Don't give up the day job

Don't give up the day job

By Thalia Thompson 09/05/11

Whether you're an actor, writer or illustrator, being a full-time creative doesn't always reward you with a full-time wage. Thalia Thompson chat to some creatives who found day jobs that worked for them – from blogging to greeting cards and promotions...

It’s a hard fact of life that when you’re establishing a career in the creative industries, it can take a while before you bring in a full-time wage.

Many artists, writers and actors find themselves diversifying, taking part-time jobs and looking for ways to maximise their income.

If you’re a writer, it might seem straightforward – you can always earn money from copywriting or journalism. But these are both highly competitive careers in their own right.

Emily Carlisle is about to leave her public sector job to become a freelance writer. She’s currently working with her agent on her first novel but the bulk of her income will come from copywriting plus blogging and journalism.

There are websites where you can bid for copywriting work but Emily advises caution, “You’re better off sending a well-crafted pitch to local companies. Find your area of expertise and target businesses in that area. They will almost certainly have a website needing regular content or a newsletter needing refreshing.”

Once you’ve developed a specialism, try to maximise it – as a successful blogger, Emily runs blogging workshops “the income gives me breathing space to work on my novel, yet the time involved was minimal.”

Diversifying and maximising value are skills familiar to many successful artists too. Illustrator Alice Melvin is working on her third book, but also designs greetings cards and bespoke wedding invitations.

There are around 800 greetings cards publishers in the UK. The Greeting Card Association has a list of members looking for freelance artists. Check out submission guidelines first, some, like Phoenix Trading’s, give very detailed information on subjects and style.

Alice didn’t go straight into illustrating. When she graduated in 2004 she “still needed to learn about business skills, keeping financial records – the sort of thing they don’t teach you at art college.”

Following an internship, she took a salaried part-time job at Edinburgh Printmakers and found working in a creative environment invaluable. “It gave me the business skills as well as [the] artistic confidence I needed”.

For Rhys Jennings, the realities of a jobbing actor’s life were always clear. He appreciated his college’s approach: “They were completely upfront that only about 15% of trained actors are actually working at any one time”

Rhys has balanced acting roles with promotions work through the staffing database Stuck for Staff. Work on offer can range from leafleting to quasi-acting jobs; last summer, Rhys spent three days in character as Louis Chevrolet at the Goodwood Festival.

Promotions work, with its flexibility to fit around theatre jobs, suits Rhys, but he points out that “Each actor has to find what works for them. There’s a call centre, RSVP, that mainly employs actors, other friends work for a catering company, as teaching assistants or house sitters.”

Alice echoes this, “There isn’t one hard and fast route to follow, you can go at your own pace. But if you have confidence in your work and stay focused, you can make the career you want”.


What do you do as a day job – and how do you juggle it with your creative aspirations? Leave a comment below!


Image: Bridge Workers by zoonabar, available under a CC BY-SA license.

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