Career Advice

By Lindsey Novak

June 3, 2013 4 min read

Q: One of our daughters is a gifted and multitalented artist, so we sent her to an art school, where she amassed an impressive portfolio in different media -- photography, pencil sketches, watercolors, pastels, knitting, crocheting, computer-generated designs and more. She graduated last year from a school for creative careers that promised to help her find a job, but it did not help, and it closed forever, declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

She has had several freelance projects but has no clue how to be a successful, self-employed artist and digital media professional. She will put 20 to 30 hours into a design for a T-shirt and is lucky if she gets $50 for her efforts. I told her she shouldn't give "Mona Lisa" quality at greeting card prices. When I asked her whether she would accept a job for $2 an hour, she told me I just don't get it.

She is in her mid-20s, and I'm concerned about her future. I want to guide her, but I'm uncomfortable being her academic adviser, job counselor and social worker. We are able to support her now (she lives at home with us), but I know she would like to be able to get her own place.

A: You are part of an ever-so-large group of parents helping their recent college grad children to survive in this job market. When your daughter says you don't get it, she is referring to the prices an artist can command for creative products. Artists can charge according to talents displayed by the finished piece, but an artist who takes 50 hours can't automatically charge more than an artist who takes 20 hours if the results are equal.

One drawback for your daughter to market herself is that her talents and skills are broad, which may translate to a company's thinking she is scattered across the creative field. It's great to have the talent and a portfolio in various areas, but an ad agency seeking a graphic designer wants to see an extensive portfolio in that focus area. If a person wants a job writing ad copy, showing short stories and poetry isn't going to cut it. She can share her other work in an interview to show she is multitalented, but she first has to show her passion for the artwork needed in that job.

Next, she has to decide whether she wants to start her own business or put her efforts into finding a full-time job as a graphic designer, an illustrator or another profession she can show her proficiency in through a portfolio. Job searches take a full-time commitment and practice for her to sell herself to any particular company.

Often the creative side of an artist precludes the entrepreneurial business skills needed to start one's own business. Each skill you listed could be a business unto itself. For example, designing T-shirts, painting jeans and running shoes, knitting a line of scarves, hats and mittens, and designing album covers for singers all have the potential for earning money. If you can help your daughter zero in on her greatest talent -- the one she is truly passionate about -- and guide her in creating a focused portfolio, she may find it easier to market herself as a success-driven artist.

You can't be her social worker, but you can act as her business manager. Let her take advantage of the time she is living at home, and don't allow her to flounder in a creative but scattered way. You also must allow her to change her focus area if she decides she doesn't like the first few paths she tries.

Finally, if she can't decide on any specific area among the many talents, it might be time to lead her to a qualified psychologist for assessment testing to see whether there's an underlying problem preventing her from being able to concentrate on one area. Consider this year to be her preparation period toward a career, and let her know about the deadline. Tough love shouldn't be cruel, but it must be firm.

Lindsey Novak's weekly column, "At Work," can be found at

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