Do you want learn how to become a freelance illustrator?
Being a freelance illustrator is one of my most rewarding and sought after careers out there. Drawing, illustrating and being creative every day – what’s not to like?
Of course, it’s not always that easy – most of the time it takes hard work, late nights and constantly working on promotion. However pursuing a career as a freelance illustrator is certainly achievable!
Like I was saying a few weeks ago in a previous blog post, this year I’m committed to sharing articles on my blog to help you with creativity, illustration, to freelance tips and tricks.
I’ve been an illustrator for over 6 years now, and can safety say that it’s been a roller-coaster. I’ve learnt a lot throughout this time, and I want to share what I’ve discovered with you.
Being a freelance illustrator is fantastic. Illustrating for children’s books, magazines to publications – the list is endless! It’s rewarding, creative and stimulating, so I thought I would share tips to help you become a successful freelance illustrator.
If you’re not familiar with my illustration portfolio, I specialise in publishing, advertising to editorial illustration, and I’m an illustrator for hire. Do check out my work and see what you think, I’ll love to hear from you!
Anyway let’s kick things off with tip number 1!
Marketing Is Your Best Friend If You Are To Become A Successful Freelance Illustrator
You need to market yourself correctly to become a successful freelance illustrator. My University tutor told me that freelance illustrators spend the majority of their working week drumming up business, marketing and networking, than actually illustrating itself.
I thought this was a load of nonsense, but I’m now eating my own words. I have to admit that they’re right! This might disappoint you, but this is the reality of freelancing in general.
In order for you to consistently secure illustration commissions, you need to get yourself out there. Expose yourself everywhere – start up a blog, create a portfolio on Behance, join Twitter, and send offline marketing material for instance. This is just the tip of the iceberg to market yourself, but the more you do of it, the better (quality over quantity of course).
As a result you’ll receive commissions (as more people will know about you), and you’ll gain more clients too. Unfortunately, no clients will come to you, unless you have brilliant work (which markets itself), you are popular within the field, or you’re just lucky.
When I first started illustrating, I thought clients would come to me, but it’s simply not true. You need to get out there and fish them out, and not let them go before they commission you.
Here’s seven tips to help you get started. Tick each one before going onto the next step;
- Sign up to at least one social media platform (Twitter, Instagram to Facebook). From here, post a couple of your illustrations to get things started. Twitter is great for starting a conversation, showing your latest work or asking a question. Remember to be consistent to build a following.
- Create a blog on your website and write content to help your audience. You could help them create a mind-blowing illustrator portfolio to advice on creativity – anything that you think people will search for and learn from. A good example is my recent blog post to help you discover the golden ratio and how it can help your art.
- Network and meet people face to face. This could be connecting through social media or at a networking event (as offline is equally powerful as online marketing).
- I highly recommend you sign up to the AOI, which is an association to help freelance illustrators with commissions, pricing and making sure you are represented. You can also purchase a AOI Folio with every membership to showcase your work on their website – an extra marketing tool.
- Send direct mailers and offline marketing material. Create a spreadsheet of potential clients, including their name, email address, company, title, and any other contact details you may want to include. Create a direct mail design and send this in the post to these clients.
- Sign up to Dribbble or Behance, which offers an extra boost to your marketing. Post 2 things on these platforms to get started, and be consistent with it. Interact with other designers and be involved with the discussion.
- Using your spreadsheet from Step 5, send a personal and direct email to 10 Art Directors. Keep it short, include 3 low-resolution images and say who you are and how you can help them (with a link to your website too).
Marketing is crucial to your survival as a freelance illustrator. Do it incorrectly and you’ll be scraping the barrel. Do it correctly and you’ll have a wealth of commissions at your disposal.
Create A Visually Stunning Illustration Portfolio
In order for you to secure commissions, you need a well established illustration portfolio and website. This is what art directors and clients see when they look through your work, so you need to make sure it’s the best!
If you don’t have any commissions, you need to practise your craft and create personal work. This illustrated map of Brussels below was a personal project when I didn’t have any commissions. It’s now shown within my portfolio, which I also send to clients as marketing material.
Personal projects can help build your portfolio, skills and style, and gives art directors another excuse to come back to your website.
There’s nothing worse than an Art Director revisiting your website and seeing old work.
I always recommend you create your own website that showcases your illustrations. External portfolios are great (like Behance), but having your a website that you can control is crucial.
Speculate To Accumulate: Invest In Your Freelancing Journey
One of the first things I bought when I first started illustrating was an A4 Canon scanner. Allowing me to create work and scan my illustrations into Adobe Photoshop.
If you’re about to graduate, or you’re thinking about becoming a freelance illustrator, make a scanner your first investment. This allows you to create work for clients and produce personal work (unless you work solely digital), which I highly recommend.
Another timely and money saving investment is a high quality printer. This saves a lot of money if you’re sending marketing material to Art Directors.
I have a full list of essential purchases on my Resources page.
Away from investing in scanners and printers, it’s important that you invest in marketing and promotion. When you think about the biggest brands, what is there marketing budget? It’s said that Nike spends 3.6 billion U.S. dollars globally on advertising and promotion in 2018.
This marketing budget is crazy big, and of course, spending money on advertising doesn’t always mean more money and sales. However you need to speculate to accumulate to gain commissions, for example you could spend money on:
- Social media advertisement
- Direct mail promotion
- AOI Client Directories
- Illustration and design conferences
- Networking events
The main focus with these is to get your name out there, connect with people who commission illustration, and make sure you’re always in the client’s mind.
The key here is that you are investing. Investing is different to just spending money – you’re investing to secure commissions in the future. Think about your ROI (return on investment) and if you can see the investment paying dividend in the future.
How To Become A Successful Freelance Illustrator
Freelance illustration isn’t easy, and much like anything in life, if there’s hard work and dedication involved, it can often lead to something great on the other side.
If you’re creative and want to pursue a career in freelance illustration, then do it! I can’t tell you anything different, but make sure you take these pointers with you, and just get out there! And I’ll like to finish today on a quote;
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
Check out my latest article to help you learn how to use the Baseline Grid in your design work!
Many thanks for listening and visiting my news page today. You can follow what I’m up to on my Twitter or Facebook, I’ll really appreciate it if you do, and don’t be afraid to say hi to me! Many thanks again, and have a great day!