JJ Art is on a mission to showcase the world’s finest young artists, but is also keen to help creative types everywhere by writing didactic articles. Chenoa Gao is a successful Canadian freelance illustrator and, so, it came as a no brainer that Jester Jacques and Chenoa should discuss tips for artists who wish to become full time illustrators. Enjoy reading and please leave us comments, as we love discussions!
With so many resources for artists – Etsy, Society 6, Behance – and seeing how overcrowded those sites are, how do you make yourself stand out? (Any specific tricks?)
It’s really important to link all your work back to social media sites like Twitter, Tumblr, or a blog. Essentially you want to create your own web of connections, the more connections the easier it is for people to find you in searches (also make sure all your work is properly tagged too). Keep your work current and relevant to what you are doing. If you have a good flow of work that is regularly posted, people will notice you.
It must be overwhelming when you have to actively seek freelance gigs and try to work on your art at the same time, making your website and portfolio look good. How do you strike a balance?
Sometimes marketing yourself can feel like a full-time job and it’s easy to get hyper focused on the promotion and not your work - which should be your main priority. It’s good to break down your day by spending 10-20% on emails, marketing, web stuff and the rest is concentrated on your work. You can also cut down on time by updating your portfolio as soon as you finish a project. That way your website and work-in-progress posts are always up to date.
Would you advise young freelancers to put their work everywhere, or be more selective? (Maybe you can do too much PR for yourself?)
You know the saying less is more? Quality over quantity? Well the same applies here. You want to try and be on sites that are curated, respected and tailored to what you do. Otherwise you run the risk of getting lost in the quagmire of the good, bad and the ugly. You’re a professional, you want to be on professional sites like Behance, ConceptArt.org, or Dribbble.
Art Directors and the people that matter go to trusted sites suited to their needs, they want to see things like belonging to an association or professional group. These sites also allow for professionals in your network to provide recommendations of your work, this helps boost your profile as a respected artist. A client is more likely to take you seriously if you are respected by your peers.
There is always the debate if artists should work for free or not. Sometimes it is worthwhile because you do get your name out there, as well as adding to your client list. When should you say no though?
This is always tricky and is like the siren calling you to the depths of poverty. The fact is, good respected clients do and should pay you. The types of clients trying to get you to work for free are not usually the types of clients you want, unless it’s a mutually beneficial project such as an exchange of services or for a non-profit organization. More often than not, these free projects don’t provide you with portfolio quality work - which is sort of the point right?
Also, doing this work negatively affects other artists. It’s hard for professionals who are told by clients they should pay them less because they know another artist who will work for free. Again it all comes back to being a professional, as professional you are paid to do your work. If you’re always working for free, then this is more your hobby then your career.
Finally, if you had to give the readers 3 quick, essential tips to becoming a fulltime freelance illustrator, what would it be?
- You’re a professional, act like one. Word of mouth and who you know is so important in this industry. A bad rep can break you, nobody wants to work with an artist with a difficult reputation. You’re more likely to gain new work from clients recommending you (and hey, it’s free advertising!). You will have more success if you treat freelancing like a business.
- Quality over quantity. Focus on work that best suites your style. Clients only spend a couple of seconds looking at your work, so make sure it’s your best. Your work should be memorable, not forgettable.
- Network, network, network and always be nice. Going to art shows and meet-ups are a great way to meet other professionals and new clients. Never talk negatively about other artists or clients, you never know who you may meet who could boost or harm your career.