Don’t Give Up The Day Job – Workshop

“Don’t give up the day job” was an event organised by Redeye for photographers, artists and makers who are looking to balance jobs that help pay the bills alongside their creative practices (Redeye, 2018). I decided to attend this course in Manchester because at least for the foreseeable future my photographic practice will not provide me with sufficient income to focus exclusively on photography. The workshop consisted of a series of talks plus the chance to discuss with others how they balance creative practice with jobs. There was also a chance to hear a visual arts researcher.

Paul from Redeye introduced the event and I had a chance to speak to the different people on the same table as me who were all makers working with different materials, including one who is upcycling washing machines and another who is working with glass.

Amy Wilkinson

Amy is a jeweller based in Manchester Craft and Design Centre. She predominately works in silver, drawing shapes and patterns with wire to produce linear, simplified shapes. Amy also works as an armature maker at Mackinnon & Saunders,  making stop-motion animation puppets. She’s worked on puppets for films and TV adverts including The Corpse Bride, Fantastic Mr Fox, and Frankenweenie. (Redeye, 2018)

Amy has established a set routine between time spent at work and time in the shop in the craft centre. She felt there was a benefit to sharing the space with other creatives as it can be lonely being a creative plus it means you share time in the shop allowing the shop to be open for longer.

Commissioned work is harder to judge especially the amount of time required to create the work which can sometimes consume (4 to 6 weeks).

The skills required for her jewellery practice are very similar to the skills required to make armatures and therefore the job and creative practice complement each other in terms of skills development. Amy felt that fact that her job and the craft centre are in the same location was important to her and this has meant that she has stayed with the same employer rather than purse work with other companies that might have been more lucrative.

Overall Amy felt that she had just about got the balance correct. I am in a different position from Amy that my own job is not using the same skills as my photographic practice resulting in a lower level of skills cross pollination between job and practice. Though I do feel it would be beneficial to find other location creatives and look to share a creative space maybe with painters rather than with other photographers.

Andrea Allan

Andrea Allan is an artist and writer based in Newcastle; her practice explores the real and the imaginary and the gap between subject and object in an attempt to better understand the links between our past, present and future. Allan is also the editor of Entitle magazine. (Redeye,2018)

Andrea’s day job is an engineer on projects and she describes herself as very much deadline driven. Her project management role has equipped her with marketing skills. Her day job is very much Monday to Friday and it is not always easy to switch off from the day job to focus on creative work. It requires discipline to fit creative work around a full-time job though working in power stations has provided some interesting photographic opportunities though it was not until Andrea completed the work did she find out that her employer had a budget to fund creative projects. Navigating large companies can make it difficult to discover departments that are responsible for this type of initiative. Having a full-time job makes it difficult to undertake residences and therefore this is something she has not pursed.

Andrea makes limited edition photobooks from her work and then visits the different art fairs around the UK to sell the work usually share a stall with a friend to help reduce the costs.

I can empathise with Andreas position as my job is Monday to Friday and consumes about 2 hours out of each day when travelling time is added on top of the working day. This can make it difficult to have energy in the evening to work on creative projects. Though I use my commute to work as a source of material for my on-going going project commuterlife that is shot in an iPhone. I find it a great way to Instagram messages on a daily basis. I try to use the commute as writing and research time for my projects though given crowding on the trains that is not always possible.

Sam Curtis

Sam Curtis is an artist, educator and curator based in London. With a conceptually driven practice that he makes manifest through various forms such as events, video, performance, text and sculpture, he is interested in art’s social function and it’s accessibility. For over 10 years he has used his day jobs as platforms or starting points from which to develop practice and projects. This has been a useful way to navigate precarity and has become a vehicle for inhabiting the grey areas and permeable boundaries between art and life. Informed by two years working as a fishmonger in Harrods, he now runs the Centre for Innovative and Radical Fishmongery, an organisation that explores how fishmongery intersects with art, individuals and society. (Redeye, 2018)

Sam provided a novel take on how you can use you day job to create your own residency and create new an original work. He described this as creating a clandestine residency where he became an artistic parasite taking from his day job to create new art. While working on the Harrods fish counter her would arrange the fish in artistic formations encouraging visitors to take pictures which they shared on social media and Sam would re-appropriate the images for his own practice.

He started to explore contact prints where he would coat the fish in ink to make prints which has references to Japanese arts forms and woodblock printing techniques such as Mokuhanga (, 2018). This has parallels to my rubbings used of the decking of piers.  work-in-progress-sustainable-prospects.

I like the idea of creating a residence within my current employment but given the sensitivity around parts of my job a clandestine residency would not be appropriate. However my employer has a large photographic archive so maybe I could explore doing something with those images.

Susan Jones 

“Susan Jones is a visual arts researcher with specialist knowledge of artists’ practices and employment. Her PhD at Manchester School of Art aims to identify a new rationale for the interrelationship between artists’ livelihoods and arts policy. She is an artists’ mentor and contributor to artists’ development programmes and conferences.” (Redeye, 2018)

Susan spent time sharing information about her research into artists in the North West whic his based on a sample of artists with 10 to 30 years of experience. She noted that in 2013 the average artist earned £10,000 or the equivalent of 37% of the national average wage. She is exploring the why and the how of practice. Looking at the value assigned to work and if that was fair value in the market. The reality appears to be that artists have little or no money derived from practice when it is assessed in pure economic terms. In fact artists contribution to society has been demoted to pure monetary value and not potential social enricment derived from creative practice.

Politics is driving the structure and support agenda around art and its creation. Advice provided is generic rather than reflecting the needs of individual artists. The initial results from the questionnaires analysed so far suggests that the best work is produced when artists are in a creative space. This space should support the potential for failure. It is important to create an environment which provides a circle of trust where the domestic and creative elements interact.

A creative space is viewed as an environment that supports concerted time and opportunity to create work. The work is given an appropriate level of respect after all artists care about their work. 

To be successful as an artist you need to be known. Typically Non-profit organisations are not looking for unsolicited work. There is a conundrum for artists that you need to be shown before some will want to show your work. Today social media and gallery premieres are important to being know but not all artists are social individuals and this reduces the chances that people will get to know about their work. This results in a situation where the lack of an effective framework wastes creativity.  

Susan referenced The Curve by Nicholas Lovell as a way to navigate a world where people want everything for free and create superfans who will pay for your work. The concept is to use social media to create direct relationships with people who ultimately will become high-spending superfans. (, 2018).

Though Susan’s research sheds light on the reality of being an artist it is through better understanding of our practice the audiences that a successful path can be forged however that takes time an effort that is no longer available for creative endeavours though being a starving artist does not sound appealing either.

Julie McCalden

Julie McCalden is an artist and Paying Artists campaign Project Manager for a-n The Artists Information Company. She will provide a brief introduction to the campaign, its resources and the Exhibition Payment Guide, which recommends four core principles for artists and organisations to follow in their working arrangements around payment and gives a set of suggested payments (ranging from £150 to £6,000) to cover a wide range of exhibition scenarios and guidance for implementation. (Redeye, 2018)

Julie is a strong advocate for valuing visual artists and their contribution to society. She started of by sharing some facts about exhibitions which is something that most artists aspire to doing at some stage in their career. 71% of exhibitions pay no fee to the artist. 59% of artists do not get their expenses paid. The reality is 63% of artists turn down exhibitions because they do not have money to pay for themselves. Proposal is that exhibitions should include an artist fee within the exhibition budget. It is a case of artists starting to ask if an exhibitor will pay a fee. It is important to be informed and be discerning when engaging with galleries who are arranging exhibitions. Where shows are artist led it is more likely that the artist will get paid a fee for exhibiting. Artist network provides resources to support artists getting paid for their work. 

It is difficult for artists to get funded by the Arts Council and in most cases funding is going to established organisations who have received funding in the past. Having a track record helps secure funding so collaborating with a gallery that has got funding in the past might help get a project funded to either create the work or to get it shown. There is some evidence to suggest that collectives are being more successful in getting funding for their projects.

The talk by Julie provided me with information on resource that could help me get funding and understand how I might get paid in the future.


Overall the event achieved what i was hoping in that it has given me a better understanding of how I can operate my practice alongside my job. The key takeaways for me is that I need to continue to invest more time in networking and sharing my work with people. There is an interesting possibility of speaking to my employer about a residency where I use their photographic and film archives to create new work. The challenge will be to find the correct contacts in the organisation to broach the idea.


  • (2018). The Curve Online – Nicholas Lovell. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jan. 2018].
  • Redeye. (2018). Don’t Give Up the Day Job. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jan. 2018].
  • (2018). Woodblock printing in Japan. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jan. 2018].
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