You have given it a thought and made a decision to earn money using your artistic skills for the first time. Here is a to-do list to get you started:
Choose a creative field
Specializing in a certain creative field will make you more valuable to your clients than being a jack-of-all-trades. You will become the go-to person for specific type of jobs and your clients will remember you. It will also lead to advancement in your area of expertise and higher quality results. Taking any jobs available is a thing most freelancers end up doing when they are first starting out, which is understandable. The pressure to make the ends meet and the feeling that you can’t afford to refuse can be overwhelming. On the long run however this might prevent you from climbing up in your career and getting better paid offers. You will also be replaceable by thousands of other freelancers who can offer the same services.
It’s a good idea to decide from the beginning what it is that you want to specialize in and focus on that only. What do you imagine your dream job to be? Would it be illustrating for children’s books or creating logo designs for famous brands? Maybe you’re interested in storyboarding or concept art? If you’re not sure what exactly it is that you want to do, try to familiarize yourself with the most popular categories first. Below is a list of some of them:
Of course you can choose to do illustration for books as well as magazines, or create logo design and packaging design however I wouldn’t recommend trying to do concept art for games as well as logo design and fashion illustrations on top of that. Try to stick to one main field.
Tools of the trade
As for the tools, there are several choices. You could be a traditional artist and only paint with oils on canvas or watercolors on paper. You could draw caricatures with a pencil or ink comics. There is a market for each of the above and some clients ask specifically for work done traditionally. The other option is to become a digital artist and create all of your work using a software like Photoshop, Illustrator or many others available. Selling digital art is easier because you don’t have to mail a physical copy of your artwork to your client, just a digital file. The cost of your tools should also be lower – you will need to invest in hardware and software but you won’t have to buy expensive paint, high quality paper and other traditional tools and accessories that need to be restocked often.
Create a portfolio
A portfolio (a collection of your best work) is probably the most important asset when trying to get job offers. With a good portfolio you can get some great opportunities even if you have no experience at all.
If you have already created drawings or paintings in the past then go through them and pick what you think is your best and most relevant work. If you are planning to be a logo designer but all you have are landscape sketches then you might want to create some logos first to put in your portfolio. It’s okay to include various kinds of work to show your versatility and skill but keep the main part relevant to the creative field you aim for.
You might be a complete beginner and have never drawn anything in the past – now is the time to grab your tool of choice and start creating! As a beginner, you might think that your work is not good enough to show in your portfolio but just leave that for others to judge. To some clients the kind of work you create might just be what they were looking for! I have worked with many clients and it’s surprising how different their tastes and preferences are. Just make sure that you put your best effort into creating each piece of work that will end up in your portfolio.
Now that you have your portfolio you should look for a place to upload it online. Here are a few options:
Your own website
This option will cost you some money but it’s a good idea to have your own space on the web, away from other artists’ portfolios to distract your clients. Having a portfolio website with yourdomain.com makes you look professional and reliable. It’s also very easy to create on your own. First, you will need to choose a web hosting service (such as DreamHost which I’m using, plans starting at $2.59/month) and buy a space for your web. While buying a hosting you can also buy a domain name (your website’s address, i.e yourdomainname.com, $11.95/year). When choosing a domain I recommend using your real name or a pseudonym that you plan to use professionally. It will be easy for clients to find you through a search engine. Now that you have both, all you need is to install a website builder such as WordPress. Most web hosting plans include a one-click easy WordPress installs so it doesn’t require any special knowledge from your side. With WordPress you can chose a free or paid theme for your website and create a beautiful gallery in a matter of a few hours.
A portfolio hosting platform
There are some websites that specialize in hosting portfolios, both free with an option to upgrade and paid. Below are a few:
Adobe Portfolio – If you own a Creative Cloud subscription then this service is included. There are several themes to choose from that you can customize but I found that the available options are a little too limited for my liking and ended up not using it. It might be a good option for a person who wants to set up their portfolio fast and doesn’t care about personalizing it too much.
Portfoliobox – Offers a free account with limitations (up to 50 images) with an option to upgrade for $6.90/month. The paid option includes a free domain, unlimited amount of content and support.
Carbonmade – Plans starting from $6/month with 7 beautiful themes to choose from. Easy to set up and customize but the cheapest plan is quite limited. The other plans are $12 and $18/month and offer many more features – the most expensive plan includes unlimited number of images and projects.
A community website dedicated to artists
Uploading your portfolio to a community page allows instant exposure of your work. Newly uploaded projects will show in the ‘newest’ page for other users to see. You can build a fanbase by gaining followers and gathering likes for your work. Once you attract attention to your work you might also get job offers. The downside is that you will be swimming in an ocean of artists, many of them highly skilled professionals. Some of the most famous social websites for artists and designers are:
ArtStation – A huge community focused mainly on illustration, concept art and 3D modeling for games and movies. You can create an account for free and display your work on both a community page and your personal portfolio website. ArtStation offers a PRO subscription for $10/month or $84/year with access to features such as setting up your own domain name and full control over the display of your portfolio. On the community you can browse Trending or Latest uploads, see job offers from major game companies, take part in challenges or even sell your stuff on their marketplace.
Behance – This community linked with Adobe has a wide variety of artists, from illustrators to designers and photographers. The purpose is to showcase your professional work and get exposure. There is a Jobs page where you can find offers from various companies looking to hire full-time or remotely. You also get followers and Appreciations for your projects.
Dribbble – Similar to Behance, focused on design and simple, modern style illustration.
DeviantArt – An old and controversial community where you can find almost anything, including 18+ rated content. It’s a world of artists from hobbyists to professionals and the amount of content uploaded each hour can make your head spin. It’s easy to get lost among other members but you can add your works to groups with specific themes to gain more exposure. DeviantArt is more focused on the community part and might not seem that professional to your clients but it’s a good place to gain a following.
Create accounts on freelance websites
This is the easiest way to find freelance jobs, even if you are a beginner. A Freelance Website is a place for freelancers and clients to find each other and build a professional relationship. You will have a profile where you can write about your services, specify your availability, rates and display a portfolio of work. Clients can find you when looking for a freelancer to hire but you can also apply for jobs yourself, going through a job feed with newest offers. You don’t need to worry about contracts and invoices since the website creates those automatically for you. You can also use payment protection and have the money funded into escrow before beginning work. There are many more features available to you to make the cooperation between you and your client hassle-free. The downside is that you will have to pay a service fee from your earnings, which can range from 5% to 20%. Another thing is the competition between freelancers from all over the world with very different rates. A freelancer from Pakistan or India will likely perform the same job for much less money than somebody from Europe or US. This results in many clients offering very low budgets in hope to find the cheapest work possible. It is why performing quality work and specializing in a creative field can help you stand out and get better offers.
Some of the major freelancing websites are:
Upwork (formerly oDesk) is a global freelancing platform with 12 million registered freelancers, 5 million clients and 3 million job posted each year. In 2015 oDesk merged with Elance, another popular platform at the time, and Upwork was born. Job offers come in daily for all levels, beginners as well as experts. Budgets for a project range from $5 to $50000. The service fee you pay from each project you complete is 20% for the first $500 earned with a client and then 10% until you earn $10000 from total billings with the client after which the fee drops to 5%. Basically, it means that of the first $500 earned with a new client you will only get $400. It’s definitely better to work for longterm clients if you plan to earn decent money via Upwork. You can also consider charging a little more for the small, one-time projects you take on. After the client approves of your work there is a 5 day waiting period until the money appears in your account.
You have the options to work based on a fixed price agreed with your client upon starting a project, or based on hourly billings. Upwork manages all payments and offers payment protection so that you don’t need to worry about whether you will be paid or not. There is a message room where you can communicate with each client and submit your work for review.
PeoplePerHour is a UK-based company founded in 2007 and one of the major freelancing platforms out there. There are hundreds of jobs being posted each day and many of them are design or art related. Fees range from 20% from the first £600 (or $700) earned with a new client, to 7,5% up until you earn £6000 (or $7000) with them after which it drops to 3,5%. Again, building long-term relationships with clients is the best way to earn using freelancing platforms. Just as Upwork, PPH offers payment protection, messaging board and many more tools to make your freelancing experience as smooth as possible.
Guru is similar to Upwork and PeoplePerHour with it’s purpose to bring freelancers and clients together. Compared to the other two it is much simpler in its design and way of handling the projects. The service fee is only 8,95% with a basic account (free) and it stays the same no matter how much you earn with each of your clients. The fee can be reduced by subscribing to a paid account – Professional, Business or Executive. There is no waiting period and the money paid upon completing a milestone or a project is instantly available for withdrawal. Guru at first may give an impression of being less reliable or trust worthy but it is a legit platform where you can find good as well as bad experience, depending on how well you choose the projects you work on.
Freelancer is yet another platform, this time from Australia. They claim to be the largest, with over 30 million registered users. They charge a 10% fee for both fixed price and hourly projects. You can only bid on 8 projects with a free account. Otherwise it has all the same features that other platforms offer.
It is really up to individual preferences which platform you will choose. I recommend checking them all out and seeing which one suits you most. You might also decide to use more than one or all of them at once. In the end they are very similar (except for the fees) in functionality and a lot of times you will see the same job offers appearing on each of them.
Share your work to social media.
This is the last step on my list but definitely one the most important ones! The power of social media is enormous if you do it right and can have a tremendous impact on your career. Even though social media websites are not dedicated to artists or freelancing, there are many professionals who use them to share their work and get hired by big and small clients. There is a possibility of getting job opportunities just by posting your work regularly to social media and I highly recommend being active on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in order to gain followers and get noticed. Having a big fanbase is also crucial if you plan to release and sell your own products in the future.