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About Day Jobs

Now that the school term is winding down, graduating illustration students everywhere are freaking out about how they’re going to pay the rent. A few rockstars will be able to launch their careers right away as full-time illustrators, but for most, the process of establishing oneself takes years. Which means, if you’re an aspiring illustrator, you’ll need to find a day job to support yourself until then. But, which day job should you get?

There are two different theories about day jobs for creative people:

  1. Get a non-demanding, non-creative day job with simple 9 – 5 hours so that you can come home and have plenty of energy and creative juice left to focus on your own work and freelance projects.
  2. Get a demanding, creative job where you’ll exhaust your artistic energy and be wiped out by the time you get home, yet still muster up something extra to do the freelance.

Both have pluses and minuses, but if I had to pick one I’d endorse the second option. While it’s always nice to have creative energy left at the end of the day, it can take years to fully subsist on illustration work alone. Some people never get to that point. So you might as well be in a position where you can develop and use your creative talents rather than letting them go to waste in some regular job. Additionally, being in a creative career—even if it’s only tangentially related to illustration—will still help you immensely as you’ll learn about a variety of topics like design, project management, and other things that will only strengthen your work later down the road. Finally, don’t forget the different contacts and people you’ll meet who will not only inspire you, but will be beneficial allies, friends, and future collaborators years afterwards. You can’t get any of those things from a non-creative day job.

So, if you’re graduating and looking for a job, veer towards a creative one. It might sap more of your daily artistic energy, but in the long run, will be much better for you.

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Neil Swaab is a freelance illustrator, art director, author, and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. He's an instructor at Parsons the New School for Design and the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling book Middle School: My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou. His new authored and illustrated book, The Secrets to Ruling School: Class Election, comes out this September from Amulet Books.

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