Just Ask #20

I am currently working in a Graphic Design role doing fairly dry work in a company that does primarily Real Estate marketing and spending my days fantasising about being a freelance illustrator. I currently do my drawings in my spare time and I make stationery and prints out of them which I sell occasionally but how much more time I could be spending on that stuff is constantly playing on my mind. I guess you could say I sold my soul to the man and worked in a field I didn’t care all that much for because the family were worried I’d be a struggling artist and now I’m afraid of that very same thing. I see plenty of people doing it, that is, successfully working as illustrators but it still seems out of reach to me/too good to be true.

So after that long winded introduction, my question is, broad though it may be, how does one approach jumping into freelance illustration? How do I go about building a client base and actually making money without selling illustrations to image libraries etc? Or rather, how did you go about it? And how long did it take you to feel that you’d got to a comfortable place in your illustration career? That’s definitely more than one question...an answer to any of the above would be amazing.

P.s. You’re a beautiful talented lady and I love your blog too!
— Lilly

A: This is a really great question and perfectly demonstrates how the grass is always greener on the other side! It comes just as I finish three weeks in front of my computer until midnight (including weekends) during which time I quite regularly I have thought to myself "hmmm why don't I have a normal everyday job". So my first point before I answer this question is that what you see on social media etc is not always the reality of the situation, working freelance is hard.

When I first started focusing on illustration I slowly began cutting down hours at my retail job, going from five day weeks to four day weeks and then three, gradually making time for my illustration work, but not cutting the umbilical cord of a regular wage too hastily. I used all my spare time to work on personal work and develop my style. I would personally recommend getting as much personal work under your belt before making the leap to freelance, so that you at least have a folio to share straight away instead of starting with nothing. 

I found that exhibiting was really helpful for getting my name out there. I was in a smaller town than I am right now, which also may have helped, but over two years I did as many exhibitions as I could which helped boost my folio, gain following, gain press and also make sales. From there I started to get a few commissions and clients, just small things, little portraits etc, and my confidence grew when talking to people about what I did as a job. 

I have always made sure to be on time, communicate well with clients and be nice and this helped me immensely at the start. Once you get one job if you do it well that client tells their friends and the spiderweb of possible clients starts to weave. Putting work out there in between also helps work come in, be active on social media, update your site regularly, make a newsletter and tell as many people as you can about your work. You can also think about who you want to work for and send them a PDF or mail saying hi, introducing your work and to show interest in collaborating with them. Make sure you are particular about getting the spelling of their name correct, and keep your email concise, no one likes a babbler when they're busy.

Getting an agent is really helpful as they promote on your behalf and take some of the heat off you personally, they become a gateway to advertising clients and people you may not otherwise have access to. Contact agents with your work, but be realistic about if you're ready or not, does your work sit as the same level of the other artists on their roster?

In regards to your final question about feeling comfortable, it really does go up and down and even the most recognised illustrators have moments worrying when the next good job is coming in. There is always a mild feeling of uncertainty, you never truly have the guarantee of a wage like you do in an everyday job. The biggest question you should always ask yourself is if you want your hobby to become your work because it is a very different experience when it is:)


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