Calling all doodlers! Freelance illustrators turn art into careers.
But it takes more than artistic talent to become your own boss and work as
a freelance illustrator. Business sense is also required.
Freelance illustrators make their living by creating pictures for
books, magazines and other publications. They may also create logos for businesses.
Many commercial products, such as textiles, gift wrap, stationary, greeting
cards or calendars, also require illustrations.
Ian Challis has worked as a self-employed artist and designer in Seattle,
Washington for 20 years. He says being able to work for himself from home
is a great benefit to his job.
"I can make a decent living doing what I love," he says. "It's like getting
paid for a hobby."
However, he says that the salary can vary a lot. "You could make nothing
to $300,000 per year depending on how popular your designs are," he says.
One way freelance illustrators make money is by licensing designs to publishing
or manufacturing companies. Most of their pay comes from royalties. That's
a percentage of the cost of the item that's sold. If a product that uses your
illustration sells well, you make more money. If it doesn't sell well, the
company will stop producing it, and your pay will stop too.
Working as a freelance illustrator can be a part-time or full-time job.
Many people who do this begin slowly. They do other jobs and begin to build
a client base to get some experience.
Building a portfolio (a collection of best work) is important for illustrators
so that they can show off their style and accomplishments.
There are no formal requirements to starting your own freelance illustration
business. But graphic designers and artists need to build a large foundation
of skills to make a living, says Nancy Winberg. She is an illustrator and
graphic artist in Seattle, Washington. She says it's important not to limit
"Job descriptions are always changing with the advent of new technology,
and it is important to keep up to date with the resources that are in demand,"
she says. She has gained experience as a scenic painter at a theater, and
as a graphic designer, web designer, desktop publisher and digital photographer.
Heather Castles is an illustrator and graphic designer. She went to college
for illustration and design. Then she got a job and gained experience in the
After a few years of experience with publishing companies, she went out
on her own. She now finds employment by researching different companies online
and sending them samples of her work.
She used to do freelance work in the mornings and work for a design studio
in the afternoons. Now she is a new parent and does only the freelance work.
"The lovely thing about freelancing is it's such a flexible type of work.
I can fit it in whenever I have time available and make my own hours," she
Knowing the Market
To be able to market yourself to potential employers, you must know what
kind of work is available. For example, you could create graphics for online
stock use, the gaming industry, greeting cards or other retail items, even
"The diverse applications for illustration require an artist to examine
and focus in on what they want to specialize in," says Winberg.
Most artists develop a certain style that makes their work suitable to
a niche in the large illustration market. "In college, I was informed that
the best way to create a demand for your illustration was to develop a personal
signature style and to strive for a consistent look," says Winberg.
She adds that the gaming industry is another market that demands talented
artists with sophisticated computer software skills.
Illustrators can work in fine art or commercial art. Fine art is created
by hand and commercial art is digital. Work done by hand must be scanned and
digitalized to make it suitable for printing or online use. Since that creates
an added step, many artists now create all their work digitally.
"Regardless of the changes in graphic design technology, there is still
a demand for traditional artwork. Most evidence of hand-rendered illustration
can be seen in children's books and editorial illustration," says Winberg.
Getting Your Name Out
Online social networking is an easy and free way to advertise your illustration
services. Kimberly Schwede is an illustrator and graphic designer. She uses
Facebook to network. She has a "fan club" to advertise her most recent artwork.
She also joined a group of women entrepreneurs. This has brought her a
lot of work, such as designing logos for new businesses.
When she was starting out, she didn't wait for work to find her. She went
out and asked for it. She would look for websites that sold things that were
cute and feminine. Her illustration style matches that niche. She would e-mail
the website and ask if they needed a new logo.
"E-mailing is so easy. There really isn't any rejection because if they
don't like your work they just won't respond -- versus meeting someone in
person and having them say 'sorry but we're just not that into your illustration
style' to your face," says Schwede.
She loves working for herself. "You definitely have to hustle though,"
she admits. In addition to e-mailing, she also isn't shy about mailing postcards
with illustration samples to greeting card companies or publishers.
Ups and Downs of Freelance Work
Schwede encourages artists to consider a career in freelance illustration.
But she says you have to be patient while building your career.
"In addition, you have to be able to deal with criticism because not everyone
is going to like your work. It's good to be well-rounded, too. For me, having
basic graphic design skills where I can design a tri-fold brochure helps a
lot with my salary. Living solely on illustration work is tough," she says.
Freelance workers often find it's a feast or a famine. One week they may
be working long hours to meet multiple deadlines for different clients. The
next week they could have no clients at all.
"Sometimes I get down when the work flow slows down, but I always have
to remind myself things will pick up again," says Schwede.
Society of Illustrators
An American society that promotes the art and appreciation of
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