As a full-time professional illustrator, the one type of information I wish I had when I first started — and still enjoy getting my pixel-pushing hands on today — is “how it’s all done.”
It’s easy for any self-employed businessperson (and that of course includes artists) to fall into the so-called “Impostor Syndrome” mindset from time to time. Wikipedia describes Impostor Syndrome as:
“…a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”
I believe a lot of that can arise due to the organic way in which a freelance artist’s career can evolve. Most likely the person didn’t have some grand master plan steering their course at every moment in their career—and especially not at the beginning! You learn as you go, you make mistakes and fix them, and over time you collect a nice set of best practices that most likely through the years you’ve glossed over and take for granted. And of course, most of us get started in this career because we love creating, not bookkeeping!
Over the years, I have also regularly spoken with artists who would love to move some or all of their art business to a more digital workflow, but had no clue where to begin. This series speaks directly to that situation.
And so that brings us to the point of this introductory article for a new monthly series on Creative Pro. With this series, I want to break down my process of working as a digital freelance artist. This series will be less about specific art techniques and more about what you need to create the artwork digitally, and what to do with the art once it’s created. This includes not only online portfolios and promotion, but also a walk-through of the client process. I’ll also discuss best practices for web usage and Google-approved search engine optimization.
While this series will definitely have appeal to current Creative Pros, it will most likely have greater utility for the Creative Pro In Training out there. As mentioned, I will be breaking down my process and the tools of my trade. For those of you already up and running, I hope you find some insights as to how better to run your creative business. And for those of you looking to get things started, my goal is to help you avoid pitfalls and move things forward with the best possible first steps.
The article series will start with your digital art setup. This will include hardware (computers, monitors, and input devices like graphics tablets) and software, and the software will be broken down into both art-related software and non-graphics utility software. The utility software will cover time-savers and productivity software as well as backing up your files both locally and online. I will also discuss the ideal computer setup, and lower-cost or free alternatives to the creation software.
As a freelance artist, you are basically running a small business. It’s actually more fun than it sounds, and like me you may come to actually enjoy working with spreadsheets! I like to call them “Photoshop for numbers” to make it all a bit less daunting. For the next set of articles in the series, I’ll discuss the software I use both locally (on my computer) and through online services for running the business. This includes invoicing, bookkeeping, file management and more.
From there, I’ll move on to discussing the web. I’m going to assume you already know how to export your images for online use, so my focus will be more about how to optimize your code for Google and other search engines, best practices for uploading the images of your artwork (and the pages they appear on), as well as an overview of the places to show your art, such as blogs, websites, and other online portfolio sites and portals.
I’ll then move on to discuss a typical client project scenario, and how I bring all of these tools into use. I’ll also cover some general tips and best practices that I’ve learned after 10+ years of working as a freelance illustrator.
I’m sure that as the series progresses, new topics and areas I’d overlooked will reveal themselves, so most likely the topic list in this overview will evolve and expand as the series goes on. I expect of course that this series will also go even deeper into these and related topics, so that should be a good thing.
Lastly, I have to reveal a selfish motive in part for wanting to create this article series: to learn more myself. It’s an old saying that the best way to learn is to teach. I’ve found in the past for this to be deeply true. I am hoping that by bringing this kind of focus to my practices, habits, routines, skills and techniques that I might learn a thing or two myself as part of this process.
As I mentioned at the start, I am always in “learning mode”. Perhaps it’s that always-lurking “impostor” within, but more likely I suspect it’s just the wisdom of many years of making mistakes and finding or creating solutions to fix them: you’re always best off as a humble, eager student. I’m hoping to learn from this experience as much as the reader.
George Coghill is a freelance illustrator specializing in cartoon logo design.