Being a freelancer is hard, but being a freelancer in an artistic field is a particularly difficult task. This past week I got to interview Xelgot about how he became a full-time illustrator and what he recommends for artists seeking to do the same thing.
Q: When did you really become invested in developing your artistic skills?
A: I’ve always been interested in art, specifically in drawing, since my earliest memory. I always used to spend my spare time in coloring books and took drawing as a hobby since then. I started to develop more of my artistic skills when I met someone in middle school whose hobby was drawing as well. I got inspired by that person and then I started to invest more and more time in learning.
Q: At what point did you decide to make art a career?
A: It was in my last year of high school when I made the decision to study for an art career or something related that could help me to make a living out of what I loved to do the most (drawing), so I ended up taking a Design and Visual Communication degree for that purpose and I specialized in illustration. All of that came after I got in my hands on some universities’ careers booklets and some researching by myself.
Q: Did you start out freelancing, or did you work in a company first?
A: I’ve always been freelancing. At first, I started doing minor commissions from time to time while I was studying or in my spare time. Nowadays I’m a full-time freelancing artist.
Q: What steps did you take to start freelancing?
A: I knew that I needed to start at some point. I looked at some people (other freelancer artists) and I told myself “I want to do that too”. I was a bit scared at first, but then I got used to it. The main steps that I took to start freelancing started by posting commissions journals on my social media and promoting my work. In the meantime, I also invested time creating personal work to show as samples of what I was offering and could do. Eventually, people started to get interested and then they started approaching me in private when they had job offers for me even without the need of said journals. With the experience you get from this, you learn how to manage your time, your rates and how to deal with clients..
Q: How long has it taken you to become a full-time freelancer?
A: It’s been already 2 years (and counting) since I started to do freelancing as a full-time job after I finished my degree.
Q: As a freelancer, what do you have to do at this point to maintain your income?
A: At this point to keep safe incomes, I rely on individual commission requests and on an online platform called Patreon, whose goal is to help freelancing artists (and content creators in general) through a Creator-Patron system which allows people to support you financially in exchange for rewards.
Q: Looking back, what are some things you would have done differently as you tried to make this your career?
A: As a freelancer, you never stop learning. Certainly there were lots of things I wish I would have acknowledged or been aware of, such as the big importance of using of references and doing studies, which are key to improving and developing your drawing skills further, either traditional or digital. You learn much from them and they can make you realize how things are structured or made. Then, with that acquired knowledge, you are free to deconstruct and reconstruct at will while developing your art style.
Q: Do you have any practical advice for artists who would like to become full-time freelancers?
A: Something really important (and that in my experience has helped me to become a full-time freelancer artist) is exposure. Social media is the key for this and they never should be underestimated. Another tip that also is very important: Never stop creating; always give your best even if it’s something you create for yourself. Everything counts as portfolio work and even personal projects can help you obtain some work and job offers. You never know who may be watching your art; there are many potential clients out there.
Q: Do you recommend any platforms for finding clients, like PeoplePerHour, or Freelancer.com?
A: I cannot recommend platforms for finding clients specifically since I’m not familiar with them and I haven’t had the need for them. Thankfully, most of my job offers have come from people who made contact through my social media such as: DeviantArt, Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram. That’s why I mentioned earlier the importance of the use of social media for a larger work exposure here and there.
Q: Do you have any advice on how to communicate well with clients?
A: For client communication, I think it is important to state beforehand your own terms of service, such as your Do’s and Don’t’s and the time you usually take on each task. Specify if something may generate additional fees, state if you require the full payment in advance or half and half, etc. Also, I consider it very important to keep your clients updated with your progress whenever you can and make them part of the project one-on-one.
Q: Do you recommend taking every job you can at first, or should you start out being selective?
A: At first, I do recommend that you take every job that you think may lead towards your artistic goals since every new task will grant you more experience and will help you polish your skills. However it’s also important not to overload yourself with more than you can handle. If one of your goals is, for example, to become a character designer or concept artist, it’s important to start creating a portfolio that can help you get those kind of job offers. After some time, you can start giving certain projects priority over others and start being a bit more selective with the work that may help you out with more exposure and experience or that are more financially rewarding.
Q: What software or hardware would you recommend new freelancers use on a low budget?
A: I always work with Photoshop since it’s the program I’m more familiar with and I find it very complete, although you do have to make monthly/annual payments to be able to use it. I recommend, in the case of low budget, the use of single-purchase programs such as Clip Studio Paint.