frequently Asked Questions post! I inadvertently took a break from FAQ while traveling and am finally ready to get back to them!

So today’s question is one I get a lot. It’s about making the transition from full time employment to self employment: How did I do it? And any tips?

{The usual disclaimer: I’m going to share with you my personal transition story and a few things I learned along the way. This is my story only, and is not meant to be scientific expert opinion!}

My story:

I was really lucky. I had worked for the same non-profit organization for several years (and worked with many of the people at another non-profit organization for years before that). So I knew my boss and my colleagues well. We were friends. They all knew I was an artist and that I was beginning to show and license my work. So when I did begin the transition to leaving my full time job to make art, it came as no real surprise to everyone. So, I guess that leads us to Tip #1: don’t hide the fact that you are a serious maker from your coworkers. When you leave your job, it will not come as a surprise to anyone. You might even get a lot of support for your choice.


I’ve been in a relationship now for four years, but when I began the process of becoming self employed (and it is a process), I was single. So it was really important to me that I made decisions that were financially responsible, because I had nothing to fall back on, not even savings! I decided that my first step was to go part time at my job, instead of leaving entirely. This gave me some steady income but also more time to work on building my art practice. Again, I made this transition easily because I had worked with my boss for years, and she supported my life choices. I realize this kind of transition isn’t possible for everyone (nor is it the right thing to do in every situation), but it can be helpful. That leads us to Tip #2: make the transition less abrupt by working part time for awhile as you build your new business.


Around the same time I went part time at my job, I began talking to a friend about opening a retail shop together. The shop would sell some of my art, prints, etc, but it would mostly sell the work of other people (stationery, housewares, etc). The purpose of opening the shop was to generate some extra income. It would allow me to be fully self-employed, and would provide me with another form of income. I just wasn’t making enough from my artwork yet to make a living on that alone. When we opened the store, I finally quit my job entirely. I made art a few days a week and worked in the store a few days a week. Technically it wasn’t too different from working a part time job, except I was fully self-employed (and it was a lot more fun!). This leads us to Tip #3: When you make the move to quit your job, think creatively about how you can supplement the income you generate from selling your work with other entrepreneurial endeavors (things like teaching classes, monetizing your blog or opening a storefront like I did.)


Eventually my art and illustration practice began generating enough income that I could move on from the brick and mortar shop. I loved owning the shop with my friend (and it was great experience), but I really wanted to be a full time artist. It’s important to remember that supplementing your art/making income with other stuff (a part time job or another entrepreneurial endeavor) may need to happen for a number of years before you can spend 100% of your time doing what you love. It took me several years! Also, in the meantime, I was working really, really hard to promote my work and to build my portfolio. This leads me to Tip #4: work hard (even before the transition to full-time self-employment) to build your portfolio and let the world know about what you do. I say a lot more about this in this FAQ post.


I’ve been working as an artist and illustrator since 2005, but it’s only been in the last two years that I’ve been working full time at it. I still supplement my art income on occasion with things like teaching and public speaking (and those things are on the topic of art-making, so they feel really authentic). If you think (and take action) creatively about how to make a living (ie: what else can I sell? how else can I make money in ways that feel authentic to me?) you will have a greater chance for success.