There is an artist in DC whose work I really admire; admire so much that I own several of her original pieces. When I was first chatting with her, I asked, “is this your full-time gig.” She seemed a little annoyed but politely answered that she worked on her art as much as she could, but had other sources of employment. I didn’t understand her annoyance at first, but more recently, it has become clearer.
If I’ve had a particularly energetic week of Instagram posts from the shop, and then I run into an acquaintance, they will often say something like—wow, you seem busy in the shop. Or, “you must be doing that full time now, huh?” I take no offense at this…in fact, I’m flattered that they’re even paying attention. However, it’s difficult to answer the question.
I live a weird life. I have an office job with the federal government and I do that nearly full- time. That alone is unusual, as most “govies” work more than 40 hours/week. (contrary to common perception, most federal employees I know are highly educated, energized, competent, and hard-working. I know a lot of federal employees).
Then, I have a woodshop, in the middle of DC’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. I also have other hobbies and activities, like helping out at a farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and being an Airbnb host.
None of the things I do would count as “full-time”… But in an era of the gig economy, side hustles, and diminishing benefits from large employers, this is probably about to become more and more common.
What I’ve found throughout the craft community is that people doing their craft “full-time” is a silly question…or, more politely, and an inaccurate way of depicting their circumstances. Most craft work is solitary…you’re sanding boards with headphones on for hours/day; sitting at a potter’s wheel or sewing machine; or twisting small wires for jewelery, etc. While introverts like me love this aspect of it, many of us are drawn to the conventional office world for small doses of community and comraderie. Moreover, it’s tough to make a living in craft. It is physically demanding work, and we’re essentially making luxury items…any downturn in the economy and we’re not getting orders for a while. So, it’s good to have diversity of income.
I think maybe what people mean when they ask the full-time question is, “are you making a living at this work?” Which, when I think about it, is kinda rude…and I see why the artist I referenced at the opening was annoyed—I mean, you wouldn’t ask your bus driver, barista, librarian, or mechanic, “are you making at living with this work?”
But we’re all curious about it right? We all know its hard to “make a living” doing work one loves, especially on their own. Especially something in the arts…or as archaic as making furniture. So I consider this question, potentially rude to some, but maybe so powerfully curious that its gonna be asked anyway.
The other piece is that while makers are in their various studio/shop spaces for roughly the equivalent of “normal” working hours…we’re also spending every other minute we can marketing, researching/developing new ideas, doing taxes. worrying about whether we did our taxes right or need more/different insurance, etc. Thinking about how to spend more time with loved ones. Or beating ourselves up for not writing more blog posts, being better at photographing our work, or figuring out how to actually make an Instagram story work, and then wondering if we’re spending too much time building social media posts and not enough building furniture. Maybe that’s just me.
It’s made me wonder what “full-time” even is anymore?
So, I’m just going to define it for myself.
Yes, I’m doing my woodworking full-time…because it is occupying my mind and body at least 40 hours each week.
I’m not “making a living” at it. I’ll explore that phrase in another post. It’s just part of my life. It’s definitely not a “hobby” (another post). It is a source of income…its not the only one…