A woman’s hands, painting with watercolours

The Hustle: Balancing work, life and the books

Brandishing a Masters in Illustration from the Royal College of Art is quite an achievement, yet like so many talented creatives, Amanda Peet hasn’t yet earned enough from her art to call it a full-time job. Instead, she’s found herself as one of a growing number ‘side hustlers’ – running one or two mini businesses to supplement their main source of income.

As anyone will tell you, being a working parent is no walk in the park. Businesses are steadily becoming more open to truly flexible working, but for many working families there simply isn’t the right blend of flexible to fit around everyone’s busy lives. In Amanda’s case, it was really important to be there for her daughters after school and during the holidays. “I started working as a dinner lady at our local primary school,” explains Amanda, “and from there went on to work as a Teaching Assistant with children with special educational needs.” But while the hours were right, the salary – as is often the case in the public sector – was low. This is a trade-off that many working parents make in pursuit of that all elusive work/life balance.

Painting, teaching, selling… it all adds up

Working artists have a few things in common; their art is part of who they are, they dream of making a living doing the thing they love the most and crave the time in which to do it. There are many galleries (both online and bricks and mortar) through which you can sell one-off original pieces of work and while these are essential to building an artist’s reputation, they are a slow sell and offer little guaranteed income. Which is why many artists monetise their skills by selling their work through online marketplace platforms, selling merchandise, prints or – like Amanda – personalised products.

Kitchen table entrepreneur

From the comfort of home, Amanda creates watercolour and lino cut prints and cards, selling them in local gift shops and on her Etsy site. Her latest enterprise came about when struggling to think of a birthday present for her one-year-old nephew. She hit upon the idea of a personalised name print, engaging the services of her photographer and ex-graphic designer husband to bring her ideas to life at the kitchen table, using their laptop and Canon Multi-Function Printer. Amanda paints watercolour illustrations which correspond to letters of the alphabet, which are then scanned into their Canon PIXMA MX495. The high-resolution files are edited in PhotoShop, calibrated to colour perfection for professional print and output on artist’s quality 300gsm card.

A blonde, curly-haired woman sits at a laptop.
Amanda at work (© Jake Peet)
Lino-carving tools laid out on a table
The tools of Amanda’s trade (© Jake Peet)

Customers and Community

While plenty of promotion through Facebook, Instagram, colleagues and the school playground generated demand for Amanda’s new enterprise, it was only after her prints were featured by a shop owner with a large Instagram following that her Etsy shop suddenly saw incredible levels of traffic. This all happened in the weeks before Christmas “helping us pay for everything we needed that year, which was mostly cheese. And chocolate.” Instagram is also a huge pool of inspiration. “Seeing other artist’s work and being able to seek out advice and recommendations brings a sense of community spirit. I think it’s because we are all in the same boat that everyone is open minded and willing to help one another. I’ve made a lot of good contacts this way.”

The reality of self-employment

Part-time hours with a consistent income are foundational to Amanda’s working week, but when she’s not there and her family are at work or school, it’s her time to “get in the zone”. “It’s what I love doing best,” she says. “So, the time is relished and used effectively.” However, when the orders start piling in, Amanda has to adjust accordingly, simplifying the rest of her life to fit around the peaks. Lots of things have to take a back seat temporarily until demand slows and family pitch-in to support. About half of Amanda’s time is spent on paperwork, but she’s stoic about the necessities of business – “That’s life isn’t it?”. However, she admits that her husband “helps with invoicing because I’m often too shy to chase bills and demand money.”

A dark blue lino print of a woman in a sailing boat is sat upon a manual printing press
Amanda’s personalised prints were seen by a new market when featured on a popular Instagram account.

Amanda’s latest project sees her producing prints for a children’s book of forest folktales. Driven by a desire to create, work and have a rich family life, her entrepreneurial mindset is as much an essential part of Amanda’s business as her ‘kitchen studio’ and home office devices. She has no regrets “All of these things I had to make myself do. If you truly enjoy creating as much as I do, don’t hide your light under a bushel, don’t be shy.” Perhaps it's the work/life balance that so many of us are striving for.

You can see Amanda’s art on her website ‘Traces of Magic’ and order prints through her Etsy shop.

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard & Jake Peet

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