How to Leave Your Job to Become an Artist

How to Leave Your Job to Become an Artist

There is almost nothing in the world more poop-your-pants scary than drastically switching your career. Okay, let’s be honest…even slightly changing your career is change-your-undies terrifying. And changing that career to be an artist??? Clean up on aisle-you.

Whether it’s out of necessity, impulse, calculation, or fate, there will come a time when you need to stop what you’re doing and find something else. Why not make that something else something you’ve always wanted to do?

Grab a diaper and let’s dive into the incredibly low-stress conversation of why you’re eventually going to need to fire up that resume, so you might as well prepare your portfolio too.

Game Artist/Animator Mara Sandulescu

It’s Time to Quit Your Job (This is Peer Pressure)

FIRST OFF! The trends actually support your desire to switch careers.

Job stability is not the professional goal it used to be. A survey of Americans 50 and older by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 41% of those employed workers have spent two decades with the same company (Fortune). However, millennials and gen z and Furby (that’s one of the terms, right?) are changing that. A 2018 study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the current average employee stays at the same job for only 4 years. That changed from 20 years, or the entire lifespan of NBC’s Law and Order, to four years. Law and Order to a freaking Leap Year cycle!!

Joblist’s Midlife Career Crisis 2020 survey reported on the top five reasons people change careers:

  • Better Pay: 47%
  • Too Stressful: 39%
  • Better Work-Life Balance: 37%
  • Wanted a New Challenge: 25%
  • No Longer Passionate About Field: 23%

(the balance careers)

That means 47% of you are probably not leaving your finance career to pursue art. If you are, you were likely sacked for extremely poor financial savviness. Welcome fellow artist, you’ll do just fine here.

With these trends, keeping an eye out for your next career, your dream career, should be normal! Here is what you have to do:

1. Give Yourself Financial Wiggle Room

Money sucks. Everything fun in the world costs a ton of money. Plus, all of the necessities too. AND shit you don’t even need or want! But just like the game of Monopoly, you need money to win (I never figured out how to play Monopoly, but that sounds right?)

If you’re thinking of leaving your job (especially for a less lucrative art job), make sure you do the following:

  • Evaluate Your Spending – develop a comfortable understanding of where your money is going
  • Trim Every Day Costs – drop the act, you’re not going to start reading the New Yorker even though you subscribed
  • Build a Safety Fund – Discover Bank recommends covering yourself for 6 months to a year
  • Claim Your Accounts! – Okay this is WILD so listen up. It’s actually super common for people to leave one job and then forget chunks of money tied up in the 401K. These are called ‘orphaned retirement accounts’ and 10 years ago there were 1 TRILLION BUCKS TIED UP IN THESE ACCOUNTS. Grab your money! Please! (Discover)
Environment Artist Justin Myles
2. Make Your Education Your Hobby and Your Hobby Your Job

If you’re stepping into a whole new career, it helps to know that you 1) are able to do the job required and 2) find the work enjoyable! If your dream is to be a full-time, professional artist, then use your free time to develop and push your skills.

To get started, you can take courses online or follow along with your favorite tutorials. This will get you in the habit of putting hours into your art. Then you can add some challenging elements. Give yourself deadlines. Share your projects online. Get feedback from someone really really mean (but really really good).

Eventually, you’ll have enough quality pieces to assemble a portfolio. But more importantly, you’ll have an idea of ‘the basics.’

3. Research the Market

Okay, so you have the skill, passion, and drive. But have you taken a look at an artist’s salary? Do you know the name of the positions you should be applying for, what skills they require, and how much they’ll pay? It’s okay if you don’t! Grab a paper bag, breathe.

Jumping into a new industry can be difficult because you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s like me playing Monopoly (curse that smug bastard and his hat). But you have resources. Like libraries (pro tip: if you ignore all the books, most libraries have Wifi so you can learn) and our resources page which has interviews with industry professionals.

4. Kiss Some Ass

Ah yes. Ass-kissing. The unofficial term for ‘networking.’ The art industry is amazing because you don’t need to suit up for a fancy networking conference (I mean, we have those too. But ours are cool and you don’t need to suit up).

You can form genuine professional relationships in the comments section of gallery posts or take online courses from your favorite artist.

By connecting with working artists, you can discuss everything from your craft to how their studio functions.

Like any network, these people may eventually offer the right recommendation or reference to land you the gig. Even if not, your fellow artists are a priceless resource.

CG Digital Artist Brellias
5. Amp Up Your Confidence

There are a lot of misconceptions about the art industry. People think of artists as reckless, poor, unstructured, and super hot. Only one of those is right. Look. The global entertainment market (film and TV) reached $101 billion in 2019 (Forbes) and the video game industry alone generated $65.5 billion (Statista). Ignore the ignorant and outdated stereotypes. Becoming an artist in entertainment is a completely legitimate career path. Plus, it’s fucking cool.

There will be those who don’t understand (your mom) and these people (your mom) may never understand why you chose to leave your job to be an artist.

The truth is (and believe me, this is not worth trying to explain at Thanksgiving) you were meant to be an artist. And if you can find a way to do that as your profession, why wouldn’t you?

Illustrator Michaela Heimlich
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