Money

Young New Zealand Creatives On How They Make Working Work For Them

One job, in this economy????
New Zealand's young creatives.

Long gone are the days of wealthy benefactors that allow an artist to spend their days studying the classics, walking the moors, and maybe doing some painting—but only if they feel like it.

In this economy, artists often have to juggle multiple gigs to sustain their creative practices, which are relegated to the category of ‘side hustle’. These gigs are the jobs that don’t make it onto the artfully curated Instagram feed. They’re folded jeans at a retail job, filed invoices in an office, dirty dishes at a café. Whatever brings in a paycheck.

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Making a living as an artist is particularly tough in New Zealand, where the funding pool and potential customer base is small. ‘Quit your day job and pursue your passion!’ is a nice idea in theory, but a little too far into the realm of fantasy these days.

We asked five New Zealand artists about how they hold down the job they need while finding the time to do the work they love.

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Richard Symons / Princess Richard

VICE: Hey. What do you tell people when they ask you what you do?
Princess Richard. I am a makeup artist, photographer and DJ.

What's your day job?
I work four days a week at MAC Cosmetics.

What are some of the complications of juggling all of your commitments and how have you learnt to make this easier for yourself?
Honestly the complication is balancing being at my day job vs. djing gigs and working on shoots. A lot of it just comes down to timing… and also desperately trying to give myself two days a week to chill by myself.

How do you protect your creativity when so much energy is spent on elsewhere?
I find it really difficult to push myself creatively when so much of my time is consumed by my day job, but thankfully I work in a creatively supportive and nurturing environment so I'm finding I experience less burnout vs. when I was juggling study and personal work.

At what point do you think you can work on your business/art full time?
I'm really not sure. While I would love to work on creative stuff full time, the moments where I have done that in the past have been extremely draining and ultimately lead to my work being less wild than I would like. In a way it's probably good that I maintain this dichotomy of experimental beauty/shitpost-y dj style and a rock solid day job in the beauty industry.

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Diggy Dupé

What do you tell people when they ask you what you do?
I'm a creative at heart. I actually got my degree in visual arts but I've always done this rap thing on the side. Both practices had similar intentions and messages but I just decided to focus on music as the main medium.

So how do you pay the bills?
I hand out staff uniforms for a major company. Don’t want to say any names, just because my employer and my craft are on two completely different things. Shoutout to all my co-workers though, they cool.

How long have you been working on your music?
Since ages ago. Nah, but actually, it’s been a long time coming. The people closest to me know well and truly how long it took to finally make somewhat of a wave. But don’t get me wrong, I still ain’t shit.

How do you find the energy or motivation to create after a long day at work?
Luckily enough I can kill two birds with one stone. I’m thinking of lines in my head all day long. Most of my songs are written in my mind when I’m at work or when I’m out walking. I feel like being outdoors helps spark inspiration, something as small as seeing a construction site can aid to the thought process. It’s like the research stage where I’m out gathering info and soaking up experiences—then I’d write it all down and translate it into music.

How do you juggle touring with the demands of a full time job? How accommodating is your boss?
My boss is actually my aunty. And not just any aunty, she pretty much raised me, so thankfully she’s pretty flexible with me working around these shows. My co-workers know about it too and they’re pretty chill (I think/hope). I think they’re quite proud that I’m out here doing something different. I’ve been working weekends for like the past three years as well, so when you see me perform on Friday night I’ll be straight back at work the next day and the day after that. At the same time I still try to take my dog Kazu out before work when I’m not too dusty.

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What position do you think you will need to be in to focus on your music full time?
Until this music thing can pay the bills and feed the fam I can’t see myself not not working. We live week to week and there’s always mad bills, so my day job is my bread and butter until then.

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Alistair Deverick / Boycrush

What do you tell people when they ask you what you do?
I write and produce music under the name Boycrush from my studio in Mt Eden. I also produce and engineer music there for other artists and I play drums with various Auckland-based bands including Carnivorous Plant Society, Lawrence Arabia, and Chelsea Jade.

What’s your day job?
Itinerant music teacher, which means teaching drums at different high schools—I teach three days a week and I’m paid by the Ministry of Education. I sit in a room and students come to me in groups of one to three for 30 minute lessons. I am allowed to do this because I have a music degree and therefore qualify to teach music in schools, but since I didn’t do a teaching degree I used to feel like a fake teacher.

How do you juggle the demands of touring with holding down a job?
Luckily, it's possible to get a reliever if I need to be away. I seem to be lucky to teach at schools with department heads who see touring as professional development. It works out well for students too because they get new perspectives from other teachers.

How do you find the energy and motivation to work on your music after a full day's work?
I find it hard to switch mindsets so I struggle with this! One recent breakthrough was being able to admit to myself when I am tired and being gentle with myself so that I can manage that tiredness better by finding ways (exercise, for instance) to relax or become able to focus on a different subject.

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Also pre-allocating time—David Lynch says in his book Catching the Big Fish that you need a four hour block of time in order to be creative because you can't be fully immersed in your art as well as thinking about what time you need to be at the airport. It's good when you are planning your week to block out amounts of time when you don't meet with people and can't be interrupted.

What are some of the complications from juggling all of your jobs and what are some of the ways you have learnt to make that easier for yourself?
If I have too many projects on I find it difficult to do anything well. So one very nerdy thing I have started doing as a self-employed person is to have a 'board meeting' once a month to make sure that I am focused and able to say yes and no to the right things.

How does your creative practice benefit your day job?
It's good to be able to teach music with a real-world understanding of how performed and recorded music looks in New Zealand. That way when you encourage students down a path towards making a sustainable living from making art it can be coming from a place of practical rather than theoretical experience.

Having said that, I also think that it is good to come to teaching from an artistic standpoint because I think that we need to pursue ideas we find interesting or exciting even if they are not in the curriculum. I feel that education should be much broader than simply a road to remuneration.

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How does your day job benefit your creative practice?
The other day I was introduced to Ten Rules for Students, Teacher and Life by Sister Mary Corita Kent which I really like and wouldn’t have happened upon if I wasn’t teaching.

Probably the main enjoyment I get from teaching is seeing the glint of an eye when a young person hears something amazing like DJ Rashad or Nirvana or Orchestra of Spheres for the first time. It's rewarding to bring that unspoiled joy into your own practice and be reminded of that feeling.

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Alma Proença

What do you tell people when they ask you what you do?
I work with ceramics and I draw.

And how do you pay the rent?
I manage Two Hands Tattoo five days a week, I wouldn't ever want to leave this job—but I do wish there were more hours in the day so I could devote more time to my creative practice.

How long have you been working on your creative practice as a business?
I wouldn't say I have established any kind of business out of my creative work, however I have been making money from it for about two years now. Due to working full time along with making artwork since the day I started, I have never been able to focus 100 percent of my energy on it. Therefore it has never broken away from being a hobby and become anything more sustainable.

How do you divide your time between your creative practice and your day jobs?
It varies, there are weeks where I will work 8.30 AM-6.00 PM at the shop and then work 6.30 PM-10.30 PM at my studio. However this isn't something I can ever keep up, I always end up running myself into the ground and slipping with other areas of my life, i.e. health, exercise and my social life. Then there are weeks where I won't visit my studio whatsoever: I need time away if I want to create work I am proud of. Otherwise I rush, or if I'm tired I make mistakes, and I have learnt time and time again it is more beneficial to step back in those times and let my brain breathe than to push forward.

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How do you find the energy/motivation to work on your creative practice after a long day at work?
I'm really lucky with my work because I am constantly surrounded by the most incredible artists and therefore am consistently inspired. However I am only human, and despite the constant stream of inspiration there are always days where I just need to go straight home and hop into bed.

What are some of the complications of juggling your multiple responsibilities and what have you learnt to make this easier for yourself?
I end up lacking in at least one area. If I choose to focus fully on my ceramic work it means I either don't see my friends or I don't get enough sleep. If I see my friends I generally don't get any work done, and it's the same if I go to bed at a decent hour.

My decision to stop taking commissions was driven by my realisation that I actually have a job that pays my rent—I don't need ceramics or illustration to fund anything. I would much rather spend my spare time creating work that pushes me, making pieces I've never made before and drawing subject matter I've never explored. People on the internet like to be spoon fed, they'll ask me to make what they've already seen, and therefore I end up stuck making the same plates and pots over and over.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE what I do and I am so incredibly humbled by people's support. I often have to pinch myself because I can't believe people want my work at all. I am lucky to live in a city where being self-employed by creative work is a reality.

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At what point do you think you will need to be at before you can work on your creative practice full time?
I will need to have a decent amount of savings, and I will need a steady client base I can rely on. I would also like to be more confident in my abilities.

How does your day job benefit your creative practice?
Everyone I work with is so supportive of me, it's a great environment to bounce ideas off of people. It's honestly the best, like I can't even put into words how perfect this workplace is for me and how grateful I am to be here.

What advice do you have for others who want to focus more on their creative practice/business?
Don't load too much on your plate and try not to bite off more than you can chew. It's incredibly hard to say no at times and it's never fun when you feel like you are disappointing someone. But you really have to put yourself first, and try to remember that these things take time.

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Photo by Asher Walker

Rachel Mills

What do you tell people when they ask you what you do?
I have a small clothing label that I run from my workroom in Parnell. I also teach sewing and pattern making workshops and am currently working on a project to grow this side of the business into something bigger and all-encompassing, with more people involved. I would definitely prefer to be described as a pattern maker who has a clothing label rather than a designer who also makes patterns, mainly because that has been my creative practice, and the skill set I have focused on for the last five years, and I tend to put more value on.

What is your day job?
To me my ‘day job’ is the thing that keeps food in my pantry and a roof over my head. I work as a freelance pattern maker for many different designers around Auckland. There is an aspect of this work that I really enjoy in that I’m constantly using my skills (and learning new ones). I do worry that if I’m not doing this type of work constantly, they will diminish. The difficult thing is, everyone’s busy time seems to be at the same time, and everyone’s quiet patches are also at the same time.

How long have you been working on your business?
Around three years ago, I left my job in retail, and took on the lease of a small workroom. I had been working part time at Karen Walker for not quite a year. There was something about retail that I couldn’t hack anymore, after experiencing a job I really loved, doing what I had been trained to do. I decided I would be better off using my spare time to work on my own projects, practicing what I was learning from one of the most wonderful head pattern makers, so I handed in my resignation, moved back in with my parents and rented out a work space. It all built from there.

When you first set up your business were there any concerns about conflict of interest with your day job?
We did have to have a discussion about it, but I think because I was only ever working there part time, there was some leniency. I did have to be very aware that it was not allowed to affect my workflow, as well as not allowing the designs I was working on there, to influence my own work. I think this integrity is part and parcel of being a pattern maker.

How do you divide your time between your business and your day jobs?
Currently, I work around 12 hours a week for other brands and the remainder on my own label. Anything else slots in when I can find time. In the beginning, I was working most weekends and evenings on my own label but I found this wasn’t healthy for me, both physically and mentally. I needed to make sure I put time aside to catch up with friends and also to have to myself, otherwise I just get too bogged down and had this kind of tunnel vision, completely unaware of anything else that was going on. I definitely don’t want to live that selfishly!

What are some of the complications of juggling your multiple responsibilities and what have you learnt to make this easier for yourself?
I find that my brain is constantly in about 10 different places, jumping from one thing to the next, unable to focus. One thing that really helps me with this is writing absolutely everything down. So I have lists for everything, as well as putting on paper how I feel about certain things as a way of processing and emptying out my mind. This is something I have only learnt in the past six months so I am still working on it.

At what point do you think you will need to be at before you can work on your business full time?
I think for most people in the same situation as me, it’s financial stability.

What advice do you have for others who want to focus more on their creative practice/business?
Divide your time, be organised and find a day job that has some flexibility and understands your creative needs, as well as one that teaches you skills you can apply. If what you enjoy is worth doing, and you work hard enough at it, it will eventually fall into place.