Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Seven Keys to Being a Freelance Illustrator-by Christina Forshay

I am a freelance illustrator. Therefore, I am an entrepreneur. Okay, there. I said it. In writing. As much as I want to sit and paint and sketch all day, being an illustrator means I have to have some “business-like” responsibilities. 

I still consider myself a zygote illustrator and I’ve got lots to learn, but with every project, comes new ideas on how to make the next project more efficient and keep my career moving forward.

Here are just some of the ideas I’ve incorporated into my business model as a freelance illustrator. I can write a lengthy blog post and go into much more depth with each of these topics, but here they are in short form. Maybe I'll do an in-depth series based on these and the other ideas I didn't have room to mention here: 

  1. Contracts
  2. Here's my copy of Tad Crawford's book
    • Be able to understand a basic illustration contract. Know which rights you’re giving you know the difference between exclusive and non-exclusive rights?
    • Get this book: Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators by Tad Crawford. It comes with a CD with a few different "fill-in-the-blank" standard contracts to help you write your own. 
    • Have a basic boilerplate illustration contract at the ready. Tad Crawford's book helped me write and negotiate numerous contracts. 
    • Make sure your contract is locked in and nailed before you begin work on a project. Negotiate any issues up front!
    • Make sure there is a kill fee. If your project gets killed for any reason after the contract is signed, ensure you will get paid for the work you already produced for that contract.
    • Stand up for yourself! If the fee doesn’t add up to you, ask for more! What’s the harm in asking? You are a business person. There is a way to negotiate without being a jerk. (And just because you do negotiate doesn't mean you are a jerk.)
    • Watch the reality TV show Shark Tank. You can watch it free online here! I know that sounds weird, but it helps me realize that I have to really, really take a stance for myself when it comes to contract negotiation. Just be nice about it! ;)
    • If you need to, hire an attorney to help you finalize a contract. The few hundred dollars you pay upfront is probably worth it in the long run.

  3. Begin your job organized and keep it organized:
    • Keep organized files/calendars of your projects. I keep two running Excel/Numbers files: one has due dates for each project where I can track my progress and the other has invoicing, billing and payment received dates. It helps to have this info from all my projects in one or two master Excel/Number documents for easy, quick access. Who wants to search through piles of unkempt papers or emails? That just makes me want to avoid paperwork altogether. You can work so much freer knowing you have all the info organized.
      I believe I got this organizational format style from the legendary animator Bob Singer (dude, look at that list of credits!!!), who used to attend our local illustrator schmoozes!
    Sample project progress to ENLARGE!

    Sample running invoice to ENLARGE!

  4. Cultivate an open dialogue with clients: 
    • Once you’ve landed a job, make sure you ask any questions you might have about the work/contract with your client BEFORE you sign the contract. Don’t be afraid of asking questions you might think are dumb. It is so much better for everyone to be on the same page BEFORE you put time into the work. 
    • Get the job specs, the manuscript and fee upfront before you sign anything.
    • Keep the client/art director abreast of how you’re doing as the project progresses and ask questions as they come up as soon as possible.

  5. Meet your deadlines: 
    • Totally obvious, right?
    • If you feel you can’t meet your deadline because of an unforeseen circumstance like a serious illness, let the client know ASAP. I’ve only had to do this once or twice, but each time the client was understanding and gave me an extra couple of days to finish up. Of course, you don’t want to make this a habit, but if you really are in a bind (not due to poor time management), then ask. I believe it’s more responsible to ask up front than to turn in late work unannounced.

  6. Follow up: 
    • When a project is complete, thank the client. 
    • Send a follow up note or email. End the job on a happy note. Leave with a good last impression!

  7. Never speak ill of fellow artists or others in the industry:
    • The children’s publishing world is like a small town. Everyone knows everyone else! Keep that in mind!

  8. Keep learning! 
Hope there was something useful here for you to take with you! Until next time, here's to the promise of Spring!

Christina Forshay is an illustrator for the children's market. Her work can be seen at Follow her on hijinks on Facebook at Christina Forshay Illustration and on Twitter at @chrstinaforshay. 


  1. Great tips and links. I'll have plenty to 'chew over' for a while!

  2. Great tips. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  3. Thanks for sharing! :) Great info.

  4. Create a good portfolio is difficult, especially as these starting freelancing. but once you do it you can have a good success with your portfolio freelancer