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15 Steps

to Freelance Illustration
by Thomas James
Edited by Melissa Wenzel

© 2010 Thomas James Illustration


All rights reserved. No part of this publication shall be reproduced,
transmitted, or sold in whole or in part in any form, without the prior
written consent of the author, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles or reviews.

LIABILITY

The information contained in this guide is for informational purposes


only. The author has made every effort to ensure the accuracy of the
information herein. However, the information contained in this book is
sold without warranty, either express or implied. Neither the author
and Thomas James Illustration, nor its dealers or distributors, will be
held liable for any damages caused either directly or indirectly by the
instructions contained in this book, or by the resources described
herein. Please understand that there are some links contained in this
guide that the author may benefit from financially. The use of
recommended Third Party Material does not guarantee any success
and or earnings related to you or your business. Users of this guide
are advised to do their own due diligence when it comes to making
business decisions and all information, products, and services that
have been provided should be independently verified by your own
qualified professionals. By reading this guide, you agree that myself
and my company is not responsible for the success or failure of your
business decisions relating to any information presented in this guide.
Acknowledgements
I would like to thank the following people for helping to make 15
Steps to Freelance Illustration the best possible resource for
Illustrators that it can be through their generosity, feedback, and
guidance:

Melissa Wenzel
Steven Heller
Martin French
Nate Williams
Leif Peng
Scott Hull
Kevin Cross
Chris Oatley
Jonathan Woodward
Dani Jones
Alex Mathers
Bob Ostrom
Anthony Freda


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This book is dedicated to every Illustrator who ever
struggled to find their way.


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Table of Contents

About the Author ............................................................................. 6

Preface .............................................................................................. 7

Introduction ...................................................................................... 8

Step 1 – Take Stock ....................................................................... 11

Step 2 – Research .......................................................................... 15

Step 3 – Set Up Your Workspace ................................................. 18

Step 4 – Manage Your Time .......................................................... 23

Step 5 – Create Your Budget ........................................................ 27

Step 6 – Determine Your Rates..................................................... 31

Step 7 – Write Your Contract ........................................................ 36

Step 8 – Assemble Your Portfolio ................................................ 41

Step 9 – Define Your Brand........................................................... 47

Step 10 – Create Your Promotional Strategy .............................. 51

Step 11 – Build Your Website ....................................................... 56

Step 12 – Publish Your Blog ......................................................... 62


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Table of Contents (cont.)

Step 13 – Build Your Mailing List ................................................. 66

Step 14 – Create Your Social Networking Strategy .................... 70

Step 15 – Launch Your Business ................................................. 75

After the Launch ........................................................................... 79

Appendix A – Resources .............................................................. 83

Appendix B – Sample Contract ................................................... 90

Appendix C – Bonus Articles

10 Rules for Effective Self-Promotion ......................................... 94

How to Find an Art Rep ................................................................. 97

How to Spot a Problem Client .................................................... 101

How Spec Work Hurts Your Business ....................................... 104

How to Work with a Client’s Tight Budget ................................ 106

4 Elements of an Ethical Art Competition ................................. 109

Appendix D – “What I Wish I Knew When I Started” ................ 111


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About the Author

Thomas James is an Illustrator, Writer, and


Podcaster based in Portland, Oregon.
Since 2003, he has devoted intense study
into the art of Illustration, as well as best
practices for running a freelance business.
In 2009 he created Escape from Illustration
Island, a website, podcast, and art
community devoted to sharing resources and inspiration with
Illustrators and other creative professionals.

Thomas has written guest posts for Fuel Your Illustration, Design
TAXI, and the Creative Freelancer Blog, and has appeared on
Illustration podcasts and blogs such as Big Illustration Party Time,
Chris Oatley’s Artcast, Art & Story, Zero 2 Illo, Workbook, and Ninja
Mountain.

In his spare time, of which there is never enough, Thomas enjoys life
with his beautiful wife Melissa and his awe-inspiring twin daughters
Emma and Olivia.


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Preface

I’d like to extend my personal thanks to you for purchasing 15 Steps


to Freelance Illustration. The concepts expressed in these pages are
a culmination of my own experiences as an Illustrator, as well as the
many lessons I’ve learned through trial and error, my conversations
with industry professionals for the Escape from Illustration Island
Podcast, and years of study on the subjects of business, marketing,
promotion, and client relations.

Much like Escape from Illustration Island, this book has been a labor
of love for me for the last 6 months, and I sincerely hope that you find
a lot of useful ideas in these pages, and that they help you to build a
freelance Illustration business that sustains you for years to come.

- Thomas James -


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Introduction

If you are reading this book, then you are an artist who wants to start,
or restart, your Freelance Illustration business on the right foot, and
you understand that this can be an overwhelming task.

15 Steps to Freelance Illustration is intended for artists who are just


starting out as well as those who have attempted to build a
successful Illustration career with unsatisfactory results.

This book, along with the supplemental Workbook, aims to serve two
main purposes:

1) To help you understand the most logical steps involved in


launching your freelance Illustration business, how to use them
to the best effect, and what resources are available to help you
along the way.

2) To empower you to take action and apply these steps to your


own unique situation through the Workbook pages that
accompany this book.

15 Steps to Freelance Illustration won’t waste any time waxing


philosophical about the Illustration Industry. Starting with the first


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chapter, things get right to the point and clearly outline tasks for you
to complete in order to establish or strengthen your freelance career
and give you the best chance of success in the future. In order to
accomplish this, I have divided both the book and the Workbook into
15 areas of focus so that you may address each one with the time
and attention that it deserves.

By following the course of action outlined in these pages, you will be


outfitted with the knowledge and resources necessary to enter the
world of professional Illustration and to proceed with confidence
toward your financial and artistic goals.

You will learn how to organize your budget and your time, how to
build a compelling portfolio website, how to create your unique brand
and promote it to your target market, as well as many other valuable
business and marketing techniques.

While this guide proposes a general order of tasks for you to follow,
it’s important to remember that you can, and should, progress at a
pace and order that works well with your personality and schedule.
Some tasks may take a few days for you to complete, while others
may take a few weeks. In some cases, you may even do them out of
order. The idea is to use the steps set out in this book as a general
guide, and to apply them to your unique situation as you see fit.

This book is accompanied by a supplemental Workbook that you can


print out and use to customize these concepts to fit your own


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particular challenges and goals. You will be empowered to take
action by outlining your objectives and determining the best ways to
achieve them. It will also help you to track the results as you move
through the program and towards an effective business strategy. The
more time and energy you put into the Workbook, the more it will help
you to take control of the process of launching your business and
maximize the effectiveness of the ideas in this book.

As an added bonus, the multiple sections in the Appendix offer a


number of additional items, such as a list of links to essential
resources such as organizations, books, and websites; a sample
contract to help you create your own written agreements; 6 useful
hand-picked articles from the pages of Escape from Illustration
Island; and a final section featuring over 40 Illustrators and members
of the Escape from Illustration Island community answering the
question “What do you wish you knew when you first started out?”
This bonus material is designed to provide you with even more
information and inspiration at the beginning stages of your new
freelance business.

Now that you have a better idea of what this book has to offer, let’s
get started!


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Step 1
Take Stock


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The first step towards starting your freelance Illustration business is
to evaluate your current situation and look ahead to where you’d like
to be in the future.

Chances are, you’ve already spent a lot of time daydreaming about


your career, but I recommend letting go of any ideals you may have
and reign in your thoughts to a more conservative and practical level.

For many of us, it is tempting to exaggerate our prospects and


assume that the road ahead is going to be easy. The fact is, running
a freelance business requires more dedication than if you were
working for someone else, and it may take some time before you see
positive results.

Now is the time to ask yourself some potentially difficult questions to


determine whether starting a business is right for you at this point in
time. Try to be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses, as well
as what knowledge and skills you may need to acquire in order to
achieve success.

It’s important to take the time to seriously consider these questions.


In doing so, it will help you to make better decisions in the future and
carve a safer path to your success as a creative professional.


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As an example, here are some questions you may
want to ask yourself at this stage:

• Why do I want a career in Freelance Illustration?


• What do I hope to achieve?
• What are the foreseeable obstacles to my success?
• How much do I know about business and
Illustration?
• How much do I know about marketing and
promotion?
• Who/What can I turn to for help?
• What resources are available to me?
• What is the quality of my portfolio?
• Is my work good enough to attract clients?
• What types of projects do I want to work on?
• What are my strengths and weaknesses?
• How much money do I need to earn to survive?
• Do I have savings in the bank?
• Do I have a backup plan?


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There are some very important and perhaps uncomfortable questions
in the list above, and plenty more that you’re likely to come up with on
your own. In answering these questions, be honest with yourself so
that you can get an accurate view of where you stand and where you
want to go.

You don’t need to have concrete answers to all of these questions


right now, as we will be taking a closer look at some of these
concerns in the chapters ahead. However, by approaching these
considerations early on with a healthy dose of realism you will start
out with a clearer picture of your current situation and set the stage
for a stronger start to your freelance career.


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Step 2
Research


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After evaluating your unique situation in Step 1, it can be very helpful
to do some research to gain any knowledge you may lack and find
out what resources might be available to you as a freelance artist.
The more informed you are about things like industry standards,
submission guidelines, and tax and legal issues, the better chance
you’ll have to handle a variety of situations that you face in the future.

Resources

There are several great websites, books, podcasts, and other


resources that can teach you more about relevant topics such as
business, social networking, niche marketing, and the creative
process. Furthermore, there are many helpful business and art
organizations that offer guidance, financial assistance, legal advice,
insurance, and a network of like-minded creative professionals.

Appendix A includes a select list of essential resources such as


organizations, books, and websites that all beginning Illustrators
should familiarize themselves with. Take some time to explore the
many links to be found there and choose a few that you’d like to
investigate further. You’re likely to continue to build upon that list as
you find more questions that need answers. The good news is, there
are more and more valuable resources being created every day by
creative professionals like you who want to help those in need and
raise the standards of the industry.


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Your Fellow Artists

Reach out to any freelance artists that you may know (or some that
you don’t) and ask them to share their experiences in starting their
own creative business. Often, they will be able to point out some
opportunities or concerns that you hadn’t previously considered. Also,
they may be able to offer advice or lessons that they have learned the
hard way.

When contacting other artists, you should have specific questions in


mind, rather than expect them to know what will be helpful to you.
Ask for advice, critiques, or answers to your particular questions, and
apply their responses to your own situation. You will need to learn
some things for yourself through trial and error, but taking the time to
speak with fellow Illustrators whenever you can will help you to build
a stronger, more successful business.

Obviously, it’s never a good idea to pester an unwilling artist for


answers to your questions, but you will find that Illustrators are a
generous bunch and most are happy to share their experiences with
you. It’s up to you to connect with them and begin a dialogue, and try
to return the favor by sharing your knowledge with others.


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Step 3
Set Up Your Workspace


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Now that you’ve organized your thoughts, done some research, and
sought guidance from your peers, it’s time to set up your workspace
so that you will have an appropriate home base where you can build
the foundation for your business.

This step is more important than many Illustrators realize, because


the comfort, privacy, and organization of your workspace can have a
major impact on the way you work.

Chances are, there is already a special place in your home where


you create art, but is it sufficient to carry the load of a freelance
Illustration business? It is essential that you take the time to carve
out a suitable place to dig in your heels and take care of business.

If you don’t have a place in your home that provides you with the
space and privacy that you need, you might want to consider your
options for renting an office space outside of your home. However, be
mindful of the effect that this will have on your bottom line. Your cost
of doing business will play a major role in determining your budget, as
well as the rates that you will charge for your services. The decision
of where to set up your workspace depends on what your needs are,
as well as what you can afford.


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Although every artist’s workspace is unique, here
are some essential elements of an efficient office
or studio setup:

Organization

There are a number of things to keep track of when you’re running


your own business, such as mailing lists, invoices, contracts, and the
projects you’re currently working on. That’s why it’s crucial to both
your success and your sanity that you keep a clean, well-ordered
office where everything has its place. This will not only help you to
stay on top of the many facets of your business, but allow for a
positive flow of productive and creative energy.

Storage

In order to maintain a clutter-free workspace, you’ll need to have


sufficient space for storing and protecting your artwork, documents,
and supplies. As you set up your studio, try to make this a priority.
This will help you to have a more efficient workflow, as well as a more
focused mind.


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Privacy

In order to focus on the many responsibilities of running a freelance


business, it is important that your workspace be relatively free from
noise and distractions. This can be especially challenging if you work
from home, where the obligations of daily life and family may threaten
to interrupt your workflow. If possible, try to set up your office/studio
space in a private place where you can detach yourself from the
outside world at least part of the time.

Comfort

Freelancers are often required to work long hours in order to meet the
needs of their clients. In order to sustain your energy and happiness,
try to surround yourself with the things that make you comfortable
and motivated to work, such as music, artwork, photos, food and
drink, proper lighting, a comfortable chair, and anything else that
enhances your mood and keeps you happy while you work.

Supplies

As you set up your studio, be sure to acquire everything that you’ll


need to run your business, such as a desk, filing cabinet, computer,
printer, art supplies, lighting, et cetera. If at all possible, try not to put
off any essential purchases that you can make at this early stage. If
you wait until the moment that you need a particular supply, you will


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interrupt your workflow and waste time that should be devoted to the
tasks at hand.

For the tools that you know you’re going to use in large amounts, it’s
a good idea to purchase them in bulk when possible. Materials
bought in large quantities are often sold at a discounted rate and
having a surplus keeps you from having to replenish too often. You
can always build your supply list as you go, but try to be as prepared
as possible from the start. It will allow you to focus on the demands of
the days ahead.


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Step 4
Manage Your Time


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One of your most valuable resources is time. Unfortunately, time is
also one of the first things to run out on you, which can affect your
quality of work, ability to meet deadlines, and peace of mind.

Time management can be one of the most elusive aspects of


freelance Illustration to master, so it’s important to set up a strategy
as early as possible. By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to stay on
top of running your business. You will also have a schedule to return
to if your workload becomes difficult to manage.

Here are 6 approaches to setting up a time


management strategy that works well for you:

1. Know your personal clock.


Figure out what times of the day you are best able to perform
specific tasks. For example, you may be more creative in the
early morning hours and better at taking care of mundane
business tasks later in the day. If you pay attention to the way
you work, you can plan accordingly and make the most of the
time you have.

2. Make lists.
Document your goals for the day, the week, the month, and so
on. While this may not sound like the most exciting activity, it
can help to clear your mind and keep you on task. In addition,


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the feeling of accomplishment each time you cross off an item
on your list can be a great reward. Consider keeping your daily
list short (3 or 4 tasks) so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Often, this is more than enough to keep you busy for one day.

3. Assign daily duties.


Consider allocating specific tasks to each day of the week, so
that you don’t feel the need to address everything at once.
Here’s an example of how you might organize your time:
Monday – Marketing
Tuesday – Emailing and Invoicing
Wednesday – Website and Blog Maintenance
Thursday – Networking
Friday – Research

4. Set Realistic Goals and Expectations.


Often, Illustrators are tempted to promise the world in order to
secure a client, but it’s important to give yourself more than
enough time to complete a project. You never know what
distractions might arise. Another benefit of this approach is that
if you complete a project ahead of schedule, it always
impresses your client more than if you were to merely meet the
deadline.


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5. Segment your projects.
One trick to help you work your way through a project without
feeling overwhelmed is to break things down into smaller
pieces. In other words, focus on just the first stage of a project,
rather than trying to wrap your brain around the entire concept.
Just like making lists, this can also help to motivate you by
showing you a pattern of forward momentum.

6. Try the Pomodoro Technique


Another effective approach to breaking down your time into
manageable bits is called the Pomodoro Technique, which was
developed by Francesco Cirillo
Here’s the basic idea:
1. Choose a task to be completed.
2. Set a timer to 25 minutes.
3. Work on the task until the timer stops, then take a 5-
minute break.
4. Start again from Step 1.

Whatever methods you choose, pay close attention to what is


working and what is not. If you consistently find yourself feeling
overwhelmed and short on time, take a step back and reevaluate
your schedule. Often, making a simple adjustment here and there
can have a substantial effect on your ability to keep up with the
demands of a freelance business.


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Step 5
Create Your Budget


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In order to run a sustainable and profitable business, you need to
analyze your budget and develop a financial plan for the future. This
is a critical step towards protecting yourself from unexpected costs
and giving yourself breathing room to invest in the future growth of
your business. Additionally, a realistic picture of your budget will help
you more accurately determine how much you need to charge for
your services in Step 6.

In Section 5 of the Workbook, you will find a Budget Worksheet,


which you can use to document your expenses and gain a better
understanding of what your budget constraints are. With your
expenses clearly outlined, you can estimate how much you need to
earn every month to make a living.

Here are some key elements to think about when


formulating your business plan:

Startup Costs

In order to start your business, you will need to spend money on


things like office supplies, promotional materials, and web hosting.
Only purchase items that are absolutely necessary, and be careful to
document every expense for your personal accounting and for tax
purposes. Beware, these costs can add up quickly.


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Monthly Expenses

Your monthly expenses include both personal and business costs


such as rent, utilities, food, and internet access. Also, consider other
irregular expenses that don’t necessarily occur on a monthly basis,
like art supplies or promotional materials. Try and estimate an
average monthly cost for these items based on how often you will
need to purchase them.

Savings

It is commonly recommended that freelancers try to have at least 3


months worth of expenses in their savings account. This is a good
way to help you to stay afloat during slow periods and recover from
unforeseen expenses such as equipment failure. If you neglect to
maintain an adequate reserve, one unfortunate turn of events could
potentially devastate your business.

Hiring an Accountant

Consider consulting with an accountant who specializes in working


with small businesses or creative professionals. A qualified
accountant will help you to get an accurate picture of your financial
situation, navigate the complexities of your taxes, and inform you of
any government regulations that pertain to your business. While you
can theoretically do all of this yourself, you will need to sacrifice your


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valuable time and energy to do so. Working with an accountant also
gives you the security of knowing that your accounting and tax
documents are in line with current tax law and regulations.


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Step 6
Determine Your Rates


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For Step 6, we’re going to tackle one of the most difficult questions
many new Illustrators face when starting their business:

“How much should I charge for my services?”

Let me start out by saying that there is no perfect answer. Every


artist, client, and project is unique, so it can be challenging to find the
right balance between earning the amount you’d like to make and
meeting the client’s budgetary needs.

I can’t tell you what to charge for a given project, but I can highlight
some factors that you should think about when making this important
decision. Keeping the following things in mind will help you to get as
close as you can to a fair and reasonable rate that will sustain your
freelance business.

Usage and Rights

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that in most


cases you will be selling the right to use or publish your work for a
specific purpose, in a specific format, or for a specific length of time,
rather than selling complete ownership to the work outright. It is
generally more desirable to retain the possession of your work so that
you have the option of profiting from it again in the future.


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So, when determining your rates, consider the intended use of the
Illustration and the value that it will provide to the client. If your
artwork will be used for a wide range of applications, then it fulfills a
greater need for your client, and is therefore worth a higher price.
Although it is always better to keep full ownership of your work, If you
are surrendering all of your rights to profit from your work in the
future, then you should be compensated for the potential value that
you are giving away.

Industry Standards

What is the going rate for the project at hand, what do your peers
charge, and where do you fall within that range? One of the best
resources for this type of information is a book called Pricing and
Ethical Guidelines by the Graphic Artist’s Guild. This publication
offers detailed charts of industry-standard prices for a wide variety of
projects and media. While it is helpful to know what other
professionals are charging for similar work, keep in mind that you
won’t be able to demand as much as someone with many years of
experience. However, as your business grows you will be able to
justify a higher rate for your services.

Time Spent

Because of the many aspects involved in each project, I don’t advise


charging your client by the hour. While it can be useful to privately


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estimate your hourly rate based on your expenses, it is much wiser to
evaluate each set of circumstances on its own terms and quote an
overall price for the project. This will help your client to understand
what they can expect to pay for the finished work, and it will allow you
to consider the factors that make every project unique.

Your Expenses

Keeping up with your cost of living and doing business should be your
primary concern when determining your rates. You need to put your
survival first, so do your best to figure out the minimum that you will
need to earn per month, then per hour in order to stay on top of your
expenses. If you’ve done your best in Step 5 to craft a realistic
budget, then you should have a relatively accurate idea of what your
basic needs are.

Complexity and Scope of Project

How complex is the project and how long will it take you to complete?
A highly detailed Illustration or several pieces for a large-scale
campaign will require more time and effort than a simple line drawing.
Try to estimate how long it will take to complete the level of work that
is being commissioned, and consider the amount of skill that is
involved.


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It is also important to think about the number of revisions that will be
provided. In other words, how many times will you be required to go
back and forth with the client and make changes to be sure you are
meeting their needs and expectations? Each set of revisions means
more work for you, so try to estimate how much time it might take you
to make adjustments to your work and charge accordingly.

Perceived Difficulty of the Client

If you can tell from your first interaction with your client that they are
going to be particularly demanding of your time and energy, then it’s
a good idea to demand a higher rate. Some artists refer to this as the
“Pain-in-the-Butt Fee”, and it can help you to tolerate an otherwise
taxing relationship.

An Informed Decision

Determining your rates is a personal choice that you will need to


make on your own. The intent of this chapter is to help you to know
which questions to ask when coming up with a quote for your next
project. As you gain experience in your role as a creative
professional, you will become more confident in evaluating the factors
discussed here and calculating a price that is right for you.


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Step 7
Write Your Contract


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(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and do not accept responsibility for any
legal matters that may occur in regards to your contract. I simply
offer the following advice based on my personal knowledge and
experiences within my own freelance Illustration business.)

Now it’s time to create your contract, the legal document that should
be used for every project that you are hired to complete. You should
take your contract very seriously, because it's your first line of
defense if things go sour. A bad situation is made immeasurably
worse when there is no contract to turn to when it comes to settling
differences with a troublesome client. In addition, a contract is the
best way to outline the specifics of a project from the start, and to
ensure that all parties involved are aware of what is expected of
them.

You can find a sample contract in Appendix C to use as a guide when


creating your own. In addition, here are some essential features of a
solid contract:

Project Details

Don't skimp on the details when putting things in writing. Everything


that happens from start to finish should be based on what is stated in
the contract.

You should include details such as the amount, size, and medium of


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the Illustrations, the project's name, and the intended use of the
artwork. You should also clearly define what you will submit for each
stage of the project and how many revisions are available to the
client.

By defining these details, you will be able to justify any additional fees
incurred by the client for any work beyond the scope of the original
agreement.

Terms of Payment

In addition to stating the total price for the project, you should clearly
outline the process of payment. For example, you may require half of
the total price up front and a fraction of the remainder upon the
delivery of artwork at each stage of the project. It can also be helpful
to note that the client cannot use your artwork until the balance is
paid in full. Remember, if these details aren't in writing, you won't be
able to enforce them.

Kill Fee

A cancellation or "kill" fee should be determined so that you are


guaranteed payment for the percentage of the total project that you
complete. For example, if you finish half of the work before the client
decides to cancel, you should be paid at least half of the total price.


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Rights Transferred

Are you selling the rights to use your work on a single print run of a T-
shirt, or does the client own the artwork outright? Will they be
allowed to profit from your art in other countries? Be sure to make
this clear in the contract, especially if you intend to use the Illustration
for your own purposes in the future. If you sell complete ownership
and usage rights to the images you create, I recommend including a
clause that allows you to show your work in your portfolio and
promotional mailers.

Credits and Copies

You should agree upon and specify in your contract whether you'll
receive written credit for your work, and if you'll receive book copies,
tear sheets, or other products created with your artwork as part of
your compensation.

Contact Info

This may sound like a no-brainer, but whether you're working with an
individual or a company, be sure to get the contact info and signature
of at least one person who will be responsible for payment and any
other obligations.


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Protect Yourself

You may find yourself meeting a client and feeling so confident in


them that you don't want to insult them or turn them off them by
having them sign a contract. This is a very dangerous temptation and
should be avoided at all costs. A contract is not only meant to protect
all parties involved, but to make sure everyone is on the same page
as far as what their responsibilities are and how the project should
play out.
You may regret neglecting to sign a contract, but you will never regret
signing one as long as you agree to terms that you are comfortable
with.


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Step 8
Assemble Your Portfolio


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Up to this point, we’ve focused on the business side of things. Now
it’s time to switch gears and get creative. The best place to start is
your portfolio.

Your portfolio is the most important thing when it comes to showing


off your artistic abilities and securing new work. Whether you decide
to assemble a physical portfolio or maintain an online gallery is a
personal choice. As the Internet grows, however, a majority of
Illustrators are choosing to focus their efforts online while
supplementing this approach with physical promotional mailers such
as postcards or brochures.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of your


portfolio, it should accomplish the following:

• Display work of the highest quality

• Exhibit a consistent, recognizable style

• Show your ability to tell a story, solve a problem,

or communicate a message in a visual way

• Express your creative vision and aesthetic taste


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How to Select Images for Your Portfolio

When determining which of your Illustrations to include in your


portfolio, focus on quality. Avoid the temptation to throw everything
you’ve got into the mix, and remove anything you’re not completely
sure about. A common mistake that is made by artists is to dilute
their portfolio by including mediocre pieces for the sake of presenting
a large body of work. It’s better to have 4 or 5 outstanding, jaw-
dropping Illustrations than 20 pieces of varying quality.

I encourage you to take a step back from your portfolio and try to put
yourself in an Art Director’s shoes. This can be difficult to do, since
you probably have a strong emotional connection to every piece
you’ve ever created. However, this may be one of the most helpful
questions that you ask yourself as a creative professional. Your
potential clients won’t have this same sentimental connection to your
work. They are simply looking for someone to help them solve a
problem or communicate a visual message. If you view your work
from this perspective, you will be better able to find any weaker
pieces that devalue your overall portfolio, and eliminate them. If you
can manage to be brutally honest with yourself when judging your
work, you will end up with a stronger portfolio.


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Consistency or Variety?

This happens to be a point of debate in the Illustration community.


Most people in the creative field will emphatically tell you that you
must present a consistent style so that potential clients know what to
expect if they hire you for a project. I agree with this for the most
part, but I have seen plenty of Illustrators succeed with working in a
wider range of styles and media.

If you choose this alternative path, however, you should still try to
inject enough consistency into your work to convey a unified artistic
vision. Just remember that the goal is to get Art Directors to hire you,
and the best way to do that is to exhibit a unique identity as a creator.

Here are some examples of ways that your


portfolio might confuse an Art Director:

• Your portfolio is a mixed bag of line art, digital


paintings, and graphic design.
• Your style varies from cartoon to fine art to paper
craft.
• Some of your work features bold bright colors and
humorous scenes, while other pieces show a
limited color palette with macabre themes.


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This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t feel free to express and explore
different avenues with your work, but it’s important to give an Art
Director a clear sense of what they can expect if they hire you for
their next project. After all, your portfolio should be doing the work of
selling the services that you provide, and in most cases it only has a
few minutes, or even seconds, to accomplish that. If any part of your
portfolio feels like it doesn’t belong, get rid of it and see if your body
of work feels more like a cohesive unit rather than a random selection
of work by different artists.

Segmenting

If your work doesn’t fit neatly into one category, an alternate way of
maintaining cohesion in your portfolio is to break the pieces down into
2 or more individual image galleries where you can feature each type
of work under its own umbrella.

For example, let’s assume that you’re an Illustrator who works in both
color and black & white; and you also offer web design services.
Consider creating 3 separate portfolios named “Color”, “Black &
White”, and “Web Design”.

This will help an Art Director who visits your site to find what they are
looking for quickly without sorting through any irrelevant material, and
it will increase the chance that they’ll stick around to view your work
rather than leave in frustration.


 45

Segmenting your work into a few tightly wrapped collections can help
to streamline your visitor’s experience of your Illustration portfolio and
allow you to present an easily searchable, high-quality collection of
work. If you offer more than one type of service or prefer to Illustrate
in more than one distinct style, consider applying this idea to your
own portfolio to present a clear message to your potential clients.

A Work in Progress

Keep in mind that you will evolve and grow as an artist over time, so
it’s a good idea to revisit your portfolio on a regular basis and remove
anything that either detracts from the quality of the whole or ceases to
represent your style or abilities. Some Illustrators tend to be
discouraged when they notice an old relic in their portfolio that they
now dislike. I recommend rejoicing in the fact that your best
Illustration today may be your worst portfolio piece tomorrow. It can
be helpful to look at past work as milestones that prove you are
progressing on your journey as a professional artist.


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Step 9
Define Your Brand


 47

After your portfolio, your brand is the second most important factor
when it comes to making a strong first impression. Simply put, your
brand is the overall identity of your business, and it can be conveyed
in many ways, such as your visual brand, your reputation, and your
presence in the industry. Every aspect of your brand will add up to
tell the story of your business, and of your personal creative style.

Your Visual Brand

At the start of your career it’s a good idea to try and establish a strong
visual identity that will act as the face of your business and help you
establish yourself as a professional. A well-crafted visual brand can
speak volumes about your target market, your style, and even your
area of expertise. While these aspects of your business are largely a
personal choice, there are some key elements to consider when
determining how to present a unique brand.

Logo

Your company logo will probably be the most widely viewed aspect of
your brand, because it will appear on your website, business cards,
and other promotional materials. When creating this visual
trademark, it is important to convey the style that you are promoting.
Keep your target market in mind and present a quickly readable and
recognizable logo that will transfer well to a variety of media. Some
artists simply prefer to use their best Illustration as their logo image.


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Color and Type

Choose a color scheme and typography that fits your personality and
style, and make use of these elements in every facet of your visual
identity to reinforce a consistent brand. Naturally, they should be
compatible with your logo and express something about your creative
vision.

Portfolio Samples

The images that you include in your portfolio also serve to


communicate something about your business, for better or worse.
Keep this in mind when deciding what to show in your physical
portfolio or the image gallery of your website. If the Children’s Book
industry is your target market, for example, strengthen the impact of
your brand by limiting you portfolio to this type of work.

Consistency

Your website, blog, and social networking profiles should all be as


visually consistent as you can possibly make them. In order to
achieve this, use the same graphic elements wherever you maintain
an online presence. In some cases, the only control you will have
over your visual identity will be your profile picture, so use your


 49

company logo or a photo of yourself to preserve some level of
continuity.

Presence

The way you interact with clients, fellow artists, and others in the field
will play a major role in determining the reputation of your brand, and
therefore your success.

At this early stage in your career, take some time to think about how
you want your business to be perceived, and what you can do to
shape that image. How much interaction will you have with the public
through social networks, newsletters, or blogs? How will you treat
your past, present, and future clients?

Craft the brand of your business with an awareness of the image


you’d like to project to your audience. Think carefully about what
you’d like to say about yourself, as well as how you might be able to
communicate the appropriate message to your target market.

It can be helpful to take a look around at the websites of some of your


favorite artists to see how they approach the concept of branding.
Think about what components you might be able to apply to your own
strategy.


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Step 10
Create Your
Promotional Strategy


 51

One of your most important tasks as a Freelance Illustrator is to put
your work in front of the right people, make them remember you, and
make them feel compelled to hire you for their next project. This
aspect of your business can be a full-time job in itself, and some
artists are uncomfortable with the very idea of self-promotion or
simply don’t know where to begin. Others would rather spend their
time doing nothing but creating art. The fact is, without promotion,
there’s no work to keep your business afloat.

In order to get the most out of your marketing efforts, it’s important to
create a strategy to follow in the days ahead. By preparing in
advance, you can simply execute the plan that you devised rather
than reinvent your approach again and again.

This chapter will outline some common elements of an effective


promotional strategy. How you apply these concepts to your own
business will depend on your budget, your personality, your
resources, and your brand.

Mailing List

Start collecting the names and addresses of Art Directors, Editors,


and other potential clients. If you’re aiming for a specific market,
make sure you’re promoting yourself to the people who work in that
field. Add to your list of contacts as you find new potential clients and
double-check the information regularly to be sure that it’s up to date.


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Marketing Materials

Design visually stimulating promotional items such as business cards,


postcards, e-mail newsletters, online ads, etc. Successful promo
items generally include your name, a sample of your work, the URL of
your website, a call to action, and any other necessary contact
information.

You may want to experiment with a combination of direct mailings


and email marketing to decide which methods work best for you. You
will find links to many printing and marketing services in Step 10 of
the Workbook and Appendix A of this book.

Promotion Schedule

Don’t make the common mistake of sending out one round of


promotional mailers or emails and then sit back and wait until
somebody contacts you. Promote yourself on a regular schedule to
keep your audience up to date with your most recent work or special
events, while being careful to not send updates too frequently.
Somewhere between every 60 to 90 days is a commonly accepted
frequency.


 53

Social Networking

Make social networking, whether online or in the “real world”, a part of


your promotional strategy. Seek out and introduce yourself to artists,
art reps, and art directors anywhere you can find them. Build real
relationships and participate in discussions, critique groups, and any
other social activity that appeals to you in order to become an active
player in the Illustration community.

Artist Representatives

If you’re like most Illustrators, you chose this profession in order to


create compelling artwork, so spending hours of your time seeking
out, contacting, and negotiating with potential clients doesn’t exactly
make you feel inspired. Or, you just might not know where to begin.
That’s why many Illustrators consider working with an artist’s
representative. Like many things, this is a personal decision that
you’ll have to make on your own after weighing the benefits and
costs.

In an ideal situation, an art rep handles the critical tasks involved in


connecting you with your target market, allowing you the freedom and
time to create your next masterpiece. They can draw from their list of
contacts in the industry to send promotional mailers and
announcements as well as help to match your talent and style with
projects that you are most compatible with. An experienced art rep


 54

can sometimes negotiate a better rate and contract than you might be
able to obtain because of their expertise in the field. As an added
bonus, an agent may offer guidance to help you to fine tune your
portfolio and branding for a particular niche market.

Keep in mind that acquiring an art rep doesn’t mean you’ll never have
to promote yourself or find new clients. In many cases, art reps only
bring in a portion of the total amount of an Illustrator’s work. In
exchange, the agent receives a percentage of your fee as
commission for securing the project. The Illustrator is usually
responsible for covering the costs of promotion. And, of course, there
is the time and effort involved in seeking out and acquiring the right
agent for you.


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Step 11
Build Your Website


 56

The next step in establishing your business is to build your portfolio
website. Ideally, an effective website will present a strong identity
and attract the types of clients you really want to work with. The
desired effect of your portfolio website is to get someone to hire you,
or at the very least, bookmark your site so they can follow your work.
If you apply the elements outlined in this chapter, you will be more
likely to keep them around long enough to call them to action.

Whether you are building your site from scratch, or using an online
portfolio service, there are some basic elements that you should
consider when building your site.

Image Gallery

In Step 8, we examined the important process of selecting images for


your portfolio. The main point worth repeating is that less is more.
Only include your best work. In addition, be sure to upload the
smallest file size possible while still retaining visual quality. This will
allow for fast page load times to cater to the busy schedules of your
audience.

It’s also important to be aware of how the navigation of your portfolio


affects the way a visitor views your work. The last thing you want an
Art Director to do is leave your website in frustration because they
can’t find your portfolio or because it’s too much of a hassle getting
from one image to another.


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In order to make the experience as seamless and satisfying as you
possibly can, there are 3 key transitions to take note of when
evaluating the navigation of your portfolio:

1. Website to Gallery
Obviously, you need to make your Illustration portfolio the
centerpiece of your website, which means making it painfully obvious
where your visitor needs to click in order to view your work. Whether
it’s a simple text link in the menu bar of your site or a collection of
thumbnail images on your home page, the idea is to help your visitors
find your portfolio as quickly and easily as possible so that you can
(hopefully) impress them with your work.

2. Image to Image
Your online portfolio should have clear navigation cues, such as
clickable arrows to take the visitor forward and backward within the
image gallery.

3. Gallery to Website
It’s also crucial to make it easy for your visitor to return to the main
hub of your website, where they can find your bio, testimonials, list of
recent work, and most importantly, your contact information.


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About Page

If your visitor is intrigued enough by your work to stick around, the


next thing they’re going to want to do is find out more about you. In
order to win them over, you need to show them that you are a real
person. Engage them by telling them about yourself in your own
words, and present yourself as a professional, qualified candidate for
their next project.

Briefly share elements of your background and experience, your


unique specialties, and even what inspires you. This not only helps
to sell your credibility as an artist, but also gives your visitor a feeling
for the skills and creative spirit that you would bring to the table if they
hired you

An effective About page should include a photo of you. This has the
effect of planting your roots a little deeper in their memory banks and
establishing a subconscious link between the work and the person
creating it. In addition, it adds a level of transparency to your portfolio,
which is increasingly important as the Internet grows as a business
environment. For those who don’t wish to include a photo, an
Illustrated self-portrait could be a valid secondary choice, allowing
you to use this option to feature yet another piece of your work.

Needless to say, everyone will approach their About page with their
own style and personality, and that’s the point. If you keep the above


 59

elements in mind, you can capitalize on the impression your portfolio
has made by making them feel more comfortable with the idea of
contacting you to talk about their needs.

Client List

The easiest way to prove some level of experience is to include a list


of recent projects or clients. This shows that it’s not your first time
around the block. It’s also a good opportunity to highlight any well-
known clients you may have worked for. You may want to provide a
brief description of each of project, such as book cover, logo design,
T-shirt design, etc.

If you’re just starting out with your Illustration career, it’s generally not
a good idea to have a list of recent projects that is only two or three
items long, unless of course you have worked with some big name
clients. This only has the effect of highlighting your limited
experience, so it’s better to wait until you’ve got something to talk
about. Until then, you can focus on making the most of the other
areas of your site.

Call to Action
We’re going to assume that you’ve maximized the potential of your
portfolio website and instilled in your visitor at least a faint interest in
working with you. Once you have their attention you need to make it
as easy as possible for them to initiate contact.


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The least you should do is make your contact information visible.
This part is easy, but you can do so much more to inspire action,
such as create a contact page and link to it from the other pages of
your site.

The absolute best thing that you can do to increase the chances of
your visitor reaching out to you is to include a contact form
somewhere on your website. This gives potential clients the
immediate opportunity to contact you directly from your website rather
than via their email account. You are making it as quick and easy as
possible for them to start a dialogue, which is the point of all the effort
that you’ve put into your website.


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Step 12
Publish Your Blog


 62

No matter how effective your portfolio website is at impressing your
audience, it is a static and timeless environment that offers no clues
as to your continuing activities as an artist. That’s why it can be very
beneficial to start a blog.

A blog can add a dynamic layer to the more rigid format of your site,
while providing a forum to update your followers on your recent news
and developments. It can also be a place where you can present
yourself in a more casual way, and even inject some personality into
your brand.

Without diving too deep into the topic of search engine optimization
(SEO), it’s also important to point out that since blogs are generally
updated more frequently than websites, they will rank higher in
search engines like Google. This has the benefit of making it easier
for people to find you online.

What Should You Blog About?

Your blog posts should primarily feature your current events as an


Illustrator, such as recently finished projects, collaborations,
interviews, new personal work, etc. The idea is to present yourself as
a working artist who is constantly creating, evolving, and hopefully
making waves in the Illustration community. If something exciting
happens, make the most of it by sharing it in your blog.


 63

Another great use of your blog is to establish yourself as an expert in
your field by writing informative articles and tutorials for your fellow
Illustrators. A similar approach is to describe your creative process
on a particular project. Opening a window to your methods can have
the combined effect of educating and entertaining your audience,
which will increase their chances of coming back for more.

Your blog can also be a great place to post work that you wouldn’t
typically include in your portfolio. A blog invites visitors into your
creative world, allowing you to show your mistakes, your
experiments, and even your failures. All this helps to paint a broader
picture of who you are.

What Should You Not Blog About?

Assuming that you’re trying to maximize the promotional benefits of


your blog, it is wise to avoid writing about anything too personal,
unprofessional, or negative. Always keep your potential audience in
mind, and consider what your blog is saying about you. After all, your
blog, like your website, is an important part of your brand as a
professional Illustrator.


 64

Reinforcing Your Brand

Chances are, you put a lot of thought and energy into designing your
portfolio website, which hopefully included some consideration of
branding. Therefore, it makes good business sense to carry that
brand over to your blog design so that a level of consistency is
maintained between platforms. If you are using a free blog template
through services like Blogger or WordPress there are limits to how
much you can customize your blog. The least you can do is
incorporate your logo and a matching color scheme.

The Integrated Blog

The most ideal situation is to have a blog that is integrated into your
portfolio website, so that the potential client doesn’t leave the
controlled environment that you have created just for them. An
added bonus is that the SEO benefits previously mentioned now
apply to your main site as well, assuming you update your blog on a
regular basis.

In order to have an integrated blog, you can either create a website


that allows you to publish regular updates or take the opposite
approach by using a blogging service to build your portfolio website.
There are several free platforms to choose from that will make it easy
to set up and maintain your blog, and I have provided links to some of
them in Appendix A of this book.


 65

Step 13
Build Your Mailing List


 66

An effective mailing list is a crucial element of a winning promotion
strategy. It allows you to target your message to a select group of
contacts and keep them up to date with your most recent work.
To maximize the effect of your marketing efforts, it helps to know the
best ways to go about building and maintaining your list. Otherwise
you might unnecessarily waste a lot of time and energy contacting the
wrong people.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of


your mailing list:

Stay on Target

Increase the effectiveness of your promotional efforts by compiling a


list that is relevant to your target market, so that you are only
promoting your work to Art Directors and other potential clients who
are the most likely to hire you.

Use Published Lists

A good place to start collecting contact info is market publications like


the Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market, Children’s Writers
and Illustrators Market, and other print and online compilations. Be
careful to select reputable lists that offer current and reliable contact
information.


 67

Browse Illustration Annuals

Look through Illustration annuals such as Illustration Now!,


Spectrum, 3×3, the Society of Illustrators annual, and others,
because they often list the Art Directors who commissioned each
piece. Find the Illustrations that are similar to your style, approach, or
target market and add those Art Directors to your list.

Take a Field Trip

Go to your local library or bookstore and spend some time going


through relevant books and magazines to record the contact
information of the Editors and/or Art Directors. Remember to only
select publications that feature work that relates to what you’re doing.

Go Surfing

Visit the portfolio websites of Illustrators whose style or market


represents your own and take a look at their list of clients. It can also
be beneficial to inquire who their art rep is, if they have one.
Browse the websites of various artist representatives and take a look
at the artists they represent. If the styles you find there resemble
your own, chances are better that they’ll be interested in what you
have to offer.


 68

Go Local

In many cases, there are probably businesses in your area that are
regularly in need of creative professionals to design their logos, signs,
or other promotional materials. Seek out the companies you might
like to work with, and collect the contact information of the owner or
marketing director.

Stay Current

One of the most important parts of maintaining your mailing list is


revisiting it on a regular basis and making sure all the information is
up-to-date. Things may change and people may come and go, and
your list is useless if it’s not current.

Your mailing list is one of the most important tools in your Freelance
Illustration business, so it’s important to take the time to make it as
effective as possible. With dedication, these simple steps can help
you to make new connections and find new opportunities for future
work.


 69

Step 14
Create Your
Social Networking
Strategy


 70

In order to build upon the promotional strategy that you developed in
Step 10, you should consider using online social networking to further
broadcast your brand, build relationships, and take your marketing to
the next level.

Take advantage of the more popular social networking platforms such


as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well online communities and
forums in your niche. These sites can help you to expand your reach,
spread the word about your business, and establish relationships with
artists, art directors, and artist representatives.

Set up a profile on the social networking sites of your choice and take
the time to familiarize yourself with the way each site works. Each
platform offers a different set of features, so it may take some
exploration to decide which ones you’d like to devote more time to.
While it can be valuable to have a profile on as many sites as
possible, you may find that certain platforms are just not a good fit for
your brand, your aesthetic sensibilities, or your personality. As with
any aspect of your business, eliminate anything that simply isn’t
working for you. Instead, focus your efforts on what is showing
positive results.

As you become more comfortable in the world of social networking,


you can begin to seek out and connect with the people in your
industry. When you’re ready, start to interact in the various groups
and communities that often form there.


 71

Here are some tips to help you to make the most
of social networking:

Be Genuine

Social networking can be a valuable tool for building relationships.


While online interactions may seem impersonal at times, real
connections do happen. Focus on engaging with people rather than
trying to sell yourself to everyone you meet.

Be Generous

Share your knowledge and help those less experienced than yourself.
This will help you to build friendships and establish yourself as an
expert in your field. Artists are often searching for answers to their
questions online, and they will remember those who help them along
the way.

Be Professional

Set clear boundaries for yourself in regards to sharing the details of


your personal life. While real-life stories can help people to learn
more about who you are, it can be easy to overstep the line by
sharing too much. Unless you are providing something of value to
people, they will quickly tune you out.


 72

Stay Active

It’s a good idea to stay on everyone’s radar and help them remember
that you’re an active, working artist. With this in mind, try to submit
regular updates to your social networking profiles. People are more
likely to engage with you if you consistently pique their interest.

Present a Consistent Brand

As I’ve mentioned in previous chapters, you should make every


aspect of your online presence visually cohesive through the use of
logos, images, and color schemes whenever possible. When
someone finds you at a social networking site, your profile will be
instantly recognizable, thus reinforcing your brand.

Broaden Your Scope

You will find great value in interacting with your peers, but try not to
limit yourself to a select group of fellow artists. In order to use social
networking as a business tool, it’s important to seek out and connect
with people like art directors, editors, and artist representatives.

Link to Your Websites

Your portfolio website and blog are the places where you have the
most control over your brand, so be sure to prominently display a link


 73

to them in your profile. Strangely enough, this step is often
overlooked, but it’s one of the best ways to direct people to a place
where they can learn more about you and your business.

Manage Your Time

One of the dangers of working online is losing sight of your


responsibilities and ultimately, squandering your time. Limit your
social networking to a few hours each week, and try not to overdo it
at the expense of the other aspects of your business.

Combine with Offline Efforts

Online networking is great, but don’t forget the value of meeting


someone face-to-face. Seek out local networking events or critique
groups and make the effort to connect with other professionals in
your area.


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Step 15
Launch Your Business


 75

Until now, you’ve been focusing all your time and energy on
preparing for the future of your freelance business. The next logical
step forward, and often the most exciting, is the actual launch of your
business. The launch is the event that transforms your business from
an idea to a reality. This is your opportunity to announce your arrival
on the scene, initiate contact with potential clients, and introduce
yourself to the world.

In the launch of your business, you will make use of all the work
you’ve done in previous steps. Now is the time to act upon the
promotional strategy that you’ve created by sending out your opening
promo blast to your mailing list, making announcements on your blog,
and spreading the word through social networking. The main idea is
to get your name and your artwork out into the public, and hopefully
make a strong first impression on your target audience. Invite people
to follow your future work via your blog, newsletter, or social
networking updates.

The best thing you can do to make people care


about your launch is to treat it like an event. Here
are some ways to do that:

1. Run a Giveaway
Hold a contest where you award 1 or more lucky winners
something of value, such as a print of your work. You could
allow people to enter to win by following you on your social


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network of choice or by signing up to your email newsletter.
This way, you are also working to build your audience from the
start.

2. Announce an Ongoing Project


Some artists build a following by committing to post an entire
series of Illustrations on your blog. For example, you might
announce that you’ll be creating a new piece based on a theme
every day for a year. Or, you might publish a regularly updated
web comic. This type of project can inspire people to follow
along and watch your progress.

3. Create Unique Promotional Mailers


Try to do something special with your initial promo blast, so that
you can make more of an impact. Avoid doing anything too
“gimmicky”, but develop an idea that highlights what you do
best. If you don’t have the budget necessary for something like
this, you can try to devise a clever way to create something by
hand. The main idea here is to make something that your
audience will want to hold on to.

4. Submit to Illustration News Sites


There are a lot of Illustration websites where you can post news
on your latest events. Refer to the blogs in Appendix A to find


 77

places to announce your business and direct people to your
site.

5. Advertise
If you have a sufficient budget, consider purchasing ads in
Illustration trade books, websites, or even local publications.
Tailor your ad placement to announce your business to your
target market.

As an artist, you will likely be able to come up with some creative


ideas of your own. The benefit of making an event out of the launch
of your business is that you can potentially make your audience just
as excited about your arrival on the scene as you are.


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After the Launch


 79

Congratulations!

It has taken a lot of work, but you should be proud of the business
you have begun to build. If you’ve done your best to give each step
in this book the time and attention that it deserves, you are more
prepared than many other artists who try to start their businesses
without a strategy in place.

Of course, the work doesn’t stop here.

Running a freelance Illustration business takes just as much effort, if


not more, than starting one. It’s very important that you carry the
ideas in this book with you as you move towards your goals and
come up with new objectives to reach.

Every plan you’ve made, and everything you’ve learned, will help you
to constantly improve and grow as a creative professional. There will
always be more to learn and more changes to adapt to, and the steps
that you’ve taken up to this point will help you to do just that.


 80

Here are some questions you may want to ask
yourself in the days ahead:

• What are the aspects of my business that I’d still


like to improve upon?
• How do I plan to make those improvements?
• What changes can I make to my workspace to
make it more comfortable and efficient?
• What time management strategies are working well
for me, and what are some other ideas that I can
try?
• Have I developed an accurate picture of my budget,
or do I need to make adjustments?
• What affect are my rates having on my ability to
acquire new work?
• Am I making enough money to compensate for the
time that I’m spending on projects?
• Is my contract too complicated or too simple?
• Is every piece in my portfolio helping me to make a
good impression?


 81

• Is my promotional strategy showing any results, or
should I rethink my approach?
• Is it time to update my website or blog?
• Am I publishing posts on my blog often enough?
• How up-to-date is my mailing list?
• Am I spending too much time on social networking,
or not enough?
• Is it time to make another “splash” with an event or
giveaway?

Your freelance Illustration business is a work in progress, and the


best thing you can do is consistently seek out ways to make your
efforts more effective and efficient.

To help you to do this, you will find additional articles in Appendix D


of this book that have been previously published on Escape from
Illustration Island, and have proven to be useful and informative for
your fellow creative professionals.

In addition, remember that you can always find a wealth of ideas and
inspiration by interacting with the Illustration community.

Because no Illustrator is an island.


 82

Appendix A
Resources


 83

Art Supplies
Art Supply Warehouse

Blick

Digital Art Supply

MisterArt

Utrecht

Books
Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market

Breaking Into Freelance Illustration

The Business Side of Creativity

Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators

The Education of an Illustrator

Inside the Business of Illustration

Marketing Illustration

Pricing and Ethical Guidelines

The Pomodoro Technique


 84

Freelance Business Support
Art Licensing Info

Business of Design Online

Escape from Illustration Island

The Freelance Feed

Freelance Switch

The Purple Crayon

SCORE

Startup Nation

Illustration Blogs
Ape on the Moon

Drawn!

Fuel Your Illustration

Illustration Mundo

Illustrophile
The Little Chimp Society

Signature Illustration


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Today’s Inspiration

Tools Artists Use

Zero 2 Illo

Marketing / Promotion
Adbase

agency access

fresh lists

Mail Chimp

The Red Lemon Club

Online Art Communities


Amateur Illustrator
CG Hub

ConceptArt.org

design:related

deviantART

Drawing Board


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Epilogue

Gutter Zombie

Illustration Friday

Mojizu

Polykarbon

Sugar Frosted Goodness!


Working Artists Network

Online Portfolios
Altpick

Behance

Carbonmade

ChildrensIllustrators.org

Coroflot

The Creative Finder

Creative Hotlist
deviantART

Dripbook


 87

FigDig

Flickr

Folioplanet

Hire an Illustrator!

The iSpot

Organizations
AIGA

Association of Illustrators (AOI)

Association of Medical Illustrators

Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists

Graphic Artists Guild

Illustrators’ Partnership

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators


(SCBWI)

Society of Architectural Illustration

Society of Illustrators
Working Artists Network


 88

Podcasts
Art & Story

Big Illustration Party Time

Chris Oatley’s Artcast

Drawn Today

Escape From Illustration Island

Freelance Radio

Fundamentals of Copyright

Man vs. Art

Ninja Mountain

SiDEBAR

WiP


 89

Appendix B
Sample Contract


 90

Client: _______________________ Date:_____________
Project Title:_____________________________________________
Subject Matter: __________________________________________
Size: ___________________________________________________
Color or Black & White: ____________________________________
Media: _________________________________________________
Any relevant production info: ______________________________
Due Date(s): Stage 1: ______________
Stage 2: ______________
Stage 3: ______________
Rights transferred: _______________________________________
Duration of usage: _______________________________________
Limitations on media in which used:_________________________
Limitations on geographical use:____________________________
Owner of Original Art: ____________________________________
Fee for rights granted: ____________________________________

Client Initials ___________

Artist Initials ___________

FRONT


 91

1. Reservation of Rights
All rights not expressly granted above are retained by the Artist, including any electronic rights or usage and includ-
ing, but not limited to, all rights in sketches, comps, or other preliminary materials. Any use additional to that
expressly granted above requires arrangement for payment of a separate fee. The Artist retains the right of usage for
self-promotion, including placement in portfolio.
2. Revisions
Artist agrees to submit 3 stages for client’s approval. Additional fees will be charged to Client for revisions made
after such sketches and for all revisions that reflect a new direction for the assignment or new conceptual input. No
additional fees shall be billed for changes required to bring final artwork up to original specifications or assignment
description. Client agrees to offer Artist the first opportunity to make any changes to final artwork.
3. Cancellation and Kill Fees
Cancellation (”kill”) fees are due based on the amount of work completed. Fifty percent (50%) of the final fee is due
within 30 days of notification that for any reason the job is cancelled or postponed before the final stage. The remain-
der of payments due upon cancellation are based on the number of stages completed. One hundred percent (100%)
of the total fee is due despite cancellation or postponement of the job if the art has been completed. Upon cancella-
tion or kill, all rights to the art revert to the Artist, and all original art must be returned, including sketches, comps, or
other preliminary materials.
4. Credits and Copies
A credit line suitable to the design of the page will be used in all cases. Client agrees to pay an additional 50% of the
total fee for failure to include credit line. Credit line is required indepentent of Artist’s signature, which shall be
included at Artist’s discretion unless otherwise agreed in writing above. Client agrees to provide Artist with 1 sample
copy of any printed material.
5. Payment
Fifty percent (50%) of payment is due upon signature of this agreement. Fraction of remaining payment for finished
work is due upon acceptance of each stage. The Client’s right to use the work is conditioned upon receipt of
payment upon acceptance and upon Client’s compliance with the terms of this agreemen. A 1 1/2% monthly service
charge will be billed against late payment.
6. Permissions and Releases
The Client agrees to indemnify and hold the Artist harmless against any and all claims, costs, and expenses, includ-
ing attorney’s fees, due to materials included in the Work at the request of the Client for which no copyright permis-
sion or privacy release was requested or for which uses exceed the uses allowed pursuant to a permission or release.
7. Miscellany
This agreement shall be binding upon the parties, their heirs, successors, assigns, and personal representatives. This
agreement constitutes the entire understanding of the parties. Its terms can be modified only by an instrument in
writing signed by both parties. Any dispute regarding this agreement shall be arbitrated in Portland, OR under the
rules of the American Arbitration Association and the laws of Oregon. This agreement shall be governed by the laws
of the State of Oregon and courts of such State shall have exclusive jurisdiction and venue.

Consented and agreed to:


Artist signature/date _____________________________________
Client signature/date ____________________________________
Client contact phone _____________________________________
Client Address __________________________________________

BACK


 92

Appendix C
Bonus Articles


 93

10 Rules of Effective Self-Promotion

1. Be Unique
In order to get Art Directors, Art Reps, and anybody else to notice
and remember you, there has to be something about your work, your
brand, or your marketing strategy that they haven’t seen before. The
most common way to achieve this is with your portfolio, your website,
or your promo mailers. Try and think outside the box to find other
ways to stand out.

2. Be Relevant
If you’re aiming for a specific market, make sure you’re promoting
yourself to the people who work in that field and only show work that
they can relate to or see themselves needing in the future.

3. Be Consistent
Try to give Art Directors a good idea of what they can expect to get if
they hire you for their next book, t-shirt, or album cover project by
showing a consistent style or method of working.

4. Stay Fresh
Being consistent doesn’t mean you have to bore your potential
clients, or yourself, with the same type of work day in and day out.
Show your target audience that your Illustrations can be dynamic


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and exciting. Try to be inspired and to inspire others. That is, after
all, one of the things that makes you an artist.

5. Use Social Proof


Testimonials and a solid client history can help to convince Art
Directors and Agents that your work is desirable by others and can
help to sell their product or service. The power of “social proof”
should not be underestimated.

6. Make Connections
Seek out and introduce yourself to the artists and Art Directors in your
target market. Build real relationships with people and become a part
of the community.

7. Stay on the Radar


Don’t make the common mistake of sending out one promotional
mailer or email and then sit back and wait until somebody contacts
you. Keep your marketing efforts on a regular schedule in order to
stay on people’s minds and show them that you’re constantly creating
new work and growing as an artist.

8. Don’t Overdo It
Never harass an Art Director or send updates too frequently. This will
only serve to annoy them and cause them to remember you for the
wrong reasons.


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9. Make a Splash
Try to do something exciting to grab the attention of your potential
clients, such a showing your work in a public space, creating unique
and memorable promo mailers, or publicizing interviews or features of
your work. If you’re going to contact a potential client, it’s nice to
have something to tell them about.

10. Create Personal Work


One of the best ways to express your true artistic voice, as well as
stay fresh, is to create your own personal artwork. This has the
advantage of allowing you the freedom to let your style, passion, and
vision speak for itself.


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How to Find an Art Rep

Are you looking for an Art Rep?

You may discover that the search for an art rep shares a lot of
similarities with the search for clients. This makes perfect sense,
because what you’re looking for is someone to do the hunting for you.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Narrow Your Focus

Before you start contacting every art rep in sight, it’s important to
determine which ones are operating in your target market, otherwise
you’ll end up wasting a lot of time and energy (both yours and the
agents’) by embarking on a wild goose chase. Some art reps
specialize in Children’s Books, some focus solely on Editorial
Illustration, and some may concentrate on specific styles or media.

Despite what some may think, the buckshot approach simply won’t
work. If your style and desired field of Illustration don’t mesh with the
expertise and focus of the art rep you’ve contacted, they most likely
won’t even bother responding. If they do respond, it’s actually a good
sign that the agent doesn’t specialize in any particular field, which can
dilute their efforts to find you relevant work.

Some key things to look for are the market that the agent focuses on,
as well as the style and level of talent of some of the other artists they


 97

represent. You can get a good idea about these factors just by
visiting the agents’ website and looking through their About page and
the Illustrators’ portfolios.

Do a Quality Check

In addition to narrowing your focus to suit your desired market, you


should also try to determine the quality of service that the art rep
provides. While this can be difficult to do at first glance, it should be
relatively easy to weed out the ones you want nothing to do with if
you follow your instincts.

For example, if an agent represents artists of low quality, your


association with them will serve to devalue your own work. In
addition, an agency that works with too many Illustrators, you are less
likely to get the one-on-one attention that you deserve, which will
defeat the purpose of working with an art rep to begin with. What you
want is a representative that you can be proud to work with, and who
has enough room in their business to help you succeed.

Keep in mind that an art rep should impress you just as much as you
want to impress them, because what you’re seeking is a mutually
beneficial relationship, and you’re going to need them to impress
potential clients as well.

Check References

Once you’ve narrowed your list down to a more select group of


potential art reps, one of the best steps that you can take is to contact
the other artists who are being represented by them. By reaching out


 98

in this way, you can find out how much work the agent secures for
them, what their commission is, how they work, how promptly they
pay, what responsibilities fall on the artist, and any other pertinent
information to help you make your decision.

You may also consider contacting some of the clients that the art rep
works with in order to get an idea of the impression that they make in
the industry.

Make Contact

Now that you’ve found a workable group of artist representatives


you’d like to contact, make sure your portfolio is up to par, and take
the time to put together a professional, straightforward letter of
inquiry. The idea at this point is to make the best first impression that
you can, just like when contacting potential clients.

Also, it’s a good idea to present an open-ended inquiry. In other


words, try to approach them with an interest in starting a dialogue,
rather than asking them the yes/no question of “Would you like to
represent me?”

Follow Through

If you’ve found one or more art reps that you’d like to work with, try to
follow up on your initial contact by sending updates on your new work
at regular intervals. You don’t want to overdue it by harassing them
every week, but you do want to try and build relationships with them
and stay on their radar, because even if they don’t see your potential


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at first, your work may soon reach a level that they think they can
successfully promote.


 100

How to Spot a Problem Client

We’ve all been there.

Trapped in a bad contract with a bad client making bad money.

Not every project is going to go smoothly, and not every client is


going to be fun to work with. The fact is, as a Freelance Illustrator
you are a customer service business just as much as you are an
artist, so your ability to collaborate with, and sometimes tolerate, a
difficult client is one of the keys to your success. In order to make
this easier, it’s important to try and weed out the problem clients
or charge more for those who seem difficult but still promising The
problem is that you can’t always tell from the start how a project is
going to go, or what roadblocks might arise. Sometimes everything
seems just dandy in the beginning only to turn into a catastrophe later
on. What you can do is be aware of certain clues that raise red flags
about a particular client, and plan accordingly.

The best time to get a feel for a client is your initial contact with them.
Whether you communicate via email, telephone, or face-to-face
meetings, it’s a good idea to pay close attention at this stage. If you
listen to what they say and how they say it, you can tell a lot about
their intentions and the way they might interact with you in the future.


 101

Here are some common warning signs of a
problem client:

• They’ll only pay you if they like your work.


• They want the moon and the stars, but they only
have a few bucks.
• Their nephew is an “artist”, and he drew up some
ideas, so they just need you to make them look
good.
• They tell you how long the project should take and
how much it should cost.
• They tell you how much great exposure you’re
going to get.
• The only way they can pay you is in royalties, but
this thing is going to be huge, baby.
• They are a group or committee, and nobody is in
charge.
• They’ve worked with several Illustrators on this
project, and haven’t been happy with any of them.
• They tell you how to do your job.
• They don’t want to sign a contract.


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The list above should give you an idea of the more common red flags
that are thrown up by a potentially difficult client. The important thing
is to notice the warning signs and estimate their potential cost to you
and your business. Then, you can decide whether to run the other
way, try to educate them, or add a “Pain-in-the-Butt Fee” to your price
quote.

Remember, if it sounds like a bad situation, it probably is.


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How Spec Work Hurts Your Business

Spec work is probably one of the most controversial topics in the


Illustration and Graphic Design industries. Most artists seem to be
vehemently against the concept of spec work, while those who profit
from it seem to think it’s a great idea.

The unfortunate thing is that inexperienced or hungry Illustrators are


usually the ones who fall into the trap of spec work. Often, they don’t
even see it coming. After all, it presents itself as an “opportunity” to
secure work, rather than the act of doing work for free (“Hey kid! Do
some comps for us! If we like it, we might hire you.”).

Whether you are just starting out and looking to build a list of clients
by chasing after spec work, or simply desperate and starving, there is
one thing that I want to say to you right now:

Spec work hurts.

There’s a reason why most artists get a look of rage in their eyes and
dribble and spit whenever they utter the words “spec work”.

They’ve been burned.


 104

When you do spec work, you waste valuable time
that can be devoted to:

• Searching for work that pays


• Working on personal projects
• Designing and sending promo mailers
• Designing and sending a newsletter
• Developing your website
• Refining your portfolio
• Organizing your workspace
• Soliciting testimonials from past clients
• Building or updating your mailing list
• Networking
• Seeking out alternative income streams
• Looking to your fellow artists for inspiration
• Taking personal time

I could go on and on, but the point is that there are an almost infinite
number of ways that your time and energy can be better spent to
advance your business, improve the quality of your work, increase
your exposure, and so on. Spec work rarely helps anyone but the
person receiving the free work. Remember that the next time you feel
the temptation to work for nothing.


 105

How to Work with a Client’s Tight Budget

I believe that some clients who are perceived to be difficult do in fact


have innocent intentions. Unfortunately, bad experiences sometimes
make some Illustrators unnecessarily fearful or defensive when they
encounter new clients who send up possible red flags.

One example of this is a client who has a ridiculously tight budget


when compared to the grand expectations they may have.

Indeed, some of these types of clients are interested in taking


advantage of inexperienced or desperate Illustrators. However,
sometimes the client is simply unaware of how much time, work, and
skill is required to execute their projects, and especially of how much
it will cost.

It can be tempting to turn down a project at the first sign of an


unrealistic budget, but in doing so, you may be walking away from an
opportunity for new business or even a lasting relationship. There
are ways to work within a client’s tight budget without compromising
your value as an Illustrator.


 106

Here are some simple steps to try and make the
most of a client’s tight budget:

Educate

It can be helpful to educate your client about industry standards and


about the amount of time and effort it will take to complete the work
that they’re asking for. This won’t always persuade them to pay what
you’re quoting for the artwork, but it has the potential to start a
productive dialogue with the client about coming to an agreement that
is fair to both parties.

Offer Alternative Solutions

An under-appreciated form of education is the art of offering


alternative ways to meet their communication needs. Believe it or
not, many clients have not considered other, less expensive ways to
get their message across in a visual way. For example, try
suggesting ideas such as a Black and White or 4-color version of
their original full color concept. If you begin this conversation, you
just might find an idea that works just as well as, or even better than,
the more expensive approach they were proposing at the start.

Segment the Project

Sometimes the client is simply not confident enough in your skill or in


the creative process to agree to the fair price that you’re quoting. This
is understandable given the fact that they are paying for something
that doesn’t yet exist, and they may have been burned by a less


 107

capable artist in the past.

One possible solution is to offer to complete smaller portions of the


larger project for a smaller fee. For instance, you may offer to create
comps or initial sketches for a fraction of the total cost. This allows
the client to get a feel for what you might bring to the project without
asking for free work, and it allows you to receive payment for the
amount of work that you complete. The added bonus is that if you
impress the client, they may agree to work with you on a larger scale.

Discuss Usage Rights

Many people who are seeking out Illustrators for the first time assume
that they will acquire all the rights to the artwork that you create for
them. Suggesting lower rates for a limited use of the Illustration, such
as a single printing, can open their eyes to other possible ways to
meet their needs, while allowing you to maintain ownership of the
work for your own future use. In addition, this opens the door for
further usage agreements if the artwork does well for them or they
wish to print it in a different size, color scheme, or format.

Thinking Outside the Box

Artists are a resourceful bunch, so I’m sure that there are many other
ways to work within a client’s budget. The main point here is to try
and be more creative with your business, and open the door to
alternative ways of meeting the needs of your clients, as well as the
needs of your business.


 108

4 Elements of an Ethical Art Competition

Art Competitions can be a great way to challenge yourself and show


your work to a wider, more relevant audience.

However, there is a difference between fair and unfair competitions,


and sometimes even reputable organizations can miss the mark.
That’s why it’s important to evaluate each one on its own terms to
ensure that your rights are protected and that you understand what is
expected of both you and the contest holder. Be sure to examine the
terms of the competition closely and avoid any contests that
potentially compromise your rights as an artist.

To help you determine whether a particular


contest is worth your time and money, here are 4
elements to look for in an ethical art competition:

1. Clearly Defined Terms

All contest holders should define all details of the competition in the
call for entries, such as the rules, entry fees, list of judges, judging
criteria, and intended usage of the artwork.

2. Statement of Artist’s Rights

In a fair competition, the artist should retain all ownership and rights
to the art, and the contest holder may only use or publish the image


 109

as defined in the call for entries.

3. Fair Award Value

All winners should receive an award that is compatible with fair


market conditions in exchange for any rights that are transferred to
the contest holder.

4. Insured Artwork

The condition of original artwork should be protected and insured by


the contest holder against until it is returned to the artist.

Because every competition is different, you’ll need to decide for


yourself which ones are right for you. Hopefully, these 4 key factors
will help you to separate the fair from the unfair and protect yourself
from unethical practices.


 110

Appendix D
“What I Wish I Knew
When I Started”


 111

What follows is a collection of quotes from Illustrators and members
of the Escape from Illustration Island community in answer to the
question, “What do you wish you knew when you first started out as
an Illustrator?”

“The one thing students need to really understand is that once they
graduate they are really only at the beginning of their education. I
wish I knew that then. The rest of an artists career is searching out
new ways to improve. I also wish I knew about the 10,000 hour rule.”
- Aaron Miller - aaronbmiller.com

“I wish I knew more about the business end of things, billing,


contracts, pricing etc. I am still baffled because there is such a high
range in what people charge for the same services...”
- Tye Durbin - DurbinDigital.com

“I wish I knew that doing what I was inspired to do was the key to my
success as an illustrator. While this seems a heavy handed
statement, I have noticed the pattern in the professional field of
illustration that those who are inspired for what they're drawing are far
more successful in their field than those who are merely drawing, but
haven't quite found the love of their subject matter and are just trying
to get by doing whatever for the buck. My audience will find me and I
can find them (especially with the help of the internet these days). I
spent way too much time previously trying to be like everyone else,
trying to draw what was 'safe' and 'marketable' and ignoring what I


 112

truly loved and enjoyed. There's a business for every sort of artist,
just takes a little more doing for some than others.

I also wish we learned more about budgeting specifically for a studio,


building effective portfolios, and advanced computer skills in
undergrad education. I got most of that training in grad school as a
completely different major! In short, wish I had more faith and
encouragement. Being an artist generally dooms us to eternal
starving in the eyes of others. It's amazing what a single word of
encouragement can do for an aspiring artist!
- Angela Sasser – angelicshades.com

“I'd say two things strike me as important to know about. The first is
just how important self-promotion, your online presence and branding
is. Building a killer portfolio website is so important - if you think about
it, when a potential client views your website, it's like being in a job
interview without your knowledge. The portfolio site speaks on your
behalf, so think carefully about how you create it. Also, setting up as
self-employed is daunting. Make sure you've always got savings, you
never know when you'll have dry months, and you have to consider
things like tax. Nobody teaches you about the business side, you
usually learn the hard way!

I also wish I had been taught the basics of bookkeeping and setting
myself up as an LLC or Sole Proprietor. These sorts of financial
processes were so intimidating to me when I was younger and had


 113

no idea of where to even begin! Even many of the 'so you want to be
an illustrator' books I've read didn't really get too specific.”
- Jason Juta – jasonjuta.com

“I was exposed to reasonably good business methods as a student at


Art Center. However, in the drive to develop good working portfolios,
there was a lack of focus on:

• Long term career tracking - facing the inevitable position burnout


and what to do next as an inherently creative individual. How to
(long-term career) evolve and expand with a foundation as an
illustrator.

• How does an isolated illustrator gain skills as a leader?

• What does the organizational structure of the place I work for look
like? (up and down the employee supply-chain) What happens
with respect to my artwork - why was it assigned, who made the
decision and why? How can I move within this structure? I have
just finished earning an MBA and am astonished by how valuable
this information would be (should be required) for our industry!
Currently, I am building a graduate course in Professional
Illustration Business Practices for the university that I teach at. I'm
very excited about the results of this survey and the dynamic
information shared on your website.”
- Cameron Wasson – cameronwasson.com


 114

“I wish it would have occurred to me to look in the web for resources
some years ago when I first tried to get serious about art. The speed
at which we have all we need to learn is incredible, yet still taken for
granted by some artists. This continues to be a rich and satisfying
learning experience that can only be magnified by the enthusiasm of
this type of art community.”
- Jose A. Gonzalez – jaglab.wordpress.com

“Marketing, promotion, business stuff -- basically all the non-art stuff.


Pricing is always a tough one, and although I wish back then that I
knew more about what I should be charging, I also feel that as my
skills grow, so does my rate so that's not as pressing I suppose.

Probably the biggest thing I wish I knew when I started out is that
most other freelance illustrators out there have the exact same
questions as I do. I wouldn't have felt so "outside" of the industry.
Twitter helped change that immensely. I still have a few questions I
had starting out that I still do today, and most of them relate to getting
work and getting the word out. I can understand why other illustrators
may not want to share their "secrets", but it would be great to have
more insight on the marketing, self-promotion and "getting work" side
of things. Finding a good resource on industries to target and how to
go about who to and how to contact is something I am still working on
and learning at the present.”
- George Coghill – coghillcartooning.com


 115

“My education was pretty good. The teachers I had talked about
pricing, how to promote, how to create great work that was personal
and useful in the markets that you were targeting, keeping yourself
fresh and experimenting, form a savings to cushion you in the dry
times, etc. Plus there are tons of books out there on all that stuff.

The one thing I felt I missed out on was about taxes. (till death do us
part) When you don't have a lot of money and your just starting your
career, getting a CPA isn't the answer. They charge a good deal. So
the only answer was to phone some people up, get advice and start
to deal with things. Different states and cities have different laws, and
a whole lot of other head aches. I just wish that I had been informed
about it then.”
- Daniel Fishel – o-fishel.com

“I wish I knew the value of networking, persistence and how fleeting


time is. I think it’s very common for young people first starting out to
assume they have all the time in the world. It’s very easy to NOT see
time slip through your fingers.

As far as networking goes, Escape from Illustration Island is a perfect


example, for the simple premise of realizing others go through the
same struggles and failures as well as success. It’s important to have
the validation and input of your peers regardless of location.
Thirdly…. the notion of putting your promo out there and then waiting
for the revenue to come pouring in is such a huge mistake. It’s work,


 116

reminders and more reminders. The net has to be cast wide and
often.”
- Marty Qatani - martytoons.com

“When I started freelancing full time, I got incredibly excited about all
the work I’d be receiving, the fun aspect of working at home, and
dreams of doubling my income and making a name for myself. In
other words, I let the fantasy overpower the reality, and learned some
hard lessons about what it really takes to make a living as a
freelancer.

At the start, I jumped headfirst into taking projects on, quoting


extremely low prices in order to gain a client base. While this can be
necessary when you start out, to grow your portfolio, be careful not to
make the same mistake I did, quoting too low for a project that’s way
bigger than you realized. Let’s put it this way…for my first project, I
quoted $300 for a 5-minute cartoon animation. And I’m STILL working
on it, a year later, because the client keeps changing their mind on
what they want. But because I hadn’t yet created a contract, I’m kind
of forced to comply. Because I jumped into working before I had
developed contracts, accurate pricing, and hourly rates, I’ve lost out
on a lot of time and money that I should have gotten for that
animation work.

In summary, DO YOUR RESEARCH. It’s easy to get sidetracked by


the fun of creating art, but you really need to have a good idea of how
you’ll run your business before you “open the doors.” Buy a copy of


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some books that outline contracts and rates like “The Graphic Artist’s
Guild Book of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines,” and frequently check
web pages and forums that discuss the business of illustrating.

ASK FOR ADVICE. Know your competitors; visit their websites and
see what makes them successful. Sometimes other freelancers are
even willing to help you out, sharing their contracts to help you
develop your own.

Most importantly, TIME YOURSELF creating a piece of art that’s


similar to what you think you’ll be creating the most, like a logo or a
one-page children’s book illustration. That will give you a good idea of
how long it will take you to complete in the future, and will help you
determine an hourly rate that will make your time worthwhile.

Finally, BE FEARLESS. It takes a special kind of person to


successfully run a freelance business. Yes, there are a lot of steps
you need to take in order to guarantee your business won’t fail, but it
also takes a lot of enthusiasm and positive thinking. Don’t get too
overpowered by the details, though it will be hard at first. Remember
why you love creating art in the first place! Don’t forget to take some
time out and create art for yourself, too. Good luck!”
- Laci Morgan – lacimorgancreations.com


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“1) Start an IRA (or something similar) and have it automatically pull
$25 to $50 a month from my account.

2) Take 20% or $20 dollars of each paycheck and reinvest it into my


own studio. I must admit, I started doing this about my 2nd or 3rd
year into design and it enabled me to build up a great creative
reference library of books in less than a year. Also a great way to
save up for materials, software and storage media.

3) Study Marketing and the business side of Graphic Design /


Illustration relentlessly.

4) Sit down with an accountant and figure out all of my tax write-offs.
Admittedly, I did this from the beginning and the annual tax refunds
(U.S.) were generally enough to buy a new computer or something of
comparable value.

5) Always keep a bound sketch journal handy. Reflexions makes a


great one that is 8.5″x11″. I keep a 12″ long metal ruler in it and a
Raffine Pencils set with it.

6) Every time you move to a new computer, keep the old hard-drive.
Even if it has so-called “crashed”, 90% of the time there are ways to
retrieve some (or all) of the data on it.

7) As soon as you complete a design project for a well-known client,


get testimonials and letters of recommendations right away. If you’ve


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done your job right, you’ll end up making those people look like rock
stars within their organization and, sooner than later, they will get
promoted to other positions — or move onto other companies.

8) Get your business license and set up your company as soon as


possible, even if you are not actively working to win clients. The
longer your freelance company has been a business on the books,
the better.

9) Whether or not you’re in college, take one or two Technical Writing


courses and at least a basic Business course. When it comes to
doing business and winning clients, the basic skills picked up in these
classes will prove to be priceless.

10) When it comes to drawing, always strive to keep your analog


skills as good as your digital skills.

11) If you work out of the house, get into the habit of working out
three times a week. Get into the habit while you’re young because it’s
a b**ch to get started with that once you get into your 30s and 40s.”
- Max Nomad - bgpublishing.com

“If I could travel back in time and whisper a few things in my ear:

1. Even though you are a visual artist, your writing will be very
important. Be concise, businesslike, and articulate. Spell everything
correctly.


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2. Always do what you say you are going to do. This is good
business.

3. Follow up, follow up, and follow up. Don’t just plunk work out there
and then move on when it doesn’t get a huge response right off. You
are trying to get the attention of people who have lives of their own,
and you have to hit them at a time and place that is right for them.
You don’t know when or where that is, so increase your odds by
being persistent. Friendly, businesslike, non-annoying, but persistent.

4. The vast majority of your work is going to come from personal


connections, or people who have connected with your work out there
someplace you don’t know about. So give your work every
opportunity to get in front of people who haven’t seen it before.

5. In a few years, you are going to waste a bunch of time worrying


about your style. Don’t do this. Your drawings have a life of their own
and are coming from inside you. So just draw a lot. Draw different
subjects. Tell stories. Illustrate fairy tales. Apply yourself to things
rather than pondering whether your style is “right” or not. It is what it
is. You can get better technically, but it’s your personality and soul
that will come through and connect with people.

6. You will also spend entirely too much time worrying that you are
imposing yourself on people by drawing all the time. Don’t do this
either. Talents are gifts that you give to others, and as long as you
have this attitude there will be no limit to the benefits that you can put


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out into the world.

7. Try a lot of materials, pay attention to the results you get with them.
Use whatever medium you feel most connects with you inside. Don’t
draw vector graphics if that’s not how you draw. Try different papers.
Try wash. Experiment more. The more different things you try, the
more you will notice how your unique personality shines through them
all.

8. One of your favorite quotes is going to be, “Tools are not talent.”
As soon as you spend a bunch of time creating some elaborate
Photoshop thing, you’ll see someone who has done something
amazing with a #2 pencil.

9. Ask yourself every day, “How could I benefit someone with my


drawing today?” This will keep you on the right path.

10. Art is how we as humans discuss who we are and how we see
the world. When we look at ancient civilizations we look at their art to
see how they fit the world together. Never forget you are serving an
important purpose in what you do.

11. Draw with kids. It is an amazing experience and you will come
away a better artist.”
- Betsy Streeter - betsystreeter.com


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“Don't be afraid to ask for help! (as some already mentioned it above)
Unless you have two sets of brains to learn EVERYthing that has to
do with freelancing, administration and all. I thought I would find all
the answers on my own....”
Verocska

“I wish I knew that negotiating can be fun. Sure there are a lot of
pitfalls and traps, but lately I’ve began to think of it as a back and
forth game, leaving things open ended…making options instead of
demands and conditions and not seeing what clients present as black
and white. Part of the reason I got into illustration is because it’s fun.
Negotiating IS part of being an illustrator, so it can be fun to! Also,
asking for work is not the same as begging. Or I could be wrong.”
- Stan Shaw - drawstanley.blogspot.com

“Don’t assume everyone that wants you to create for them is


reasonable, get it in writing. I used to be afraid of asking for a
contract. Some people are worried they are going to get screwed with
a contract. I call them agreements instead, and that goes over much
better. Too many times I would fail to even just write out what the
work flow would be. How many rough sketches would I provide?
How many rounds of revisions? And I certainly wouldn’t put in
anything about extra costs, for going over that, at the clients request.

So simple projects that should have been a few hours, turned into
many hours, effectively reducing my pay to around $5-10 a hour. The
worst is when they would ask for changes after final art had been


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delivered. There was nothing to say I could charge more, if they
decided they wanted to change things. I was stuck.

I always have an agreement with the client now. Anything under


$600, an exchange via emails works, over that I send an agreement.
It saves so much time and frustration. When clients see extra charges
if they ask for more, they tend to not ask.

They aren’t hard to write. They don’t have to be swamped in legal


speak. It’s just simply a matter of saying, I the artist, will provide X
amount of rough pencils by DATE, client has X days to review and
make changes. I will provide refined pencils on the chosen direction
by DATE… and so on.

Agreements save your sanity and time.”


- Tim Piotrowski – glitchworks.com

“I wish I had someone to tell me to check my ego out the door when I
was younger. When I was fresh out of high school I thought I was
awesome, so the next two years in Fine Art school were spent being
lazy and unproductive. Oh, what I’d be doing if I were in that
silkscreen printing class today. What a waste!

I also wish I knew more about spec work and how it hurts the
industry. I wish I knew that ‘exposure’ isn’t really worth anything when
your work isn’t being exposed to anyone you’d like it to be. Unless it’s
for a charity or worthwhile cause, it’s usually someone being ignorant
of how the industry works or some schmuck trying to rip you off and
take advantage of you.


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Currently I’m learning the ropes of pricing my work, and it’s kind of
tricky because in some cases I have no idea.”
- Melanie Matthews – bearprints.com.au

“If I could go back to the beginning I would definitely save myself from
burning out-I’d teach myself to say “no” when there’s too much work
offered. I remember there were times I’d forget to eat. That’s how
busy it was. It was my fault of course, no one made me take that
much work…but I think it’s important to know one’s limits.”
- Bojana Dimitrovski - blog.bojanadimitrovski.com

“I wish I’d been aware of EFII (and several other invaluable networks)
3 years ago – I may have taken the plunge into full time freelancing
earlier if I’d known that other illustrators are so helpful and friendly
and welcoming to ‘newbies’.”
- Angela Fernihough – studioanjou.com

“My illustration work is still done in addition to my day job, so I’m still
learning a lot of what is mentioned above. The issues of reasonable
pricing and contracts are something I’ve had the hardest time with.
That’s starting to work itself out as I learn more about the business.

Speaking of business, I really wish I could go back and tell myself to


take a couple courses on business while I was in college. My mom
was good to teach me a lot of how to handle personal finances, etc.,
but keeping track of things for a business is so different. You have
money coming (or not!) from so many places – not just one employer.


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And keeping track of where the money goes out and how to invest it
back into the business – while enjoying some rewards of that income
– are things I wish I was doing years ago.

At my day job I’ve learned a little bit about spreadsheets (the “anti-
art”), and I’ve seen what a great tool they can be to just keep track of
things. Each year, I get a little more granular with the data I put into
the forms. Not only does this help immensely at tax time, it also helps
me see where things stand so I can make plans accordingly. There
are many seminars and such out there for learning Excel… even if
you use Apple’s Numbers or OpenOffice, a lot of what you learn
about Excel can be carried over to these other programs.”
- Mike Shoaf – mikeshoaf.com

“The things I wish I’d known when I started were how to use time
management tools like the ‘getting things done’ method and relevant
programs like ‘remember the milk’ to make proper ‘to do’ lists. It made
me realize that time management was actually ‘action’ management
and my life, time and head are much more productive with it – there’s
no procrastinating or thinking ‘now…what do I do next?’ – all my
actions up to the next twenty years are already planned and I know
I’m working towards creating the circumstances in my life that will
look after my future as well as organize my current business. I
realized that marketing is really important too – it’s just about the
other 50% of your business and no matter what your skill level, if no-
one sees your work, you’re in trouble.”
- Ruth Ellen Brown - ruthellenbrown.co.uk


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“I wish I knew how much more effective sending out mailers and cold
emails is compared to replying to random job posting online.”
- Nate Bear – Natebearart.com

“I think that learning and living through your business mistakes makes
you appreciate when you do something RIGHT that much more. It’s
all part of the process. That said, the one thing I wish I knew before I
started was better marketing skills. So much of my own art school
days was spent learning the drawing skills I’d need to become a
freelancer, yet so little of that time was spent on self promotion. Thus
when I opened my studio doors I had little to no idea how to get my
customers. Thankfully I’m the kind of person who is inspired by the
words “NO THANKS”. I’m hopeful that other artists don’t give up after
receiving their own rejections. Learn from each one and realize that a
NO doesn’t mean you’re not good. Rather the timing of your
submission was simply off.”
- Scott Nelson - ScottNelsonandSon.com

“Sometimes, it’s a no-brainer when it comes to pricing a simple spot


illustration, etc. But as a beginner, I wish I had learned not to give a
price quote on a first-time, client phone call for those more
complicated illustrations. I now think it over and consider all the
options. Then I email my estimate to the client an hour or two later.”
- Mark Fullerton - pixelboystudio.com


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“When I first started out, I wish there was Escape from Illustration
Island. Period. I’m super glad it’s here now.”
- Linda S. Wingerter

“I don’t have much to offer, because I’m at the beginning stage


myself, but if I could go back to when I first started to take art
seriously, I would tell myself not to be intimidated by the non-hobbyist
online art communities…and if I could go back a year, I’d tell myself
to practice my people skills, because I’ve talked myself out of a job
more than once.”
- Sarah Ford - frenchbird.wordpress.com

“I wish I’d had the capital, guts and persistence to go into painting
(gallery work). I’ve had success with it when I was doing it for a while,
but like any other venture it takes time and investment to get it rolling
to build a following and make it stick.

The difference is that painting, you do what you want, the way you
want to, while illustrating you seem to be at the whim of many
bosses, art directors who don’t communicate with their bosses, a lot
of confusion and misdirection… of course there are as many good
jobs, but some of the snarky ones are real prize-takers.

Cover your butt, get a paper trail, and $ up front. Standard practice is
usually a third on startup (if they want your work, why do anything at
all for free… if they put up their $ it means they are ready to roll for
real) a third on submission of comps/tight sketches + a third on


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delivery. A standing understanding of the difference between
corrections and changes and the amount they will be charged for
them.”
- Nate Owens - nateowens.com

“I wish I’d known that it’s a bad idea to do work for friends or family. It
always leads to bad feelings–either theirs or mine. First, the money
question is so awkward and weird. Then there’s the “do they like it or
not?” element. If they like it, they’ll probably ask for more or tell
others, who will then expect the same favor, and it’ll be hard for you
to say no. If they don’t like it, they’ll be in the awkward position of
having to say “It’s great!” or “Will you change it?” If they lie and say
it’s great, they’ll have to decide whether or not to use the art for its
intended purpose. If they don’t use it, they’ll be hoping like mad you
won’t notice, which is awkward for both of you. Finally, it’s wickedly
hard to say “yes” to one friend and “no” to another. (It’s a small world,
and word gets around.) In my opinion, it’s best to have a policy: “No,
sorry, I don’t do work for friends or family–not because I don’t love
you, but because I do!” I wish I’d known that when I started out.”
- Everdello - everdello.blogspot.com

“When I started out after graduating from a small commercial art


school in the early ’80s, I wish I had known the importance of having
business savvy as an individual. At that time there were more graphic
art studios that hired artists as a part of a team. Soon there were
fewer and fewer, causing illustrators to need to make it on their own
as freelancers. It took me years of perseverance and figuring things


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out on my own to find clients. I found a niche for pen and ink
renderings soon after the internet was brought into our home, and
was able to make money doing customized work for clients. If it was
not for the internet, I probably never would have persevered as an
illustrator, but would have opted for more of a “fine arts” career. I
believe that any artist serious about making it in the biz of illustration
needs to take a good class on marketing, business and the incredibly
valuable field of licensing for artists.”
- Amy C. Moreno - amycullingsmoreno.com

“When I was starting out I wish that I understood that when someone
says “NO” that is merely license for you to try harder to get them to
say “MAYBE”. Then it is your duty to work even harder to get them to
“YES”.”
- Mark Kaufman – drawmark.com

“1) Save enough money to survive for 120 days. Whatever your doing
now start saving and then you will have enough time to think smart
and pad out your portfolio. Less stress makes it so you do not need to
be a money chaser and find yourself drawing for bad clients.

2) Advertise now.

3) Research Trade shows and events. My mistake is that I haven’t


continued to go. It’s a bummer when you stop networking. Peoples
worlds change constantly so you have to be a part of that change
with them.


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4) Learn to sell in basic terms. Don’t just read books about design
and illustration. Read about general business practices too.

5) Join the Scene. Be interested. If you are hiding in your basement


then you will miss out. Thanks to Illustration Island, Twitter, Facebook
and other resources it is getting easier so if you aren’t taking part or
have no interest then you might not want to be an illustrator.

6) Style is not worth thinking about. Brand is. We got so sold on style
and so many of my friends don’t illustrate anymore. They didn’t work
on their craft and so found it hard to stay relevant. Trends, cycle.

7) Stop criticizing others. This was a huge lesson for me. Everybody
is different and while we try to keep our work objective, taste is
subjective and will vary from person to person. I used to see the bad
in all work including my own. Now It’s easier to be happy and if I
make a mistake learn from it after the fact. Not during.

8) Smile.

9) Job shadow a freelancer in any other industry.

10) We all get there differently. I wish I had heard that a lot earlier.

11) What are your goals. Right them down and review them. I wish I
had truly taken this advice. I am not doing what I had intended
(although I’m now getting back on track).

12) There will be emotional ups and downs. BIG ONES. I am lucky
that my wife is so supportive but I would be depressed on my own.
Every Illustrator that came to my class to give us instruction made it


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seem so simple. Now 10 years into it. I feel like it’s day 1 again.

13) Make your own projects. This is the most important of all the
things I wished I had known. Don’t wait for the awesome client who
will make all your dreams come true. I have learned that it’s better to
separate the job from the obsession by making sure I have my own
projects going. Now if I can just get them out the door.”
- Michael Grills - michaelgrills.com


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