How I Got My Job: Illustrator And Artist Laura Duffy

"I never really imagined that being an artist could make enough money to be a career."

When you’re in school, it’s super hard to decide on your future career. There’s already hours of homework and study, now you’ll soon add decisions about college courses and jobs to your list. Here at KISS, we’re chatting to people in different industries about how they’ve landed their dream role, what they actually do, and their advice to you. This week, we’re chatting to Laura Duffy, a freelance illustrator and artist.

What is your current role?

I am a self-employed freelance illustrator and artist.

Can you describe what your general day to day looks like?

Working as a freelance artist means I am often playing many different roles throughout each day. Depending on the projects I am working on, I often get to spend a lot of my day drawing, creating and designing. However, I also spend a lot of time doing things to help grow and manage my business, whether that’s social media content, emailing potential clients, packing up orders, researching packaging materials, updating my website, or managing my accounts.

It means each day is slightly different from the one before, making it really exciting to get up in the mornings. I love the flexibility this job gives me, I get to choose my own hours and chase projects that excite me! I’m still not over the fact that I get to draw every day for a living!

How did you decide on this type of career?

If I’m honest, I never really imagined that being an artist could make enough money to be a career. I ate up the “starving artist” stereotype that we often hear time and time again growing up, and therefore always thought that my love for creating art would only ever be a hobby.

A little over two years ago, I started an Instagram account to share some of the artwork I was making for fun in my spare time. Over time, I started improving a lot and suddenly, people were interested in commissioning me to draw a custom portrait for them. I remember getting so excited when I was first offered money to draw something, I couldn’t believe it!

I went with the flow and eventually was able to turn it into a little side business. I was working full time in an office during the week but almost every other bit of spare time I had I spent drawing and working on this venture I had built for myself. As things continued to grow, I finally had that lightbulb moment when I realized, “Hey, I could make good money doing something that I love, maybe that “starving artist” idea isn’t so true after all”.

I switched my mindset and made some actionable plans to one day be able to quit my job and pursue my art business full time. About six months of saving and planning later, I was lucky enough to be able to leave my job and thankfully have not looked back since!

What course did you study in college?

The idea that creative work isn’t a “real job” really affected my decisions when choosing what to study in college. I had always wanted to go to art college, but as the time got closer to choosing what to put on that CAO form, I felt it was too risky. I had it in my head, that I should try to qualify in a more “job-friendly” degree and therefore settled for a three-year course in Communications.

For me, this wasn’t the right decision, however, I wouldn’t change it looking back, because it shaped the way I now look at my work. The course itself didn’t live up to my expectations, but the college experience in general opened up a lot of doors for me. In order to make college more interesting day to day, I started getting involved in the college newspaper, drawing illustrations for their weekly stories, I also designed some posters for different societies.

Through this, I started teaching myself how to use photoshop and how to create digital art using youtube tutorials in between lectures (and sometimes during shhh) Both of these make up a huge portion of my job today so I am still really thankful for my unconventional path to where I am now.

What advice would you give to a student looking to get into your line of work?

If I can take anything away from my experience so far, it is to know that creative careers are not doomed to leave you broke. If pursuing one is something you know will suit you and your life, then do all that you can to make it work. It’s not all sunshine and daisies, I can’t think of one line of work that hasn’t been rocked by this year’s events, but if there’s one thing I’ve realized this year, it is that even the most “recession-proof” careers can never be fully secure, so knowing that, give yourself permission to chase the career you know you want.

It might take a while to get there and you may have to work a lot of other jobs on the side in order to make it work at the start, but it is possible. I have come across so many successful creatives that have and continue to achieve financial success. It is about striking the right balance of business savviness and creativity. Try to look at your current situation and see where you can find the opportunity to work on both your business skills and improving your craft. Turn whatever you’re doing now into a learning opportunity. Whether you can practice customer service skills through working your weekend retail job, or you can practice social media skills by setting up a page to share your work and journey, or you can even practice your accounting skills by learning how to save and budget.

All these skills are worth working on if you want to work for yourself someday. Be sure to share your work no matter what stage you are at and continue to have fun and experiment with your craft, you never know what opportunities you might stumble across.