Geek Ink Thinks: Getting called out on my lack of time for drawing

For those of you who were expecting my Inside Out review, I only be saw it late on Sunday evening, so I’ll post the review up on Wednesday. Today however I discuss my art, and why I draw much less than I used to. If you haven’t seen any of my work, you can check it out on Deviantart, or on either of the albums on my Facebook

I was doodling in one of my notebooks at our weekly sketch meets, and one of my friends commented how she hadn’t seen me draw in a while (I usually end up writing or chatting at the meets). I thought about it for a couple of moments, and said to her that I pretty much only doodle these days. I went on to say that as much as I would like to draw more, if I can’t put my heart into it, then it’s a bit pointless. In order to that, I would need to dedicate way more time to it. Another friend of mine stopped and asked me if I really didn’t have enough time to draw, and I guess it struck a bit of a nerve because I had to stop and ask myself “Do I”?

A day in the life of Rowan

If I compare my day to the average person, I definitely have more time to dedicate to my interests. I’m only in the office for five hours, and I spend approximately two hours travelling on the train. If you add an average of eight hours of sleep to that, that’s still nine hours left in my day.

So where does all that time go?

Firstly, I play video games for at least two hours a day. This time is usually spent on multiplayer gaming, which is an itch I need to scratch on a regular basis (this is one of the few things in my life that I am insanely competitive about). Then I usually watch at least an hour of anime or cartoons, which is both work and play since it gives me something to blog about, and I often use ideas from these shows kick-start my own stories.

Recently I’ve also do a lot of reading online. As I mentioned the other day, the political situation in South Africa is kind of unstable at the moment. Not unstable as in we’re going to have a revolution or anything like that (yet), but unstable in that there is increasing discontent, and this discontent will probably fuel some kind of change. Whether this change is good or bad remains to be seen. All I do know is that we’re seeing more and more people voice their unhappiness with President Jacob Zuma, including some of his former supporters. But before I get completely sidetracked, I spend at least two to three hours a day reading, and a lot of it recently has been political content.

I’ve also been working on the new visual look for the blog (this includes the coding lessons I’ve been doing at CodeAcademy), which has recently taken an hour or so out of my day.

So that’s approximately twenty two hours of my “typical” day. This doesn’t include time I might spend on chores, working on my own scripts when I feel the urge, derping on the internet, doing silly video editing, extra hours that go into gaming, watching movies, or the hours I need to create content for this blog.

Which leads me back to the question, do I have the time to draw? Sure, I could probably spend an hour or two drawing every day if I felt like it. But the next question that I really need to ask myself is:

Would these two hours a day get me where I want to be in terms of my artistic skill?

The answer to that is simply no. I would need to spend a lot of time to get to the point where I wouldn’t be frustrated with my art. This is because of where I was, and where I am, in terms of skill.

Here’s a graph of time invested vs skill, borrowed from

If I were to estimate my current level of skill, I would put my current skill level somewhere between a novice and a hobbyist. When I was at my peak I was definitely more than a hobbyist, but nowhere near an expert:


I currently spend a couple of hours a week doodling. At my peak, I spent roughly four to five hours a day drawing. I would come home in the evenings after work at the bookstore, play games from 10 PM to approximately 12 PM, and then I would sit and draw until 4 or 5 AM in the morning. I’d sleep till lunch, eat, kill an hour or two and go back to work. It was great from a productivity and skill perspective, but I was only earning enough to cover my rent and have a bit of spending money. Eventually I ended up in an office job as a technical writer and this drastically affected the times that I worked on my art. My most productive hours have always been in the wee hours of the night, and this was simply no longer possible.

Art as a career

A couple of years after I started working as a full-time technical writer, I wondered if I’d made the right choice. I was incredibly frustrated at work, and the money wasn’t making up for it. I thought about (rage) quitting my job and pursuing art professionally.

After thinking about this for a long time, I decided I wasn’t willing to sacrifice all the other things in my life to try and make myself employable as an artist. A friend of mine did this, and while he has undoubtedly become a great artist I have no idea how the rest of his life is going because I never see the guy.

Instead I made a compromise for my creative side.

Another employee at the company was a part-timer, and he sacrificed bonuses in exchange for a percentage of pay based on the hours her worked. I asked if I could also make the switch, and strangely enough, management agreed. They probably didn’t want me flinging my PC out the window as a result of a mental breakdown, which had actually happened to an employee not long before I started there (the mental breakdown, not the PC flying out a window).

There was another reason that affected my decision to not pursue art seriously.

It’s not just about time, it’s also about money

I get that money isn’t everything (that’s why I work part time), but money is still very, very important. You can’t eat passion or pay the bills with it, so it’s important to have a job that allows you to cover the basic costs of living. This is a problem for most artists because just about every single one of them undercharges for the amount of work they do (there’s a reason a lot of artists have day jobs or alternative sources of income). Some very talented people I know work absurdly hard and earn about the same as I do as a part-time technical writer. This was driven home recently when I read an article showing how much, or rather how little, the average South African 3D artist earns. The average 3D artist earns approximately R175 000 per year, which is not far off what I earn as a part-timer. If I were to sacrifice my sanity and take technical writing up full time at my current company (and that’s only 9 to 5 in terms of hours), at my current rate I would be earning at least R200 000 a year, plus production bonuses.

Another issue is the fact that a lot of freelancers I know have had to fight with their employers to get paid. At least two friends of mine had to threaten legal action in order to get paid for their work, and this was long after the acceptable payment period had passed. I myself have been in the situation where I only got paid 5 months after I did a writing job, and it wasn’t even a large sum of cash.

It’s time to face facts kid

I’m simply not as passionate for drawing as I used to be. I still do it once in a while, but for me to get my skills to a level I would be happy with would require too much sacrifice. As a result, I channel my creative energy into projects like this blog, short scripts, or a comic book that I’m working on for a friend of mine, all of which will hopefully help improve my financial situation in the future. The rest of my time is spend on other hobbies I enjoy or people I enjoy being with, and honestly, I’m okay with that.

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