A young, aspiring illustrator recently asked me how to become a full time freelancer. The answer is murky at best and provides no quick route to a stable career, but I’d like to think I learned a thing or two over the last fifteen-ish years that’s worth repeating.
I was lucky in that I started a blog before most folks were actively doing so. I posted a ton of work for at least five years before I got noticed from folks like Nike. It’s a numbers game. The more you put out into the ether, the better chance that the right people will see it.
Make a lot of work. Post it everywhere. Ev-er-y-where. Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Google+, Youtube, Twitter, Reddit, group blogs, art forums, sites whose content needs align with your work’s subject matter, and your own site.
If shotgunning the work into the world is half the battle, networking is the second. You’ll get notice eventually if you keep pumping out work, but develop a peer group in the meantime. These co-illustrators are more likely to get you your first gigs than anything else. You can’t go wrong with meeting, knowing, and being nice to a lot of people. Much of the time my success feels like a karmic reprieve for not being a dick.
Do the work. Make so much work that it’s persuasive as a body and speaks FOR you. Accept failures. Hell, accelerate the rate at which you fail. It’s the quickest route to learning what you need to do. And pretty soon you’ll have a base of fans or peers, or, if you’re lucky, both, that are open to what you’re creating.
That’s worth more than a big client or two. None of the work I’ve done for big clients has ever gotten me big clients. I didn’t even bother to put it into my portfolio when I was actively soliciting freelance clients half of the time. The esoteric, personal, honest stuff always has.
Be honest in your work. Make a shit-ton of it. Be nice to people.
This advice is so spot on. This is true and good and if you want to be an illustrator or designer or musician or painter or whatever, then read this multiple times and put it into practice everyday.