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Advice for a first time freelancer?

Hello everyone,

I've been wanting to work as a full time freelancer for illustrations, but I still have some rough patches to work out. So far I'm in the process of finishing up my ToS, and getting a portfolio site up. I want to work more with traditional mediums and get into fursuit commissions in the future. Plus I feel I've learned lots from reading posts on this community as well as experience from the few commissions I have taken in the past.

But I'm worried about money stability. I know art isn't a hot buy right now, and my commission status has been set to "closed" for so many months that I don't have much of a basis for how many people would be interested in buying. I want to move out with my boyfriend in the upcoming months, and obviously need to help support my end of rent. But to me it feels like everything is up in the air!

What would my fellow artists recommend me do..? Should I get a grunt job somewhere to earn up cash while I'm starting out with commissions? (which I would be doing, but my health is horrendous. Would have to tiptoe around my parents and boyfriend's better judgment. x_x) How soon would it be wise to start working at conventions?

Any extra advice is greatly valued! <3

ETA: Thank you for all your suggestions! It seems pretty unanimous that I get a part-time job, as I was suspecting. Hopefully I can work something out soon. :3

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( 39 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 11th, 2010 12:39 pm (UTC)
Can I ask a delicate question?

Is your commission status closed because you haven't been doing commission or because you have a bunch to do before you open it again?

It sounds like you are starting from scratch.
Mar. 11th, 2010 01:13 pm (UTC)
No prob! I have one more to complete, but that's it. And it's one I took when I had them "closed". Not the best idea in hindsight, but other than that I have nothing backlogged. They were shut down for a long time because of school mainly.

I technically am starting from scratch since I didn't take it too seriously before, and it was only one or two here and there. But I want to build it up and treat it like a business, as it should be treated. c:

Edit for typo.

Edited at 2010-03-11 01:18 pm (UTC)
Mar. 11th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)
A side job would be a definite yes, I'd say. At least to gather base money for just in case, and you could try for some sort of easier inside job, like filing etc if it is easier for your health.

As a mostly freelancer I'd say that do not concentrate on internet commissions only, to get stability and proper "flow" of money, you should try to get illustrating jobs from magazines etc which may (and usually do) offer more money than private people in the internet. (And at best, might be less pissy too *cough cough*)
Try asking smaller magazines for small illustrating jobs (at worst you might need to do some free jobs to show that you can deal with it) through email.
Mar. 11th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
May I ask, how do you find small illustration jobs? I'm still in highschool, in a small enough town, can't drive etc. So I'm not sure where I could find places to work for.

If you can find some online, do you have any idea where? Since I've never done so before XD
(no subject) - vauvakolibri - Mar. 11th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ichigoneko33 - Mar. 11th, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - vauvakolibri - Mar. 11th, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ichigoneko33 - Mar. 11th, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ichigoneko33 - Mar. 11th, 2010 05:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ichigoneko33 - Mar. 11th, 2010 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thaily - Mar. 11th, 2010 04:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - vauvakolibri - Mar. 11th, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thaily - Mar. 11th, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - vauvakolibri - Mar. 11th, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 11th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
My friend auradeva is a freelance illustrator. From what I know about her you have to make sure you are flexible, and live somewhere there are a lot of jobs (she lives in New York) and you have to constantly be out on the prowl for a job, going to cons, going to parties, going to various events that promote art. It's possible, just very hard to do.
Mar. 11th, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC)
I would suggest getting at least a part-time job; it would leave you with enough time to work on art and even if you only work an hour or two per day, it's reassuring to know you have a reliable income even if you're not selling much art.
Mar. 11th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
You should still try to get a part time job, I don't know what type of health issues you have, but would it be possible to find a job where it's not as much of a problem? Maybe you could work from home or something. If you're just starting out with commissions, it's probably not a good idea to rely on them for your sole source of income straight away.
Mar. 12th, 2010 03:05 am (UTC)
Possibly a type of job that doesn't involve physical labor or lots of standing. So an office job, but I'm not sure what to look for aside from secretary work! :x And I figured as much, but it's difficult to find jobs that don't involve being on my feet, that's why I've been wanting to work on commission work. Hence my dilemma..!

I'm sure there's something out there though. :)

Ugh typos.

Edited at 2010-03-12 03:05 am (UTC)
(no subject) - fenris_lorsrai - Mar. 11th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 11th, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
Insurers do not cover girlfriends.

So, OP, if you need to be on his insurance because you can't get your own, you'll have to get married for that to work. If your health is really bad, you should try to stay on your parents' insurance as long as possible. For some insurance companies that means you're covered until age 24, but for a lot of others you can only be covered after age 18 if you're still in school. Before deciding anything check which of the two applies to you. Through COBRA you can keep your insurance even though you do not qualify for it anymore, but COBRA payments are often as high as rent payments.

To be honest there aren't a lot of jobs right out of high school with zero work experience that would offer insurance. It may be helpful to look into getting an associates degree in something useful and finding a real job before heading out on your own. Even then you'll most likely need something full time.

Don't go thinking that insurance isn't that important - without it the costs of medical treatment are obscenely high. When you have a break in coverage that makes it possible for the company to claim that your health problems are "pre-existing conditions" that the company does not have to cover. From then on whatever it is that you're saying is horrible health will not be covered by your insurance company in the future.
(no subject) - latifox - Mar. 12th, 2010 03:10 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 11th, 2010 05:05 pm (UTC)
Unless you are a really popular artist and can pump the art out pretty fast and on a regular basis, doing art full time to support yourself is a no-go. Definitely get a job and do this stuff on the side, at least until you can build up a fairly substantial client base and get an idea of what you can earn in X time.
Mar. 11th, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC)

Part time job is a good bet to start off with unless you're ridiculously popular, amazingly good or prepared to beat pavement for 12 hours out of 24 to find work and do art for the other 12 hours.
Mar. 11th, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
I've been a "professional" artist for 9 years now and I still have a part-time job and a husband who supports me.
Making a living solely as an artist is VERY hard.
Mar. 11th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
I honestly LOL'ed at the "grunt work" line there.
Yes, you should get a "real" job, even if its something like working at McDonalds. Most of the artists that I know who make cash though freelance on the internet also have full time jobs in other areas (1 is a postal worker, the other is a professional dog trainer). Both of them have formal art training, went to school and have updated online portfolios but when it comes to cash flow, its not the art that pays for the rent.

Also depending on what you are making, don't just focus on huge cons when you may be missing out on local venues. I've been noticed mostly, not for my online galleries but for photos that I've submitted to local contests and student galleries. The hometown I come from also hosts huge street fair like art and craft shows that attract everything from handicrafts to professional painters and glass blowers. They return every year because there is money and exposure to be had.
Mar. 12th, 2010 03:14 am (UTC)
Oh yes definitely. :) The local market is just if not more important than the online one. "First Thursdays" would be a good place to start. Plus I'm pretty sure animal art can fit in somewhere in a fair like that.
Mar. 11th, 2010 08:22 pm (UTC)
Like the overwhelming response so far has said, part time job, yes. Starting out, having some form of reliable, fall back income is a life saver, starting out I only had the last bit of my student loan money to buffer, and probably would have had an easier ride if I had picked up some real work before doing the art thing full time.

I live off my art, so I'mma offer some advice I think everyone can use.

*Always keep $200-300 set aside as 'only super emergency' money, running into a month or two of lacking sales or an unplanned medical visit can kill. Plus trying to drum up commission work while sick to cover those surprise bills SUCKS.

*While you have the benefit of part time income, start to figure out your art income trends, about how much can you do a week, etc. Get a feel for how many hours a day you can art. Being able to not overload yourself, while still bringing in what you want is a good skill, and one best figured out before you realize you need $600 this month and have a week to do it on just art.

*Don't mentally pay for things with money you don't have yet. Someone promises you $300 for some work? Don't assume you have it for rent until they pay, AND the work is done. You will have to issue refunds, you will have to take some of that to ship. Never, ever use that money until you are sure it's staying with you and the commission is over.

Mar. 12th, 2010 03:23 am (UTC)
Great tips! Thank you very much for your input. <3 And overwhelming response indeed, although it confirms my suspicions and worries about the job situation. (which is a good thing!)

Also out of curiosity, do you think it's worth it to make bookmarks, stickers, buttons, magnets and other small remake-able goodies for later on? I know they're popular to have at conventions, but I always see artists with a lot of overstock when they leave a lot of the time.
(no subject) - skulldog - Mar. 12th, 2010 05:03 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 11th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
I apologize in advance for the wall of text.

You should get a full time job. If your health risks are that severe that you cannot/shouldn't stand at a desk for 8 hours a day, you should probably apply for the pension instead.

I do not think you should rely on your art to pay the bills.

I took a look at your FA and I feel that your art is still rough and unpolished. It is cute, and allot better than plenty of the stuff I see, but you certainly aren't at a professional level yet.

I do not think you will be able to get enough commissions or charge at a high enough price to cover the cost of living.
Please remember that your choice doesn't just effect you, what about your boyfriend? If you rely too much on freelance he might be left paying your way.
Financial troubles make up for most of all breakups in long-term relationships. Don't risk it.

I would get a fulltime job if I where you, just while you are starting out. It might be months before you start seeing any return on your art and you'll need money to live off and save. With a fulltime job you should be able to save up some money, I HIGHLY recommended at least 30% out of each pay to be put into a savings account.
If you later decide to quit your fulltime job and take on freelance as a full fulltime thing you'll at least have some have some insurance.

Don't be fussy on what work you do. You are just out of highschool, with no work experience and no tertiary education. By all means, defiantly apply for art jobs, but don't limit yourself to them. There is no shame in working as a check-out-chick at your age.
If you can't find a job in 2 weeks I suggest that you begin to have a look into doing some real-life work experience for magazines, illustration firms, animation studios. What ever you have an interest in (but keep looking for paid work. Work experience wont pay the bills!)

As someone mentioned before, it is best not to rely 100% on the internet for commissions. I hate to sound prudish, but people on the internet are cheapasses and will under pay you and devalue you as an artist.
In real life however, clients tend to be allot nicer and they pay shitloads more than people online. They have allot more respect for what you do. Simple as that. :)

Do not do work for free. Instead of illustrating someone else idea (for free), work on your own ideas and add to your portfolio.
Get payment upfront. Do not listen to clients who say things like "I don't have money now, but if you do the work i'll pay later". These are usually scammers.

There is allot more I would like to cover, but it is time for me to head off. :3
Mar. 11th, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
Do not listen to clients who say things like "I don't have money now, but if you do the work i'll pay later". These are usually scammers.

THIS THIS THIS! To the OP: I can't tell you how may times I have heard "oh! I have this children's book I want you to illustrate, do x-amount of drawings and I'll pay you after the book is published," or "I'd like to sell your work in my store! Make me x-many drawings and I'll sell them," and so on. First off, NEVER do work for a book without a contract! Who knows if the book will get published, and if it does, if it will make any money; and second, sometimes the person might simply drop contact, and you're out time and materials. And if people really want to sell your work in their store, again, don't do any work without signing a contract.

Online, yeah, there are scammers out there, but in my experience (I've been freelancing on the side as well as working full-time since the late 80's) sometimes people just don't know any better. Either way, it's good to be knowledgeable, professional, and most of all, able to cover your butt - contracts are great. You can draw up your own; I believe there are many resources available online and at the library. Good luck!
(no subject) - vauvakolibri - Mar. 11th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - latifox - Mar. 12th, 2010 03:41 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 12th, 2010 04:16 am (UTC)
I've been bouncing around from full time jobs to part time jobs and freelancing and I can tell you it is definitely not easy. I've just quit my office job due to horrible management and am attempting to go into full freelancing mode but even I am skeptical of all this working out.
Mar. 12th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
Straight from the industry hurr

I'm a working artist living in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) and I graduated in 2006 with a BFA in Drawing from the Alberta College of Art & Design. In May 2008, I decided to open my own gallery & artist supplies store in the Downtown area, and I did it with little to no retail business knowledge (art school didn't teach that kind of stuff), but I did learn about being a professional artist outside of school. Being a student at ACAD also helped me develop time management skills, people skills (we had to go to gallery openings and talk to artists/each other and stuff) and writing skills... among other things (like eating coffee instead of real food skills). After graduating, I worked for ACAD s an Admissions Assistant for a short time.

When I first entered art school, I was interested in Illustration and I drew a lot of dragons and stuff. It was hard, but my instructors forced me to stop drawing from my imagination and start drawing from life. They still encouraged creativity and imagination, so we got the best of both worlds. A lot of instructors did not like it when students stuck to one “style” of drawing, so we had to break free from styles and try all sorts of things. I can't thank them enough, because my observational drawing skills were very poor when I entered art school. So basically, I learned how to draw, how to take constructive criticism (and give myself critiques) and other art fundamentals.

Currently, I create abstract oil paintings for my retail gallery/art supplies store, but I am slowly going back to illustration... and I'm very glad that I went to ACAD and learned how to draw real life things from observation. I want to illustrate a children's book sometime in the future, and I've given myself a goal of 5-8 years to begin and finish it. Anyway... last year I made about $18,000 off my art. The business broke even during a time of recession, and I have a three year lease to fulfil in my current space. I'll likely continue the business into the future... but wow, I have learned a LOT about selling art in a retail setting. I sell other people's work, too and some of it is illustrative. It is extremely difficult to sell this type of work to the general public in a retail setting. Having said that, it may be because of my location – Calgary. Illustrative works are much easier to sell in cities like LA and Vancouver. Abstracts do better in Chicago and New York. I've learned all this by talking to artists, gallery owners, small business owners and art buyers.

Having said all of the above, I have many friends who are illustrators and they live in Calgary. We are a very conservative city... which sucks for artists. Personally, I am not conservative... haha. Anyway, I also know artists who are self-taught and artists who went to art school but didn't finish. There is a market for all sorts of art... amateur art, naive art, folk art, commercial art, niche art, contemporary art... the list goes on. I would classify your work as amateur art or niche art. Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing. This just means that you will have a very difficult time being a freelancer outside of the Internet. If you want to eventually become a full time, professional artist outside of the Internet, I STRONGLY recommend that you attend a degree-granting art college.

If you would like to continue making the type of work you are currently making, I think you can make good part time money attending niche conventions as a vendor (anime, comic book and furry niche markets). First, start off in the artist's alley. Later, when you start bringing in the dough, upgrade to a vendor table. What you have to do in order to make good cash at these events is to develop a line of products you would like to sell. Some suggestions are: bookmarks, buttons, digital prints, reproduction prints (of original work), mirrors, jewelry and of course original pieces.

Mar. 12th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
The work you will sell at your booth has to be original. Don't sell everything you've ever drawn or made... carefully plan out your product line and design ideas. Lurk on the Internets and study your favourite artists... or artists which fall into the same category as yourself (amateur or niche art; and they must attend conventions, for example). It may sound a bit like stalking, but it's not. It's research. Find these artists when you go to conventions check out the things they have for sale on their table. Search the Internet and see what people are saying about them. What customers say about you is the most IMPORTANT when running a business. If they are saying bad things, it is.. well, bad. People should be talking about you in a positive way. Most people do well with the above list of products (buttons, bookmarks etc).

The next step is to brand yourself. Create a logo. Pick colours which will represent your company. Figure out your packaging and your signage. Attend conventions armed with a camera and take photographs of other people's booths. For packaging tips, check out this website: http://www.flickr.com/groups/etsypackaging/

You can also open an Etsy store. Etsy stores are very time consuming, so do your research before launching into that. Go to http://www.etsy.com and check out the success stories on the website and read all the articles about how to take photos of your work, how to brand yourself, how to quit your full time job, etc...

If you would like work on an art school portfolio, start keeping a sketchbook and draw from life everyday. Most art colleges ask for up to 15 pieces of original work in your entrance portfolio, and they want to see if you can draw from life. They also want to see your creative side, so don't totally nix imaginative pieces for your portfolio. Another good piece of advice for art school portfolios is that they want to see you express yourself using lots of different mediums.

In order to freelance outside of the Internet, you will have to draw and paint a lot more than just anime/manga style doodles.

You may also want to know how to price your work. Again, do the research. Figure out what artists in your category/skill level are charging for their products and commissions.

Feel free to pick my brain with questions.

Good luck!

Links to Agencies which represent freelance artists (check out what people in the industry are creating and getting paid for):


Edited at 2010-03-12 06:37 pm (UTC)
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