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The Artist's Guide to Freelancing: How to Get Clients and Sell Art Commissions

Photograph of a Focused Artist

As artists one of our major streams of revenue comes from contract work and commissions. This is otherwise known as freelancing, which simply means you're an artist for hire. It's a great life style in all honesty. You take on the jobs you like the look of, pick your own prices, choose your own hours and be your own boss. It's the artists dream!

When you've got regular income that is.

And that's the major draw back to being a freelance artist who works on commission, short term contracts or one off projects. You only have work when you get the call. It's not secure. There's no way of telling when you're going to be making serious bank or when you'll be struck by a dry spell.

That lack of financial certainty isn't just a draw back when it comes to getting the rent and bills paid on time, if you've got a family to take care of as well it can be a dangerous gamble to get into the freelance scene without a safety net to catch you when worst comes to worst.

So in this article I'm going share my best tactics for gaining and securing regular work as a freelance comic book artist. Here's a quick overview of what we'll cover:

  • How to create a winning portfolio that attracts clients

  • How to accurately price your art

  • Where to find client work and get art commissions

  • How to forge a powerful network of clients and solid reputation

  • Methods for effective negotiation and communication

  • How to make sure you get paid for your work

There's a lot of ground to cover here, so lets get strait into it!

Promoting Your Art

First things first, if you want to get more clients, they've got to be able to find you. If you're drawing alone in your Mom's basement and never show anyone what you're capable of, it doesn't matter how much skill you've got, no one's going to know who you are or what you've got to offer them.

It's important to understand that no matter how talented you are, the major determiner of your success as a career artist will come down to your ability to get as many eyes as possible on the work you do, so that you've got an audience to sell it to. You run a business that offers a service, so you've got to be a great businessman as well as a great artist.

Scrooge McDuck Bathing In Money

As a freelance artist you're a sole trader, which essentially means you're a business that's run by a single person - and that person is you! Like any other business you'll have to promote, advertise and market what it is you're selling. Luckily, that's easier than ever with the advent of the internet, and better yet, social media.

But where do you begin?

How to Create a Winning Portfolio

To start with, you'll need to put together a killer portfolio full of your very best work. I'm talking the most pristine gems of craftsmanship that show off the full range of skills you're capable of. For comics in particular that can include pin ups, covers, and interiors that demonstrate your ability to draw people, scenes, backgrounds, vehicles, animals and foliage. If you're aiming to get hired by a mainstream or independent studio to work on comic books specifically, you'll want to be well rounded at drawing pretty much everything.

According to this article, studios such as Top Cow are on the look out for artists who can ink their own work. In particular they want to see that you're able to construct convincing backgrounds, effectively place camera's and frame shots to help tell a story, convey personality through character expressions and body language, and present quiet moments in the narrative where not much action is happening. They're searching for artists who have the ability to tell a story through sequential art first, rather than cover art or pinups. Generally they're not looking for graffiti or graphic design type art either simply because it falls too far outside the established aesthetic for comics.

Double Page Spread of Sequential Art By Top Cow's Marc Silvestri

If you're serious about getting into comics, this detailed article covers the submissions guidelines for the major comic book publishers that are out there. Click here to read it: The Definitive List of Comic Publisher Submission Guidelines for 2019

In short, here's what they're all looking for:

  • A resume that details any published drawing experience, comics related as well as other publications your art has appeared in. Ideally they're after sequential art experience. If you've already created and published your own comic book, this will put you miles ahead of other applicants because it shows that you can carry through on a entire comic book from start to finish.

  • A short introduction that covers why you would like to work at that specific comic book studio and what you'll be able to bring to the table with your unique background and perspective.

  • A portfolio of art that includes five to six pages of art. The majority of these art pages should showcase your sequential work, and no more than two illustrations. If you don't include sequential art it pretty much guarantee's that your portfolio will be completely overlooked.

  • All work in your portfolio should be done by you. That means if you include inked art, you both penciled and inked of that piece of art. They're not interested in any part of your work that wasn't entirely done by you.

The above applies to artists who want to be hired to work for a comic book company specifically. That doesn't mean however you can't be commissioned to work on comic books for indie creators, develop concept art for video games, produce storyboards for ad and movie projects, paint murals, design T-shirts and tattoo's or create album covers for music. Independent clients might straight out ask you to do a pin up or cover simply because they love your art style, and want to hang it on the their lounge room wall.

A Marvel-style comic mural dedicated to the men and women of Civil Engineering

I've just finished up on a commission where I was paid to do some character designs for another creator's comic book. Not the cover, or interior, just the character designs. Once you gain the skill set required to create comics, there's a lot you can do with your art outside of the medium too.

In fact I'd argue that you'll be more than qualified to work in pretty much any other field of art given the fundamental drawing principles you've got to master in the comic book medium. Form, perspective, composition, figure drawing, anatomy, lighting and color branch out into many other areas, and if you've honed your skills in each, your opportunities as a freelancer are boundless.

Broadening your scope of potential work opportunities beyond comics is worth considering due to the unpredictable nature of a freelance art career. The more pies you've got your fingers in the better! You never know where that next pay check is going to come from for sure so you want to leave as many doors open as possible.

Lets talk for a moment about what you might include in a more generalized portfolio that isn't necessarily confined to just comic book illustration.

What to Include in an Art Portfolio

Concerning the content, themes and genre's surrounding the work included in your portfolio, ask yourself, what kind of jobs you'd like to get hired to do? If it's pin ups and covers of sexy ladies specifically, that's great! Or maybe all you want to do is draw robots, mechs and vehicles, even better. How about medieval knights, sorcerers, dragons and castles? Tattoos might be an area of interest for you too. It's all good, anything goes.

Comic Artist Waiting In Line To Show His Portfolio

If you polish up your skills and get really good at working within your chosen category, or categories of art, the clients out there who are looking to hire someone who can do that kind of work will find you.

What I'm suggesting here is that if you want to enjoy the work you do for clients, you'll need to hone your abilities within your desired specialization. Become the best within that category of art and you'll establish yourself as the go to person for that kind of work.

I enjoy creating concept art, comic art (interiors and covers) as well as pin ups. I simply have an art crush on the medium and I love the aesthetic it brings to my work. But just as an example, if I really had to whittle what I like drawing down to something extremely specific, I'd say my preferred areas of expertise are sci-fi/horror themed comic book characters. So if I'm putting together my portfolio, work covering that medium and genre should be prioritized and showcased first.

This is something that potential clients want to see because most of the time they'll be looking to hire someone based on their artistic style and abilities, who can work well within a particular genre or theme. If they want you specifically to draw them a dragon, it's probably because you've got a killer art piece in your portfolio featuring a dragon. Heck, your entire portfolio might be exclusively dedicated to immaculately drawn dragons! That makes you the dragon guy/gal!

When the client comes to you, it's for a reason. They already have something in mind, and that's probably how they found you and why they've approached you to do some work for them. If you can define what your niche' is, or in other words the specific style, theme and subject matter your work consists of, you'll stand out among the crowd much easier.

Designing Your Portfolio

Whether we're talking about a physical portfolio or a digital portfolio the most important thing to remember is to keep it clean and simple. A potential client should be able to easily flip through your portfolio without getting confused.

Accessibility is key!

Depending on the client there's a good chance they'll sum up whether they're going to commission you in mere seconds, based on the first two or three pieces of art that catches their eye. If they have to put any effort whatsoever into reviewing your portfolio, they'll close it quick smart and move onto the next simply because they don't have all day to figure it out.

For a physical portfolio I'd suggest ordering your best work toward the front in an A3 sized folder.

My portfolio is primarily digital though and honestly I haven't ever needed to use a physical portfolio to get clients. You can check it out here:

The Online Art Portfolio of Clayton Barton

You don't have to navigate anywhere else on the site to find my art, it's all right there on the front page. You'll also notice that it's split up into the different categories of work I do, each section showing a selection of my best art works within each. If a potential client is interested enough to look further they can do so by simply clicking on the category heading, where they'll be taken to a larger gallery. The user experience is streamlined and straight forward.

The beauty of a digital portfolio is that a lot of your freelance work, even a majority of it, will come from clients who come across your work online. Or maybe you've reached out to someone you'd like to work with via Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube, Instagram or Twitter. It's fast, easy and convenient to just send them a message with a direct link to your online portfolio. In the same way I just linked you to mine above.

There's a lot of ways to set up an online portfolio. You could use an online gallery platform such as Art Station or Deviant Art. These are totally fine for the most part.

But if you're looking to create an online portfolio that looks professional and stands out, my suggestion would be to go with an easy to use website builder such as Wix or Square Space. I personally used Wix to create my portfolio, and this very website. Wix's tools are easy to use and the end result looks super slick. Plus if you upgrade to a premium account you can connect an e-mail address to your website which helps you come across as that much more professional.

Wix is free to use if you just want to create a basic account and get your portfolio set up and running.

Get Good, Get Paid

So now you've got something to show potential clients, but what you show them is of course going to determine whether or not you get hired, and if you do get hired, how much you're going to get paid.

Here's the honest truth, most of the time you'll get paid in direct proportion to your level of skill. The better you are at your craft, the more you'll be able to charge. The math is simple. If you want to get paid like a pro, turn in professional work.

Artist Kim Jung Gi Demonstrates His Exceptional Skills

I know you want to make money from your art right now and you don't want to wait. Maybe you think you're already good enough and should be pulling in commissions left right and center, and you could be! In that case, you've just got to work through the logistical challenge of finding clients. It might also be however that your work just isn't quite at the level yet where people are willing to pay what you're asking for it.

It sucks to hear that, and you probably hate me for saying it. I wish this wasn't the case either. But it's not us that gets to determine whether or not our work is sell-able, it's the customer. The only control you have over that is creating a product and providing a service they want to fork out money for.

So the question is, are you not getting clients because there's some kind of disconnect between you and them? Or is it because your art just isn't quite at a sellable level of quality just yet? It's important to be able to make that distinction. Because if you can be brutally honest with yourself you'll know where and what to focus on next.

But how do you know if your work is good enough yet? You've got to research your customer. Who are you trying to sell to exactly? What kind of art work would they want to buy and what's their budget?

As an example if we're talking about an independent comic book creator, a majority of them won't have a huge budget which means they'll be looking for artists who will work for a reasonable, but low end rate. That doesn't mean they want low end art however. They want the best they can get for what they can afford. If it's not the elite work of an artist like Jim Lee, they want as close to that as they can get.

So the clients battle is figuring out how they can get the best looking art work possible, within their price range. Your conflict is determining the quality of work you're able to produce and how much you want to charge for it. It's okay to fall outside the clients price bracket, because then you've got room to negotiate. Maybe they pay you a little bit more for just your rough pencils and hire someone else at a cheaper rate to ink it. Whatever the case may be there's a chance you'll reach a compromise. Charging more than what you're worth however is where you run into trouble. You just won't get any clients that way. To find the right price point for the quality of work you're able to offer, you'll need to objectively compare it to the industry standard. That means accurately determining whether or not your work falls into the high, average or low end ranges of quality and calculating it's worth.

This 2017 article by Creator Resource is a good place to start your research if you're looking to get into comics specifically:

2017 Marvel Comics Page Rates According to Creator Source
2017 Marvel Comics Page Rates According to Creator Source

The reality is though, if you want to earn a full time income off of freelancing and live comfortably without grinding away at the drawing board 24/7, you'll need to raise the quality of your work so that it matches your desired level of income. Until you get there, it's a good idea to have a second part time job that brings in a semi-regular paycheck so that you've got some security there.

Finding Your Price Point

Despite the quality of your work it is possible to undersell yourself, or worse, find yourself working for free. This is something you want to avoid at all costs. If the art work you create is of a reasonable quality, you do not have to work for a pittance, nor should you. If you do, you'll simply get paid less than your work is worth continuously.

And any repeat customers who come to you because you're cheap, will continue paying you cheap rates until you raise your prices. Than they'll scram. You'll be caught in an endless cycle, known as the cheap artist who'll work hard and deliver great work for a low rate.

I'd highly recommend knocking back any clients that claim they'll pay you in the form of exposure instead of financial compensation. There's very little chance that you'll get any level of exposure that'll result in full time work, and even if it does, it'll only be a message to future clients that you're willing to work for nothing. Working on spec for shares is also very risky. In other words, the client will pay you a percentage based on how much money the end product makes. Which means you'll have no guarantee of getting paid at all. Make sure you've got your numbers sorted so that you know what to charge. This goes back to my previous point, but you've really got to calculate your level of expertise and experience against the rate of pay your service or product is worth. If you're professional, fast and good at what you do, you can get hired for $50, to $100 per hour. It might not always be in comics, but remember that your skill set can most definitely branch out into multiple areas within the entertainment industry.

Remember your trade isn't generalized, it's specialized. You provide a service that fulfills a need. People pay you for what you do, because you're the only one who can do it in your style.

Pro comic artist, Joe Madureira, also made a career for himself in the video games industry

The way I figured out my pay rates were as follows. I looked at the quality of my work and compared it to the professional art work I seen being done in the industry. I asked myself if my style was desirable enough for people to be drawn to it. The answer to that was based on how people generally reacted to my work, the feedback it had received and the past experiences I'd had working with clients and in studios.

If at any point I felt my art wasn't meeting industry standards or higher, I worked on it until it's quality was raised to a level where people would and should be willing to pay for it. Then based on that I figured out how long each piece of work took to produce, and set myself an hourly rate. Now, your hourly rate will be determined by two things. The quality of your work, and how fast you can get it done. If you create great looking art, but take months to complete it, you'll have to charge a lower hourly rate. If you get that same illustration done within a week, or even a day, then you can ramp up that hourly rate significantly. To sum it up, if the standard of work you can deliver is high, and you're able to produce it fast, you can charge a higher hourly rate than someone who takes twice as long to complete something of the same quality.

A Vintage Comic Strip

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if your art is mediocre and you take a long time to complete it, your hourly rate is likely going to be very low, if you want to be hired by anyone at all. Getting it done fast might justify a slightly higher rate. But you're better off simply upping the quality of your work all round.

You could also calculate your pay based on your preferred hourly rate. Let's say you want to be paid $80 an hour. You better have something extremely desirable on offer that you can deliver on in a reasonable amount of time to justify that price point. Once you know how long it takes you to complete something, and what hourly rate you'd like to charge, you can calculate individual page rates and how much it will cost for illustrations of various levels of complexity. Some commissions might require you to do a single character with no background, while others consist of multiple characters with a background. These variables should be taken into account and priced differently since one will take you longer to complete than the other.

You might offer a variety of different types of art. This could be pencils, inks or colors for cover or interior art as an example. So the amount you charge your client will also depend on what they're asking you to do.

Your price list should be clearly laid out for every service you offer. If you do covers, interiors, pencils, inks, and colors you should have a separate price in place for all of them since the amount of time you spend on each will vary.

Disclose how much it'll cost for a single bust shot of a character, as apposed to an illustration featuring multiple full figure characters and a backdrop. A colored page with numerous figures composed on a detail set will be obviously more expensive than a penciled, single character with no background.

I'd suggest setting up a table similar to the ones used to outline the page rates here on Creator Resource: . Create it using a Google Spreadsheet and determine the categories and rates you'd like to offer.

When you're asked about your prices, and you will get asked, send inquirers this price list and negotiate with them from there. They'll either accept your rate, compromise with you, or decline your proposal altogether. Whatever happens, do not accept a job for a lower rate than what you're completely comfortable with. One final point I'll add here is that if you diversify your clientele, you'll find that various industries are able and willing to pay different rates. A big budget movie producer will be able to pay you a much higher amount to create a storyboard sequence in comparison to comic book company for the interiors of a comic book. So it's a good idea to do your research when it comes to the different rates of pay you're able to receive when working within individual industries.

This article by Katie Croonenberghs provides a great source of reference for sussing out the rates of pay on offer for commercial artists within different industries:

Where to Find Work

You've got your portfolio ready, your prices set, but now where do you go to actually get art commissions?

Vintage Cartoon of a Happy Cat Who Has a Job

If you're looking for fast money, there's a number of freelance websites out there with job postings asking specifically for comic book artists right now. Not only that but you can set up your own profile on most of them and advertise your services. Here's a couple I've tracked down for you. All of these have recent postings so you can check them out right away and start applying. Upwork: Indeed: Guru: People Per Hour:

Fiverr: is also a great option if you'd like clients to come to you.

You're not limited to comic art jobs on these sites by any means either. If you simply search cartooning, drawing, story boarding, illustration or concept art into any of these site's search engines you'll get different job listings that you can apply for. Remember, you can diversify your services beyond comic book illustration.

Personally, I've found great job opportunities on Facebook communities, where occasionally someone will make a post looking for an artist. If it's a comic book art community such as our How To Draw Comics Facebook Group usually it'll be independent creators who are looking for a penciller, inker or colorist to work on their book.

My suggestion would be to join as many of these Facebook groups as possible and keep your eyes peeled for people looking to hire artists. Usually if they're legitimately looking to commission someone, they'll make a post detailing the specifics of the project, what they're willing to pay and their contact information.

Sometimes these potential clients will join an art group themselves just to keep tabs on the art being posted there. If something catches their eye, usually they'll reach out to the artist who created it. This also means that if you begin participating in these online communities you'll not only be showcasing your work for all to see, but there's a good chance you'll be able to begin building a network of valuable connections.

Most of my freelance work has come through the pipeline by doing this very thing. We'll get more into the topic of networking in the next section, but I'm telling you that this is one of the most powerful ways to forge relationships with clients who ultimately become repeat customers.

There are also many art forums out there that have a section specifically dedicated to job postings for artists, where you'll find similar opportunities. Here's a few of my favorites that are great for comic book and concept artists who are on the look out for commissions: DeviantArt: Digital Webbing:

Another unlikely place you might find work is right in your own backyard. I'm talking about your neighborhood, school, and local businesses. Generally your community. Ask around and demonstrate your abilities outside the studio in a public setting every now and then. That might mean heading down to the local markets on weekends, getting a permit to sell portraits on a side walk with lots of foot traffic or sketching on some napkins at your favorite coffee shop.

A Caricature Artist Doing Art Commissions In The Street

This might seem silly and pointless at first. But I'm serious! I earned my first dollars as a kid, sketching portraits of the patrons at our local pub in the little town I grew up in. This town was tiny, and full of tradesmen or farmers. But they loved the caricatures I'd draw up for them. The more you get yourself out there, the more work you'll find, sometimes in the most unlikely places.

Networking and Getting Your Art Work Out There

Building relationships and connecting with other people in the comic book industry, both online and offline, can be an inconceivably valuable thing to do. Why? Because you never know what's going to come from those relationships down the line.

People work with those they trust. And who do they trust most? Their family, and then their friends. So your chances of getting work from a client before you've taken the time to build a connection with them is pretty slim in comparison to someone they know and have worked with before, even if your work is better.

So the idea here is to seek out people you could potentially work with and build a strong relationship with them. That way when they're looking for someone to hire on that next big project, they'll think of you.

Something you can do right now is set up an account on each of the major social media networks - Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit. Start by filling out your profile for each, including your name, job title (Comic Book Artist), the kind of work you do, a link to your portfolio and contact information.

Social Media Icons

For Facebook and Reddit you'll want to join communities that discuss and post the kind of art work you do. Share your art to these communities but try to go the extra mile and provide some background on what it's about, the experience you had while creating it and what you learned along the way. Tell people the story behind what you're showing them. Ask advice from the community on what you could do better next time and try to initiate some kind of meaningful interaction beyond just a thumbs up. Don't just post your work and never comment on anyone else's. Friendship is a two way street, and if you want to form a bond with your community than you'll need to show them that you care about and support the work that they create too. When they ask a question, do your best to answer it. When they share a new piece of art work they've just created, give them props for doing so. They'll return the favor and you'll begin forming real connections with some of these people.

How does this open up more work opportunities for you? Well you just never know where those friendships can lead. Maybe one of the artists you've befriended on Facebook works for DC or Marvel and could help you get your leg in the door. Or their schedule might be too busy for them to take on extra work, and so they hit you up to see if you'd be interested in sharing some of the load. Beyond that you'll be getting your own work out there by posting it to your social profiles and online art communities. You're putting it in front of people, making each post that showcases your art work a form of promotion. It's an advertisement that lets others appreciate what you're able to do with your skill set, and if they like it enough, potentially hire you.

So post as much as you possibly can and interact with the communities on these social platforms often.

What I'd recommend you do specifically in regards to Youtube is to start your own channel and begin posting time lapse recordings that demonstrate your process. You can narrate them if you like, or simply throw in a music soundtrack from the Youtube music library to accompany the video.

Here's one I did recently as an example. Nothing fancy, just a quick time lapse sketch with a voice over.

By doing this you add value to the other artists within the Youtube community while also spreading your art work to a wider audience. As a result you inadvertently raise your status as an authority within the comic art community. Youtube especially is a great place to do this given that it's the second most widely used search engine next to Google. If you're posting on these social media platforms regularly, and your work is appealing, there's a good chance you'll get contacted and the work will come to you instead. This is how I get most of my commissions, simply by making my art more visible. The more people who see it, the greater the chance I'll get a new customer. This is how you know your work has reached the level it needs to be at for people to start paying you for it.

Here's my last tactic for spreading the good word of your art work on social media. Reach out to social media influencers by featuring them in your art work. They'll be humbled that you did so and it'll immediately grab their attention. If they like it, which they probably will, they'll share it on their social media accounts.

If it's not an art work you're featuring this influencer in, ask yourself what you could do for them and their audience that would catch their attention and inspire them to return the favor?

Maybe you donate one of your art pieces to a competition they're running on their social media profile. Or you might draw them a character from their favorite movie, television show, video game or comic book. It could be anything. Don't expect something in return right away. Think of this as an icebreaker to initiate a dialogue with them that will hopefully turn into a strong friendship. What about networking offline? Attending art conventions is one of the best ways to engage with the industry. Of course for comic artists that would be Comic Con, where you'll undoubtedly meet other artists, but most importantly you'll have the opportunity to connect with people already working in the industry.

Asbury Park Comicon

Just as with the online communities, you'll want to make an effort to create a real connection with these people. Show interest in them first, listen to what they have to say and ask them questions. Don't try to be a salesman, be a friend they can trust. If they like you and the work you do, they'll get in touch if something comes up. But even if they don't immediately hire you on the spot, try to maintain some kind of connection with all your contacts. Head out to the bar with them after the con is over and bond over a few drinks. Talk about more than just art. That's work for them after all. Now is the time to discuss the stuff they're passionate about, the things that get them excited and hopefully find some common ground. If you manage to forge an iron clad connection with those people you'll significantly raise your perceived status and reputation simply by providing good company. And you would be surprised where that can lead.

How to Negotiate Effectively

Once you score a new client you'll want to strike a fair deal between the two of you that you're both happy with. As I stated before, they might have figured out their budget already, and you have probably already determined your rate of pay. But you'll want to have some wriggle room when it comes to determining what the final price and conditions of the job will ultimately be.

If their budget and your price point don't match up then a conversation needs to take place in order for the two of you to figure out whether or not you'll be able to work together. A negotiation can take any direction it needs to, but what you're basically trying to arrive at is a compromise you're both satisfied with.

This compromise can be arrived at in many ways. For example if the clients budget is set in stone and there's no way they'll budge to meet your quote, then maybe you can offer to do just the pencils for their illustration instead of the pencils and inks they had initially requested.

Or maybe you tell them that you can do both the pencils and inks, but that the complex background they had wanted will need to be simplified for the project to be financially viable for you to undertake.

That way you're still able to deliver what they're requesting for the most part, without losing too much money. Not a perfect scenario, but both of you are happy enough to call it a deal.

Superman Shaking Hands With Mohammed Ali

Maybe your price is set in stone, but they can adjust their budget a little. So you offer to draw in an extra character or two, and to give the back drop some additional detail if they're willing to meet the price you're asking for. When it comes to striking a deal with your client that you're both happy with, you've got to get creative. They won't always know what the best solution is, so it's up to you to come up with a palatable pitch that presents an exciting prospect for both parties. One of the best and fastest ways to reach an optimal conclusion to any negotiation is to find out what they want. What matters to them most? Is it the money, project or the work you're able to produce for them? Could it be something else altogether you haven't thought of yet. This is something you can get to the bottom of very quickly simply by asking them a few questions. What questions you ask? For example you might begin by asking them to tell you more about the project, and what they believe you'll be able to bring to the table. Find out why they want to hire you in the first place. Then you might ask what kind of budget they have in mind for the project, along with the timeline of production. Ask them what their expectations are of you. By gathering as much information as possible, you're showing them that you're interested in the job being offered, vibing with the client, and gathering intel that'll allow you to effectively close the deal.

Before we move onto the next point, my final piece of advice when it comes to negotiating on price with a potential client, is to come from a buyers perspective, not a sellers. If you're trying to sell them on what you've got to offer too much, it can make you seem overly eager to impress, and maybe even desperate, leaving you in a vulnerable position. This is not the right frame to set between you and the client.

Oliver Twist

If your product is worth the money you're asking for it, you shouldn't need to convince a client why they should invest in it. That'll only cause them to wonder why you're trying so hard. A much better frame to establish is that of the buyers. Before even getting into an interaction with them, ask yourself why you would want to work with them, and what they've got to offer you. Be curious as to what they'll do to convince you that stepping into the project they're pitching is a good idea.

You don't want to be too overt with this kind of attitude, but what it will do is change the dynamic between you and the client so that they're really trying to convince you to jump on board instead. Always be professional and fair with anyone you're working with, of course.

If you come across as stuck up, egotistical or dismissive, that'll just turn the client off and you'll lose the deal. Be confident, but not overconfident and whatever you do, don't get cocky.

The buyers frame is more so for you, to get your head leveled so that you're able to effectively handle yourself throughout the negotiation without appearing desperate. Neediness and desperation is possibly even more of a turn off than being an egomaniac, and you will get taken to the cleaners if you don't set the right dynamic on your end for a balanced negotiation where everyone involved is on an even playing field.

Don't aim to be the only winner in your negotiations. Strive to reach a win win for both parties.

Communicate Effectively

Being a great communicator is absolutely key when it comes to working with clients. If you don't know how to talk to the people who are hiring you, for whatever reason it may be, or you neglect to update them on your progress this will raise red flags for them immediately.

Vintage Comic Strip

Effective communication is relatively simple. Be polite, respectful and thorough. Don't talk to your client like they're a mate, spewing out irrelevant anecdotes that are way off topic or throwing around profanities left right and center like a sailor. They're not your buddy. They're you're employer. So act like a professional.

Another key thing to keep in mind when it comes to doing art commissions is that you can never give, or have enough information. Before you even say yes to the job you need to clearly lay out your exact process for producing the work, your timeline for doing so, your limitations and your availability.

For example, you might tell them that you'll have the work they've commissioned done by the end of the week, along with the day and date of delivery. Even if this is just an estimate, that's fine. But give them something. And if you get held up along the way or you're delayed in getting the work to them for some reason, e-mail them as soon as possible and explain why.

Then you might outline the different stages of development for the commissioned piece of work. Let's say you start with the thumbnailing stage, which leads to the drafting phase, then refinement where everything is set in stone, and lastly the final polish. And maybe only a certain number of changes can be made up until the drafting stage by the client, before it's given the okay and taken through to refinement.

The different stages of develop I go through when illustrating a character

If that's the case, the client needs to know that information so make sure you tell them in a very clear and concise way.

You'll also need to get enough information out of them so that you've got a clear idea of what they want you to do. Some clients will send you a comprehensive brief detailing out every aspect of the job to a T. Other's will describe what they would like you to do in no more than a sentence or two. Everyone you work with will communicate differently, so you'll need to adjust the way you interact with them until you're able to get to the bottom of what they're really requesting you to do.

Clearly defined briefs may not allow for a whole lot of creative freedom on your part, but they're incredibly helpful for knowing exactly what the client wants, which means there's less room for error. A vague two sentence description of what they'd like you to do gives you much more leeway, however you might find that without more concrete information, there will be a lot of guess work involved before you're able to come up with something they're happy with.

Your client might not necessarily know what they want from you, but they certainly know what they don't want. So send them a few rough sketches to begin with if you're unsure. Because if you take it too far and don't let them see your progress along the way, you're taking a huge gamble. They could just tell you they don't like what you've done, after you've spent hours, days or even weeks creating it. And honestly, that'd be on you for not checking in to ensure you were on the right track.

More importantly gather as much information from them as possible. Have them answer every potential question you've got about what they need you to do, especially if you've only got a vague idea about what exactly that is. Your goal is to withdraw enough information from them to reproduce whatever mental expectation they've already got inside their mind. That way you can deliver something that's better than they could have imagined.

Be a Professional

Remember that you're a pro. And professionals usually have a few things in common that set them apart from everyone else. Firstly, the language they use is polite and respectful even when things get heated. The way they talk makes others feel comfortable. Your ability to communicate should help you to navigate around any conflicts with the client in a civil way.

I'd suggest reading How To Win Friends And Influence People By Dale Carnegie. It's an oldy but a goody, and it's helped me immensely to forge powerful relationships with the people I work with, to relate and empathize with others, to bond with my peers, but most importantly to seek first to understand then to be understood.

If you can master that skill, you'll be extremely influential. Not in a sinister or manipulative way, but simply because of how well liked you'll become by following the principles outlined in this book.

How to Win Friends and Influence People By Dale Carnegie

We already mentioned this, but make sure you're sending the client regular progress shots on the piece they've commissioned you to do.

This assures them that you are working on it, that you haven't mysteriously disappeared off the face of the planet (every clients worse nightmare), and it allows you to check whether or not you're going in the right direction. Communication is so key. Over communicate. Don't leave room for error.

Inform your client of delays. There's a good chance that they have their own deadlines to reach, which means if the work they're getting you to do depends on them reaching those deadlines, they need to know in advance if you're doing to be late in delivering it.

Explain why it's delayed, be honest, set a new deadline for yourself and make sure you reach it. They'll understand if you fall behind once. Maybe even twice. But they will not tolerate dishonesty or a lack of advanced notice if you can't get it to them on time.

All worst case scenarios aside, do your very best to reach any set deadlines. If you say you'll have it done by a certain date, have it done by then, if not the day before. Make sure the work you've delivered is your best and not half baked.

If the client e-mails you or you miss a call from them, make sure you respond in a timely manner. Don't leave their e-mail sitting in your inbox so long that they have to send you another one to get a reply. This is only going to frustrate them and make the lines of communication between the both of you tortuously slow.

Liam Neeson from the Movie Taken

The reason having this level of professionalism is so important is because it helps you create a good reputation with your clients. The people you work with are going to talk to the people they know and work with within the industry. If you leave a bad impression by handing them sub-par work late, they'll warn everyone they know against hiring you. No joke.

You'd be surprised how much of a small world it is. If you're working with a client online, this can be even worse if you do a terrible job for them. Then they can broadcast the unfortunate experience they had working with you across the whole of social media and essentially widely discredit you. This can be detrimental to your future success as a freelance artist.

On the other hand, if you go above and beyond, and do an amazing job for them they'll recommend you to everybody. They'll brag about you! You can't imagine the kinds of opportunities this will open up. Word of mouth is insanely powerful.

Best of all, those clients will come back to you again and again, becoming repeat customers who know they can trust you to deliver the goods. Once you get a few regulars penciled into your schedule you're set. Essentially you can sit easy knowing that they'll continue coming back because they trust and respect you.

Be a professional and you'll build yourself an iron clad reputation that keeps on giving.

Get Paid

You've got everything done for your client and sent it off to them. Now it's time to get paid for all your hard work. But that probably won't happen! Why? Because you've sent everything off to them already! They don't have to pay you a cent if they don't want to now.

Comic Book Panel of Dr Doom From The Marvel Universe

I know this is a cynical outlook, and we like to think the best of people. And most will do right by you and pay you your money. But a lot of them won't if they don't have to. Some of them will promise you the world, then mysteriously vanish after they get what they need. Do I sound bitter? You'd be right, because I learned this lesson the hard way, multiple times. And so have many others.

First off, how do you avoid having this happen to you?

Ask for a percentage of the agreed upon payment upfront, always! It could be 30%, or it could be 50%. It might even be 100%. That's up to you and the client, but make sure you get something up front. If the client is unwilling you give you a deposit, this is usually a red flag. It means they probably never had any intention of paying you at all. The way I personally handle payments is I'll ask for 50% upfront, and 50% on delivery, before sending through the full resolution illustration. Some clients will just pay me 100% up front because they find it more convenient, and other times, after we've established a trustworthy working relationship, I'll get them to pay me at the end. But that's only if I've had previous experiences with that client. With new clients I've never worked with before, I always ask for 50% before I begin.

This is the best way of securing at least some financial compensation for your time no matter what happens. Most clients won't have a problem laying down a deposit, nor should they. If they do, steer clear of them.

How do you actually receive your payments though?

Paypal is the easiest and most common way to receive payments online. After money is transferred to your Papal account you can withdraw it straight to your bank account. I use Paypal for almost all of my transactions.

Another route you can take is to simply get the client to transfer payments directly to your bank account, which I'll also do occasionally. It tends to be faster and more convenient. All you need to provide them is the account name, account number, and BSB. I'll usually reserve this method of payment for clients I've worked with before, whom I trust.

Of course you can also ask your client to send you a bank check. I've never done this, but some people do and it works for them!

Illustration of Money Bags and Coin


That just about covers the key points you'll need to keep in mind to get your freelance art career on a roll. After reading through this article you should have a clear idea on where to begin when it comes to setting up an eye-catching portfolio, how to get your art work out there so people can find it, where to find job opportunities, how to deal with clients and most importantly, how to get paid!

If you'd like to delve further into this topic with me, Ed Foychuk and I dedicated our latest episode of the HTDC Podcast to "Getting Commissions" as a freelance artist. Click here to listen to it:

I hope you got tons of insight out of this article. It's a big read, so feel free to bookmark this page and review it whenever you need to. No doubt you have heaps of artist buddies out there that would also find this article super helpful so be sure to pass it along to them. They'll appreciate it and so will I. This info is too valuable to keep to ourselves!

Thanks for reading, and keep up the incredible work.


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