How to Keep Making Art While Working a Full-Time Office Job

I've recently agreed to go back to a full-time schedule at work. This means I'll be able to make an international trip next year for the Urban Sketchers Symposium, remain capable of helping my family financially when they need it, and finally put the last nail in the coffin of my one remaining debt - moving into a positive net worth for the first time in a decade.  Even just one year of full-time earnings will have a huge impact, since I've been living with just-barely-enough-to-get-by for a long time now.

All good stuff. Except... I've been making good use of my previously light work schedule to build a life as a creative pereson.  I've been sketching increasingly frequently, completing projects, constantly pushing myself to improve. That level of hard work won't be possible any more.

So how do you keep up an artist's life when you work full time and have an inflexible schedule?  How do you manage to keep sketching the world, when you leave for your office in the dark, and get home in the dark?

Here are my ideas so far.

  • Instead of committing to larger projects which can become a burden to be avoided instead of an escape or a thrill, focus on daily and weekly art commitments that give flexibility to draw what you feel like drawing, or at least to play stylistically.  They should focus on the making and the play.  Ideally, these will be social endeavors, since other human involvement can make you keep going on those nights when the TV seems like the only answer.  Examples of social art groups: Illustration Friday Everyday Matters, NanoDrawMo, The Month in Comics.
  • SketchCrawls.  I like to think that if I were to drop regular creative work altogether in the rush of the work week, continuing to get together even just once a month with the excellent and tenacious artists of Portland Urban Sketchers would keep me in the game.
  • Sketches at breaktime?  It would be like smoke breaks, only less carcinogenic, and a good practice at capturing something quickly. Though it does mean constantly facing that moment when you have to wrench yourself away and get back to work.  And it would be nice just to step out and breathe sometimes, without structuring every minute...
  • Commit to providing some kind of art-related service, in order to stay involved in the creative world.  I've just signed up as a guest reviewer for The Pen Addict! I'll be testing pens with a focus on artistic use, and posting the results over at that site.  I'm excited about becoming a better reviewer and speaking to a large audience on a topic that I care about.  I'll also need to be sketching regularly to demo the pens.
  • Classes. There's the problem of expense, but classes are a good way to shrug off the difficulty of handling your own structure and discipline.  Once you pay out for a class you're more likely to go and make use of it, and new information often feels like more of a fun reward than the mixed joy and trauma of just always trying to do better.

I'll be carefully tracking my art involvement over the coming months, as I test ways to keep the momentum going despite a more rigorous schedule.