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An Artist’s Guide to the Freelance Side Hustle

As a freelance creative or art entrepreneur building your career, both the dream – and the struggle – are real. When you are an artist working in a bustling metropolis, the dream often takes a backseat to the practicalities of making a living. While the two disparate aspects of one’s life can be in conflict with one another, they can, at times, supplement each other. There are certain points in one’s career when freelancing offers you incredible opportunities for self-growth and media exposure, while there are times when it can prove to be more frustrating than rewarding. When you’re a freelance creative or art entrepreneur who is also working in a full-time career, there can simultaneously be many opportunities and many setbacks to your freelance artistic practice.

What kind of guidelines are there for artists who are also working a full-time gig? Many other entrepreneurs have formed a well-trodden path before you, and it’s worth learning from others who have already negotiated this rocky terrain and still continue to find the right balance. And guess what? It’s a higher percentage of artists who work another full-time job while pursuing their passion than you probably anticipate. The National Endowment for the Arts has recognized that while 2.1 million workers identify their primary job as being an “artist”, a respectable 12% of the surveyed workforce identified “artist” as their second job as per the 2013 U.S. Census. When designating which portion of your professional life results in the most income, it’s a delicate balancing act to shift one’s artistic practice to become their main source of income. It’s not impossible, but while you’re building your artistic practice or freelance creative business, it’s important to recognize ways in which your primary employment can benefit your art.

After touching base with artists who work also work full-time alongside their practice, we have outlined below four key ways in which working professionals can ensure their side hustle –  their freelance projects – can coexist in perfect harmony.

You’re Forced to Focus on the Side Hustle

After a full day of attending meetings, meeting deadlines, and making presentations at your full-time workplace, how can you muster any energy to pull yourself together to develop your side hustle as a freelance creative or art entrepreneur? As a creative, you live for moments to work on your own art but it can be just as easy to show up to your studio exhausted from overwork. The key ingredient here, multiple veteran full-time professionals and working artists have confirmed, is to focus consistently on what you want to achieve in your practice or freelance creative business. Renowned artist Pacifico Silano, who has exhibited at the Bronx Museum, the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, and most recently Rubber-Factory gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is also an arts educator. He reflects on his work in arts education with high schoolers. “As crazy as it sounds, working a full-time job while maintaining my arts practice has made me a better artist,” Silano notes. “It can take a while to find a balance between both worlds, but it’s allowed me to become more focused on my art during my downtime.”

This opportunity to put a laser-sharp focus on your artistic practice when you’re away from your full-time gig can take time. Like learning a sport, learning how to settle into your own sense of balance and slip quickly and easily into your side hustle jobs will allow your work to blossom in new and unexpected ways. While your full-time work engages most of your time, the time you steal away to work on your artistic practice or freelance creative jobs will become precious. This limited time will force you to zoom in on your goals, achieve more in less time and focus on the aspects of your artwork that mean most to you.

side hustle
Developing a freelance practice on the side of a full-time job gives you the flexibility to choose the projects that best align with your vision.

You Have Constant Inspiration

When working full-time as a professional in any field, art-related or otherwise, you’ll have ample opportunity to find inspiration for your artistic practice. Identifying key aspects of your profession that sync with themes in your artwork or freelance creative business can act as research or “product development” for the artwork you make in the studio or the service you provide to your clients. Silano believes that finding a professional role that feeds into the themes you consider in your artwork is crucial.

”It’s good to have a full-time job that somehow refers back to your art practice. It keeps your mind sharp and both can influence one another,” he says. By taking time to creatively approach topics in your freelance creative business or art practice, you’ll be able to resourcefully and thoughtfully reconsider issues in a professional capacity as well. At the same time, by reconsidering underlying problems in your artistic practice in the context of how you’ve solved professional issues, you’ll be better equipped to break through barriers blocking you artistically.

Emerging international artist Sean Naftel works full-time at institutions as a knowledgeable consultant installing art exhibitions. Naftel reinforces the incredible impact his professional work with museums and other institutions has on his art practice. “I find that my thoughts on viewer interaction are constantly developing because of working on museum shows,” Naftel says. “Plus, working in exhibitions there are always materials being thrown out. I’m rarely at a loss for materials for new pieces. “ It’s important to be strategic so that the ways in which your full-time career informs your artistic practice or freelance creative business benefit you, both philosophically and practically.

You Can Take Time to Build a Good Reputation

You may not realize it, but by working full-time and pursuing a side hustle,  you gain one extremely practical advantage: time. By building your art practice or freelance creative business alongside your full-time professional work, you have time to build a positive reputation for your work.

“It’s hugely important to build a reputation around your skills if you’re looking to succeed as a freelancer,” according to Proposify’s Definitive Guide to Going Freelance. As a freelance creative or art entrepreneur still holding down a full-time professional role, you’ll be able to slowly and steadily build contacts without the pressure of making choices that will only benefit you financially and not strategically. When you hold down a position that provides for you financially, you guarantee yourself the ability to make smart and informed decisions about your freelance creative business. In addition to building a strong reputation for your work, you’ll be able to selectively target gallerists and collectors that you want to work with and be associated to. This strategic alignment will help your artwork gain recognition in your preferred milieu.

freelance creative
While it’s certainly a balancing act, freelancing on the side of a full-time job is the best way to build a business while maintaining your lifestyle.

There’s a lot to be said for succeeding in a professional career as you begin to celebrate successes in your burgeoning art career. One of the more important realizations may just be that you can successfully tackle a career and a side hustle at the same time, an awareness that can be both breathtaking and daunting. Is it always easy to take on artistic endeavors when you’re in the throes of meeting stressful timelines and project goals? Certainly not; however, when you have a career that sustains you, you’ll be balanced and well-placed to tackle further artistic professional development opportunities and events for your freelance creative business.

Striking a balance is key: when your work can respect your art, and vice versa, then you’ll really be able to hit your stride. By focusing on building a slow but steady reputation as an artist or freelance creative, finding inspiration for your artistic practice from your full-time work and zooming in on the biggest artistic priorities, you’ll be effortlessly progressing to the next step. In recognizing how you are able to achieve your goals in both your full-time career and your side hustle, you’ll be better equipped to surmount challenges as an emerging artist as your artistic career develops.

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About the author

Audra Lambert

Audra Lambert is an independent curator and art critic based in New York, NY. The founder of Antecedent Projects (2014), a sustainable urban curatorial consultancy investigating site-specific heritage, and is Editor-in-Chief, ANTE. Mag. Lambert manages ART360 by Orangenius, an immersive, 3-D art viewing experience, and serves as Managing Editor, Artrepreneur.

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