The Journey of a Freelance Artist

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The life of a freelance artist AKA “the DREAM” That’s what most artists refer to this type of lifestyle, and it usually includes terms like Thailand, Beach, Traveling…etc. Seems like something most artists strive for as it represents the word Freedom in all of its meaning, but is it really?

At some stage in every artist’s life, they will be in the freelance business whether they like it or not, it’s just the type of industry we signed up for and every artist knows this deep inside, I actually see it as a privilege no all industries you can work at home and earn money anytime you wish!

Imagine being a doctor and wanting to freelance? or being a mechanic and wanting to freelance! almost impossible right? the fact that we have that ability innate in this industry is a privilege that we shouldn’t take for granted at all.

In this article, I will discuss the topic of being a freelance artist and what it means in all aspects, I will give you my experience of it and my personal opinion at the end, but first I will try to be as objective as possible, without further or do let’s dive right in.

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Pros and Cons of Being a Freelance Artist

what better way to start with than a table of the main pros and cons of being a full-time freelance artist.

ProsCons
Freedom of Time Overworking on a daily basis
Spending more time with the familyFinancial instability
Less Cold and Flu and many other
infectious diseases
Minimal Physical activity like walking
and going up the stairs
No Stress of being fired or laid-off self-managing your financial matters
like accounting and taxes
Pick and choose the project you like not socializing with other humans and
and Building long-lasting friendships.

the list goes on and on, in fact, some of the cons I mentioned here are pros to some, for example, minimal physical activity one would say are you insane? who wouldn’t love to never have to get out of their bed? etc… but I am more generalizing in terms of what most people think of this.

Building Your Portfolio

An artist without a portfolio is like applying without a CV, its a must-have for all artists of all sorts, and the earlier you start working on your portfolio the more work you will have and the more portfolio driven you will be and to be honest that’s the best mindset to have whether you plan on getting a job or being a freelance artist.

Artstation Trend

Artstation and portfolio became one word in the last 5 years, people now ask do you have an Artstation? when they actually mean do you have a portfolio?

Artstation.com quickly became the number 1 website for artists to showcase their work and build their portfolios, I would advise starting out your portfolio on Artstation and start posting your work there on a daily basis to start getting traction and eyes on your work.

By the way opening up an Artstation is free of charge unless you want additional features and more visibility then you can subscribe for the Pro plan but starting out just stick with the free version.

Promoting Your Work

If you want to become a Freelancer or even land a good job then you should start by promoting your work and that could be done in several ways:

  • Posting frequently on Artstation
  • Sharing your work on Social Media (Instagram, Linkedin)
  • Taking part in Art contests
  • Investing into ads (not at first maybe at a later stage)

Having great work is awesome, but on its own, it won’t reach a larger audience, other than your family and close friends, so applying the steps above can increase your reach and thus gain more freelance gigs and meet more industry professionals.

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Finding Freelance Art Opportunities

It’s inevitable that there will downtime for freelance artists, times when you won’t have work when no one is contacting you for work, then self-doubt kicks in and misery ..etc but don’t let that take a hold of you, its part of the process do not worry.

In the early stages of being a freelance artist things will be slow and that’s normal but as you build up a good reputation, you will have contact work from companies that it would start feeling like a job without the time and location constraints.

That being said you shouldn’t stand still and wait for jobs to come to you, in fact at the beginning you should go after freelance gigs and there are several ways to do that.

Online Job Boards

In the beginning, there was just a handful but nowadays it’s just all over, I can’t even count them but for artists, I can recommend the following:

I have had a good experience with those in general but always be careful who you do business with, be careful of being scammed, and try to get good reviews, as the more good reviews you have the more you will appear up top in searches.

Networking

I know that goes against most introverts and artists are mostly just, but networking is an essential part of promoting your work and your brand, networking could be attending GDC for example, going to THU, or any art gathering near your place.

Getting a job these days in the games industry is mostly done with an inside person you know that probably mentioned you or referred you (for a bonus 😉 ) that is why it’s very important to build good relationships with everyone, yes its a big industry but its small in terms of people and relationships so don’t go around and burn bridges instead do the right noble thing.

Pricing and Negotiating

I know that pricing and numbers are something I wasn’t good at starting out with freelance, I have very low price estimates and clients said no word to that in fact they were very happy.

That is not only detrimental to you and your career but also to other freelance artists trying to make a living, that is why it’s essential to know the average pricing before you send one, you can simply ask a couple of artists that you know and pick an average and trust me when you ask you will be surprised.

As for payment methods, I suggest using Wise Payments as it’s international and as a freelancer, you will work with studios all over the globe wise gives you the ability to accept payments in many currencies. In addition, Wise has very low commissions compared to other payment methods.

Negotiations Strategies for Artists

Yes, you heard it from me, ALWAYS NEGOTIATE, I know it sounds cheap but that’s how the world rolls not just in our industry but in most industries as well.

People always tend to give you a lower price than they can willing to go up to or they simply throw the ball to you and ask for a price range and that is very tricky. If you know your value right then you can always set the price right from the beginning.

If you want to learn more techniques on salary negotiations this 1-hour course is worth watching – Link Here

Asking the question “What’s your budget?” is always a good tactic to have to get a sense of what they have in mind and always go a bit higher than their budget simply because the number they gave you is lower than what they are willing to pay.

Hourly vs Project Based

It actually depends on the client some prefer to pay hourly and some just one to get a full fixed price for the work they want to finish, ultimately I always prefer hourly based for the following reasons.

Hourly PricingProject Pricing
Fixed rate for all projectsDiffers on each project basis
Covers revisions and client
change of mind
Revisions tend to go on and on
at your own cost
Easily trackable The work is only finished when
the project is approved by the client

With some projects, you might be able to have the final call on this and it’s okay but just keep in mind when pricing the full project to have a clause there to limit the number of corrections to 2 or 3 Maximum so things don’t get out of hand.

Managing Your Freelance Business

Just like opening your own company being a freelance artist has some legal and technical hurdles to it, and no you can’t just turn a blind eye to these sides and keep working and earning without any structure behind all of it.

Trust me if you don’t do that right from the beginning it will hurt you later when you are forced to do all of that and go backward in time when you actually didn’t keep any record of anything, it will be painful so skip all that and do it right from the beginning.

Legal Topics

Now, this topic differs from one country to another but the most important thing is that you are working under an entity whether it’s a sole proprietorship or a fully-fledged business.

This is important because some companies will need invoices when they pay you money for your work, and they would want a registration number to prove that you are working legally within your country.

Finance, Accounting, and Tax

Depending on your country the tax law might differ, or if you are in a country that doesn’t have income tax then you don’t need to sweat over taxes that much.

If you are living in a company where there are tax rules, then you would need to get yourself set up with a tax number because companies ask for that whenever they make payment, and if you don’t have that some companies might reduce cost a bit due to that.

It’s okay if you don’t understand much about these topics, the easiest way out is to get a freelance accountant or tax adviser then he would handle all the tax papers you have to submit on a yearly basis (try to get your tax sent before November).

The Time Loophole

When you’re working a 9 to 5 job it’s pretty straightforward really, you clock in and you clock out, beyond 5 o’clock there is no work or anything related to the idea of work and that is relaxing so you can have a life beyond work.

Now when you are a freelance artist that is a totally different story and things might slip out of your hands very quickly so beware of that and set up some ground rules early on, here are some that could help you:

  • Have a wake-up time and an end time and stick to them
  • Pick certain off days each week and share them with your clients
  • Pick a time each year for a vacation
  • Take a walk during the day to keep your body in motion
  • Have your own office space with a closed door so you can concentrate

Just because you are at home doesn’t mean work has no time restrictions, if you let yourself go without limits you will get burned in a few months and you will be asking for a 9 to 5 job again, remember with great freedom comes great responsibility.

Investing in Your Self

With any type of investment, there is a chance you might gain or you might lose except one, and that is investing in yourself, that’s the only investment that will always give you gains for the future.

This kind of investment could take many shapes and forms here are some ideas below that you can consider:

  • Taking a Course (online or in person)
  • Participating in a workshop (online or in person)
  • Buying new hardware that would make you work faster
  • Attending a conference
  • Creating a website for yourself
  • Going back to college to study something you always wanted to study

Never underestimate the power of you, always try to get better every day with small steps, and whenever you see a chance to invest in your self go for it.

An interesting course that goes over Illustration as business and how to deal with invoicing and clients – Link Here

Conclusion

Honestly being a freelance artist can be hard, especially starting out, but so as with everything else in life, the start is always difficult and hard but always have the long-term goal in mind and try not to chase after the small easy near goals.

That being said being a freelancer should always be considered as the default state for every artist and we should always be prepared and ready to be one consider it as your plan b, so work on it slowly and always keep it in mind.

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