How I Scrape By Without A Day Job

Alex Eckman-Lawn and writer Kate Glasheen at the 2013 Comic Con in Philadelphia.
Alex Eckman-Lawn and writer Kate Glasheen at the 2013 Comic Con in Philadelphia.

For many of us, quitting that torturous day job to focus on our art is a dream — a comfort on especially slow moving days of drudgery — but for others it’s a necessity, a reality, and a daily struggle.

As a man with only one marketable skill (illustration), I am firmly entrenched in the latter category. It’s not because I have outgrown the workforce or paychecks. I’m not better, I just haven’t given myself the choice!

So what does this mean for a 28-year-old pseudo-adult man who hasn’t exactly “blown up” yet?

Well, at times it means making compromises, other times it means being (or at least feeling like) a thrifty scumbag.

But guess what, I’m doing it. Against all odds, I am living month-to-month on the money that people give me to make pictures.

This is enough to fill me with a burning feeling I call optimism. In fact, writing those last couple sentences has put a smile on this worn-out face of mine.

I would humbly present to you some things to consider if you’d like to try and make the switch to a life of crime, er, full time art.

It is possible.


First of all, go to art openings. This is an easy one since, as an artist, you should be doing this anyway, and the benefits are two-fold. Classy galleries will have booze, maybe cheese, hummus and pita if they’re really trying to impress.

Welcome to dinner! Talk to friends, make connections, fill your belly, look at art, get inspired, have a drink, KILL IT AT LIFE. This is about as win/win/win/win as it gets.

If you’re really getting desperate and aren’t afraid to get a little scummy, Wawa (a chain of stores in the mid-Atlantic states) almost always has free saltines, jelly packets, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

These items alone do not make a meal, but they’re certainly helpful for making something out of very little! Buy an avocado, and that lemon juice and pepper will make it into lunch.

If you can afford bread and peanut butter, Wawa’s got you covered on jelly. You get the idea. if you don’t live in Pennsylvania, try 7/11 or wherever you guys buy shitty sandwiches and hot dogs on rollers at 3 am.


Times will occasionally be lean. It’s just how freelance works. If you have a good month, that doesn’t mean it’s time to go on that shopping spree, or travel the world. As much as it hurts to say this, be responsible.

Keep a separate account for savings. Try not to spend it all. Having some padding in your bank account will make ALL the difference between a disappointing month and a panic attack/moving back in with mom.

When times are lean, don’t be too much of a snob to take little jobs. Craigslist has plenty of postings about quick and dirty jobs (no, not that kind). They probably won’t help your portfolio, but they can certainly help buy beers this weekend, or give you some gas money for driving to the beach.


Okay, this is a tough one, especially since most of us art types are introverted weirdos (you know I’m right). The trick is to know your limits, and be willing to say no. You don’t have to keep pace with your salaried buddies at the bar.

Sit every other beer out and you’ll save a ton of money. If you hang around, someone’s bound to buy you a beer or two eventually. Just try to remember this when times are less tough. Don’t be a mooch.

Get a bike or learn to enjoy the bus. This really works best if you live in a densely populated urban area, but if you can exist without a car do it and don’t look back. As an added bonus, occasionally disheveled men will offer you a dollar to draw their portrait.

After one such offer, I turned down his dollar, and he then promptly peed himself.

Inspiration is everywhere.

Hang out with your artist pals and meet their friends. Being thrifty doesn’t mean staying home every night.

You’ll find, just like with regular jobs, a solid night of networking will produce more art jobs than a week of cold calls/emails. Be a buddy,  go meet up with people, and if they’re doing something too expensive, offer to meet them afterwards.


The night is yours. This is one of the more exciting things about being free to make your own schedule — you can work whenever feels best for you. If you like getting up at the crack of dawn, drinking a smoothie and drawing thumbnails while doing your yoga poses, great.

If you can get more work done between midnight and 4 AM, then do it. What’s most important is finding the time to be productive and maximizing it.  Just don’t forget to get some sun every once in a while, and eat some citrus. Diseases like scurvy are the frugal artists’ enemy.

The flip side of this freedom is you could find yourself unmotivated to stick to any kind of schedule.

Much as I hate to admit it, a bit of order really helps to corral creativity. Maybe you’re not a yoga guy (I sure as shit am not), but it doesn’t hurt to have some kind of routine to your morning. Set an alarm so you’re at least waking up around the same time every day.

There you go, my top-secret scummy secrets for surviving this wonderful unfortunate mess of a profession. It’s tough at times, but I wouldn’t, and literally cannot do anything else.

I may not be on top of the world, but I’m happy with what I do, and that’s kind of a big deal.

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  1. Nice write Alex, I am exactly twice your age and doing what you are doing and have for many years. Everything no matter what that everything looks like is about the “Quality”.

    I applaud you for your step far away from the 28 year old definable box most 28 year olds find themselves in. Pursuit of a passion far outweighs anything.

    Be well, have fun, live life

  2. Great advice! I especially agree with not being too much of a snob to take little jobs. Not only can they help pay for weekend beers and such, they often can lead to bigger jobs and new clients. I’ve gotten great contracts from totally weird little gigs.

  3. thanks so much, guys!

    Peri, I agree about the little jobs sometimes paying off in a big way. I’m of the “never say no” mentality most of the time.

  4. You may be a pseudo-man, but if you are happy with what you do and you get by then I submit that perhaps, just perhaps, you are on top of the world.

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