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The Realities of a Freelance Digital Artist


The Reality of Freelance Title PostWhen I was 15, I had literally no idea what I was doing. I knew I loved digital art and I knew I wanted to create it for other people – it was here that my freelance journey began. My adventures started prior to the internet explosion, so when clients wanted to pick up their work, they drove to my house (often 100 miles or more) to pick up the files… on a ZIP Disk!! Fortunately, it’s infinitely easier now to exchange artistic services for money, however it’s not all peaches and cream.

The popular image of the Freelancer is very romantic, idling away the hours doing activities you love; spreading joy throughout the world with your awesome creations. To a certain extent, this can be the reality, however there’s an underbelly to this type of work that doesn’t often see the light of day. Freelancing is tough. In this collection of musings Im going to dig through some of the less savoury aspects of the game, and the realities of making your living through digital art.


When Art Becomes a Chore

As a passionate hobbyist, you probably can’t wait to get home from the day job and get neck-deep in your new art piece. When art becomes your ‘day job’, just a little bit of that magic is lost. Even though this line of work will be considerably more fulfilling than stacking shelves, psychologically the task becomes a chore to a certain degree. For me personally this isn’t a major detriment, because I love most of the commissions I get; however I have noticed that this element can sap some of your creative energy.


Don’t Give up the Day Job… (Just Yet)

For a very long time, I had to supplement my freelance practice with a ‘Day Job’, and this represents the reality for a sizeable percentage of all freelancers out there. Many folks will over-estimate the volume of work that comes in, and will be forced to create art under the pressure of ‘financial desperation’. Believe me, Ive been there – nothing will sap your creative energy and emotional wellbeing more than working for a difficult client when you are absolutely desperate for money. I have been close to quitting the entire game on more than a few occassions when I was younger, largely due to the helplessness that is felt when you are bound to the whims of a tyrant!

The truth is, many folks will jump into freelance as a means to support themselves or their family due to a lack of employment in the area. In this situation, I would advise you to supplement the freelance income with a day job of any description, no matter how menial it may be. In the early days, you will need to build a client base (and continue to do so throughout your career!) – receiving sporadic chunks of change does not make for a healthy financial situation.

With a base income, you will have at least a little leverage, offering you the opportunity to drop any negative situations / clients that bleed ‘hours’ from your life. If you are good at your craft and dealing with people, this will be a very rare occurence.


Diversify your Income

Following on from the above point, It’s highly advisable to diversify your sources of income to support your freelance practice. For me, it’s always been teaching – either at university level or one to one tuition. This is an ideal scenario, because I love teaching and I get to keep my focus on digital art. Some artists will sell fine-art prints or calendars, however I feel you need to have a very strong personal brand to do this effectively. Even the real big players have multiple revenue streams to create a comfortable income, be it training, seminars, teaching, products or otherwise.

All new freelancers should become accustomed to seeking out other opportunities, and not become reliant on just one income stream.


Digital Art = Less Money??

Some of my peers may correct me on this, but I feel that Digital Artists are amongst the lowest paid, of all the digital creative services. I believe this is largely due to the client demographics in this arena. ‘Pure’ Graphic Designers have the opportunity to create logos and graphics for large corporations and high profile clients that will pay a premium rate for high quality work – the same goes for Web Design, UX/UI, Video and Motion Graphics. Digital Artists, on the other hand are often commissioned to work for smaller, more independent operations such as self-publishing authors, event promoters and musicians.

I know a number of Digital Artists (Photoshop / Composite Art) that have pushed through this stage and are now working for some of the biggest brands on the planet, however these guys represent the absolute elite (Top 0.1%). It is achievable, but your game has to be at a world-class level with flawless personal branding if you want to be working for Nike. One artist I have always admired in this arena is Justin Maller, be sure to check him out to see what the apex looks like.

You may want to dig into a ‘niche’ such as video game / motion picture concept art, which is a world unto itself. Again, the standard and level of competition in this arena is ferocious and will take considerable work building your skillset to a level, even to get noticed.


Typography. You Gotta Learn it.

Truth be told, almost every job you receive will have some kind of typographic element involved – be it book cover art, event posters, album covers, you name it.. If you are the guy or gal that can provide the entire service in one hit, then you are ultimately the more desirable candidate. Im not suggesting that you become a ‘jack of all trades’ – just have a good grasp of layout and type. You are going to need these skills. Often.


Rockstars and Millionaires

It is highly unlikely that you will achieve a vast amount of wealth through freelancing as a digital artist, however the benefits of this lifestyle are multitude. To end on a high note, here are some of the factors that have kept me in the game:

• The opportunity to create art for my life-long hero, Clive Barker.
• Being the lord of my own destiny, answering to noone.
• Sleeping whenever I want.
• No commuting, office politics or answering to ‘superiors’.
• Free Entry to many club events, raves & festivals (Woo Hoo!!)
• I have become friends with many great authors, photographers, promoters, models, makeup aritsts and musicians.
• Glamorous sounding job title (especially good for dating) :P
• It has shaped my identity, I am the ‘weird art guy’.
• Involvement with the Horror scene, including motion pictures and literature.
• The opportunity to teach at university level.
• Media coverage in the biggest Photoshop magazines on the planet.
• Being part of an awesome international creative community.
• Being a pioneer of a brand new art medium, discovering new ways to work on a daily basis.
• I can work anywhere that has an internet connection.
• When things go well, I can earn more in 4 hours, than many people make in a week.

^ That’s just the tip of the iceberg, I’d be here all day if I listed all the benefits. I hope you enjoyed the article, leave a comment and let us know about your own freelance experiences.


Conzz 8-)

Follow on Twitter >> @Conzpiracy

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15 Responses to “The Realities of a Freelance Digital Artist”

  1. Owen says:

    Great tips man, liking it a lot. And woah – Justin Maller’s stuff is incredible!
    Keep it up!

  2. ReyeD33 says:

    Excellent article!
    Really enjoyed reading this, and I’ve learned a few things, so thank you :D

  3. Salemik says:

    Popularity with the laydeeez eh. Where do I sign :)

  4. Sens says:

    Definitely your work is great… So there is no Question for people like you to get clients…even bigger ones…

    Please keep on posting Tutorials….

    Do you use Illustrator? Gaming concept DEsign works are done in Illustrator I guess… I mean the vector ones.


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  6. I’ve always hoped that I don’t need to learn typography, but looks like it’s essential :D

    ” • Free Entry to many club events, raves & festivals ” This is sound awesome.

  7. Dr. Nicolas V. Rao says:

    Very lucid and real. Also very encouraging. Thank you!

  8. Nel EB says:

    Thanks for this article! I found it to be very encouraging and it seems to be a summary of my current experiences as a Freelance Illustrator/Designer. I’ll be checking out the suggested artist’s work. Just wondering if you have any tips on turning down work/commissions… do you suggest it declining work you don’t find ideal or would you say to give every opportunity a shot? I’ve heard both arguments before so on unsure about that. Anyway, thanks again!

    • conzpiracy says:

      Hey Nel, thanks so much for the comment. I do decline work on occassion, if the price isn’t right, or the project doesn’t fit with what I’m doing at the time. Use your discretion, follow your gut :)

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