Posted 23 April 2019

An honest account of the financial reality of quitting a side job that takes over

As part of our Money Talks series, we’ll be sharing honest accounts of earning as a creative. In hearing from a wide range of people – from the established to those just finding their feet – we’re hoping to create open discussion around money, including learnings, failures and successes. For the first in the series, we hear from a London-based illustrator who graduated in 2016. Their journey is a reminder to ensure that a supporting job doesn’t totally take over from your creative practice. After leaving a full-time position last year, we find out how they’re rebuilding confidence, laying new foundations and the realities of earning when you’re starting over.

My annual income from commissions in 2018 was about £5k. This was from a mixture of jobs that were primarily music or film-focused, and in-house work, mainly in children’s edutainment. This is the least I’ve earned since graduating in 2016 – but because I decided to quit my side job at the beginning of that year, to take a step back and concentrate of personal projects, I expected this. It is definitely not nearly enough to live on in London, so my savings helped a bit and to be honest, I don’t really spend a lot of money on myself.

I’m yet to reach a level of freelancing where I could give an average of how much I earn, due to the inconsistency of jobs. A low month could literally be nothing because recently I have been trying to build on my personal projects so that I can add to my portfolio. A good month when I’m working in-house could be around £2,400, depending on what company I’m working with, and how much my daily rate is for that particular place.

“It’s not a crime to ask for more money or negotiate rates.”

My earnings continue to evolve as I gain knowledge and confidence in my work, so that I can charge without feeling undeserving. The biggest learnings so far have been starting to identify my worth, so when it comes to pricing, I’m not confused or hesitant. Also, I now know that it’s not a crime to ask for more money or negotiate rates. I was scared the first time I did this, but the worst thing that can happen is that they say no. My first attempt at asking for more actually successful, so it encouraged me to take more risks.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a side job to supplement your creative work, but it’s important not to get lost. My side job was working as a specialist at an Apple store, but I ended up doing a lot of overtime and it sapped any energy I had to create. Physically and mentally I became exhausted. When I first got the job, I told myself that if I was there for more than a year, it would mean I wasn’t trying hard enough as an illustrator, so I should quit. Many months later it didn’t feel like a side job anymore, and I was barely freelancing.

After a trip to Sweden with some friends, I came back to work and asked myself, “What am I actually doing?” The money was decent but the job itself wasn’t helping me. I wasn’t making a plan and it worried me how little I was drawing. So when it got to one year exactly of working there, I handed in my notice. It was a big risk but I knew it had to be done, and it pushed me to get serious with illustration again.

I think the stage I’m at right now is preparation and laying down foundations. I am still working on a few commissions and consistently creating but I’m also in the process of building a new brand. My goal is to reassess and make sure my visual language is professional but still embodies my personal aesthetic, so that I can re-emerge and get the jobs I want.

“It’s not a bad thing to have a side job to supplement your creative work, but it’s important not to get lost.”

Something I’m learning is that it’s a bad idea to take on a job when your heart isn’t in it. If you know this in yourself, and know you won’t be comfortable boldly including it in your portfolio, it’s often not worth it. Now all my ventures are illustration and storytelling-related. I try to make sure I do not accept any and every job just because of the money; I have to be genuinely interested in a project.

I think it’s important for freelancers and those starting out to invest in their business whenever possible. Don’t be too scared to pay out for things, because money comes, and money goes. When you have the mentality of investing in yourself, it also motivates you to do better; the positive and proactive behaviour will bring about growth.


With our Money Talks series, we’re sharing experiences from creatives on the topic of earning and finances – from successes to failures and everything in between. If you have a story you’d like to share with us, please email us: [email protected]

Interview by Creative Lives in Progress