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Freelancing as an Artist Part 1: Getting Started

My Career

Freelancing as an Artist Part 1: Getting Started

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When I started giving lectures on freelancing as an artist to animation students, I was very keen to spare them some of the ordeals I’d experienced myself. As a fulltime working artist, I’ve run the gamut of income ranges, working conditions and employers. I had a lot of rant in me about all those things.

Now, a bit mellower and wiser, I see that history is prone to repeating itself on each successive generation. Experience is often the final teacher. Every freelancing artist needs their own special story of the client that screwed them or the boss from hell, or the studio that went up in smoke. Hopefully, all you’ll need is just the one story.

Things like boundary-setting, negotiation, speaking up — these things are deadly scary for many artists. It takes a long time and many disappointments to develop those muscles.

This series of posts is based on an article I wrote for Screen Africa, for people entering the film and animation industries. I’ve chopped it up and embellished and presented it here in four parts:

  1. Getting started and getting work.
  2. Getting paid.
  3. Good Clients, Bad Clients.
  4. Frequently Asked Questions

If you can afford it, I recommend downloading a copy of Noah Bradley’s The Art of Freelancing. It’s a five-hour lecture series going into detail on topics like dealing with bad clients, asking rates, marketing and managing money. It’s a few years old and kind of specific to the US, but I still found it extremely useful starting out as a freelancing artist.

So let’s dive in.


Every freelancing artist seeking clients needs one major cornerstone to their business: a portfolio. In this day and age, it’s a website rather than a physical collection of paintings and drawings.

A portfolio gets you the work you want. Putting together a portfolio, you want to consider what sort of work you want to attract. Don’t put rigging work on your website if you’re trying to attract attention as an animator. Don’t put up logo design if you really want to do concept art for films.

If you’re starting or changing careers and don’t have any appropriate portfolio pieces, you need to make some. Try doing a course rather than self-study: it’s faster and more intensive, and you’ll probably get the feedback you need. By the end of it, you should have at least one vetted portfolio piece to show off.

Related: The Starving Artist: the myth, the money

College or Self-study?

A word on going to college versus self-study; I’ve known people who did both. Self-study is hard, but it works for a certain kind of person. Courses like those offered on Schoolism can be the intensive skill-blasting your portfolio needs to really look professional, and it’s a lot quicker and cheaper than college.

Going to a college can have it’s advantages too: it can really polish students’ work-ethic and conceptual thinking. It can formalise your approach to the work you’re doing and make you really think through your choices. College can give you a network of friends that will be your stepping stone into future work. It can expose your work to real academic rigour that’s hard to get when it’s you by yourself, surfing the internet.

However, I have never, not once, been asked for my degree in order to get a job; the portfolio is everything. Also, if you’re going to spend upward of R150 000 on university education, especially for specialised skills like animation, I’d want to find out if a) you’re leaving with a portfolio of work that’s worth a damn and b) whether they have a placement program with local and international studios. Just sayin’.

The only time an undergraduate or postgraduate degree might come to bear for you as an artist is if you want to emigrate. Some countries won’t accept people wanting to work in them without a tertiary degree…

This is an excerpt from Drawing Money. See full article here. Reposted with permission.

Next: Freelancing as an Artist Part 2: Getting Paid

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I’ve been a freelance artist in the film and animation industry since 2012 and I’m still alive! I am not a financial advisor nor am I legally enabled to give you financial advice. I’m a storyboard artist and a writer who’s made a lot of mistakes with money and consider myself well-read on the subject because I had to teach myself. The content on my blog is for educational purposes only and is my own experience and opinion and research.

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