How To Make An Art Of Being a Freelance Artist

An art career can involve working at home

Whether you’re a fine art tutor teaching from your own back garden studio, or an illustrator taking commissions from multiple clients, an artistic career can often involve home working. But it’s not all creativity and free spiritedness. Planning, admin and other less exciting tasks take up a lot of time and working for yourself means being incredibly disciplined.

Artist's hands with paint on them

Keep your hands in Art









Brush up your skills

Even if you aced art college and you have an impressive professional portfolio, it’s important to keep learning even when you don’t have colleagues to interact with face-to-face. Sites like Folio Academy provide online resources so you can keep your hand in.

Don’t waste time

Inspiration can be tough to come by, and it’s tempting to avoid sitting down to work when you’re experiencing a block, especially if it’s a piece you’re intending to sell without a fixed a deadline. It’s important to make sure you keep busy, though. Use this time to do some admin, or try a little exercises to get your creative juices flowing. It’s best to plan your week in advance, but there’s no harm in juggling a few tasks around if you need to when it comes to doing your best creative work.

… But do take breaks!

Equally, it’s easy to get obsessive when you’re in the zone and the ideas are coming thick and fast. Don’t be afraid to step away from the canvas for 10 minutes, though, and have a cup of tea. Burnout is the last thing you want.


Attend gallery openings. Sign up for conferences where they’re showcasing the latest digital illustration packages. Ask friends if their companies need to outsource any graphic design work.

Showcase your work

Make yourself profiles on sites like Etsy. Be clear about your skills, your availability, pricing structures and if you’re capable of a diverse range of styles, show them all if you can.

Find other income sources

There may be times when your art can’t earn you a living, so try and have back-up plans for those “dead” periods. Extra income sources such as paid survey sites can be a real life-saver when your bank balance is looking peaky. Sign up for a few and fill out surveys as and when you have a free moment.

Stay positive

People may laugh and sneer when you tell them you work at home as an artist. What they don’t understand is that this can be a satisfying, lucrative and highly legitimate career if you’re willing to put the work in and be savvy about business opportunities.

The Secret Life of a Professional Artist and Freelance Illustrator

The Secret Life of a Freelance Illustrator; Professional Artist

People know nothing about freelance illustration 

a treasure chest full of treasure It’s amazing how many people know nothing about freelance illustration. I think most people assume you have to be crazy to be a freelancer – they’re probably right. Interestingly enough back when I had my highest earning years back in the late 90’s my wife would get comments from women at the park like: “Has your husband found a job yet?” or “It must be hard being married to an artist”. My wife would say, “you have no idea!” I think she enjoyed messing with them. People with good intent would drop little clues like, “I hear they’re hiring over at Home Depot”.

Being a Professional Artist or Illustrator was easier back then. 

Back then being a freelancer was a much easier feat than it is today. I’ve talked at length about the current state of freelance illustration in lectures and one on one. Today the freelance markets are fractured and constantly evolving. I know illustrators who are now bankers, or working at Home Depot. I know editors who are teaching school among other jobs, like at Home Depot. I know editors who are trying to become artists and illustrators. I know illustrators who are now graphic designers or trying to become editors, or work at Home Depot. I even know art directors who have been laid off and re-hired by the same companies to freelance graphic design. I know art directors and editors who have lost their jobs to down sizing and are still looking for their next job. At Home Depot. (the t is silent)

The World has Changed a lot for artists and Illustrators.

The world has probably changed more in the past 10 years than ever before, not counting war or ice ages and crazy stuff like that. I probably sounds naive and over-reaching but can you imagine any other technology that has changed the world in such a short time as the internet? Remember the last time your internet went down and you sat in fetal position sucking your thumb waiting for the horror to end? We can’t do anything without it!

Be happy, Say “no” to bad freelance jobs, and drugs of course.   

But I digress. Let me divulge some of my secret activities! Sometimes I don’t get dressed until the afternoon. I’ve skyped without pants (as far as you know) – maybe with you! – but I promise, not with your daughter. I go shopping on weekdays (sometimes at Home Depot) while the world is at work. I work longer and harder than most people with a regular job. I can’t remember the last time I put in fewer than 70 hours in one week, sometimes more than 90 – BUT – they were the funnest (most fun, but hey! I’m an artist trying to be a writer) hours I could imagine putting in. Most days I wake up pinching myself (dream metaphor) that I get to do this. It wasn’t always like this however. It took me about 15 years to learn that my life is so much better off when I don’t spend more than I make and I say “no” to bad freelance jobs. What are bad freelance jobs? The kind that make it hard to sleap and have you cringing when you wake up. I can’t tell you what they are because your bad jobs will be different than mine. And hopefully fewer.

The Lonely Artist; Freelance Illustrating has it’s downsides

I’ve wished I could stand around the water cooler and catch up on the latest chatter. I used to get really lonely painting all day (and got hooked on General Hospital for about a year back in 1993). I’ve called other illustrators randomly from the old directories just to strike up a conversation. I worked on Christmas day once because the client had to have it two days after or they were going to go with someone else. (to be read out loud with a whiny voice) I happened to get paid $13,000 for that job, it was for Sprint, and it only took me about a week to complete. I could do it now digitally in a few days and enjoy Christmas with my family and saved some of that money. And I once earned $20,000 for a phone call (remind me to go into detail on this one on another blog post). Best phone call ever! 2nd best woulda been when when the doctor told me I didn’t have worms. LOL.

‘Underindulgence’: the Key to Happiness?

I’ve learned to spend less than I make. This is probably one of the most important skills you can learn. Stress is a killer…no really…STRESS WILL KILL YOU. I’ve had about 3 really stressful times. And I wake up pinching myself wondering if I died all those times.

1) Back when I was stupid I got down to about $800 in my account for the entire month and I didn’t have any assignments! I was so nervous I made a few calls to art directors I had worked for in the past. A few of them gave me work and then of course I got a deluge of assignments the week after.

2) Back when I was really really stupid – we were spending more than we were making because we were making lots of money. It was right after a year where I turned down over $70,000 worth of freelance work because my plate was already too full in 1998.Yep – we spent all the money in our account and couldn’t get paid from any of my outstanding accounts for about 3 weeks. (Please don’t think I’m seeking any sympathy – in fact you should leave a comment with your best synonym for dumb ass)…Luckily I had been saving quarters, nickels, and dimes in a jar. I’m not kidding, I got that puppy off the shelf and counted out $90. Later that day I had my car filled up and groceries in the fridge. I Kept checking the mailbox but each day there were NO checks. We stopped driving unless it was absolutely necessary. Did I mention that our two credit cards were maxed? The following week when the fridge was empty I went for the back up plan – the penny jar! SHOOWEE – $20 later and I was back with groceries again – amazing how far you can stretch your last $20 bucks. Remind me to give you an in expensive recipe for black eyed peas. Eventually we got paid – crazy thing was that I was owed about $28,000 in outstanding checks but this is the lesson: Don’t spend it until it’s in your account and even then – DON”T SPEND IT!

3) Back when I was Ultra Mega Stupid – we got in over our heads again. (notice a pattern here? some of us have to learn the same lessons over and over) I had about a year when we were going through a really really dry spell for freelance – this was also a transitionary time – it’s a long story – but basically I had to learn all over again how important it is to save money. We survived! We downsized. We learned what we needed to have to be happy and what we could live without.

It’s not how much you make that matters, it’s how much you keep

The good news is that in the past 5 years I’ve had more money than I did when I was earning much much more. We wasted so much money back then. Now I keep enough money in the bank to pay all of our bills for about 9 months. This is enough time to really make drastic changes if things aren’t working out. Don’t tell my fam, they will find something or things we just cant live without and make me spend it all.

So there you go – the secret life of a freelancer isn’t so secret anymore – Ups and downs yes, but it’s the best JOB I’ve NEVER had.

I painted the image above a few months back for National Geographic Learning. It was one of about 8 paintings I completed for an educational project they had for ESL students. I was given the assignment from Cynthia Currie – an art director I hadn’t heard from in about a decade. It was really neat to get a job from her again – I hope she reads my blog so she can see how exciting it was – hint hint! :)

PS- Here’s that inexpensive recipe for Black Eyed Peas:
1 bag Black eyed peas
Empty peas into a pot, dig bag out of trash and follow cooking instructions on the package.

Are Artists Respected for their Skill Like Other Professionals?


I Don’t think Illustrators get the Respect they Deserve. 

0005 Monster
What do doctors, lawyers, and CPA’s have in common aside from all that schooling? Probably the respect they get for their profession. Sure people often get a second opinion but they don’t go to the plumber – they go to another doctor, lawyer, or accountant.
I’ve wanted to write about this for a while because it irks me that in our profession we’re often not treated as the experts we’ve worked so hard to become. Let me begin by eliminating most of the children’s picture book editors from my upcoming rant. I’ve never been treated more like a professional than by my picture book editors. I’m talking about the clients we’ve had who don’t respect our schooling and work experience in freelance illustration. Do you ever feel trapped by your work? Hopefully this post will help you re-evaluate the people you choose to work for.

Death Design by Committee, Death of a good Illustration

art by Brett Helquist

I find it really troublesome that we are often asked to make arbitrary, superfluous, unnecessary, and downright stupid changes that ruin the design and composition by clients that have no art training. It’s the equivalent of me telling my surgeon where and how to cut – my attorney what motions to file and my CPA what strategies he should use to save me money. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about back and forth conversations about art direction and options to consider before beginning sketches – and I’m not talking about good feedback on sketches or final art. I’m talking about bone headed decisions like eliminating colors that the art director happens to personally dislike. I’m talking about cluttering up good design with extra elements that don’t enhance the story or eliminating elements that are important to visual literacy. I’m talking about making content changes based on fear and most importantly the all too familiar “design by committee approach”.

What is Design by Committee?

What is “design by committee” you ask? It’s when companies (often educational text book or software companies) have multiple team and management members that have to “sign off” or agree on all stages of the artwork before it can be approved and the artists are allowed to proceed. For instance, the illustrator receives the assignment and emails sketches to his/her art director. The one person who understands art and good design, the art director isn’t respected or trusted to make decisions and approvals either! The sketches must pass by each team members desk. This sets up a dicey situation for each team member as well. If a particular person in this chain likes everything he or she sees – he or she might feel that he or she isn’t doing his or her job by sending it through without changes. Since nobody in this donkey conga line wants to appear lazy they conjure up changes they often don’t believe in and punt to the next drone. Sometimes I find myself stifling the laughter listening to the poor art director trying to justify conflicting moronic changes that even he/she doesn’t believe in.
The result is a bunch of sketches sent back to the illustrator marked up like a failing high school research paper. I’ve gotten them back looking like college football play charts. It’s interesting to me that this hasn’t been my experience in the picture book world – and picture books cost tens of thousands of dollars more to produce than a few pages in a text book. With my picture book projects I get very thoughtful comments and requests that are sensitive to my intentions and desires. We work back and forth to find solutions that address concerns but it’s not dictatorial by nature and there certainly aren’t the sheer quantity of rage conjuring idiotic arbitrary “one for the gipper” comments.

Why Aren’t Artists Trusted for their abilities? 

What is it with art? Why aren’t our skills appreciated and trusted? Why do people think they can direct a painting when they don’t know how to design, draw, or paint? Why do people think they can publish without hiring skilled graphic designers? Graphic design is a science unto itself yet for some reason it seems to be a skill that is greatly under appreciated. I mean am I missing something? Do we hire college soccer coaches who have never played soccer? Do we hire conductors who have never studied music? Do customers go into the kitchen to tell the head chef how to cook the dish?
The answer can most likely be traced back to our schooling. Since it was never taught as a serious subject to all of us beginning in elementary school it is a discipline that is grossly misunderstood by the masses. “But Will, medicine, law, and accounting weren’t taught broadly either. Yes, but each of them have a level of mystery that are inherent to each discipline. Art on the other hand is very accessible. We see it for what it is. We can own it, touch it, commission it, clip it, steal it, share it, print it, etc. But does access devalue it’s creative process? Apparently so to some. (sarcasm intended)
Lately I have been listening to my client incompetence radar and turning down assignments that smell of the aforementioned disrespect. I love working on a good project with a great art director, editor, creative director, etc. – but life is too short to spend bitterly and angrily working with people who don’t value what I bring to the table.

What Can We Do?

If you’re serious about this business you can do a few things to help yourself and your fellow illustrators. If you find yourself in a situation like I’ve mentioned you can be respectful and politely challenge decisions if they are contrary to your artistic sensibilities. Don’t challenge for the sake of the challenge and when you do challenge – be solution oriented. Try to get what you want by offering another option that achieves what your art director wants while giving you more of a change you can live with. Agree to making some changes that you don’t agree with to help you win a few of the the more important battles. The better we are at communication – the better clients we will ultimately share.

Can An Artist Survive Without a Rep?

Will Terry is an Illustrator without a Rep, Still.

Today is March 3, and I, Wayne Andreason, would just like to start by saying, HAPPY BIRTHDAY Mark Andreason and Kory Kennington.  I’m Mark’s favorite brother and Kory’s best friend. And happy birhtday anyone else out there who happens to have a March 3 birthday.

Artist, Will Terry has been repless since january 2010

CampFire Boy

Q- so Mr. Will Terry, you don’t have a rep, do you starve?
A- Well Mr. Wayne Andreason, No, I do not starve, in fact if I ever suffered from anorexia, I certainly one that battle. In case you haven’t noticed, I am a big guy.
Q- So how do you make money if you don’t have an agent finding you work?
A- I’m still a free agent and in a position to negotiate my own contracts with my clients. I used to have a rep and It was a good ride with Shannon Associates but due to creative differences we have now parted ways. It was great to work with that company and we did many wonderful projects together.
Q- How long have you been on your own?
Four years ago I declared my independence, severed the umbilical cord and moved on.  I was on my own and chose to embrace the freedom it afforded me.
Funny how, in the beginning, I SO wanted a rep to get me work and keep me fed, and it didn’t come easy. I had to prove myself before they would even look at me. It was like, you can’t get an agent until you don’t need an agent. I was glad to be a part of the team and it was good for me too. Have Paints Will Terry 
Q- What’s that supposed to mean?
A- You’re the one that came up with it. And it’s kind of stupid by the way. It’s supposed to be like my artist’s credo, (like a mercenaries creed) It’s supposed to sound like, Have guns will travel. Well any way, the thing is, If you, or any one you know, has a project that you think might be a good match for me please call or email me direct – 801-368-7568. And yes, my refrigerator is running.
Q- So have you been busy?
A- Yes, off and on. More off than it seems. When I am not working on something for a client, I try to keep myself busy with a self imposed project of some type. To better my skill or to create an app or work with on Folio Academy, or an e-book. I also teach adjunct at UVU.
Q- What about the (above) picture of the boy and the fire?
A- Thank you for asking, Since I am reminiscing, I wanted you to post this self imposed assignment, of the boy and the campfire. It is one I did while getting on my “free agent” feet and trying to get a handle on Photoshop.
Q- Do you like how it turned out.
A- You forgot your question mark.
Q- Whoops, I do that a lot, Do you like how it turned out
A- Yes, I was busy at night working on this painting trying to gain more control with Photoshop and was happy with the results. I was experimenting with the texture but I think that most of the painting worked out. If you have my book The Frog with the Big Mouth you might recognize the little froggy in the lower right. I was always jealous of digital artists for the ability to rip themselves off – you know, copy and paste, now I get to do it! And I do do it, all the time. Tee hee.

Q-So the campfire boy was a “self imposed” assignment?

A- Yeah, This piece was a “just for fun” painting. I still draw and paint, “just for fun” but back then I had to in order to get ready to send out digital art examples to my clients. (note to reader: So if you’re a client or a would be client, I’d love to chat.) I love the ability it gives me to work on details and erase unwanted paint and the control over color and value are undeniable. My personal email is will at willterry dot com (it’s in code to confuse the bots).

Q- So that was Will Terry, has paints, Will terry?

A- Yes.


Personal ART Projects for Personal Progress

All Artists Should be Working on Their Own Personal ART Projects

a personal art piece by artist, Will Terry.







You’ve got to be working on personal projects.

By this I mean, something that you want to do for you, a non commissioned piece. You don’t have to have someone tell you what to do in order to create a nice piece for your portfolio.

When I was in School I would do some things just for me, or for fun or just for my portfolio. Other students would often ask me what assignment “that was for” and I would tell them that it wasn’t for an assignment. They couldn’t believe I would work if I didn’t have to. But I was working for me.

Some of my best pieces, were little things that I did as personal projects. These personal art pieces were also a big help in me finding me, or finding my style, or niche.


Keep it Simple, Stupid

By this I mean no disrespect, I am going with the KISS ACRONYM.

The most important thing about these personal pieces, I would say is to make them small, and therefor doable. That is to say, FINISH them. If you think you are going to create this gigantic masterpiece for you portfolio, you might be right, but more often than not, you are less likely to finish a BIG MASTERPIECE than a sweet little doable personal art project, especially at first. So remember KISS, not the rock band, the acronym. Keep It Simple, Stupid.


Start with Small Art Projects

I suggest you start with something small. Make one finished piece that will go into you portfolio, or not if it doesn’t turn out. Maybe your goal could be, not to stop until you get that little thing finished. Here comes another sports analogy. If you were going to run a marathon you wouldn’t just start a marathon. You need to work up to it.

One of the dangers is to want to bite off more than you will chew. Notice I didn’t say more that you can chew, but more than you will chew. I know that you can do what ever you put your mind to, so I’m saying, that you are more likely to put your mind to something that is simple, and therefor finish it, especially at first.


Tell that Negative voice to shut up!

The danger of choosing a personal art piece that is too grandiose is that you are less likely to finish it, and if you fail to actually do it, you are training yourself that A, YOU don’t always finish what you start, and B, it is OK to fail. Like if you decide to do a complete comic book or picture book and put it out there on Kickstarter, you may fail or run out of time or just get sick of it. Then you have that stupid little voice in your head that is there for all of us, you know, that voice that says “you won’t finish this” then if you DON’T finish, it will say, “see? I told you soo”. So beet the negative little voice,  choose small, doable, personal little projects, and complete them. Tell that little voice to SHUT UP!


Graduate to bigger projects, if you want.

I am finally getting to the point where I am finishing a story app. It is a big endeavor, but I have done dozens of smaller personal projects in the past and several big projects too. Even though I have done a lot before, this one is still a little tough, I gotta be honest. I still have that negative voice, and I have to keep telling myself that It will get done. I have to remember to enjoy the journey and the process along the way.


Choose something the YOU want to do.


Choose a personal piece that you want to do. If you are creating something that you want to do, it will be more fun and more likely to turn out. I have a friend who loves animals, so she paints animals. If you have a hard time with people, stay away from people or work on parts that you can conquer, like a back or torso, then build up to the harder stuff, work on something that you can do. Cats maybe, or a plate with fish on it. Who knows what you will like. Take something boring and make it exciting. They don’t all have to be gems.


 Take Some Risk

I’m not saying to invest a lot of money here, But I do want you do invest a little time and energy, and challenge yourself. Not too much at first, we need to have some successes to build confidence and self esteem.

Remember in an earlier blog I mentioned that a child likes to draw and paint and create artwork because it is fun and fulfilling. Not because she thinks it will make her a lot of money. Don’t kid yourself that you are going to sell all of your personal pieces and make bank. That isn’t the motivation here. Ironically, that is the work that will get you closer to making money as an artist, Or making more money as an artist. And who knows, you may monetize your personal pieces. The more you have, the more likely you will be to sell a few. Who knows. Some artists create a little personal piece of artwork every day and then sell them on their website. And that’s all they do. Win Win Win. Artist improves and hones his skill, artist makes money and end buyer gets a valuable piece of artwork.

Most of the projects I have done, I would say, well that negative little voice in my head that just won’t mind his own business and shut his big yap, would say, they mostly all failed. But did they? Well I didn’t capitalize on all of them, but they all helped me develop my style, my portfolio, my talent and my art stamina. So NO, they did not fail. They all succeeded in one way or another, even if just to keep me in the zone and to help hone my skill.

Just Do It!

Get on it and do a personal piece and then do another. To steel a quote from NIKE, “Just Do It”  and before that, Spencer W. Kimball, who used to say “Do it!” You just gotta do it.

My seventh grade, wood shop teacher, Mr. Swayze would always say, “Git-R-Done!”

“Git-R-Started might have been a better tag line because that seems to be the hard part every day when you looking at that blank canvas or work in progress. So Git-R-Started and Git-R-Done!”

Don’t Worry About Perfection

It’s a personal project so you don’t have to worry if it isn’t perfect or if doesn’t turn out. Everyone has at least 1000 bad paintings in them so feel free to get a few of them out of your system. You don’t have to hand it in to an art director, so you need not stress. Learn from it, try new things, this is where you can totally be you. If it sucks, don’t show it to anyone. Don’t throw it away either, at least not yet. You may want to use it as an example someday when you are teaching.






Where Are My Freelance ArtJobs?

Will Terry you are a man much wiser than your age. You could not be more right about the times we live in and what we each as both artists and businessmen must do to earn our share of the profits out there. ~Steven Watson

I’v been blessed as an artist but… 

I have been blessed with many connections in the illustration world and many more since I started this blogging a few years back and those connections seem to be growing. Every day I get asked questions related to the freelance illustration markets -from how to improve the craft of illustration to how to find markets and clients and I spend a fair amount of my time answering them. I enjoy this time each day.

I’ve turned down Projects. 

In the past month I have been offered three different freelance projects for publishing companies all of which I turned down due to the lack of budgets. I don’t want to seem ungrateful – beyond the fact that it’s flattering to be wanted – I realize that I’m in a different position than many illustrators since I’ve been at this a while and have spread out my income streams. I defend the right of our clients to offer what’s in their own best interest as we must decide to accept or reject based on our best interests. Some people complain about the price of a water bottle at the gas station…but they don’t have to buy it. But it’s the latest offering that I wanted to discuss.

While art ed is still costly, Commissions are dropping.

If you’ve gone through an illustration program on a University or art school level you know that illustration rates have either stayed the same over the last 100 years or gone down. The offering I received this week was half of what I used to get paid from that particular client. This made it very easy to turn down but that’s not the point. The point is that what I’ve been saying (see my “Tips for Illustrators” blog posts) is coming true. Prices that have at least “held” for decades are now going the other direction. We are competing on a global scale at many levels. With the ability for individual artists to publish their own music, books, videos, etc the big companies are having to adapt to the competition. It’s one reason entertainers like Jimmy Kimmel are releasing anonymous videos on youtube (like twerking girl catches on fire) to generate traffic back to his show. And have you seen the new “Cary” ad? My favorite prank yet. Our clients – the people we want to hire us are suffering from the noise just like we are – they are competing with us when we release our own products.

but wait, there’s more. Continue reading