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!

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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!

Q+A: How to find the perfect part-time job

Send me your questions through my contact form!

Dear Amy,

I recently read your excellent blog post about why artists & illustrators should get job and wonder if you have any advice about finding the ideal part-time job to help one reach one’s goal.

In my own case, I really want to write and create graphic novels full-time but am at a loss to find a complementary job that pays well enough and fits my analytical personality. I am even considering going back to school to learn animation or going back to learn something high-tech. But I also know that I’d toss both away if I ever had the chance to write and illustrate full-time.

What are your thoughts?

~ Benjamin

Hi Benjamin!

Finding the ideal part-time job is definitely the way to go as you go experiment and take time to hone your craft and work! Having a part-time job does wonders in alleviating the stress of having to worry where your next meal will come from and to avoid that awkward moment of trying to fake not being around whenever your rent lady comes a-knocking.

Finding a part-time job involves a two main scenarios:

Scenario #1: You have many different skills – writing and illustrating and illustrating is just one of them

This is the sort of situation where you’re a multipotentialite. Not only do you have a talent for drawing and writing, but you might also be a good strategist, or a great chef. I think that deep down, we all have different skill sets. While they may not necessarily go together and culminate in one job (that’s a tough find); finding different outlets where you are able to flex your skills is a great way to make yourself happy.

Scenario #2: You have one main love – writing and illustrating – and it’s hard to imagine yourself doing anything else.

If this is the case, you’ll need to do a bit of sleuthing to find out what would be a good fit for you. For me, what has always worked is to find something that would help me balance between time, money, and interests. And this formula would change throughout the years. For example, when I was in university, I would work part time as a retail assistant at a clothing store. I didn’t have much time (because I was standing on my feet the whole day tending to customers), little money (because the pay was a mere RM3.40 (USD$1) per hour), and I wasn’t really interested in it so much.

So the equation would look something like this:

[box]Retail assistant = Less time for myself + Little money + Low level of interest = on a scale of 1-10, this would be a 2/10 [/box]

I learned to balance things out by finding jobs that would tip the scales to what I was looking for at a particular time. For my part-time writing positions a couple of years after I graduated, the equation looked like like this:

[box]Freelance writer= Adequate time for myself (to work on Pikaland) + Adequate money (if you hustle enough) + High level of interest =  5/10 [/box]

Currently, I want to free up my time and also up the money factor (what this means is that I want to add value to what I do, instead of having my hours count instead). So I have a few options here – find higher paying writing jobs, or find another interesting part time job that would pay me more money than what I currently do. I’ve done both before, and I’ve just accepted a job as a part-time creative director of a PR/digital strategy agency, and this is how my equation looks like now:

[box]Part time creative director= Adequate time for myself + Good money + High level of interest = 7/10 [/box]

It’s always about finding out what you need at a particular time in your career or life – whether you’re looking to have more time to spend on your interests, to want to find more money to supplement your income, and what you’re willing to put aside (your interests) in search of a part time work that works for you.

Now we move on to another point: How do you find the perfect part time job for you? I’ve broken it down into a few key strategies:

#1: Find out what your skill sets are.

When I first graduated from university, I avoided sending my resumes to landscape architecture firms. I had a 6-month experience with being in one before, and I wasn’t exactly looking forward for more. So I thought to myself – I’ve been submitting my writing to the local newspaper and magazines, so why not try to do more of that, and get paid too? So my first job was as an editorial assistant – there was a lot of writing, running around scrambling for photo shoots and also helping my editor manage a few editorial projects, all the while keeping a tight deadline.

A few years later, I was an editor myself. And then I left to run Pikaland full time to see where it could lead me. My past experiences made me realize that I am quite fond of writing. And I could organize and manage a team of people. I could manage projects. I loved solving problems. I am happy when I am able to take something complicated and make it simple. And so I took these skills that I have and I ran with it. Starting up Pikaland utilized those skill sets (apart from my love of drawing and writing). So did determining what sort of part-time job I could pursue to supplement my income.

#2: Do what you’re comfortable with (for starters!)

A lot of times, finding a part-time job is about extending what you’ve been doing in the past, but perhaps scaling it down to suit your lifestyle. I chose to continue writing because I was able to excel in it (at least I think so!) Writing for an architecture and design magazine was a comfortable setup that I could tap into. It also helped that I love meeting people within the field, and they felt that they were talking to someone who understood where they were coming from. It became second nature.

As I go along, I began to embrace experiences that made me move out of my comfort zone – like teaching. Pitching bigger projects to clients. And it opened up new possibilities for myself. Soon, I wasn’t just accepting job offers – I made my own.

#3: Count on your contacts.

A lot of my freelance jobs/part-time job inquiries came from my friends and contacts over the years. I’ve found that when I did good work, it would lead to more referrals. Personal recommendations and rave reviews from my contacts – especially when I’m dealing with new clients – has gained me an easy foot in the door; sometimes even without the need to for a portfolio viewing. My illustration jobs were commissioned this way too. It doesn’t hurt to put your ear to the ground and ask around if anyone needs a hand or two!

#4: Create a bigger circle.

In addition to counting on your contact list, one of the best things that I’ve done is to not be content with who or what I know. When I quit my full time job, it freed up a lot of time for me to explore other things and topics that I liked (as opposed to it being something I had to do). So I got myself involved with the local tech community (yes, I am a geek!), educators and also other female entrepreneurs. Aside from having fun from all these experiences, I gained lots of new friends – we throw ideas around, get feedback and lots of support as we go along our way. The beauty of being able to craft your own circle (as opposed to just hanging out at your usual ones) is that you get to learn about a lot of things from different people. I think that this is one of the most interesting and fulfilling aspect of working as a freelancer and a part-timer that is harder for me to accomplish if I had been working full-time.

Finding a part-time job that will be able to cater to your analytical side will take some time and experimentation to see what works for you. A lot of times it will be through a series of trials and errors! The important thing is to go out and try out different things, and see what sticks. You won’t know something for certain until you’ve tried; and by taking that leap, you may just be pleasantly surprised at where you’ll land.

So there you have it Benjamin – I hope this will help you in some way! If you have any experience, advice or tips you’d like to share with Benjamin, I’d love to hear from you! Just write in your thoughts in the comments below and I’m sure it would greatly help others who are in the same situation.

Do you have a burning question that you’d like to get to the bottom of? Whether it’s questions about your life, career or if you’d like to just vent out your frustrations – send me a note and I’d be happy to offer my thoughts! And if you haven’t gotten on our newsletter just yet (but love articles like these) – sign up for the mailing list so you won’t miss out on anything!

Finding your ground

Joshua GilleIt’s funny – when I started writing more about process and creativity last year (it was a change of focus – I had been sharing images and works by others since this blog began); I felt a sense of relief. Relief because I felt that Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr in some ways had replaced blogging (especially visual blogging) in many ways. The ease of sharing things online was exciting, and I felt that instead of just re-posting things on my blog, I was able to keep a virtual diary of sorts through these fragmented sites – it was a mere click away to publish (as opposed to formatting the images, making it web-friendly, accrediting it manually, etc) before it could be palatable and presentable as a blog post.

But then I found that noise crept in. Things were moving so fast. What was that I pinned yesterday? I couldn’t quite remember what it was that I found, that inspired me enough to click that button in a mere second. Likes. Pins. Follows. There wasn’t a lack of inspiration – instead it felt like I needed a breather from all that I was taking in. I couldn’t digest properly. It was as if I was at a buffet table and shoving everything into my mouth without biting, without feeling. Now I know what my students meant when they felt incapacitated by the web.

This is the web that they know.

But it wasn’t like this, as I remembered. I wish that things were simpler, like before. But things are going to move at an even quicker pace, and I can’t kid myself that it will work the way I want it. I’m all up for progress. Rather, it’s up to me to hold on to something that I can steady myself with, so I can spin along while being centered.

This blog is an ever-evolving experiment, and I like that I can play by my own rules.

So yes it’s a place where I can take things a little slower. To digest. To feel. To experiment.

That way I’ll know when to catch myself when I feel that things are spinning out of control. And that’s something I can hold on to.

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In a world where things seem to spin so fast, what keeps you grounded? What is the one thing that remains a constant for you – that centers you and helps you to keep going?

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[Illustration by Joshua Gille]
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