Award-winning tattoo artist Casey Hart has mastered the art of the hustle and avoiding burnout. She’s a talented tattooer with a steady flow of clients and the successful owner of Foxwood Tattoo Collective in Sykesville, Maryland.
You might think an artist and shop owner has no time for anything other than ripping, dipping, scheduling, and payroll…. forget about food, sleep, or life outside the studio. But Casey Hart knows a thing or two about managing her time to avoid burning the candle at both ends. Thanks to these skills, her experience as a tattooer and shop owner is all the happier and more fulfilling.
We chatted with Casey to find out her secrets to a fulfilling career. Check out her strategies to better manage your time, make more $$, and (most importantly) ensure burnout never happens to you.
BUT FIRST… WHAT IS BURNOUT?
Artistic burnout: It’s a real thing, and it’s a real drag.
Of course, work-related stress is to be expected. But you might be wondering, “When does daily stress spiral into actual burnout?”
Too often, people associate burnout with 9 to 5 office jobs or chief executive positions. But burnout is just as prevalent in creative fields, like tattoo artistry. Casey warns that burnout can suck the passion right out of your tattooing career if you don’t watch out for it.
“It makes you not want to come to work anymore […] You’ll cut corners. And eventually burnout [is] no longer loving what you do, no longer wanting to show up, [and] no longer wanting to be everything you were wanting to be in the first place […] So, what happens with artists typically is they end up quitting or going on hiatus.”
Signs of Artistic Burnout
Look out for these five signs to see if you’re burnt out (or approaching burnout.)
Sign 1: You’re Doin’ the Most
Don’t be fooled into thinking that burnout means you’re “extinguished.” Casey illustrates how burnout can be deceiving because a lot of artists who are burnt out continue to work too much:
“[People with burnout are] actually extremely good at their job. They’re the one that is running around, taking care of everything, doing everyone else’s job. They’re the best performing person, but they have no extra energy.”
Sign 2: Your Motor = Depleted
And with no extra energy, Casey Hart explains how you can expect burnout to affect other areas of your life outside of the tattoo shop.
“They don’t have time for extracurricular activities. They don’t have the energy to be with their loved ones or spend time doing what they love. So burnout is harder to diagnose and find and feel that you’re going through because you actually feel like you’re overperforming and you’re doing everything you’re supposed to be doing.”
Sign 3: You’re a “Yes Man”
Additionally, if you’re saying “yes” to any and every client, guest spot, convention, or side-hustle opportunity… well, you won’t have the mental space to consider how your “motor” is doing.
“[Artists] say yes to a ton of things. Then that ton of things comes into months and months and months of over-stressful work […]”
Sign 4: You Have No Boundaries
Saying “yes” to everything means you have no boundaries. That’s because if you have no boundaries, then you never say “no.” If you feel uncomfortable saying “no,” rejecting a project, or setting boundaries like booking periods and allotted work hours, you might be headed toward burnout.
“[Artists] are not setting boundaries, they’re very uncomfortable setting boundaries, and they don’t know how to set boundaries.”
Sign 5: Your Tattoos Are Suffering
When you’re totally burnt out, your work tends to suffer. Poor work can make you feel disappointed in yourself, steer clients away, and take the zest out of your creative lifestyle. Casey Hart touches on this as well:
“The need to perform creates sloppy work [which also] creates you stressing out.”
HOW TO AVOID BURNOUT AND MANAGE YOUR TIME
The good news? Burnout is totally preventable. You can enjoy a rich, fulfilling tattoo career with happy clients, a busy schedule, and even a side hustle if you’d like. And you can do it all without burning yourself to the ground, saying “yes” to everything, and depleting your motor.
Even if you’re nowhere near burnt out (which means you’re doing something right), Casey offers clear steps you can take to make sure it never happens.
1. Understand Your Boundaries… And Stick to Them
“What you have to do is learn your boundaries and what works for you. Then stick to your own rules. We set the rules, and we break the rules all the time. You have to set them like somebody else made them because no one else is gonna step foot in front of me and say, ‘That’s enough for her today. She can’t tattoo anymore. She can’t take on another email. She can’t take on another drawing.’ You have to be that person [for yourself].”
2. Learn How to Say No
“You have to learn to say, ‘No, this is enough for me. This is the workload I can perform my best at.” Of course, I’ve struggled with boundaries. I let people walk all over me, take advantage of me. And it got me nowhere. It got me hurt. It got me burnt out.
No one will say no for you. Not ever. You know why? Because they think they’re deserving of your time: “It’ll only take five minutes. It’ll only be this, this and this.” It is about them and not you. It has to be about you first. No is a complete sentence, and [others] cannot get what [they] want just because [they] want it right now.
Not everyone’s urgency is your urgency.”
3. Define Your Priorities
“You have to define priorities. If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities. Priority means ‘These are the top things that have to be done to make [other] things happen.’ My three main priorities [are] tattooing, drawing, emailing. Those are the basic categories that make things happen.”
4. Break Priorities into Tasks & Set Realistic Time Estimates
“Then, I have to break [those priorities] down into tinier pieces because “drawing” is just really vague. Am I drawing 2 hours or 20 hours? So when it comes down to a week-by-week basis, you have to have the strength and the skill and the discipline to look at your calendar and say, “Wow, this drawing is going to take me 30 minutes. This drawing is gonna take me two and a half hours. This drawing is gonna take me this, this and this.”
Break them down and actually see what it takes to do those things. And it varies all the time. There’s no magic formula because some weeks I have huge pieces. I have to draw 20 hours. Other times, I’m doing continuous pieces. I’m not drawing anything. So it’s not a formula that you stick to all day, every day, which is difficult because there’s no routine. It’s just high discipline and time management and boundaries.”
5. Create a 40-hour Total Work Week (Not 40 hours of Tattooing)
“Most tattooers spend 40 hours a week tattooing. Then the other tasks are left for the rest of our free time, which is why we’re burnt out.
You have to take your five-day work week and say, “Okay, I can’t tattoo all 40 hours. I can tattoo 25 hours, 5 hours emailing [and] admin time, 10 hours of drawing.” You have to break down each task, and it takes time to do that.
Because there is no one holding a gun to your head saying, “You have to tattoo 40 hours a week.” If you want a tattoo 40 hours a week, you’re only tattooing five years because this hurts your body. This hurts your mind. It hurts your emotions. It will test you in every way you can. So if you want a tattoo for 40 years, you have to tattoo 10 to 25 hours a week.”
6. Take Advantage of Cancellations
“What do artists do when someone cancels? They go home. No! There’s things to do here. Work time is still work time. It is not a hundred percent tattoo or go home. It’s ‘Okay, well I’m not tattooing today. However, I could do my inventory, work on a t-shirt design, make business cards, work on a website.’ So a lot of artists’ problems [are] their own doing, and they’re not taking [advantage of] the proper time.”
7. Set Expectations & “Train” Your Clients
“Setting boundaries with clients [is a] very tricky subject. It sounds very silly, [but] you have to “train” them because they have [their own] expectations. Here’s everyone’s expectation: “I’m gonna walk into a shop today, and I’m gonna get the tattoo I want for $80. [When that doesn’t happen], their expectation was violated.
So, you have to set the expectation before they ever get here. How do you do that? Websites, social media, et cetera. You set your rules. You set your boundaries. You put them in place from the beginning.
My first rule is no messages [on social media]. Saying “I don’t answer any messages” sets that expectation. Email me, and you get an email back in two minutes, but you can message me for weeks, and you’re not gonna hear from me. If you can’t follow the first rule, you’re not gonna follow any of the other rules.”
8. Use Websites & Social Media to Your Advantage
“The website’s kind of my first line of defense. You can do this on Instagram too. Make the highlights and say, ‘Here’s my booking process. Here are the rules. Here’s how deposits work.’ Some people make an automatic email of some kind that says, ‘Hey, Bella, you made an appointment with Casey Hart. Here’s what to expect for your appointment…’
[My website] even has examples of tattoos that fit into a half-day or a full day, so somebody can look at a tattoo and say, “Wow, that tattoo was about $1,200. That tattoo was about $400.” I just set about 15 expectations from one page. (Need help setting your own prices? See our Guide to Pricing Tattoos.)
And I know it’s a lot. It’s a 30-hour thing to make a website. But that website saves me because I don’t spend my time answering messages all day.”
9. Slow Down & Make Time for What You Love
“My apprentice, Ryan, worked 358 days in 2020. He took five days off. Seven tattoos a day. He did 500-something tattoos that year – that’s insane. So he’s lived this, and he got savings, savings, savings. He had all this money and no time. He hadn’t seen his family. Hadn’t seen his friends. Hadn’t taken a vacation.
So, we said, “Slow down. Let’s take you down to two days a week. Let’s get you calmer and close your books.” So now he has the time. He went to Miami. He has time to meditate. He has time to read and watch TV shows and things that he didn’t have time to do before. Now he’s got all these boundaries in place that he didn’t have before, and he’s feeling pretty good.
And people [have to] find that lesson out themselves. That balance is impossible to answer because it changes all the time per person, per artist.”
Put It into Practice
Ready to make Casey’s no-nonsense time management style a reality in your own work? We’ve got additional resources to help you get started. Our guide to Managing Your Tattoo Shop and our Helpful Tips & Software for Tattoo Shops can help you save time and simplify the logistics. And don’t forget to follow the time-management queen herself on Instagram @artxharttattoos.