Megan Rose Gedris* asks:
"Your latest posts about living on artist wages got me thinking. At what point do you give up the day job and rely completely on making comics for a living?
I've been doing comics in my spare time, between juggling two part time jobs. I've had modest success with a couple of these projects. I'm at a point now where I think I could take off with my comics, if I just had more time to work on them. But then again, with as hard as jobs are to come by here, I'm afraid if I quit my job, and fail at comics, I won't have a job to come back to. How did you do it? (This is also me assuming you had a day job at one point and didn't jump to instant success soon as you graduated from high school**. Which would be cool, too.)
But yeah, at what point does it make sense for an artist to quit their day job?"
It's always been my personal belief that you should never leave a steady job until after you have paying freelance work on the table. When I wrote Pink and started the webcomic version of Steady Beat, neither of which were paying at the time, I had two full time jobs: one managing the art department for a catalog mail order company and the other helping to run my publishing company. When I flew to Los Angeles to pitch my series idea to Tokyopop, I still had both jobs, and it wasn't until after I had signed the contract and sent it back that I walked out of the 9-5 job. I quit the very next day, in fact.
But even then, I wasn't completely dependent and able to support myself. Midway through book 1, I moved in with my parents so that I could work on my book without worry of being out on the streets for fear of not getting a check in on time . . . and since three checks were three months late, that was probably the best move I ever made.
Now that I'm living on my own with nobody to fall back on, things are different. Not only do I have my contract with Tokyopop, but I've taken on freelance work as well, and for three months, I was even working part-time at a cafe because it had been so long since I had extra cash in my pocket, and I seriously needed some clothes that weren't worn to death and made me feel good about myself (high self esteem = high productivity, IMHO).
There are several things you need to ask yourself before leaving your full-time job for freelance creative work:
1) Have you saved up enough money to live off of for at least three months? That's sort of a general rule of thumb when it comes to finance, and something that'll save your butt more times than you can count. Clients pay late. Projects take up more time than you anticipated. Checks get lost in the mail or misplaced or mis-sent (have had this happen four times now). Some people neglect to pay at all (which is why I insist either in being payed at least 10% up front or being payed in milestones). Sometimes, the unexpected happens and you find you have far less cash than you anticipated. So save before you quit.
2) You should have work lined up already and started. It's one thing to have somebody tell you, "We're interested in you doind such and such for us," and having a contract signed and ready. A contract is set in stone; you WILL get paid eventually. Promises however can be taken away. In fact, I get lots of promises about projects that never follow through. I've learned to ignore projects as real work until I have the first check in hand.
3) You have to be willing to chuck pride out the window and take a menial, part-time job if you have to. Whether it's waiting tables or washing cars, you have to ignore the fact you were once brand manager at NIKE and suck it up that you're now making as much as you were in college or high school. Once you've committed to doing freelance work full-time, you won't be able to go back to the 9-5 without having to give the majority of your work up. Neither will you ever be able to find a high-paying job that offers part-time work.
4) Are you driven? As in, does it feel like somebody lit a fire under you're butt, and now you're running towards your goal? This must be destiny. You can't do this half-assed. Your work must consume you.
One think you do not want to do is quit your job because you feel like you won't improve unless you do. If you're driven enough, you'll find a way to keep getting better, even with the 9-5 (as soul draining as the 9-5 is). It may not feel like you're improving fast enough or getting out what you consider the best of your efforts, but if you don't have the passion enough to really push through in what is probably the toughest of circumstances in which to be creative, you will very likely not make it.
That is the harsh reality. All too often I've met people who did just that--quit good-paying jobs because they felt like it would help their work and get jobs--only to sit around for months doing nothing. Time dashes by, and before you know it, you're out of cash and not a freelance job in sight. AND you've given up that great paying 9-5 job you were actually somewhat enjoying!
So, think about it a long time. Be honest with yourself. Are you quitting because you have to or quitting because you want to?
*reprinted with permission
**definitely not, lol! Took me three years just to figure out what I wanted to even do.
***Yeay! Art! Practice sketches from photo reference. Been drawing kids dancing. Been practicing expressions, as well, but haven't scanned those yet. It feels so good to be drawing again! *sob*
****Photoshop CS3 rocks my socks off.