Freelance Illustration as a Career

about-pic4Becoming a freelance illustrator can oftentimes seem like a daunting challenge. More than likely it is not going to make you rich, nor famous, and in the beginning, you will likely have next to no social life. Long hours, weeks and/or months with little to no income, and under-appreciated talent and skill are the realities of this profession, yet for those who have the passion and the determination to consistently create new art it can be a rewarding career.

Below are some questions and answers that highlight the main points of becoming a freelance illustrator.

What is the career you are pursuing and why?

As an artist and creative professional, my goal is to work towards becoming a freelance illustrator. I love drawing, and I am a very visual person, and becoming an illustrator is something that I have dreamed about for a long time. I am interested in also working for myself and selling my own work, but for the sake of this post, I am going to focus on freelance illustration.

Most of the people and companies who are looking for illustrators are going to hire on a per-project basis. I also want to be able to be in control of what I choose to take on and how I run my own business. And while I haven’t quite figured out what my particular niche will be, the specifications and requirements of this particular field are going to be pretty much the same, regardless of what I choose to specialize in.

What are the working conditions for this occupation?

Besides your actual skill level, I think one of the most important things to consider, is how well you can manage yourself. Your clients may be your boss, but it is ultimately up to you to manage your time and money wisely to run a profitable business. This includes not only being motivated enough to start work, but also keeping a consistent pace, and knowing when to stop or slow down to avoid burnout. If you are the kind of person who prefers to have someone else organize and manage all of the background operations, then you will likely end up feeling frustrated and lost. Or you need to be financialy capable of hiring someone to help you take care of all of the mundane, non-art related aspects of this business.

The other thing to consider is how much social interaction do you require on a day-to-day basis. If you require constant interaction, or prefer to socialize while you work, then you will get lonely in this field. It is a job that requires a lot of time alone in order to get projects done, and unless you are collaborating with another artist, the majority of job-related human interaction will be at client meetings or presentations. Even for those who prefer to spend most of their time alone, it is important to have some social interaction on a regular basis, so being able to find ways to interact with other like-minded individuals is important.

What types of places does someone in this occupation work?

The most typical place for a freelance illustrator to work is from home, although some people choose to have a studio away from home, either alone or with other creatives. Working from home usually means no overhead costs, which is most ideal, however the pitfalls to that is being constantly distracted by all the aspects of your personal life. Many illustrators choose to get started with ideas and brainstorming away from home, either in coffee shops, parks, or museums. They might take a sketchbook and sketch out thumbnails or roughs and jot down notes or anything that they feel might inspire the project they are working on, and then start the foundation for the actual project at home.

about-pic1What kind of training is required for this occupation, i.e., high school diploma, two-year college, apprenticeship, bachelor’s degree, etc.?

Although being a professional in this field does not always require schooling, a college education can be useful in perfecting skills. Having the guidance and critique of professors and your peers can be helpful in understanding how to appreciate and respond to feedback and criticism, which is very important as any type of creative professional. One area that does usually require a master’s degree is scientific or medical illustration.

The main requirement for this type of work is having a portfolio to prove your skill and ability to consistently create artwork that is eye-catching and engaging to the viewer. This simply translates to the willingness to put in the hundreds and thousands of hours that it takes to get there.

How much does someone in this occupation earn? What is the range of salaries? Does someone in this occupation earn bonuses or commissions?

The typical salary for an illustrator according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics is roughly $45,000 a year, although it can vary greatly from person to person. This will usually be paid out per-project in lump sums, so it is important to know how to seek out work consistently, and know how to manage time and money effectively.

What are some related occupations?

As an illustrator you could specialize in many different fields such as book illustration, comics, editorial illustration, packaging illustration, textile designer or illustrator, scientific or medical illustration. Related fields would be graphic design and animation. Many illustrators work for animation studios, and most of them likely have the skills to take on graphic design jobs if they are looking for ways to supplement their income, or if a project calls for other types of work.

about-pic2Can someone in this occupation advance on the job? Describe.

Advancement in this career usually equates to bigger clients who are willing to pay more per project. As you improve not only your art skills, but also your interpersonal skills, you will be more likely to become successful and advance. Many clients want someone who not only is talented, but also easy to work with and is able to meet deadlines.

What is the labor market outlook for this occupation? In Texas? In this part of the United States? Other?

The projected job growth in this field is only about 2% by 2024. This is slower than what the average is for other careers. Some say that freelance illustration is dead, mostly due to the rise of stock illustration. Many freelancers find that they need to supplement their income with other jobs, taking on other design related work, or by branching out on their own and selling their work themselves.

Does this occupation require travel?

With all the advancements in technology, long distance travel is not necessarily a requirement for this career. You may have to travel to meet up with clients in person, however much of the correspondence is done via the phone or internet these days, and most illustrators simply send files of their completed works via the web.

Typically, does this occupation provide any benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plan, flexible work schedules, vacations with pay, etc.?

For illustrators who work freelance, typical company benefits such as health insurance, retirements plans, paid vacation or sick pay are pretty much nonexistent. The trade-offs are that they can usually create their own schedule, pick their own clients, commuting is usually as far as their computer or studio, and if they feel like it, they can work in their pyjamas.

Sources: theartcareerproject.com, bls.govchrisoatley.com

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