Monday, August 21, 2017

A Portfolio Career as an Artist

A portfolio career is defined as a career which involves different clients/employers, different activities and income streams.

Thus rather than being just "an artist" you can be:
  • an artist and an art teacher (face to face or online or both)
  • an artist and an illustrator
  • an artist and a curator
  • an artist and a gallerist
  • an artist and a musician and a boring job which allows you time to be creative
  • an artist and an art teacher and another job which pays the rent
  • or any combination of your choosing which allows you some time for the activity you really want to pursue
This post explores the notion of a portfolio career and provides some food for thought.
  • What is a Portfolio Career?
  • Why do people have portfolio careers?
  • More (reading) about portfolio careers
The rear of Norman Rockwell's studio
Is this the ideal of every artist - the studio at the bottom of the garden, one major client and blue skies every day?

What is a portfolio career?

I first came across the notion of a portfolio career while studying for my MBA at the London Business School (see references to portfolio careers at the end). I was very fortunate in being taught by Professor Charles Handy, the Irish author/philosopher who specialised in organisational behaviour and management (and even became a global management guru). 

He wanted us to explore and develop our understanding of the cultures and ways of working of different organisations and what sort of people fitted them best. (e.g Handy’s four types of organisational cultures) I've kept my written assignment for him on the topic of portfolio careers - complete with his feedback notes which have had a major influence on my life and ways of working and how this has progressed over time.

He defined “portfolio working” as being a lifestyle in which the individual holds a number of “jobs, clients and types of work” all at the same time. 

For me, having a portfolio career is when you have a positive intent to develop a portfolio of interests, jobs, clients and types of work and ways of working - as the way you live your working life.

For example, I retired from my full-time professional occupation some 11 years ago and yet I've never stopped working at my interests - and don't suppose I will for many years to come.

I find aspiring artists often have an extremely unrealistic idea of how many professional artists actually spend all day making art

Very many of the professional artists I've met have recognised the reality of needing to reduce stress in their lives to remain creative - and that sometimes this is best met by introducing some level of certainty into their income streams. Which, in turn, can sometimes be best achieved by having a portfolio of interests with varying degrees of certainty as to the level of income that might be produced eg everything from
  • steady and unspectacular eg regular tuition fees from teaching art
  • feast or famine - from making art
Some individuals who have been very successful as artists have managed to combine this with having a full time career doing something completely different. 

It's all a question of how you manage your time and what your other personal commitments - for example in relation to the familial such as bringing up children, keeping a partner on happy and on speaking terms and looking after elderly parents. (While she's an author rather than an artist, I'm always reminded of PD James whose husband was in a psychiatric hospital for a long time before he died. She had to take over the role of full time provider for her daughters - became a hospital administrator and then a civil servant - and wrote her books starting at 5am every morning before she went to work for many years. Most of them were written while she was a senior civil servant at the Home Office.)

Why do people have portfolio careers?

People pursue portfolio careers for a number of reasons - the drivers are essentially economic and a blend of psychological and social.

Economic and pragmatic

Some are purely practical e.g. they are:

  • economic necessity post credit crunch - work opportunities are much more task-oriented
  • unable to find a full time occupation as a professional artist which pays enough. 
  • unable to generate enough income from sales and commissions to be an artist full time AND pay the bills AND remain sane and creative
  • unable to pursue art without child care

Another way of looking at this is to ask the question 'Is it more stressful to be an artist and...
  • unable to afford time to make art?'
  • unable to pay your bills for food and a roof over your head?'
PS. There's one major downside to having a portfolio career and that's pension planning - which becomes a lot more difficult - see Retirement and Pensions for Artists for more food for thought.

Person focused - psychological / social / aspirational

One of the major drivers behind portfolio careers is the notion that being an individual means that we can best satisfy our needs if we identify who we are and what we like doing, how we like working - as well as what opportunities exist in the market place.

Some relate to personal wishes eg so they can

  • avoid doing the same thing all their lives
  • avoid doing the same thing day after day 
  • be able to travel more
  • be able to work more flexibly
  • be able to maintain interest in a creative aspect of their lives
  • be able to generate inspiration for new projects / ideas / artwork

AS AN ARTIST: Which option would you rather pursue - the solo occupation or the portfolio career?

Comments are welcome on this post. Please share your experience and stories of how your career as an artist has developed over time

More about Portfolio Careers

Below I've included some links to more information for about portfolio careers.
This is the digital generation who supposedly are turned off the idea of a job for life. Instead they are attracted by portfolio careers as that pattern fits more into their desires for travel and for being self employed.
multi-strand careers are a growing and significant part of the jobs market that many graduates are choosing over conventional careers.... Graduates in the creative arts – such as artists, actors and photographers – are most commonly those with at least two jobs
Portfolio working is when an individual has multi strands rather than just one strand to their career. This trend has been growing for a while, fuelled by desire and also necessity post credit crunch.
One new term emerged from this review of portfolio career literature online - the slasher!
Marci Alboher, author of "One Person/Multiple Careers," defines “slashers” as individuals who've created a "portfolio career" involving multiple identities. Their income comes from part-time employment, temporary work, freelance assignments or a personal business—or they work a full-time job, while pursuing other lucrative interests.

1 comment:

  1. I became a professional artist in 2001 after taking early retirement from my post in Adult Education Management. I was lucky as my wife had a good job and this enabled me to rent firstly a room, then a small flat as my art studio. Although I work and live in a small town in South Wales, UK, I amazed at how many people buy art. I have had a very successful time as an artist and have been fortunate that I have not had to seek part time employment to support my profession. At 68 years of age I love what I do and will continue for as long as I can. It gives me great pleasure that people collect my work and tell me how much they enjoy my paintings. At one time I had a studio full of paintings and wondered what I had done. With word of mouth, marketing and a website I got there in the end. Best Wishes Goff Danter (


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.