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  1. #1
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    Can freelance illustrators make a comfortable living?

    So I recently read this thread and came across some shocking or sobering information that is really puzzling.

    That thread being here: http://www.conceptart.org/forums/sho...stration/page2

    After reading this I am quite a bit confused on trying to make a living as a freelance illustrator/freelance concept artist. I sort of thought I would be able to support a family of four and be able to afford a middle class like life style. I don't expect at all to be rich but, i didn't expect the earnings would be so low and very risky.

    Although I have read of illustrators who have families (spouses and kids) so perhaps it is still possible to make a decent living?


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  4. #2
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    I would not read to deeply into what forums and things say on the net.
    There are always opportunities to get into the industry. It is not easy to get in like any other field you try get into.
    I Have just finished course and been a while to try find work for myself. It hard to be a freelancer as you have to work out tax and find your own work/client's. Freelance is not the only option for concept art or illustration. In house you have more support cause they are well known and don't always have to go out and find clients they come to them. I think you should decide what you want to do. Main thing is to keep on working away at getting your art better. even if you get a nine to five job to pay the bills in till you off your feet. Check my art out for inspiration: https://danieljamieson.artstation.com/pages/portfolio . It is a very competitive industry as there is so much talent these days. you just have to try make your work the best it can be.

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    The variables are too many to answer your question. I know both the people who made realy good money in their 20s , producing incredible works and people who are still struggling in their 30s and 40s. Art is a rare field where the online education is just really solid and cheap, you can get access to top instructors for fairly low price , you can get really far just by sitting at home but the information is overwhelming . It may only take 2 years to get somewhere , or even 5 or 10 depending on how efficient. you are at self learning. And then the freelancing stuff which isn't limited by geometry anymore, one may barely makes and meet in the States but live like a king in somewhere much cheaper ... etc .

    Again, there are too many variables. Every opinion is just a reference, there's no easy answer to this. Anyone can make it , but not everyone will make it.
    Last edited by GPhong; July 10th, 2017 at 05:38 AM.
    People keep telling me : " Why do you keep suggesting courses and books instead of just giving me the solution directly ? "

    Well if i could condense all the necessary informations that take hours of explanation and demonstration into a single post, i would gladly do it

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    An artist just posted an advert asking for freelance work. Maybe you could ask him how much he earns?

    I think you're putting the cart before the horse. Do you have the qualities to become a quality freelance illustrator in the first place? Sadly you can't see the old images anymore, but in many sketchbooks at CA you could see all the hours of work people put into learning and what it took for them to progress. You really have to love learning and the grinding and the criticism you are going to get while at the learning stage. And then of course you'll also have to learn social skills and business skills. Being a freelancer is like running your own business. It's harder than being an employee. The idea you're chilling doing arts at home and money comes to you is a fantasy. It takes wanting to work much harder than anyone else. It takes initiative, patience, resilience. At least is what, as a loser, perceive from a distance. What do I know? I have none of those qualities myself. But some people have them!

    Also, what someone else above says that everyone has huge access to knowledge online to learn the skills necessary. If everyone can be great, nobody is.

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    Anyone can do it, they just have to be smart enough to know what their strengths are and work to maximize those across as many different disciplines as possible. Freelancing can be stressful and hard to sustain a steady income consistently. The problem for most people is they rely too much on technology and too little on actual ability. This goes double for digital work. If you can't make a real original object to sell after you have fulfilled making an image for reproduction then you are going to hobble yourself from ever really making serious money. You have to sell a lot of prints and get a lot of freelance work to make up for the money you get for traditional originals. That's why most people who have successful careers spanning more than five or ten years do both.
    Last edited by dpaint; July 10th, 2017 at 05:36 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaint View Post
    Anyone can do it, they just have to be smart enough to know what their strengths are and work to maximize those across as many different disciplines as possible. Freelancing can be stressful and hard to sustain a steady income consistently. The problem for most people is they rely too much on technology and too little on actual ability. This goes double for digital work. If you can't make a real original object to sell after you have fulfilled making an image for reproduction then you are going to hobble yourself from ever really making serious money. You have to sell a lot of prints and get a lot of freelance work to make up for the money you get for traditional originals. That's why most people who have successful careers spanning more than five or ten years do both.
    If illustration work require some changes do you do those with digital if so do you paint original so it matches to chances you made? What would be most reliable medium for it, I havent seen many transparent watercolor illustrators who use it in client work might be stupid question but asked it anyway

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    Quote Originally Posted by stonec View Post
    If illustration work requires some changes do you do those with digital if so do you paint original so it matches to chances you made? What would be the most reliable medium for it, I haven't seen many transparent watercolor illustrators who use it in client work might be a stupid question but asked it anyway
    If you're not fast and the people you work for require lots of changes then work digitally. There are people who work digitally and also in traditional watercolor you just have to look in the right places. You need a broader focus for freelance, Ian McCaig, Justin Gerard, Jean-Baptiste Monge all work in watercolor and digital. Jim Gurney, Paul Bonner, Omar Rayyan, work in watercolor.
    Don't force your skills where they don't fit, if you do narrative work you aren't ever going to get concept work, stick with illustration. If you aren't good at illustrating other people's ideas then do gallery work. If you are better at drawing than painting then do storyboards or comics.

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  11. #8
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    The answer to your question is complicated. The advice given for making it into freelance should be approach with caution. From my experience with following many freelance illustrators, many of them aren't making their living fully off freelance work. Many teach as their main income and freelance on the side. You don't know how many times I assume an illustrator is making a full time living with it, only to find that they are teaching at a university as well. You will also find others who are married so they aren't solely relying on their income to make do, and would be in trouble otherwise. While you will find a lot of advice on how to make it into freelance illustration, that isn't the same thing as how to make a full time living of it, unfortunately. Being a "successful" illustrator varies from person to person too, as a single person living in a small apartment funded only by their art would be consider successful in that they are making their living only on it without taking another job. Yet that wouldn't be classified as successful if you are trying to support a family with it. This is why it is important to look up the illustrator giving the advice. You have to keep their living situation in mind.

    There are illustrators who make a family-supporting living off of it, but from what I see not only from online surveys and those I closely follow online, most illustrators don't make anywhere near that amount and have to supplement their income with teaching or another field entirely. Those who are successful are that way usually because they were able to make a name for themselves and/or grow a significant fan base. Something to watch.

    The more diverse your skills, the better. I'm a couple of months into freelancing and the experience is, predictably, depressing. There are a lot of people asking for art for the lowest of rates. The worst part of that is the many artists who fight for those low paid positions. It isn't any wonder to me why illustration rates are steadily decreasing! That is why I'm now learning 2D animation. Being a good artist isn't enough. Many of the higher paid positions ask for people with a variety of skills. There are a lot of "good" artist to chose from, and until you become more establish in the industry, many illustration jobs are going to pass you by. With a diverse skill set, you will be able to apply for more jobs, some with much less competition. If all goes well, I plan to dabble in the illustration, animation, and independent comic industry.

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    Like I've said it goes back to skill. Too many people think they can make a living at art with the barest minimum of ability and yet they try to get work instead of getting good. Because they believe everything is based on who you know not what skill you have. They think their lack of skill isn't a hindrance.They can't draw to a professional level out of their head. They can't work fast enough doing finished paintings at a pro level in a few days. They can't generate multiple ideas from a single brief in a short amount of time. They can't meet demanding deadlines and still produce quality work or they can't follow art direction. They don't have basic fundamental skill sets to allow them to draw and paint anything to a pro level. This is why most people can't get good work or lots of work and that's why they can't make a living at their art.

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  14. #10
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    Was that suppose to be directed towards me... or are you just continuing on with your advice?

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    One thing about being an artist i think people are forgetting is that the entry requirement is ridiculously low and the gap is ridiculously wide. The title itself has no quality control , anyone can pick up a tablet and watch tutorials online, there's no strict guideline on what level of knowledge each person must pass to get the title. There's almost no standard on what level a person call his or herself an artist. So it's bound to drag the overall salary of artists down. 21% of freelance artists surveyed having more than 5 years experience and 8% of total making more than 50k a year doesn't seem that horrible to me frankly.

    In contrast to high-paying major . something like Doctor , Engineer , IT Manager , Lawyer .... etc . Those people have already started paying the price in highschool . I don't know what it's like in the USA but here in Asia , just getting in a reputable school of those field ( it's almost a requirement for getting a job out of college ) means you are already balling , beating the majority of the country population . And then you have to survive the college phase and work like hell in Internship. So it's at least 8 years fighting to even get the title , under strict guideline. The losers are eliminated , they don't even get to do the job.

    Sorry if my view is grim , but isn't the only way to make comfortable living is to be the top dog these days ? So the better question to ask is whether or not you are willing to sacrifice to beat all other artists for 65k a year .

    About the mooncat guy , i would shit myself if he was able to make stuff that could consistently hit Artstation front page and still struggling . But since he didn't even upload a single piece of work, i would take his words as a reference.
    People keep telling me : " Why do you keep suggesting courses and books instead of just giving me the solution directly ? "

    Well if i could condense all the necessary informations that take hours of explanation and demonstration into a single post, i would gladly do it

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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaint View Post
    Like I've said it goes back to skill. Too many people think they can make a living at art with the barest minimum of ability and yet they try to get work instead of getting good. Because they believe everything is based on who you know not what skill you have. They think their lack of skill isn't a hindrance.They can't draw to a professional level out of their head. They can't work fast enough doing finished paintings at a pro level in a few days. They can't generate multiple ideas from a single brief in a short amount of time. They can't meet demanding deadlines and still produce quality work or they can't follow art direction. They don't have basic fundamental skill sets to allow them to draw and paint anything to a pro level. This is why most people can't get good work or lots of work and that's why they can't make a living at their art.
    This is so true. Especially on forums where people complain about not making much as an artist or illustrator. I then check their artwork and I'm not surprised. Sometimes the quality of the artwork is so bad that I'm thinking "My goodness, how can this person think they are doing quality work? How is this possible?" Actually, there can be many reasons for that, but that's a topic for a different thread.
    Last edited by dm3da; July 12th, 2017 at 08:47 AM.

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    Thank you all for your responses.

    I recently spoke to a friend who has been working as a freelance illustrator for the last 5 years and he basically confirmed some of what is stated here. I guess because of the wider market, most illustrators would have to be doing something on the side like a part time job, attending conventions and/or teaching and a very few can support themselves on freelance work alone. I've seen Will Terry and Chris Oatley's videos about this as well and they endorse the idea that illustrators should create and sell their own products. I guess now freelancers will have to do multiple things to make ends meet. There is also the issue of living expenses increasing each year and from what I hear, freelance illustration work is capped.

    Although dpaint, you do freelance work in traditional, digital and cgi work right? How is that?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ghost1300 View Post
    Thank you all for your responses.

    I recently spoke to a friend who has been working as a freelance illustrator for the last 5 years and he basically confirmed some of what is stated here. I guess because of the wider market, most illustrators would have to be doing something on the side like a part time job, attending conventions and/or teaching and a very few can support themselves on freelance work alone. I've seen Will Terry and Chris Oatley's videos about this as well and they endorse the idea that illustrators should create and sell their own products. I guess now freelancers will have to do multiple things to make ends meet. There is also the issue of living expenses increasing each year and from what I hear, freelance illustration work is capped.

    Although dpaint, you do freelance work in traditional, digital and cgi work right? How is that?

    As I get older I'm not working for big entertainment companies anymore. I was until two years ago so it hasn't been that long though. When I stopped working in games, I stopped doing 3d CGI work. Now freelance work is almost always just 2d digital or traditional work for small clients or private commissions.
    Most of my income lately is derived from sales of my traditional and digital art through galleries, online print sales, private commissions, group shows and direct sales. It's a little harder to do than steady freelance or full-time in-house art jobs but I put out a lot of finished work per year so I have never had a problem with making enough art to sell.

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    One year later, I stand by what I said in the thread you quoted. From my point if view, nothing has changed really- if anything, then the market has become even more saturated.

    And I still disagree that it's only about skill.
    Last edited by Benedikt; July 16th, 2017 at 04:31 AM.

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    Yeah l I saw your posts as well. I don't deny what you stated. When you said that artists were like nomads who moved around here and there without a family in the picture. Are you referring to all types of artists or just illustrators and concept artists?

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    That statement pretty much only applies to concept designers (who move from studio to studio/ project to project). Illustration is usually done off-site.
    Of course there are also a few successful freelance concept designers (who don't work on-site) and perhaps also a handful of in-house illustrators (those are really an aberration though in my experience).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Benedikt View Post
    One year later, I stand by what I said in the thread you quoted. From my point if view, nothing has changed really- if anything, then the market has become even more saturated.

    And I still disagree that it's only about skill.
    Out of curiosity, what are you going to do for a day job? If that's classified, I understand. 🤔

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    here's the thing, making a living off art to the degree being discussed is like playing pro sports. It's literally a one in a million proposition, same for being a successful band or studio musician. It's not impossible but it's also not common. I do it and I have hundreds of friends that do it too, some have families some don't. You may not have the ability or smarts or luck that it takes but you will never know unless you try and trying beats working in some shitty little cube farm pushing papers around for a living.

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  26. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by diamandis View Post
    Out of curiosity, what are you going to do for a day job? If that's classified, I understand. 樂
    Haha, nah, no secret. I have a degree in school psychology and anglistics and am in the process of getting an additional degree so I can teach (and practise psychology) at state schools here in Germany.

    I guess I'm lucky in that I've always enjoyed teaching and have also always been interested in psychology. So it never felt like a trade-off to me at all. Teaching in Germany is the exact polar opposite to freelancing in art: absolute job security (unless you commit a serious crime they can't fire you, you're employed by the state) and the money is quite decent as well.

    Without an alternative like that, I guess I would have taken my chances with doing art fulltime. I do agree with dpaint there. Better to try and fail than not try at all.

    As it is, I'm juggling freelance work with uni and will soon be juggling freelance work with teaching. Naturally, I often wonder if I could make it, but on the other hand, I suspect that if I had it in me to earn a steady, comfortable(!) living by creating art, it would have happened by now, after several years of working in the field.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Benedikt View Post
    As it is, I'm juggling freelance work with uni and will soon be juggling freelance work with teaching. Naturally, I often wonder if I could make it, but on the other hand, I suspect that if I had it in me to earn a steady, comfortable(!) living by creating art, it would have happened by now, after several years of working in the field.
    Your art skills will only improve over time (from your current baseline of, you know, amazing), and you'll see how you feel about the situation after a few years of working + freelancing, and running into more + bigger art opportunities, building your network, etc.

    One thing I'm curious about: when you say you're not sure you have it in you to do this for a living, are you talking more about ability, or about motivation/drive?

    Dpaint's analogy to pro sports is apt in another way: success isn't necessarily just about ability, it's also about insane drive and work ethic, and the ability to keep that up for very long stretches without losing your mind. Say I know someone who's amazing at basketball. They might be able to take on some famous NBA guys 1-on-1, and actually get some shots in. This friend has amazing form, and they're clearly very good at playing, when they play. But contrast this ability to actually being in the NBA: waking up at 4 a.m., working out and doing drills and practicing all day long, for days and days and days, forever. Sure, there are vacations, and stretches of time where they work less, but still: for the most part, they're constantly working, whether they feel like it or not. The ability becomes a mere given, dwarfed by the mountain of effort/work that it's applied to.

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    Quote Originally Posted by diamandis View Post
    Your art skills will only improve over time (from your current baseline of, you know, amazing), and you'll see how you feel about the situation after a few years of working + freelancing, and running into more + bigger art opportunities, building your network, etc.
    Nice of you to say, thanks.

    One thing I'm curious about: when you say you're not sure you have it in you to do this for a living, are you talking more about ability, or about motivation/drive?
    Not sure, to be honest. May be talent, may be effort put in. That's the problem with pursuing an actual, viable "plan b": I haven't been drawing/painting/modelling etc. all day, every day for the last couple of years. I've had papers to write, exams to pass and on top of that I've always had additional jobs (translation/localization work mostly) to be able to pay rent, eat healthily, pay for the gym membership etc.- not making excuses for myself here- wouldn't have had it any other way- but that's certainly a factor, as you've explained poignantly with your NBA analogy.

    Time will tell, I guess.

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    Last edited by Ghost1300; July 19th, 2017 at 12:49 AM.

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    So trying to raise a family on freelance illustration is equivalent of trying to become a pro sports player, ok then. I knew it was difficult but, it didn't know it would be that difficult. I guess this just enforces the idea of going the entrepreneur path. I will just have to try and find out.

    Thank you all for your responses.

    @Benedikt, your work looks amazing. Kind of surprised you are leaving the field, but I get it. I wish you the best of luck.

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