Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's a Job

Last month, Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast posted a wonderful interview with illustrator Carson Ellis. I love Carson's artwork and she sent a lot of it to enjoy while reading her interview. I was happily settled in to reading when she mentioned that she'd moved around a lot after college and was a cocktail waitress in four different states. I laughed out loud!

I've also moved around a lot have had a variety of odd jobs. I read the rest of the interview thinking about how every artist has probably had something in their past like Carson's serial cocktail waitressing.

I was brought up to believe it was important for me to have a career- something respectable that would make a difference. I became a musician instead. That was ok with my family. I played the oboe and practiced very hard and was actually started on my career, even if it was a slightly suspect career as a musician. But then I quit. (Long story.) And since then I've bumped around from job to job, making a living so that I can do art in my free time. There's no doubt in my mind that I'm an artist but that's not the same thing as having a career as an artist.

It's hard not to be frustrated going to work at a job every day when you really just want to be creating art. But those jobs bring us so many good things, too- new friends, skills, knowledge, conversation, variety, laughs, and of course money. I'm happy I'm an artist and I definitely want to be a full-time career children's book illustrator. But in the meantime you can find me selling prescription medication at Lyon's Pharmacy!

These are the jobs I've had in my life:
bird survey counter
assistant to black-footed ferret breeding program
delivery driver for a medical lab
orchestral oboist
waitress & hostess at 6 restaurants: Chinese, breakfast, Indian, vegan, cafe, and fine dining
picture framer in 5 different businesses and self-employed
movie theater operator
art galley sales
hotel maid
graphic artist
production printer of fine art etchings
greeting card deign and sales
retail antique and gift sales
bookbinding assistant
grocery store stocker
pharmacy technician

Tell me about your favorite or worst jobs!


  1. I can't seem to post on your blog right now, so I'll comment here instead. Fun idea for a post! I once asked an older artist advice on how I could become a full time illustrator. He told me to get a full time job and do illustrations on the side :( I'm kind of in a unique situation, which I won't go into, but for now I am blessed to be able to work as a full time illustrator. I hope to one day make enough money from it to continue on with it as a full time thing. Thus far I've had to forgo any thoughts of having a family of my own though. Anyway, I'm 27 and have had a short list of jobs myself. Subway sandwich shop manager for two different subways in Boston, starbuck's barista, pizza maker for a late night/early morning restaraunt that served hungry and drunk college students after the bars closed, machine part manufacturer, haying on the farm, roofer, house painter, sheetrocker. SInce being afull time children's book illustrator I've had to learn to doa whole list of tasks like scanning, phtooshoping, movie making, power point presentations, public speaker, business person, graphic design/text layout and basically ahd to become somethign of a minor expert in all things children's books. Of course I'm by no means an expert but all of my clients expect me to be,LOL. We all know how much work is involved in just learning the various skills involved with painting, printmaking or whatever medium we use. Texture, color, composition, line quality, scale, character design, page layout design etc. There is sooo much to learn and no where near enough time to learn it all!"

    My friend Matthew Gauvin had trouble posting so I'm posting for him. Check out his blog!

  2. Yes, indeed, great idea for a post! Let me see... Like you, I started out "respectable" as a high school teacher (art, MATH, drafting!)... and quit quickly (long story also). A long string of "side jobs" since then... from working on a cattle ranch to sitting an art gallery, typesetting to measuring grass (habitat survey for ornithology). Lots of non-profit work.

    Some of the experiences were good, some of them were horrible, but taken all together they were good practice for the zillion different tasks that have to be juggled as an artist AND business person.

  3. None of these were too horrible or weird but here's a few from the early days (pre-2000):
    Music store clerk
    Usher at Wrigley Field
    Picture Framer
    Retail clothing

    Great blog post, Jill!

  4. I have done many things as well, you win with assistant ferret breeder. I was all set to attend Michigan State, graduate, and spend my life earning a ton of money as an engineer like my brother. That went south on the wings of a giant tornado...
    The class I took as a Senior in High School for an easy grade, Carpentry for half day, has become my bread and butter.
    My list of jobs:
    Bartender; Fine dining, Mexican Restaurant, Golf Country Club, Irish Pub (best job ever!)
    Carpenter, Camera Salesman (Living in Boston, I was once the number six highest selling salesman in the entire Ritz Camera Company)
    Had a really bad job cleaning apartments that people had abandoned, usually because they went to jail, while living in South Providence, RI. First day on the job I found a loaded pistol hidden in a couch. Saw cockroaches cover 120 square feet of wall from an old pizza box I knocked off a refrigerator. But I got a ghetto pass to the local soul-food restaurant, man that was GOOD FOOD!!!
    Worked as a Photographers Assistant, and a Self-employed Pro Photographer in Boston, made some good money, but the advent of digital cameras and low cost software put the kibosh on the work I was getting from a couple ad agencies.
    Worked as a landscaper. Log home carpenter, and currently manage a lumber yard in the White Mountain Region of New Hampshire while honing my skills as furniture maker and graphic artist. What a map I have drawn, and it leads so far from where I expected my life journey to lead.

  5. Matthew- I'm glad you get to just do children's illustration. Now you can grab a sandwich at Subway & a coffee at Starbucks and go home to paint!

    Sherrie- You are such a pro. It seems like you were born to do just what you are doing now. I'm glad you graduated from measuring grass & teaching drafting. :)

    Cyn- I'm a framer, too. What a great job for any artist. And I've never worked in a music store, but it could still happen. Well, I guess if music stores are still around in the future!

    Randall- You are someone like me who gets bored with the same old thing aren't you? We need a new challenge from time to time. And our lives might not work out the way we thought they would but that's ok. Keeps us on our toes! (Especially the pistol in the couch-WOW) I just checked out your blog- nice to see your woodwork.

  6. Jill - what an amazing job! My work history has been much less varied. I've been a waitress, an assistant at a nursing home, a child care worker, a note-taker, a tutor, a lecturer and a writer. All but the waitressing job were good fun at least most of the time. I was the worst waitress in the world...

  7. What a great post Jill!! Here are some of the jobs I've had....

    coffee shop barista
    shoe store clerk
    cashier/waitress at a bakery
    telephone customer service at a publishing company
    gift store cashier
    wedding ring sales at a shop in Austin, TX
    part time nanny
    summer camp counselor
    teacher at an after school program
    executive assistant to an art dealer in NYC
    historical illustrator

    ...holy cow. Some of those I would really like to forget! :)

    Thanks for your wonderful post!

  8. Anna, in general I liked being a waitress as long as I didn't think too hard about the point of the job being carrying food from one room to the other all day. I'm glad you've moved beyond your waitressing days and are now an esteemed lecturer. And of course a brilliant author!

    Brooke- Your job history sounds a little like mine, a mixed bag! It gives us character, right? :)