How to Make it as a Freelance Illustrator

Budding artists dream of one day being a Frank Miller, writing and illustrating their own award-winning comic books. Or perhaps being part of the team that creates a computer generated tiger indistinguishable from the real thing, and so making a film like Life of Pi possible.

But everyone's got to start somewhere and that somewhere is not terribly romantic. Freelance illustrators may find themselves working on less grandiose projects to begin with, but they'll be doing what they love, honing their craft and building up a portfolio that may one day help them move on to bigger things.

Advice for Freelance Illustrators

Most will be aware of the pros and cons of freelance work. There's no definite source that can be relied on for the next job, and many may find themselves scraping to earn a living at first. But there's also the freedom of being on your own schedule and the incentive of being your own master.

Are you concerned you won't make it as a freelancer, but you love designing art and can't envision yourself doing anything else? Good, because you won’t get anywhere without passion, and successful freelance illustrators have some advice for building on that.

  • Develop Your Skills

It's a given that one should always be looking to improve at one’s craft, but new things can be learned from places that are sometimes overlooked. Courses in illustration, blogs and online video tutorials are often conducted by people with experience in eking out a living through freelance work, and are a valuable source of practical information.

  • Budgeting

Most freelancers won't be earning much at the beginning and need to factor that into their financial plans. UK illustrator Adrian Cartwright spent the first four years working from a spare bedroom at home. If it seems like you're bogged down, remember it's a normal part of the process.

  • Marketing

Establish a website as the hub of your marketing efforts, and optimize it for search engines. Nate Williams recommends using XHTML/CSS to create the website and not Flash, as tempting as it may be for a budding animator. Forty per cent of his traffic comes from Google, and Flash makes it harder for search engines to locate the site. Numerous freelance illustrators name social media sites like Twitter and Facebook as their most potent marketing tools.

  • Contacts

Some assume that being an illustrator means they can finally proclaim themselves a misunderstood “arteest”, so they can start acting eccentric and yelling at people for no reason. But no, you can only do that when you're successful. Securing good relationships with clients is one of the most important steps in a freelancer’s career. Successful freelancers again point to the usefulness of social networks in securing those contacts, and the need to develop or at least adequately fake people skills.

  • Fueling Creativity

If you’re struggling for ideas, the best place for an artist to go is outside, at least according to successful freelance illustrators who find that catching a bus or visiting the local park can rejuvenate their thinking processes and present them with the image they need.

A Visual Society Needs Visual Artists

Knowledge of what trends are on the horizon can be the strongest motivator, as a proven illustrator has effectively earned a pass into the entertainment industry of their choice. Comic books, video games, animation, special effects, concept art – whatever your inspiration, there will be a demand for artists.

But, there's no shortage of work that needs doing right now. One need only look around to see the opportunities, which include CD covers, book covers, advertisements, miscellaneous cartoons. In a society where the eye is easily caught by an image and images are necessary to sell ideas, freelancers will find there's no shortage of people that need the skills of an illustrator.

Written by Matthew Flax on behalf of Now Learning Australia, an online tertiary education portal that promotes online and classroom-based study opportunities.

© javier brosch –

I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography like WordPress plugins. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

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