Illustration by Mónica Andino
If I told you that there were people who are paying $5 for an illustration, you’d probably balk and hiss at me.
If I told you that there were people who would be willing to do it for $5, you’d fall off your chair, hissing even more and probably spewing some expletives along the way.
But that’s what’s happening right now.
The culture of Fiverr and 99Designs is very real. For those who don’t know what Fiverr is, it’s a website that connects people with others who are willing to help them out, for $5 a pop. 99Designs is a website that offers crowdfunded ideas for logos, etc; gathering a pool of designers to pitch their work for a project. As a designer, you don’t get paid for your efforts unless you were picked by the client.
There are lots of people probably throwing their hands up in the air, poo-poohing with disgust over what’s happening to the creative industry and throwing their pencils and brushes in retaliation. I get it. Everyone’s angry. Everyone’s indignant.
But there’s no reason to be.
No one can stop evolution. It happens slowly and without much fanfare, until it gains enough traction that it now becomes a threat to the previous ecosystem. This is what it is – an evolution of the design industry. And it’s not going to stop or go away.
I do want to point out that my ideas and points differ quite wildly from the masses – but with good reason. So instead of dwelling on the negative, I’d like to offer three viewpoints for opportunity, from where I stand.
MAKE IT YOUR PRACTICE GROUNDS
The Fiverr culture can be extremely hair-pulling. But the ones who do offer their services on the platform are usually creatives who offer their services for cheap to gain some recognition and traction for their work: first timers, new graduates or self-taught artists who wants to show off what they can do. Think of it as a $5 coupon for the first trial – if people liked working with them the first time, they’d most likely work with them again the second time, and it shouldn’t cost them $5 anymore (unless it is, then I’m not sure what their business model is for the long term).
The fact is, it’s a free market out there. Willing buyer, willing seller. Suppose you use the platform as a way to reach and connect with others instead? What can you gain from it? Or perhaps you pit your skills among others in 99Designs. If your work is good, you’ll shine among the rest. I’ve seen works on there – it can swing wildly between mediocre to well done. Like cream, the good ones always rise to the top.
Both of these websites to me, are great practice grounds for those who are looking to spread their name out there. Of course, there is a question that will inevitably arise – what are the quality of clients on there that you’d want to keep (especially since they’re used to paying such a low price?) The answer is this. The good clients – the paying clients – already work with great people. They know the value of a great artist or designer, and they’re willing to pay for the work done.
I recently was brought into a project involving a food-based startup. They wanted to redesign their logo after they had used the 99Designs platform. I frowned. I wasn’t frowning because they had used the platform. But rather, I was underwhelmed at the quality of the submissions that resulted. There were about 50 different logos for them to choose from, and yet none of them fit the company at all. There wasn’t a proper understanding or context from which these designers could build from, and it was glaringly clear that the startup needed help from someone who knew what to do.
Of course, if the clients are happy with their selection – it doesn’t matter. Their choosing to work with platforms such as Fiverr and 99Designs might be a bit of a gamble too. Or perhaps to them it’s not the most pertinent detail that needs ironing out. Or maybe they don’t know where else to turn to. I like to think that I give people the benefit of the doubt enough to not point to them as the sole problem. Willing seller, willing buyer, remember?
DO IT FOR YOURSELF
I know there are a lot of people out there who get really angry about this. The fact that artists are not being paid enough (or at all). And while I do agree with some of the arguments out there, I like to see things from both sides of the coin.
Five years ago when I was just starting out as an illustrator, I didn’t mind doing things for free. I didn’t mind because I had nothing to lose. Future income wasn’t something I held in my hand right now – I had nothing. My biggest worry was what if no one ever saw my work. Or that I didn’t get a chance to prove myself. So I put my hand up when someone asked if I would be willing to do work for a charity organization. Why wouldn’t I? I had time. I didn’t have money. If I stayed where I was – waiting for the right opportunity to come along – the equation would remain the same. What did I have to lose?
Five years on, I still get referrals from that stint. Good, paying ones too.
Maybe I got lucky. Or maybe it was also because I didn’t know whether I was good or not. And so by extending my hand, it was an invitation to get the feedback I needed from my market. If I wasn’t any good at what I did, then I wouldn’t have repeat customers; and it would be a chance for me to learn from my experience and improve. If I was deemed worthy, then I’d start charging for my efforts because I’d know I’m valuable. Remember that your value is almost always in the eye of the beholder.
I’d seriously doubt anyone who said that they have never been in the same position as I did – young, eager, and hungry. The only difference is, is that when I take on a job, no matter how big or small, I do it for myself first. Sure, clients will still get what they want at the end, but so will I. A lot of the whining I hear these days stem from those who feel as though they’re being ripped off, and that they are powerless to dictate the rules. And that’s not true at all.
Don’t play the victim.
START FROM YOUR STRENGTHS
Everyone can draw. The ability to draw doesn’t make you an illustrator. It’s the same with photographers and designers too – everyone with a camera can take pictures, just as much as anyone with Photoshop can design. The beauty lies in the value we are able to provide, which can’t wholly be summarised in our work. It lies in personality, process and story. It lies in the many variables that make up what we do.
Now, we can’t have people dictating that those without qualifications can’t practice or try their hand at a craft. Or even charge for it. That’s bigotry. That’s fear. Fear of being overshadowed by others who are more skilled than you (and perhaps, even cheaper than you). Fear of losing out to the many artists out there who you feel are competing for a slice of a shrinking pie.
Instead of working in fear, how about creating work from a place of strength? Say no to things that won’t allow you to shine. Recommend others who you know are more well suited to a job. Concentrate and seek out clients and briefs that gets you all giddy with excitement. Take on work that you’d be proud to show off in your portfolio. Don’t just do it for the money. If money is what you’re after, get a day job instead.
Accepting that the rules and landscape has changed for illustrators and designers everywhere is the first step to embracing it.
You say that you won’t get into it because it demeans your profession. Fair enough. But think of it this way: If your work doesn’t get seen because you’re holding out for more money, then you lose. Every time you don’t get to practice what you like doing, it’s already costing you opportunities. You’re losing. It’s a paradox.
The question then becomes: how much are you willing to lose before you’re open to the idea of trying something new? Something that might not pay off in the beginning, but pays dividends as you go along – you’ll learn to be quicker, more nimble. You’ll learn how weed out good clients from bad, and to know which projects are worth taking on and those that aren’t worth your time.
You can’t learn all those things twiddling your fingers and sitting on the side bench; watching and waiting as opportunities to sharpen your skills come and go. You’ll need to get in there and roll up your sleeves.
It’s dirty. It’s tough. But it’s necessary.
Just remember that above all else, you’re doing it for yourself first; and that five dollars is a (very) small bonus.
Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.
Posted by Amy Ng on 10/28/15 under artists
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Post by Jeanine
Matte Stephens, an illustrator and painter from New England, creates wonderful, whimsical cityscapes and anthropomorphized animal scenes. The influence of Mid-Century artists like Alexander Girard, Charles & Ray Eames, Ben Shahn and Paul Klee are clear in his vintage style. His impressive client list includes Tiffany & CO, American Express and Jonathan Adler, and Chronicle Books.
Posted by Jeanine Henderson on 10/26/15 under artists
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(Illustration by Thomas James)
Are you working on any of your own personal art projects, or just giving all your energy away to your clients?
If you’re like many Illustrators, chances are you’re not making personal work a priority, and your creative self-expression and freedom is being sacrificed for the sake of running your business. This is understandable, because the demands of a career in freelance Illustration or Design require a seemingly endless supply of time and effort, leaving you with little to keep for yourself. The thing is, neglecting to work on your own projects can have a negative impact on your creativity, your inspiration, and even the quality of your work. The good news is that it’s never too late to start, or restart, your own personal projects and tap into the following benefits of creating art for art’s sake.
Freedom of Expression
Pursuit of Creative Vision
Personal and Artistic Growth
Inspired Work for Your Portfolio
Alternative Source of Income
Development of Skills and Techniques
Exploration of New Ideas
Remember the days before you were a “professional artist”? You probably enjoyed all of the benefits listed above, and more. Isn’t that what made you want to create art for a living. The challenge now is to hold on to all of these rewards while working to please your clients and executing the daily tasks of running a freelance career. If you can manage to set aside the time to focus on your own personal Illustration projects, you will be a more inspired, productive, and satisfied artist.
Posted by Thomas James on 10/26/15 under business
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Mia Charro is a spanish illustrator and children’s book author, who is inspired by nature, fairytales and magic. Her illustrations are very whimsical, highlighting her love for the outdoors. When she’s not illustrating she loves nothing more than walking through the woods and writing.
Posted by Jessica Holden on 10/25/15 under artists
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Happy Illustration Friday!
Please enjoy the wonderful illustration above by Mark Brown, our Pick of the Week for last week’s topic of STUFFED. Thanks to everyone who participated with drawings, paintings, sculptures, and more. We love seeing it all!
You can see a gallery of ALL the entries here.
And of course, you can now participate in this week’s topic:
Step 1: Illustrate your interpretation of the current week’s topic (always viewable on the homepage).
Step 2: Post your image onto your blog / flickr / facebook, etc.
Step 3: Come back to Illustration Friday and submit your illustration (see big “Submit your illustration” button on the homepage).
Step 4: Your illustration will then be added to the public Gallery where it will be viewable along with everyone else’s from the IF community!
The story goes that legendary Uncanny X-Men scribe Chris Claremont discovered Malaysian-born artist Sonny Liew at a comics convention and got him his first big break into comics, landing Liew a gig illustrating Iron Man for Marvel. It was a small gig, just one illustration, but it set the stage for Liew’s bright future in comics! In 2004, Sonny Liew won the Xeric Award(an award for excellence in self-published comics) in 2004 for Malinky Robot. Later, he would go on to illustrate such titles as Slave Labor & Disney’s Wonderland series, Marvel’s Sense and Sensibility adaptation, and collaborate with artist/inker Mark Hempel on DC/Vertigo’s My Faith in Frankie.
Before studying illustration at Rhode Island School of Design, Liew attended college in Singapore(where he currently resides) and in the UK. His work has been featured in the critically acclaimed anthology Flight and he’s served as editor of the Southeast Asian comics anthology Liquid City.
Liew has been a celebrated artist at home, winning Singapore’s Young Artist Award in 2010, but recently he’s found himself in a bit of controversy over his latest book, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. The grant that supported the making of that book was withdrawn by the National Arts Council for containing sensitive topics. You can hear more about this story from the man himself at this book sharing session.
Right now is a great time to become a Sonny Liew fan, because he’s making some of the best comics art of his career on the newly relaunched Doctor Fate series with famed DC writer/editor/former-president Paul Levitz! I see that more people are catching onto this series, now that it’s up to issue 5, so hopefully that will continue to happen and we’ll get a nice, long Doctor Fate run out of Liew!
If you’d like to see more art and learn more about Sonny Liew, check out his blog here.
For more comics related art, you can follow me on my website comicstavern.com – Andy Yates
Posted by Jeanine
The Month of Fear is a weekly art challenge for the month of October, created by illustrator Kristina Carroll. A companion blog to February’s Month of Love, the idea is to inspire artists to get together, shake things up, push themselves, and create new personal work.
A curated roster of artists have been selected to participate and are challenged to create a new piece each week in response to an assigned theme related the subject of fear. But, the challenge is also open to anyone who feels inspired, by sharing work on Tumblr using the hashtag #monthoffear. The challenges are designed to be open-ended so artists can interpret them in a wide variety of ways.
This is the third year of the Month of Fear, and the work is incredibly impressive! With challenge themes ranging from villians, spooky mirrors, and the dance of death—the images are all frightfully fantastic! A few highlighted pieces here by Reiko Murakami, Sam Flegal, Lindsey Look, and Samuel Araya.
Check out the Month of Fear site for much more!
Illustration by Laura Callaghan
When I first left my full time job 7 years ago, I suddenly felt like a city mouse set loose out in the countryside. Time seemed to pass slowly at first, but then it got quicker and quicker. I had lots of opportunities for fresh air – but I found that often locked myself in, concentrating on work instead. More often than not, my hours were longer than a 9 to 5.
Freedom was stifling.
My timetable was turned upside down. Where before I could tell what I would wake up, it now felt like I could do whatever I want, whenever I want. And it started to weigh down on me. But wait, having freedom is great right? People come up to me and say things like “Oh wow, that’s so cool, I’d love to work for myself, like you, so that I won’t have a schedule to follow.” Except that it’s not like that at all. It was debilitating.
Weird things start to happen when you get too much of anything. In this particular case, I suddenly had a lot of time freed up, so that I could concentrate on freelance work and on my website; instead of having an alarm wake me up at 8.15 every morning (after many snooze buttons prior) and cursing the traffic under my breath each time I set off to work. I felt odd. Almost in a surreal way. As though time was this continuous line that ran without stopping or pause, and I was just a mere beat that time skipped over.
I woke up at odd hours, and slept even later than when I was employed full-time. Instead of dressing up and showering to go to work, I found myself lounging around in my pajamas and having extended breakfast while skimming over the newspaper (contents of which I wasn’t really interested in anyway). Hours could pass. And then it would be lunch, followed by a TV show that I missed. And pretty soon it was time for dinner. Where did the time go?
After a few weeks of this unstructured schedule, I found myself in a rut. My productivity plummeted instead of what I thought it would do – that I’d be super crazy productive and churn out lots to show. Alas, to my dismay, it wasn’t true at all. I couldn’t think straight – I felt like there’s a haze hanging over my head and weighing my entire being down. My work suffered. My happiness level went way down. I’d get irritable and defensive when anyone asked about my day. I’d get jealous of other people who had colleagues – my companion at home were two dogs who got to take a lot of naps during the day and wasn’t particularly interested in engaging in a two-way conversation with me, dog language or no.
I craved for something but I didn’t know what. And it was driving me nuts. I was a mice left out in the field too long and instead of thriving, I craved for a cage instead. A semblance of order. Walls too, so that I could figure out where I fit in the whole picture.
So I whipped out that alarm clock again, and set a time everyday for waking up. I took a shower. Dressed up a little. Put on make up. After that, it was straight to the table for a quick breakfast. An hour later, work began. No ifs or buts about it – non-stop working for an hour at which I could not surf the internet, read or watch anything non-related to work. And it felt good.
I felt a sense of purpose. I felt that I was in control of my situation. I found that when I focused my energy and attention towards a project I could get things done quicker and more creatively than when I dawdled around, aimless and listless. I went in search of inspiration, instead of waiting for inspiration to strike me like a proverbial bolt of lightning. I took constant, but shorter breaks in between, and felt my mind filled with ideas even when I did stop. I read a lot more, offline and online; I was ravenous for information and devoured everything in sight so that I could sort through things and find patterns and connect the dots. I organized like mad. I exercised regularly, and was able to set up a system where I could just stop my work and head down for dinner, and continue right back to where I stopped before.
I found that when I had a system in place, I didn’t have to worry about a lot of things. Having a schedule freed up my energy and time, so instead of spending them thinking “what’s next?”, I went on autopilot mode for the things that didn’t matter. My brain suddenly got a lot more room to think up new things instead of feeling guilty or having to keep track of things all the time. Go brain!
I wasn’t caged up, but I felt better. Instead of putting up permanent walls, I put up a chain link fence just so I can know where my boundaries are. I could peer out and see what’s out there, and I could also peer in to see if what I’m doing works. I had a structure. I had a ritual. I had a plan.
Year after year, the distance between me and the boundary that I set up in my mind grew. And after 7 years, the distance between me and that chain link fence is so vast that I don’t know where it began and where it ended. I’m not sure if there’s even a boundary anymore.
Freedom never felt so good.
If you’re just starting out as a freelance illustrator or artist, here’s how you can start your very own ritual:
Wake up at a certain time every morning
Set that alarm clock for the same time, every night before you go to bed and no snoozing when it’s time to get up! This sets the day with a tone that means business – getting out of bed takes incredible effort, especially if you don’t have a place to physically report to work everyday.
Dress with pride
Pyjamas are comfortable. And yet they don’t make you feel as though you can conquer the world. Take a shower. Put some lipstick on if you like to. And take pride in how you look – it affects your work and mentally prepares you for tackling tasks for the day; even if you’re not leaving the house!
Eat, and eat well
Don’t just grab a cold roll from the fridge – make sure you eat properly to refuel, because you are what you eat! My lunch hour is an hour where I can unwind and relax a little, so I like to plan it in advance so when the clock strikes one, I’ll sit back to read the latest Time magazine, or indulge in a little Mindy’s Project while I eat. I generally avoid snacks in between meals – I like to focus on my work so it’s 3 square meals a day!
Schedule time out
Go out for a run, or take your pet for a walk – it’s important to step away from your desk at certain points of the day. The danger of being a freelancer is that you’re almost always glued to your desk for 14 hours straight, which can quickly lead to burnout. Schedule time out often so that you can see things with fresh eyes.
Aim for a cut-off time, and end it with a ritual
Some people stop working completely at 6. Sometimes I stop work for dinner, before continuing again until 9pm. But I try my best to not work past 10, because I’d be waking up the next day again to do work anyway. So I walk my dogs with my husband after dinner, which often signals the end of my workday. For you it could be a hot bath, dinner, ice cream, or even supper – the point is to have something to look forward to that will physically and mentally signify that you’ve done the best for the day.
Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.
Studio Lilla Form is the illustration & pattern studio of Cathy Westrell Nordström with a background in graphic design. Her love for flora & fauna, abstract shapes, nature and bright colors join forces in her patterns. There is a unique delicate quality to the patterns that, combined with her color palette choice, makes them stand out form the crowd. You can connect with Cathy via instagram.
Posted by Bryna Shields on 10/20/15 under artists
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Do you have a Promotional Strategy?
Promotion plays a major role in the success of your freelance business. In fact, you may find yourself spending more time on this task than any other, even creating art. After all, if you don’t continually find new clients, you won’t have anything to Illustrate aside from your own personal projects, which means you won’t be able to pay your bills.
In order to get the most out of your marketing efforts, it’s important to create a strategy that you’ll follow in the days ahead. That way you can simply execute your plan rather than reinvent your approach again and again.
Here are some common steps involved in a basic promotional strategy that you can consider applying to your own business:
Build a mailing list.
If you’re aiming for a specific market, make sure you’re promoting yourself to the people who work in that field and only show the type of work that fits their needs. To do this, you’ll need to build a targeted mailing list of relevant contacts.
Create and send your marketing materials.
Design promotional items such as business cards, postcards, e-mail newsletter templates, etc. It’s a good idea to try a combination of direct mailings and email marketing to see which methods work best for you.
Announce your arrival.
Immediately send out your promotional materials to establish contact and introduce yourself to your target audience.
Promote on a schedule.
Don’t make the common mistake of sending out one promotional mailer or email and then sit back and wait until somebody contacts you. Keep your marketing efforts on a regular schedule while being careful to not send updates too frequently. Somewhere between every 60 to 90 days is a commonly accepted frequency.
Manage your mailing list.
Add to your list of contacts as you find new potential clients and check the information regularly to be sure that it’s up to date.
Use social networking.
Seek out and introduce yourself to the artists and Art Directors in your target market. Build real relationships with people and become a part of the larger Illustration community.
Making it Work for You
How you apply these concepts to your own business will depend on your budget, your personality, and your available time. If you follow these guidelines when promoting your business, you will have a much better chance of being noticed and remembered amongst a growing sea of Illustrators who are trying to make their mark in the industry.
What’s your promotional strategy?
Posted by Thomas James on 10/19/15 under business
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