How to build a freelance illustration career

Fri 1 Jan 2021

Sitting in a studio working on passion projects that excite and motivate you every day may sound like a dream job. But becoming a professional freelance illustrator takes more than raw artistic talent – you’ll also need to consider the practicalities of setting yourself up as a self-employed businessperson. Here are some tips on how to kick-start your freelance illustration career.

Don’t give up the day job

Aspiring to work for yourself on projects you love is a great career goal, but jumping into full-time freelancing as soon as you graduate isn’t always the best option. Freelancing work is far from steady and when it dries up, having a regular income from a part-time or full-time job takes a lot of the pressure off finding and keeping new clients. Ideally you will be able to find a related position (such as design work at an agency) that will give you additional experience and portfolio material while you prepare for self-employment.

Build your portfolio

By the time you start looking for clients, you should have a well-developed portfolio that includes the type of work you want to be commissioned to create. You’ll need a professional website with a custom domain name and clearly visible contact information that makes it easy for prospective clients to get in touch. You can find more tips on developing your portfolio here.

Use social media to self-promote

Selling yourself may not come naturally, but a strong social media presence is the best way to ensure your work is visible to others. Make as many connections as you can within the creative community and post regularly on Twitter, Behance, Instagram, and Dribble (sometimes finding the platform that works best for you and focusing your attention on it is the best strategy). Take photos of your artistic process as well as the finished pieces, and use relevant hashtags to increase your social media following. Make sure you engage with other people’s work to develop industry connections - a well-timed compliment sometimes goes a long way.

Organise a workspace

Making your own schedule and working from home may sound ideal, but it can be lonely and encourage procrastination. If you work better around others, consider renting a shared studio space and set yourself a weekly schedule that includes dedicated time for completing commissions, working on personal projects, and keeping up to date with paperwork. Don’t forget that you’ll need to register as a self-employed business and file taxes every year, so keep a spreadsheet with detailed information about your monthly income and expenses. A task management app such as Trello can help you keep on top of your to-do list.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in freelance illustration, publishing, creative advertising, graphic design, animation, web design, or art direction, an MA in Illustration from Falmouth Flexible can help you develop a comprehensive portfolio and accelerate your career path. 


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