Going freelance is the talk of the town in 2021, but it’s much easier said than done. For a lot of artists, working as a freelance illustrator offers the creative freedom they so desire. At the same time, it comes with a range of responsibilities that can make aspiring independent artists hesitate.
If you’re wondering how to become a freelance illustrator, we’re here to help you get started on the right foot. Going freelance is no easy feat, but bear these tips in mind, and you'll be well on your way to success.
1. Research the scope of the job
As with any profession, the first step toward success is understanding what the job entails.
While illustration sounds pretty straightforward, you should still be aware of the types of jobs this industry offers. According to the latest annual survey by Ben the Illustrator, the most popular kinds of illustrating projects, in order, are:
- Publishing and editorial projects
- Private commissions and exhibited artworks
- Advertising materials
- Product design
- Animation and motion graphic projects
Unless you have a strong reputation in a niche market, you probably will find yourself handling a combo of tasks (e.g. running an Etsy shop while also accepting commissions). This is not out of the ordinary if you’re a freelancer — since you won’t necessarily have constant work in any given segment, one source of income can cover for another if need be.
Can you be an illustrator without qualifications?
The simple answer is: yes! You can become a freelance illustrator without an illustration degree. A lot of artists in the industry aren’t illustration graduates, and most clients will judge you by the quality of the work in your portfolio — not by the degree or diploma that you might or might not have on paper.
Save up before freelancing full-time!
We’ve already mentioned that freelance jobs can be sporadic at the best of times, and dried up at the worst. What you should also know is that the pay can really vary. There are projects that can bring in $1,000-$2,000 — and then there are $10-$20 projects. Typically, the pay will depend on a number of factors, including:
- The intended purpose of the illustration (advertising gigs tend to make more),
- Whether you’re selling the copyright or licensing the artwork,
- Your experience level, and
- How long it would take for you to complete it (which varies with each artist).
When you’re starting out as a full-time freelance illustrator, you generally won’t have the luxury of a substantial regular income. This is why you should have savings to last you at least six months without additional earnings. If you’re not planning to go into freelancing full-time, prepare manage your time well and juggle another day job on top of your illustration gigs on the side.
Top tip: keep yourself organized with a freelance time tracker app!
2. Build a strong portfolio
Now that you’ve got an overview of the freelance illustration trade, let’s get down to business and curate a notable portfolio.
It goes without saying that a professional, user-friendly website that sleekly displays your past endeavors and skills is key to earning the interest and trust of potential clients. This means getting your own domain name (no “yourname.wordpress.com,” please!) and possibly even an email address with that domain name. Wordpress, Wix, and Squarespace all have appropriately priced plans to easily set this up.
Pick and organize relevant samples
When it comes to the content of your portfolio, always go for quality over quantity. While an aspiring illustrator may be tempted to upload as many samples of their work as possible, it’s actually wiser to choose the ones that best resemble what you want to be hired for. Say you’re hoping to become a children’s book illustrator, and you’ve previously worked on some bookmarks featuring cartoon characters, as well as some unrelated business card designs. In this scenario, it’s best to showcase the former, so as to grab the attention of a children’s book author.
Top tip: Fill your portfolio with works that resemble what you want to be hired for.
If you have a range of works to show, make sure to organize them into separate tabs to keep your website navigable. Potential clients should know exactly where to find testimonials of your skills. Needless to say, it’s crucial to have a “Contact Me” tab that’s always visible — not tucked into a scroll down list that’s barely findable. (You’d be surprised to know how many websites do this!)
Focus on a brand image
As a freelancer, you should have a website that reflects your artist brand, which means that you’ll want to design a profile that’s aesthetically coherent. What’s the distinct style of your art and specialty? In other words, what’s your unique selling point?
All your work samples should demonstrate this point, and they should be presented in a way that highlights your uniqueness. How your portfolio looks will also inform potential customers of your ability — check out Anna Woodbine’s clean-cut website for some inspiration! Her book covers are laid upon colored backgrounds that enhance the delicacy and beauty of her illustrations — just what you need to wow clients!
3. Scout marketplaces for jobs
Once your website is up and running, it’s time to start the job search! There are many ways to find freelance illustration jobs, but illustration marketplaces are a good place to begin. Sites like Behance, Dribbble, and Coroflot are teeming with art and creative directors searching for new talent. And if you’re interested in working in the publishing sector, there are thousands of indie authors on Reedsy who are looking for designers and illustrators to bring their books to life.
Create your Reedsy freelancer account
We have some great projects already lined up for you to work on.
Learn more about how Reedsy can help.
These sites will bring you straight to the right target audience — people who really need good illustrators — for you. The downside is that the competition can be quite intense, and some sites do require previous experience or qualifications.
This does mean that if you may find it challenging to find jobs here if you’re just starting to freelance. (Beware also of freelance scams that take advantage of beginners.) Still, you can learn a lot from browsing job boards and others’ profiles while you build up your own profile. When you do get a gig from marketplaces, the task and its pay will justify all that hard work.
Spoiler alert: being a freelancer also means constantly marketing yourself, and there’s no better place to do that in our media-saturated lives than social platforms.
For illustrators, image-based sites such as Instagram are essential. When used correctly, they can be a gold mine. How? Well, people who aren’t savvy about the industry but still need illustrators — e.g. restaurateurs who need their menu designed, or someone looking for a customized gift for a friend — typically don’t browse marketplaces. They’re more likely to be scrolling through Instagram, which means you can be there to catch their eye and offer them your services!
You can also share your processes and projects — commissioned and self-initiated — on social media to stay engaged with the illustration community. If you stay connected with other experienced artists, they’ll share their own nuggets of wisdom with you. Illustrators have their own ever-growing and supportive network, and fellow creatives are often happy to give job recommendations, so be sure to interact with them!
Join an illustrator community
If social media isn’t enough for you, consider joining a community like the Association of Illustrators. Becoming a member means receiving newsletters that keep you up to date, getting access to guides and resources about the illustration trade, and being invited to offline networking events. It’s helpful for newcomers and can add some social connection to a somewhat lonely occupation.
5. Develop good relationships with clients
While we’re on the topic of marketing, let’s discuss customer loyalty. When starting out, you’re likely going to be more concerned about attracting new customers than getting repeat customers. However, repeated clients and referrals are responsible for a good proportion of a freelance illustrator’s work, so it’s important to keep customer loyalty in mind early on.
Pitch creatively and personally
Most of the time, a strong worker-client relationship begins the moment you introduce yourself. A good pitch not only shows your intuition and proactivity, it also conveys your genuine interest in a potential client’s work.
To start off on the right foot, research your client’s products and services first and use what you find. Ultimately, art directors look for illustrators who want to help them create the best product. By showing that you care, you score a point.
If you follow up on that interest and create wonderful art for them, clients will no doubt preserve your name on the list of trustworthy and enthusiastic freelancers that they can contact when the need arises again.
And remember to also try creative approaches when pitching. Sending physical postcards or brochures to local companies, for instance, could be a good way to stand out from other illustrators who rely solely on their online presence.
Write a thorough contract
If you get a request or offer, the next step toward building a good working relationship is to provide a clear agreement or contract. Make sure you both understand the terms of the collaboration to avoid misunderstandings. Below are a couple crucial aspects you must cover.
© Matters of copyright and licensing. If you grant them the copyright, you should charge them more.
💰 Deposit, kill-fee, and late fee. Depending on the scope of the project, you should ask your client either for a deposit, a fee in case the project is cancelled, and a fee for late payment. Short gigs can probably go without these.
Before starting the collaboration, you may want to set up a video call with your client to establish a workflow (from approving the rough concept to making final adjustments) and set the tone of your communication. Let them know that they can (and should) trust your artistic expertise, and that you’d contact them should you have questions regarding their brief.
Keep in touch after the project is completed
If everything goes smoothly, by the end of the project, customers will be happy to give you a testimonial when you ask. They might even recommend you, of their own accord, to other potential clients. Of course, you can also take a more proactive approach and politely ask them whether they’re aware of anyone in need of illustration services.
On top of that, don’t hesitate to email old customers every now and then to see if they have an upcoming project suited to your skills. Again, try to personalize such emails by asking how they’re doing before moving onto business matters.
6. Manage your finances
Finally, capping our list of tips on how to become a freelance illustrator, is a practical piece of advice for a rather tedious task — financial management. You can hire an accountant to help you, although most beginners don’t make enough to either warrant or fund an accountant’s services.
Alternatively, you may wish to apply to agencies and representatives — they’ll take some of the administrative burden off your shoulder in exchange for commission. Beyond connecting you with clients, they’ll take over the tasks of issuing invoices, drafting contracts, and chasing payments.
Note: Steer clear of agents who ask you to pay fees upfront.
Still, as unexciting as numbers may be for an illustrator, these management tasks are not difficult to complete on your own. All you need to do is:
- Open a separate bank account for your freelance business,
- Create a format for invoices,
- Keep track of all income and expenses using a spreadsheet or accounting software, and
- Register as a self-employed worker when you earn enough (the threshold depends on your country).
Consistently tracking your finances helps you budget and prepare yourself for the worst situations. It also makes noticing overdue payments from clients easier, so you’ll know when to chase them up. Once you make enough from freelance projects to have to pay tax, remember to register as a self-employed worker, since you’ll be entitled to tax deductions on things that help build your home office (e.g. utility bills, computers and stationary that you buy, etc).
Of course, the road ahead won’t be easy, and you may have to juggle several different jobs for a while. But at the end of the day, the creative freedom you get will be the reward to trump all hardship. Good luck!
How do I start freelancing in illustrator? ›
- Develop illustration skills and knowledge. Artistic ability is crucial to becoming an illustrator. ...
- Build a network. Building a network is a great way for freelancers to find work and maintain industry connections. ...
- Plan your freelance business. ...
- Market your work. ...
- Ensure client satisfaction.
Go to events, portfolio reviews, and illustration conferences. Hang out with other artists and network. Meet people at meet up's. Having a personal contact with someone is a great way to eventually get them to see you work.Is it hard to be a freelance illustrator? ›
It also means you have to be your own boss, manage your own deadlines, produce work to tight specifications, and find new clients on a regular case-by-case basis. It's not easy. But the rewards are worth it. As a freelance illustrator, you'll need to be able to sell yourself as much as your portfolio.How do I promote myself as an illustrator? ›
"Email promotion also works best if it's personal. Come up with a creative subject line and introduce yourself, providing a link to your website. Vague emails such as "Freelance Illustrator" will get lost and won't be opened. Clients find you through online social media postings, published work, and self-promotion."What skills do illustrators need? ›
- a creative imagination.
- to work well using different art techniques.
- an understanding of colour, shape and form.
- knowledge of computer graphics software and digital imaging.
- good communication, presentation and negotiation skills.
- to work to deadlines and budgets.
With illustrators who are still in college you can expect to pay between $25–50/hr, whereas working with more seasoned illustrators you'd be looking at between $100–250+/hr.How do illustrators find work? ›
Freelance sites and marketplaces
If you want to test the waters and find jobs quickly, check out freelance sites such as Fiverr, Indeed, and Upwork. They're always teeming with job postings, from book illustration to logo designing. Be aware, though, that the gigs are usually quite small, so the rate isn't very high.
Well, if you love to be creative and work hard it can be very rewarding to be an illustrator. You have your freedom, work at home and can enjoy creating art. But you have to be willing to make long hours and work during the weekends. That was the first lesson my comics artist teacher gave me.How can I make my illustration look professional? ›
Use darker marks for the shadows and lighter marks for the shadows. Place your shadows behind any objects on the opposite side of your light source and do the opposite for your highlights. This will give your illustration a sense of depth and make it feel professional.Can I become an illustrator if I can't draw? ›
Actually, yes. There are many illustrators who create wonderful work that does not involve drawing. Fred Otnes and Melissa Grimes are just two of many illustrators who are best know for combining found imagery to create original works.
What training is needed to become an illustrator? ›
You can also become an illustrator by completing a degree in animation, graphic design, digital media, new media design, fine arts, creative arts, visual arts or visual communication. To get into these courses you usually need to gain your Senior Secondary Certificate of Education with English.Do illustrators get paid well? ›
An Illustrator can earn a great living from their art. According to Payscale.com, the median pay for an Illustrator is $68,000 per year. This means that most Illustrators earn more than the median income.What makes a good illustrator? ›
As a rule of thumb, the approach to a good illustration should be to ensure it is clear and intentional. This means that an illustrator's job should be to find the most direct way to make their audience understand what they want them to understand and feel when they are engaged with their imagery.Where do I get illustration commissions? ›
Here is that list:
- Be clear on your value.
- Ask for recommendations.
- Make sure your portfolio is the best it can be.
- Create valuable content.
- Keep things up to date.
- Network, network, network.
- Use social proof.
- Don't underestimate the power of a follow-up.
Rates typically charged by illustrators on Upwork are: Beginner: $15 per hour. Intermediate: $23 per hour. Expert: $30 per hour.How do freelance illustrators survive? ›
- Set Goals. To survive as a freelance artist, you need to maintain a detailed vision of how you want your career to develop. ...
- Create a Schedule. ...
- Communicate Your Needs. ...
- Keep Records. ...
- Promote Yourself. ...
- Save Money. ...
- Pay Taxes. ...
- Stress Busters.
Regardless of your age, it is never too late to become an illustrator. Anyone can learn to draw and build up a portfolio of work. You'll be surprised at how good you can become if you put in the time and effort.How do I get my artwork noticed? ›
- Establish your style for maximum artist exposure.
- Secure an online portfolio.
- Include your social media accounts.
- Join artist communities and online forums.
- Visit & join local gallery exhibitions.
- Sign up with online galleries.
- Talk about your work.
- Remember, you are the top authority on your artwork.
- Construct a Storyline.
- Start with some freewriting.
- Rehearse your story like you are rehearsing a play.
- Keep it simple.
How do I sell myself as an artist? ›
- Hone your voice. ...
- Tap your friends for market research. ...
- Use the tools you're comfortable with. ...
- Experiment with different types of posts. ...
- Make a website (if you haven't already) ...
- Keep a database of contacts. ...
- Be strategic with timing.
Typical Work Schedule
Illustrators who are employed full-time generally work 40 hours a week during normal business hours, though overtime may be required on occasion to meet deadlines.
How long does it take to become an illustrator? If you have decided to earn a degree, it will take you four years. Some certificates will require two years of your time. Make sure to begin developing your portfolio at the beginning of your education.What does an illustrator do on a daily basis? ›
As an illustrator, you'll work to commercial briefs to inform, persuade or entertain a client's intended audience, adjusting the mood and style of images accordingly. You'll typically specialise in a particular design medium, such as drawing, photography or digital illustration.How do I price my illustrations? ›
In the illustration industry, you're either going to be paid a flat fee or a rate. A rate is time-based pricing. Basically that the price is determined by how much time you spend working on it. From what I've seen the rate can either be an hourly rate, or a day rate depending on the client and project.How do illustrators sell their work? ›
Sell your work on art fairs & design markets
See if there's any local design market/art fair or any other event that let's you sell your work, participating in events like these are a great way to earn some extra income, you will also be able to reach new customers and meet other artists and creative people.
Overall, an Illustrator is a profession that is often seen as a good paying job. However, the salary range for this profession is quite large, so it is important to keep this in mind when looking at the average salary for Illustrators.How do I start an illustration business? ›
- 01 Study design. ...
- 02 Work for free. ...
- 03 Work for someone else at first. ...
- 04 Learn how to present your ideas to clients. ...
- 05 Make friends. ...
- 06 Know your value (and ask for it) ...
- 07 Keep an open mind.
While some artists take on freelance contracts and others work as employees, many artistic jobs can be done from home, including remote illustrator jobs. Illustrators generally work with clients and marketing teams to create images and artwork for both print and digital media.What do illustrators draw with? ›
- Adobe Photoshop. As one of the go-to programs for digital art, Photoshop also offers high-end drawing tools. ...
- Adobe Illustrator. ...
- Corel Painter. ...
- Rebelle 4. ...
- ArtRage Vitae. ...
- Krita. ...
- Artweaver. ...
Can I be an illustrator without a degree? ›
You can take many college-level online classes on the fundamentals of design or further or re-shift your focus to another industry that might find your illustration skills useful. Most pros in this field will tell you that you won't need a degree in illustration to become a professional illustrator.How do you know if your art is good? ›
- Quality 1: Beauty of the Artwork. You certainly do not want to bring something home that does not captivate you or grab your attention. ...
- Quality 2: Uniqueness. ...
- Quality 3: Skills and Technique. ...
- Quality 4: Inherent Meaning.
- There is a little critic that lives inside every artist's mind.
- If You Don't Care About Your Work, Don't Expect Anyone Else To Care.
- Create Work With Someone Specific in Mind.
- Don't Follow Trends.
- Know Your Medium Inside and Out.
- Draw an object and give it a face.
- Create an alternate cover to your favorite book or album.
- Illustrate a scene from your favorite song.
- Draw a scene or character from your favorite book.
- Illustrate your favorite fairy-tale.
- Invent your own insects.
- Draw an intricate made up flower.
- Advertising Illustration.
- Animation and Gaming.
- Character Development (Television, Print)
- Digital Illustration.
- Educational Illustration (Products and Promotions)
- Fashion Illustration.
- Gallery and Exhibition Installations.
In fact, drawing – or illustrating – free hand is not necessary (so no, you really don't have to be good at art to use Adobe Illustrator), as there are many simple tools that can be utilised in this vastly expansive program, some of which this article will reveal.How do I make an illustration portfolio? ›
- Elevate Your Digital Presence. ...
- Maintain Control Over How Your Portfolio Is Experienced. ...
- Have A Shop And Portfolio In One Place. ...
- Show Your Best Work. ...
- Your Bio. ...
- Contact Details. ...
- Be Consistent In Your Portfolio Pieces. ...
- Vary Your Subject Matter.
How Much Does A Children's Book Illustrator Cost? You can expect to spend at least $500 for a book illustrator if you know where to look and how to find a good illustrator. Sometimes that $500 has included the formatting and cover design as well. This often surprises people, and it should.How much does an illustrator make per book? ›
Book illustrators typically earn between 5% and 10% of each book's list price. Most books only have one print run, which means the royalties will often run out quite quickly, this is why it is important that the illustrator gets paid an 'advance against royalties'.How do I become a full time illustrator? ›
- Choose your specialism. Children's books are a good source of work for illustrators. ...
- Set aside a specific time. ...
- Offer mates' rates. ...
- Send something lovely in the post. ...
- Sell stock illustrations. ...
- Start a part-time course. ...
- Get a website. ...
- Contact agents.
How much do freelance illustrators make? ›
While ZipRecruiter is seeing annual salaries as high as $129,000 and as low as $19,000, the majority of Freelance Illustrator salaries currently range between $39,000 (25th percentile) to $72,000 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $101,500 annually across the United States.How much should a freelance illustrator charge? ›
Rates typically charged by illustrators on Upwork are: Beginner: $15 per hour. Intermediate: $23 per hour. Expert: $30 per hour.Can I make money as an illustrator? ›
If you are expertise in graphic design, there's a whole wide variety of active and passive income types you can make use of. Selling your work is the best way to make a profitable income as an artist while realizing your creative potential. You can start joining websites like Envato elements, creative market, sellfy.How do beginner artists make money? ›
Ways to sell your art and diversify your income online and offline: Selling art prints and original pieces on online marketplaces or your own website. Sell your art on products like stickers, stationary, t-shirts, mugs with print-on-demand. Teach your artistic skills through workshops or launch a course.How much should I charge for my illustration? ›
Hourly rates for illustrators range from $25 to $100, and can be higher depending on the area of specialty and artist reputation. Nationwide, the average costs for an illustration project can range from $90 to $465, but larger projects will command higher rates, and every project is different.How many hours do illustrators work? ›
Typical Work Schedule
Illustrators who are employed full-time generally work 40 hours a week during normal business hours, though overtime may be required on occasion to meet deadlines.
- Step 1: Get The Right Equipment. ...
- Step 2: Find A Marketable Skill. ...
- Step 3: Polish Up Your Skills. ...
- Step 4: Build Your Reputation. ...
- Step 5: Create A Portfolio. ...
- Step 6: Try Freelancing Part-Time. ...
- Step 7: Find The Right Freelance Platform. ...
- Step 8: Charge The Right Price.
How do freelance artists find work? Freelance artists often find work through the internet, hiring agencies, job boards, referrals, and continual self-promotion.How do online artists succeed? ›
- Find which marketplace is right for you. ...
- Create a professional-looking website. ...
- Write compelling artwork descriptions. ...
- Build your own personal brand. ...
- Use social media to your advantage. ...
- Provide Certificates of Authenticity with your artworks.
Multiply the painting's width by its length to arrive at the total size, in square inches. Then multiply that number by a set dollar amount that's appropriate for your reputation. I currently use $6 per square inch for oil paintings. Then calculate your cost of canvas and framing, and then double that number.
Who owns the rights to an illustration? ›
The artist is still the owner of the illustration and has the right to copy it (copyright). Clients pay to be able to use your work in predetermined ways for a certain amount of time in the form of a licence.How do you price your work? ›
Calculate Your Hourly Rate
Business schools teach a standard formula for determining an hourly rate: Add up your labor and overhead costs, add the profit you want to earn, then divide the total by your hours worked. This is the minimum you must charge to pay your expenses, pay yourself a salary, and earn a profit.
Bestselling author Joanna Penn estimates that the average pay for a 32-page picture book is $3,000 – $12,000, meaning a 32 page book with 20 illustrations equates anywhere from $150 to $600 per illustration. Publishing expert Anthony Puttee estimates a slightly lower standard rate of about $120 per illustration.