Q+A: 6 tips on how to get your first freelance illustration job

Hi Amy, I just read your Q&A on landing your first job. I’m currently an illustration student but have no idea on how to get my first illustration job once I put together a portfolio. Any tips on how to get work as a freelance illustrator? Thanks in advance.

~ Stefanie (via email)

Hi Stefanie!

In my experience, a lot of first-time commissions come from word of mouth! When I first got started, I made sure to put the word out there that I was freelancing, and that if anyone needed a hand they can give me a call (or contact me via email.) But besides that, I find that being proactive about finding freelance work goes a long way – especially when you realize that those connections might take 2-3 years to fully materialize. It’s what has happened in my situation, and for many others too.

So here are few steps that you can do right now:

1. Tell as many people as you can about what you do.

Spread the word that you’re freelancing around, to family, friends, even the neighbours. You may find at first that this will land you some pretty weird jobs and questions – stuff like “can you teach my kid how to draw?” It’s totally up to you to take it on, or not. I always say that it’s no harm at all, especially when you have nothing better to do – so why not flex your creative muscles and do your best – even if it’s something that you whipped up for the neighbourhood kindergarten?

2. Get your portfolio on different websites

The thing with illustration and art is that it’s hard to be found visually. And what that means is that people don’t go to Google, type in a few strings of words that describe what you do, and then be able to see your artwork among other artists (well the famous ones do, but only because they’ve built up a really big following!) So the next best thing is to put your work up in front of people who are already looking. And that means in places where they go to look. Places like Behance and Dribble. On Instagram (with the appropriate hashtags – not one made up by you!)

The caveat is that it might take some time for others to notice you, especially with all the great work out there; but it pays to be persistent. There might be a few art directors and clients who might be checking you out on those websites, but the timing is not right just yet.

3. Don’t just hang out with your illustration buddies from college or uni – make an effort!

Spread your wings out a little and go to where you’ve never been before! There is more to you than just your ability to draw – what other stuff do you like doing? What’s your other hobbies? Do you love reading? Join a book club! Do you love cooking? Join a community cook-out! The more people you reach out to that’s outside of your normal comfort zones, the better your chances of making new connections, which will ultimately help spread your name far and wide.

4. Constantly add new work to your portfolio

Slapping on a couple of pictures from your school days or previous college assignment does not mean that your portfolio is complete! Unless your work back then was really good, or it showcased what you are capable of right now, I’d suggest to leave it out. First impressions mean a lot, and if what you’re putting out there can only illicit a “meh”, it’s time for you to think of self-initiated projects that you can add to your portfolio. That’s right – there is no client involved (unless it’s imaginary, in which case it’s totally fine), no cheque waiting for you at the other end, and no assurance that it will amount to anything – not just yet. Do your best, take pride in your work and pick up that pencil because you want to better yourself, not just because there’s someone on the other end counting on you to do so.

5. Send an email to your favorite blogger

Back in the day, I get a lot of emails from graduating students and illustrators who were just starting out. And if their work catches my eye, I post it up on the Pikaland blog (though I rarely do this anymore because better platforms exist for that these days – Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) What I found out was that other blogs were checking out my blog to get news on the latest talent, and they picked up these artists too and featured them in their blog and magazines, which then helped these emerging artists gain a lot more buzz. So it couldn’t help to try – especially if you can identify with the audience of the blogger, and it’s a place where your work wouldn’t look out of place. Here’s a tip: don’t just aim for the big blogs – go for smaller, niche blogs too!

6. Be super nice to everyone and anyone

You’d think that being nice to people was a natural instinct – but sadly it isn’t! I’ve met my fair share of nasty and rude folks, but they’re thankfully far and few in-between. What I’m talking about is going above minding your P’s (please) and Q’s (thank you). Be genuinely interested in other people – listening to them, asking them helpful questions, thanking them for their time, etc – if you think that these gestures are unnecessary in the days of 140 character tweets, think again. If anything, it only serves to show how attentive you are, especially when others aren’t doing it.

And there you have it! These are the things that I’ve personally done to get my name out there – and they’re virtually painless. All it takes is a bit of effort in the beginning, but when you’ve got your ball rolling, you’ll be able to see results very soon. Good luck Stefanie!

SHARE WITH US:

Do you have any tips you’d like to offer Stefanie that has worked for you in the past? Let us know in the comments below! Also, if you’d like to send me a question, get in touch with me right here!

Psst – if you like this post, then you might want to get in on our Work/Art/Play mailing list for our once-a-year online workshop for artists and illustrators that’s coming up in September!

  advice, creativity, illustration, inspiration, popular, Q+A


7 thoughts on “Q+A: 6 tips on how to get your first freelance illustration job

  1. Hi Stefanie! One thing that really helps is to look at artists who are in the same stylistic vein as yourself- see if they have a client list and see what companies or publications they have worked with. If their client list if full of, say, family and children’s magazines, you may get the hint that those markets would appreciate your work, too. Or you may be surprised to find that they are doing well in a market you never considered, and that can lead you to discover a bunch of potential clients that were previously off your radar. Good luck! Hope that helps. :)

  2. Pingback: C&T Recommended Reads – Week 16, 2014 | Create & Thrive

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