One of the classic career dilemmas, I think, is the tension between doing an office job – with (perceived) benefits like security, stability, prestige – and doing ‘something creative’. Creative careers get a bad rap, with dark clouds of poverty and unemployment looming over you. For every J K Rowling, there are millions of struggling writers; for every Peter Jackson there are thousands of wannabe directors; for every Hollywood A-lister there are countless out-of-work actors serving tables in bars and restaurants. What makes you think you will be successful? Are you so talented? You can always do X as a hobby; you have to get a Proper Job to earn a living!
But there are many ways in which you can channel your creative energy. In your hobbies, of course, but also in all sorts of different jobs that you could never have imagined as a child. Earlier this week I went on a tour of the Weta Workshop, where at least a thousand people are working on different aspects of special effects and props for global blockbuster films. None of these people are going to achieve fame and fortune from what they are doing, but all are working creatively and contributing to something they are excited about. You can make art, and even make money from making art, without necessarily being Mr or Mrs Picasso…
In this month’s interview, Annemarie Vermaak opens up about her personal journey that took her back to her lifelong passion for creating art.
Leaving a corporate job behind to follow your passion: From senior project manager at a multinational to illustrator working from home
A slice of bread with chocolate sprinkles and a vase with fresh tulips sit on a desk surrounded by art supplies in Annemarie Vermaak’s studio at her Dutch home. From the age of three until the day she graduated from art college, all she wanted to do was draw. Paint. Cut and paste, by hand. But as soon as she started her first full-time job more than 15 years ago, creating artwork ‘somehow’ ended up on the backburner. The corporate lifestyle was one that Annemarie enjoyed until *that* life-changing moment. Two years later she is a stay-at-home mum slash illustrator who is creating art again. By hand. And getting paid for it.
1) At what moment did you decide it was time for a change?
It was the summer of 2012. We were in Italy when I found out my third – and what I knew would be our last – ICSI treatment had failed. Since my 14-year old daughter (who lives with her dad in the States) was with us, I pushed my grief aside. Back at work I crashed and decided to take a leave of absence. Looking back it’s interesting that the one-year course ‘Illustrating Children’s Books’, which I had signed up for earlier that year since I wanted to start drawing again, began exactly during my leave. I felt awestruck that I had been ignoring my talent and passion! It was confusing and at the same time such an eye-opener. Why was I not at home with our 1.5-year-old baby boy doing what I love to do? I could be a mum during the day and an illustrator at night! Our house had a wonderful sunny room that still needed to be fixed up so why not create my own studio there? My leave of absence turned into a mindfulness experience that gave me the strength to give up (the security of) my corporate job and lifestyle and instead choose my family and my passion.
2) What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the change?
Not what but who: my husband. I am married to a very loving and caring man but any life-changing decision scares him. Especially when it has financial consequences. However, during my leave I had a lot of ‘me time’ to experience what full-time sketching, drawing and painting was doing to me. Being creative gave me a lot of positive energy and step by step it turned me into a relaxed, more loving and caring woman. My husband noticed the ‘new me’ and acknowledged that this change would also be beneficial for him, our son and our relationship. My being home as a wife, mother and illustrator has created a solid and peaceful home for us all.
3) Where did you get the support you needed to make it happen?
At home from my husband even though he was also my biggest challenge. He was very supportive of my taking a leave of absence as well as the (as it turned out, life-changing) one-year course. And together we turned that sunny room into my studio.
My mother has been very supportive from the beginning and nowadays refers to herself as my manager.
The first assignment I was given came from my elder brother – because of this assignment I officially started up my own business as an illustrator.
4) What’s the best part of your lifestyle today?
A more fitting question may be what the worst part of my new lifestyle is since there is only one answer: the financial instability. However, it does not weigh up against the freedom, the time with my child(ren), choosing my own projects and people to work with, as well as juggling aspects of many different jobs at the same time (web designer, text writer, photographer, administrator, project manager, brand specialist and so many more). It’s wonderful to experience that saying, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
5) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is considering making a big career or lifestyle change?
Talk to people whose opinion you value: family and close friends, people who know you well. Take everything they say into serious consideration, the good and the bad. Remember that every choice we make has pros and cons – evaluate both and set timeframes for aspects that are important to you.
I truly believe, since this is what I experience, that what you radiate, you receive in return. So be positive!
Today, Annemarie is an illustrator and the owner of Studio AnnemA. ”Drawing, painting, making collages, creating (typographical) scissor-art and 3-dimensional work is my big passion. Love, fun and a sharp eye for detail define my illustrative & creative work.”
Have you made big changes in your life and want to inspire others to do the same? Or maybe you’re 100% happy staying put where you are and want to make a case for being satisfied with what you have? Get in touch to share your story!