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Digital Artists guide to Gaining Work-Experience


Work Experience for Digital Artists At my university I sometimes hear Students asking why they aren’t gaining industry experience or work placements through their institution, and ask what placement programs are available. Whilst I am 100% behind any Student getting complete value from their course, I’d warn new Digital Artists not to rely on their Tutors or anyone else for that matter to bring work to them. Forming relationships, securing prospective clients and the art of self-marketing are all essential skills that need to be honed right from the outset. In a rabidly competitive field of work its well worth gaining the edge on your peers by learning the fine-art of securing work experience. Heres a breakdown of some time-tested methods of undertaking freelance work and maintaining repeat business.

• • • Uprinting Business Cards, essential in the art of self-marketing. • • •


I started working for clients when I was 15. In complete honesty I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I felt confident I could figure it out as I went along. Fortunately I managed to pick up enough to get repeat business, but it did require a lot of work to acquire the skills in order to meet the expectations of my clients. Being in a situation where others rely on you for their business, particularly deadline work such as event flyers, pushes you to develop at a phenomenal rate. When confronted with a ‘sink or swim’ situation such as commission work, you are presented with a huge incentive to get the work done right and resolve project problems by any means necessary.



Before you approach prospective clients you have to have at the very least a base level of confidence. Being meek and uncertain will not bode well with those considering you to do their creative work. Reflect on prior projects that have gone well and understand that you have what it takes to satisfy a clients brief, or have the aptitude to learn how to do it. Being new to the game means that there is a lot you don’t fully understand, but you shouldn’t allow this to halt your progress – figure out what you need to know on the go and learn to adapt to new challenges. All Digital Artists of every level do this on a daily basis, and it is a core facet of innovation and progression.

A word of caution; do not allow your confidence to be wildly disproportionate to your ability. There is a certain amount of give regarding your prowess as a ‘self-marketer’, but if you bite off more than you can chew – you can damage new relationships and tarnish a reputation yet to be formed. There are chancers and cowboys in every field of work, however in this business – if you don’t get it right, you don’t get paid.



Down Boy!!



Following smoothly on from confidence comes tenacity. To get your work into the public domain, you need to aggressively ‘hawk’ your wares at every given opportunity. Got an uncle who has just opened a restaurant? Offer to design his menus. Come across a design competition at university? Enter it and give it everything you have. Overheard a couple in the bar complaining that they dont have a logo for their website? Approach them and offer to design one for them. Even if you find that the person you are speaking to does not require design work, tell them what you do anyway. You get the idea.. In a sense, you really do have to drop the shyness and get your fingers into as many pies as humanly possible; you need your work to be scattered into the ether like dandelion seeds, let everyone you ever encountered know that you are a Digital Artist. Working for clients is an inter-personal business. Having the front to approach a stranger and tell them confidently what it is you do, is essential for securing work.

A must-have tool in the arsenal of the self-marketing Digital Artist is a good looking business card, scratch that, any business card! Backing up your shpiel with contact details not only boosts your ‘real life SEO’ but also keeps you in the clients mind. It may be six months down the line that they actually require design work. It is then that they refer to the pinboard in order to find the details of the weird design guy they spoke to in the pub.

Again, a word of warning; do not let your tenacity evolve into that of a boorish narcissist! Its great to get the word out there, but don’t allow it to permeate every last inch of your being. Im sure common sense would prevail here 8-)


Social Networking

I began my freelancing adventures prior to the widespread adoption of the Internet, so the bulk of my work was from event promoters that lived in my county. Today, as we all know, is a whole new kettle of fish. Social networking is a HUGE facet of becoming recognised and gaining the interest of clients outside your region. Arguably it is easier now than ever for you to conduct business online and interact with people seeking artwork.

Much like the points raised above, getting known means getting work; Communities need to know you exist, by spreading your name far and wide, preferrably on the merit of good work, opens up opportunities on a daily basis. Gallery sites like DeviantArt, Twitter, Social Bookmarking sites, Facebook (I wouldnt know *spit*) and forums etc. should bear your mark – make it easy for people to access your work and contact you. Enough info is out there on how to get started with all these sites, so I’ll let you find your own way on that one. Be ethical with this, if you indescriminately spam everything, you will look like a jackass. Find a balance. 8-)



Patience, young Padwan.


Patience & Resilience

As a new Digital Artist you are going to get your ass kicked. Propably often. Its a damn shame, but there are a few people out there who will drain every last drop of energy and enthusiasm out of you with their poor taste and unreasonable demands. There are folks that will order you to do their logo in fluorescent orange comic-sans and people who will change their minds 50 times, and then decide that you were right in the first place, telling you to revert back to your original concept. You will feel like you have had your soul ripped out and kicked around, and there will be times (normally 4.30AM on a work night) where you just cant be f*cked anymore. Having the good fight inside you and soldiering on will seperate you from the quitters, and theres plenty of them out there.

If a client is beyond the realm of reasonability, do not suffer unneccesarily – politely tell them that you are sorry and let go of the job. When I was 17 I couldn’t get employment in my wasteland town, so living off art was all I had for income. If I had encountered half of those situations I did back then now, I would have told many of them to get lost (politely); but desperation is a stinky cologne. Yes, I did get beaten around a fair bit – but boy did it make me stronger, Im certain that fighting past those early difficult days equipped me with the skills to be a better Digital Artist today.

If the going gets tough, plough through it with your game face on. Resilience and determination keeps you going, and as problems become less and less prominent (due to your increased ability and people skills) you will learn many valuable lessons from the whole rigmorole.



Are you into skateboarding? Be an active member of the skateparks, design custom boards for friends, build websites for your skate crew. More of a contemporary Jazz lady? Design flyers for friends’ gigs, talk on jazz forums, be active, be a part of it. A massive percentage of my lifetimes work has come from the Drum n Bass crowd; I went to the parties, posted on the forums, got to know DJs, producers and MCs, I got neck deep in the whole scene. Become a face, understand the design conventions of that scene, be an expert in the field. If you are a valued member of a community, any community, its a great way to have a constant stream of work coming your way. Caring about your production and attaching value to your work makes the whole process a lot more engaging.

I started designing flyers for friends when I started, because I loved Drum n Bass. I still do it to this day, and have great fun doing it.



You may be the greatest prodigy the design world has ever encountered, but if you are arrogant and lack interpersonal skills – you will not be as succesful as you could be. Humility and understanding goes a long way, and being a people business, interacting in a decent manner is essential. Diplomatically explaining to a client why their choice of comic-sans may not be a wise decision is a skill that will come into play more often than not.

As awesome as you are, clients will remember you as much by your interaction as your artistic skills. Always ensure that a client is happy and strive to conduct yourself with decency and politeness. People will always want to recommend a nice guy / girl to their friends as their recalled experiences will be largely positive. The personal touch is a big factor in the game, work hard and ensure your clients are cared for.

Cash Money

Dollar Dollar Bill Y’all


Yeah.. But what about pricing etc?

Ok.. This one gets bounded about a fair bit – and Im not going to provide a framework here. There were many times that I worked for free in order to have my name attached to a certain artist or record label. There were other occassions where I charged slightly more / less than my usual rate. These are delicate issues and I feel it is at the discretion of the Digital Artist to find their way. If your desperate to get an idea, Google it, theres plenty of resources out there to evaluate your worth.

I’d argue that if your relatively new, do a fair amount of work for free to get your name out there – and once youve proved your aptitude in the field, start charging.



The worlds out there and you really have to run at it to make it work. Your university / college can provide you with many of the skills required for industry, but opportunity needs to harnessed by YOU. Everything you need to get started is readily available, gather your resources and give it a shot. If you do manage to get a work placement through your institution, thats awesome; but those who can also secure work of their own volition gain the competitive edge ;)


Image credits: Work dice by hisks SXC [link], Yappy Dog by dimitri_c SXC [link], Hour glass bysatty4u SXC [link], Dollah Bills by Leonardini SXC [link]


Enjoy this post? Think Im way off the mark? Feel free to comment below and don’t forget to subscribe via RSS for free updates.

Conzz 8-)

Follow on Twitter >> @Conzpiracy

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14 Responses to “Digital Artists guide to Gaining Work-Experience”

  1. Andrea says:

    Great man!!!! really good tips :D
    thanks ^_^

  2. Kiren says:

    Great article, struggle with this stuff all the time. Way too many arrogant designers out there thinking that their work will get them business rather than networking and hard work. I feel I can relate to you more than other artists around, keep it up man!!

  3. Irene says:

    Good and informative article. I’ve been actively pursuing freelance work this year and it can be a rough terrain, but not impossible. The trickier thing is to get the word around rather than the actual work.

  4. Mark says:

    great post!! loads of good advice! keep it up :)

  5. Laura C says:

    Really informative article, thank you :)

    ((I also have gotten my first experience from Drum and Bass fliers and ads, so HUGE ups there :D ))

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