What I’ve learned about being a freelancer

Last year in March I got laid off from my production artist job at a big educational publishing company. And I was fine with that, and I went on unemployment and my husband has a full time, good paying job, so we were going to be alright. And I thought, now is another chance to do my thing. I’ve always wanted to be a freelancer, even if I was just making enough money to not have to get a 9-5 job. I’ve done that most of my working life, and it’s just not for me.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about being a freelancer, and getting work, so I thought I would write about that.


By networking, I mean with others who are trying or are doing what you want to do. I learned this from personal experience and from reading the book, My So Called Freelance Life, by Michelle Goodman. I started going to figure drawing groups which lead to getting to know other artists and making connections. This kind of network gives you support and information. Got a problem with a client, ask your fellow artists if they have ever had that problem and what happened, how did they work it out? You may also get work. If someone is to busy to take on a new client or a client wants something they don’t do, they may recommend you. Your style might be just what they are looking for.

Not to mention, it’s awesome to be able to talk shop with friends who do what you do. It’s a real learning process, hanging out with others. The figure drawing groups gives me a social and creative outlet. I’ve seen my skills improve with just the once a week meetings, and now I’m looking for other outlets for this same type of activity.

Use the Internet to your advantage. Facebook and twitter are great for networking. Twitter more so, I think. Find artists that you like who twitter. Follow them. I’ve gotten several jobs via twitter. Artists fall through and sometimes people will twitter looking for an artist. I responded, we chatted and I got some work. For me, I follow people in the comics industry, and comic authors mostly. Someone that draws comics isn’t going to need a cartoonist often, maybe a colorist.

Facebook is a great way to show off your art. More on that below.

Actually do what you love, regardless of pay

You have to work at what you want to do. The people that seem to create effortlessly, probably do so because they spend much time creating. Want to draw, then you need to draw. Want to paint, then you need to paint. Much like how you learned to write, repetition is the key. You learned to write your ABCs by writing rows and rows of letters, the same goes here.

It’s not often that we get work that can also translate into a portfolio piece for whatever reason. So when not working, work on something for your portfolio, that you feels shows off your abilities. I know, it’s hard to just come up with ideas. Pick up a magazine that uses a lot of illustrators, pick an article you like, and come up with your own take on how to illustrate it.

Working all the time, for me teaches me how to do things better, work faster, and keep my focus for longer periods of time. That’s something I can have trouble with, keeping my focus. I’ve come up with tricks to try and help keep that. My favorite, set a timer, and you aren’t allowed to do anything but the task at hand till the timer goes off. I generally find that I will be at a point that I don’t want to stop when the timer goes off, and end up working a few more minutes. Then take a little break, check your emails, and all that, then set the timer again.

Show your work

I hear to often from people that they don’t like what they did, and don’t show their work. You will never get feedback, nor will anyone stumble on your work if you never show it. Unless you tell people, they will never know that what you ended up with, wasn’t what you had in mind. One rule I have, work a piece until it’s done, regardless of how it’s coming out. If it’s for myself, I don’t stop and start over, I work through. And I try to learn from it. Finishing a piece is important lesson to learn. That’s another thing I hear from people, they don’t finish what they are working on.

If you get an online portfolio, don’t let people know about it till it’s ready. That means no sections with “Content to come”. Just don’t put that section up. You can always add it later. Having multiple sections on your site isn’t going to make you look any better to clients, but empty sections make you look unprofessional. If all you have is 10 samples of your work and a resume, put that up and make it easy for someone to look at it. Don’t put an entry page, go right to the main attraction. Don’t put a blog if you really don’t intend to blog save once a month at best.

It doesn’t take much work to post something once a week and it can’t be “So, not much to say this week”. If you are drawing/sketching/painting/whatever several times a week, post that and talk about it. Did you like what you did, any realizations about it? Do you feel you improved? And try and keep it professional. Personal is fine, so long as it’s not bitching. Really complaining about the world at large and all it’s injustices are best suited for a private personal blog.

Can’t afford a site of your own, or a professional one? Use facebook, and make a fan page, or deviantART to at least get your work out there. The thing with these is that some art directors don’t go to these places to find work, but might be willing to go look if they ask you for samples. It’s best to just have your own site I think.

Those are three things I learned well the past year, trying to feed myself as a freelancer. Hope it helps.

2 thoughts on “What I’ve learned about being a freelancer

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Glitchworks » What I’ve learned about being a freelancer -- Topsy.com

  2. James

    “My favorite, set a timer, and you aren’t allowed to do anything by the task at hand till the timer goes off. I generally find that I will be at a point that I don’t want to stop when the timer goes off, and end up working a few more minutes. Then take a little break, check your emails, and all that, then set the timer again.”

    I find this to be priceless advice, as I struggle mightily with my tendency to lose focus during work.


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