What to Know Before Becoming a Full-Time Professional Creative
As in how to *actually* make a living while chasing your creative pursuits.
The whole “slashie” as job title thing might be known more as a wink-and-a-nudge descriptor of Instagrammers who are, you know, DJs, bloggers, designers, fitness experts, etc., etc., and all of the above, professionally. But the basic idea of committing to multiple traditional careers at once is a pretty apt way to think about anyone who’s making a living as a creative. But how to manage the strains and commitments of three full-time jobs at once? It’s a real undertaking—and requires way more than the passion and genius that are the typical tenants of creative work.
Paige Smith totally knows how to make it work. Not only does she have three (yes, three) separate roles, each of which could be more than full-time, but she practices each with ease—she’s figured out how to keep everything going since burning out in 2016. Smith is the designer of VereVerto, a cult bag line that she started with her partner Consuelo Chozas; she’s the genius mind behind guerilla public art project Urban Geode, which, if you’ve been anywhere in the Los Angeles Arts District, or to LAX for that matter, you’ve most definitely come across; and she also continues to work as a graphic designer for hire under the name A Common Name. Feeling tired yet? Here’s how Smith gets it all done—and then some.
1. A technical background helps a lot.
“I went to school for graphic design. I was always interested in some creative career path and landed on graphic design by accident—I felt like I couldn’t really be an artist because I needed someone to give me a box to be creative in when I was younger. I went into graphic design because I’m very logical and thought that would build me a career. I did that for a few years and then decided to go freelance, which led me to doing more personal passion projects.”
2. Do what you love for fun, first.
“I started Urban Geode when I’d been living in L.A. a little over a year. I was living in the Arts District, a really creative place with tons of street art and murals and all kinds of constant inspiration. I got the idea to do paper art on the street because there were cracks and holes and decaying infrastructure in the street as space to use. It picked up, and I’ve been doing installation works, participatory art, workshops, and all sorts of other things with it.
“It was an outlet for me. I was pretty bored doing the kind of design work I was doing, and it was all passion because it’s extremely tedious work. It was something that clicked with me—I’ve always love origami, and I’m a voracious reader and obsessed with magical realism. The idea of the crystal growing inside a building—a man-made crystal inside a man-made structure—was so romantic and magical to me. I was making these little things and giggling to myself because I loved it so much.”
3. A good idea won’t go away. Let it percolate, and wait for the right time.
“I lived in San Francisco for like, five years, and I biked everywhere. I had the idea to do convertible bags because I couldn’t find anything on the market that allowed me to go from day to night or work to play that I thought was stylish. I sat on the idea for years, and I moved to L.A. and was really inspired by all the fashion here and all the entrepreneurship—people are here to make it. The energy is amazing. I met [my partner] Consuelo and had talked to her about the project several times. She was so enthusiastic about it and had so many amazing ideas, and she also had all the business skills that I lack as a creative. I asked her to be my partner, and she was ready to go for it.”
4. Allow yourself to say no.
“When I burned out last year, I was saying yes to every single thing, every opportunity, and it was way too much work. I was working average 12- or 14-hour days. There were a few months when I took zero days off, and it was just too much. So I quit!
“Balance doesn’t come naturally to me. People talk about how self-care is really important, and that’s something I’m really trying to make sure to do. I’m trying to learn how to say no more, which is a hard thing to do. When you’re freelance, you want to be able to say yes all the time because you don’t know when you’re going to be starving next. I’ve learned to believe in myself and value myself and make sure I’m taking the right job at the right time—not saying yes to every single thing, because that’s when I can get really messed up. I’m trying to be much better about saying no. I do work out more and consistently. And I make sure that I have weekends [to myself]—I always take that time.”
5. Take the time to celebrate yourself.
“I’m pretty proud of [my work]. Sometimes I sit back and think, I can’t believe what I’ve done. I’m really proud of the designs I’ve made, that people like them. One of our favorite things is seeing our bags on the street and people living their lives with what I’ve created—it’s pretty rewarding.”
6. If you’re passionate, the rest will come…
“Step one is to be passionate. You have to have real passion for what you’re doing, otherwise you’re going to get into a place because you have to. Maybe it’s a cliché, but loving what you do is really important, especially if you’re going into creative. You’re going to have to dig and dig and dig and go further than you think you have to.”
7. ...But the trick is holding on to that passion when it becomes work.
“With Urban Geode, I lose the joy more often, which sucks because it started purely for fun, and then it turned into so much work. For me it’s about finding what I can to be joyful about with Urban Geode. Lately I’ve been finding ways to produce large installations quickly, like creating these geode tiles. I’m so excited about them, and it completely changed the way I work, and it gives the project new life for me. When you become a master of something—I’m not saying that I am, but it’s that 10,000 hours thing—you have to keep pushing and pushing somehow. If you can find your passion within it and keep remembering why you do it and that core of it, that’s really important.”
8. Find a partner who can do everything that you can’t.
“With my partner, our reason for success is that we have very clear roles in our company. I’m very clearly the creative director and handle everything creative, and she’s very clearly sales, account management, and even production. Everything’s produced in Spain, she speaks Spanish, so she takes that on, too. We support each other where we can, but having clear-cut duties and responsibilities, and trusting each other to complete those things, is really helpful. I have a fear of letting people down, and I think she does too, so we’re working for each other all the time. Recognize what you’re not good at, and find someone who’s your balance—it’s totally cool I can’t do everything, and I’ve found someone who is gifted in those ways.”
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