I'm essentially a freelance teacher and my work has varied from the bare minimum to full working week. Though it's an amazing lifestyle, it can be very stressing when you don't know where you'll be from place to place. I never did my homework, but I was lucky so network as much as you can. Find somewhere like a publishing house, or an illustration company and volunteer there an hour a week or something. You might get your big break through meeting someone there that can point you in the right direction.
That sounds a lot like the company I used to work for in the year before they went out of business. The place started out as a fun and promising company, but towards the end it was a depressing downward spiral as things fell apart... I remember wondering if I should go freelance and trying to amp up my portfolio at the time. Then the whole question was resolved by the company going out of business and laying everyone off anyway, ha.
Then of course I spent a couple of years struggling to get a freelance career off the ground. It probably would have taken longer than that if I didn't have connections through ex-employees of my old workplace, that helped a lot. I'd also managed to save up a decent chunk of money from my old full-time job, and that helped me pay rent and expenses for the first few years.
If you can, it's probably better to try ramping up a freelance career while you still have a job. Work on your portfolio, start networking, see if you can pick up any freelance work on the side, etc. Especially if you have a lot of expenses. Either that or spend a couple of years saving up as much as possible so you'll have a cushion.
My last job was similar - a comicbook publishing house that was struggling. I was a fulltime colorist. At first I could color 2 pages a day, and do the job quite well, but they wanted 3 pages. I didn't want to sacrifice quality, so I struggled a bit, found technique shortcuts and got to doing 3 pages a day on average, although sometimes I had to stay overtime. They asked for 4 pages if possible. This is when I realized, as long as I keep covering their requests, I will never be happy, because they will always raise the bar above me. So fuck that, I started just doing whatever amount of pages I felt like. Often it was like 16-17 pages a week (5 days work week). Soon after the company downsized and they offed me, along with all other full time illustrators. I have no idea what's happening now there.
Some people have given you good advice - look for a new job, while you still have this one. Usually you can find your new place before you even notify your current boss that you quit, then just notify him, wait out the time and start your new job.
About the drawing and painting. I looked through your gallery. It looks like your technique could use improving to make you more efficient at your work. Out of curiosity - how long did this take you to make [link] ? If you want a skill ceiling that you can aim for for now, you can take mine - www.nebezial.deviantart.com . This guy has the most efficient technique I've ever seen any digital painter use. You can probably pick some interesting stuff up from him. I'm not talking about style, or even technique, but more about the way he treats PS. He's spend years optimizing his technique for this software... Check him out. ^^ And look for a job. No point in staying at a work that makes you unhappy.
I watch the same guy! And his maybe his or maybe not other account (wink wink nudge nudge, say no more)
he has actual inspired me to improve in recent months. I made a thank you you to Jim about it.
That piece there took between 3 to 4 hours on and off. It was a warm up piece for concept reasons. Most pieces take 8 to 12 hours depending on background.
Honestly thou my work here on da is better than my works work. I hit their ceilings years ago, which can be bad and good. Their tried to get me to take on more work too but I openly told them that was a complete new job role and I would want more money, so they hired someone instead.
I will just echo what others have already said. It's easier emotionally and mentally to look for another job when you currently have one. I have been unemployed since April and have had no luck since then. It gets increasingly discouraging the more time that goes by. At least I have had my new son to focus on and to keep me busy.
In terms of the dead end job feeling, that can be rather depressing. When I do get work the only jobs I get are short term contracts, so no room for advancement. Just going from contract to contract. The older I get the more I feel like any prospect for an actual "career" has reached a dead end.
i have a friend who's been unemployed for over a 1 year (nearly 2) and its soul destroying. i can see. I cant up and quit this job at the mo, i have a house to pay for and wedding to fund, its just not feebly but of course i am looking. i have been looking for 6 months already :S
I'm in a similar position like you. You can't do much: work for the paycheck, draw in your free time for your enjoyment and try to look for other jobs in your field, but stick with this job for now for we are all in recession and things are still not looking good (especially for artist)