10 Tips for Cartooning When You Work Full-Time
I decided to write this piece in response to an essay that I read yesterday. To summarize, it was from a woman who explained that she was able to achieve her dream of becoming a writer because she was able to stay at home and work on her craft all day while her husband supported her financially. First off, I applaud her for being honest about this. For people in this position, they usually don’t want to talk about it. And not talking about it can make the rest of us, who work full-time, wonder what we are doing wrong to not be able to achieve the level of production that some others do. Let’s be honest: working on your craft full-time or even part-time can take you to another level. But this is not a reality for most of us, especially in our early careers. So we’ve got to make due with what we’ve got. Here are some tips I have been learning along the way.
1) Find a job that accommodates your cartooning IF possible.
I say IF because this is not always possible, and odds are you are already in a job that you may not be able to leave. Most non-artists don’t get the frustration of having to take a “day job” to pay the bills when what you really want to do is draw all day. When you know what you’re capable of, but can’t fully do it at the time, it can be demoralizing. Outsiders may think that you just want to devote more time to your “hobby” and say “well, I wish I could play golf all day too, but that’s not how the world works.” Having an artistic passion is beyond a “hobby”, especially if you feel that it’s the most authentic thing you can offer to the world. Some people will not get it and you have to accept that.
But I digress. Luckily for me I have a 9-5 that can somewhat accommodate my cartooning. Yes, you may be thinking that 9-5s suck, but the upside is that I can leave at 5 without expecting to work overtime and I have the weekends off. For others, professions like teaching are ideal because you get nice long breaks, sometimes including the summer. So if possible, look for a job that accommodates what you really want to do, which is make art. And most importantly, don’t feel guilty about it.
2) Enjoy office perks.
Assuming you will not get in trouble for it, take advantage of what your job has to offer that might help your cartooning. For instance, if you work in an office, check to see if you can use the printer/copier/scanner after hours. I work at an art school so I have Photoshop on my computer, which I sometimes use for my comics. I’m in no way endorsing stealing supplies from your office though!
This is vital, especially if you work a desk-job or something that requires you to be sedentary most of the day. You don’t want to become Quasimodo, so get to steppin’. Seriously though, sitting all day, and then sitting some more once you get back to your house (or wherever) to cartoon, will take a toll on your body.
I started to realize this recently when I noticed that my posture was getting worse. But it really hit home when I started to have pain in my right wrist and fingers. I type all day, so that, combined with drawing for a few hours each night, has made me worry about injuries. I consulted some people and am now trying to stretch and take more breaks. To start I would recommend checking out Kriota Wilberg’s excellent comic (No) Pain! A Guide to Injury Prevention for Cartoonists. If things are getting much worse though, consult a doctor.
4) Set a schedule.
Easier said than done, but I find that it really helps me actually get work done and move towards my goals. If you’re a morning person, try getting in a little time before work. And if you’re a night person, well, do it after work. You can set schedules like “I’m taking 2 hours EVERY night to draw” or “by the end of the night I will have one page penciled”. Building that time into your already busy schedule can be trying, but it is necessary if you want to actually produce work.
5) Make the most of the weekends.
Weekends can get super busy, but try to set a chunk of time, at least on one day, to get some work done. I love the weekends because I’m the sharpest in the mid/late morning. It can be a routine to look forward to at a time that is not as rushed.
6) Quality over Quantity
So you set a schedule, but you’re tired as hell after a long day. It’s OK to take some time off. In fact, if you feel like the quality of your work is suffering, it’s super important. In reality, it’s always harder to make work at the level you want when you are working full-time, unless you are some sort of super human. I am guilty of this (no, I don’t mean being a super human). I am learning that I need to do the opposite of my impulse, which is to draw quicker and with less refinement (which is what I ultimately want). So I’m teaching myself to slow down, even if I’m not getting as many pages done each week. It’s OK. You are working full-time and that’s a reality.
7) Attempt to have a social life.
When you have to juggle a full-time job with cartooning, something has to give. For many, myself included, it can be your social life. Make your best effort to maintain some balance for two main reasons. Being a hermit can be good at times, but depriving yourself of social interaction can actually make you less productive because you are not restoring yourself and meeting all of your needs. And second, living in the world gives you stories and different perspectives…especially if you write autobio. So leave the cave.
8) Don’t neglect maintenance.
Again, juggling can lead to neglecting other aspects of your life. By maintenance, I mean things like cleaning your house, exercising, sleeping, and not wearing sweatpants all weekend. Well I guess the last one is optional. What I’m trying to say is, if you slack off on these other parts of your life, it will actually stress you out more. And that’s the last thing you need.
9) Remind yourself why you’re doing what you do.
Sometimes working all day while attempting to achieve your real dreams can seem futile. But you have to remind yourself of why you’re putting yourself through this self-imposed hell (I’m kidding … for the most part). Seeing your completed work is super satisfying, but beyond that it helps to get involved in the comics world, especially by going to cons. Sharing your finished product with others, checking out other stuff that’s being created, and making connections with other artists makes you realize that you belong to community of people with similar struggles and aspirations.
10) Be patient.
Things may progress slower for you if you’re working full-time, but know that sticking with it, putting out quality work, continuing to learn your craft, handling criticism and praise, and getting to know others in the comics community are what will help you get to where you want. So don’t give up!
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