How to Make a Smart Plan For Painting Full-Time and Still Pay Your Bills

Many of us dream of creating art full-time and having that art generate an income that helps support our lives. Yet the reality of what it takes to be a full-time creative is sometimes beyond our imagination—how do we make that leap? And if we have others whose livelihood depends on our income, well, then it’s not just us taking the plunge into full-time art they’re diving in with us. We asked two artists we featured in Acrylic Artist to share their insights and advice on how to make the transition to creating art as our only source of income.

Karin Nelson, featured in the Fall 2016 issue, successfully made the transition from an artist with a traditional career to an artist with art as her career. Working with her husband they took a business-like approach to her work transition, focusing on the financial aspect of the career change.

“One thing we did was look at our fixed expenses and made a few adjustments. That can be as simple as selling a car with a high car payment and buying a good used car. If you can, you may be able to work with one car,” Nelson advises.

Red Awnings, McKay Tower (40×30 acrylic on canvas) Karin Nelson

Red Awnings, McKay Tower (40×30 acrylic on canvas) Karin Nelson

Nelson’s point is a very important one. We can’t predict the unexpected: broken furnace, a building going co-op or needing a new refrigerator. But we can look at, and budget for, our fixed expenses and see where savings can be made. Which brings up another important aspect, getting your spouse or significant other onboard with the idea. Unless your partner is an artist, they may see things differently than you, and this is a good thing. No, it’s a great thing.

The Business of Art

Art is art, but being a successful artist is business and it’s imperative that you look at this transition from a financial point of view.

“It took a little working to get my husband onboard with the idea. He takes a different approach to things—seeing what may not work. His worse-case scenario approach balances my idealized and more intuitive approach to things,” Nelson explains. In the end she says, “I was able to see the change from his point of view and address his concerns. This balance in our personalities allowed us to look at the exciting possibilities of my career transition with a critical, facts-only eye on the details of such a move.”

To make the transition from a two-income household to a one-income household easier and eliminate the element of surprise, the couple took the change for a test drive. “We practiced living with our belts considerably tightened for a couple months, to see how much less we could feasibly spend in a given month on discretionary expenses. The results were very encouraging: we proved we could spend a lot less,” explains Nelson.

An added bonus of the experiment was the savings made during the test was set aside for use when Nelson transitioned to art full-time.

A Positive Attitude

“I think it’s important that you approach the budget changes with a fun attitude of adventure,” Nelson says encouragingly. “Attitude definitely makes all the difference.”

Letting Go of Financial Freedom

When both spouses work, finances are more likely to be stable. When both partners work and manage their daily expense independently of the other (meals, entertainment, clothing) there is a lot of freedom. So what happens when you rely solely on your other half for day-to-day pocket money and other expenses? Letting go of that freedom is difficult, as Konni Jensen, featured in our Spring 2017 issue, recalls.

“I made my own money and if I wanted that new handbag, it was not an issue. We had the bills paid and I had complete freedom with the rest of my income. It was great. But when I left my traditional job to start my full-time art career I had to work with his, now our money, for everything. This took some getting used to. I learned to separate needs from wants, rely on another person and be completely transparent with my finances, in fact we both had to,” Jensen said.

First Steps

Before you leap, set some solid footing in place.

  • Make a budget. Record everything you spend money on, everything. Then look at what you can continue to afford on one income, and for how long.
  • The cost of art. Make a list of what you buy and how much you spend to create your art. It’s a business expenses, but for a while, you partner may be covering that expense. It needs to be in the household budget.
  • Keep the time clock. Just because you have 24 hours to devote to your art doesn’t mean you should. Family time, personal time and time with your spouse must be preserved. If you are accustomed to having dinner every day as a family will that change? How does your family feel about that?
  • Now that you’re not reporting to an office, does you partner expect you to pick up more chores and errands around the house? Discuss and set clear expectations about time management: when you will work and when you will help around the house.
  • Making ends meet: When you are completely honest about your finances, you don’t have to guess when you will run low on funds, you will know. Beyond eliminating a lot of unnecessary stress, knowing your long-term financial timeline allows you to prepare, rather that react. How long are you both comfortable relying on one income? If that date arrives and the art has not contributed to the finances, what is the next move?

Long story short—go for it! But before you do, be completely honest and open with your family about the finances and time expectations. Having everyone on board with facts will make this an exciting and hopefully no too stressful time in your art journey.

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