Pros and Cons of Being a Freelance Artist

In this article I will cover the pros and cons of being a freelance artist.  A freelance artist is one who is self-employed as an independent contractor, as opposed to one who works for a company.  Being a freelance artist can be difficult and is often more work than simply working for a company.

For most freelance artists, they must create their own business model.  Some only take commissions, while others rely on the sale of their original art or prints.  The best model is a combination of both, especially for those just starting out. This article will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of working for yourself as an artist.

Advantages of Being a Freelance Artist

Set Your Own Schedule

This is one of the biggest advantages, and one that draws a lot of people. You get to set your own hours.  You can work from home, which most freelancers do, so you can avoid a commute and get to spend more time with your family.  Working a job with a strict schedule can be difficult for some people, and many love the freedom of being able to work form home.  You can take a vacation and don’t have to have anyone’s approval.   You can go to appointments and don’t have to schedule around it.

Get to Create The Art You Want

This is another big reason many decide to take this path.  Working for a big company, you must create art that they want.  This is typically character designs for video games and movies, but it can also be graphic design for logos and websites, as well as other design.  You rarely have time or motivation to create the art you want.  Some artists who work for graphic design companies are lucky and get to do designs that align with their own interests, but for many it is just a paycheck.

Improve Your Skills and Develop Your Portfolio

The nice thing about drawing what you love is you get the opportunity to hone your skills.  If you really love drawing wolves, and you draw them a lot, each time you draw them you will improve.  You learn more about their anatomy and how to draw their fur, and in time you can really become an expert at drawing wolves. You can also take your time and really develop a piece to its full potential, without the worry for deadlines. However, having a mixture of different things is really the best for growing your portfolio, especially if you are just starting out.

Sometimes, you learn a new technique and you just want to create a drawing to show it off.  When you are drawing for other people, that is not the time to try new techniques.  However, drawing for yourself allows you to explore new techniques and styles, and enhance your skills, and it is nice to be able to show off those skills you have learned.

You also get the opportunity to create art outside your comfort zone.  This is especially true if you take commissions.  Often, you will get a poor reference photo, or a subject that you are not entirely comfortable drawing.  This forces you to grow as an artist, and is good for you.

Sell Original Artwork

You always have the option to sell your original, if you desire.  Or, you can partner with a gallery to display your works.  Taking commissions, such as portrait paintings, can be a great steady source of income, and of course the original is sold to the client that commissioned it.  Often, if you work for a company, you do not have the intellectual property rights to the artwork you create for them, and cannot sell it.

License Your Work

With original designs and artwork, you have full control over how it is used.  Not only can you sell the original if you want, but you can scan or photograph it and choose to sell it as prints or merchandise, and continually profit from it.  When you create your own design works, you also have the ability to license them out for commercial use, such as for use as label designs, for use in movies and TV, and selling licenses for other retailers to use your images on their products.

Customer and Fan Base

Every piece you create is an advertisement of your skills.  Having an active social media presence can help you grow your customer base and make it more likely that you will be able to sell your art.  Most graphic design companies will allow their artists to maintain a public portfolio of their work, which is great for future job opportunities.  But you are often limited to future graphic design companies.  Creating your own original art in your own unique style can open up more opportunities for you as an artist, as the style, techniques, and media can be more varied.

Disadvantages of Being a Freelance Artist

Irregular Source of Income

This is a serious one, and one that must be considered before going this route.  For artists who work primarily with digital media, it is highly recommended to work for a company at least at first, until you have an established portfolio and stable income.  This is often more difficult for traditional artists, since most of the big jobs involving art utilize computer graphics.  For artists who use traditional media, many of them work a full time job in a field that is not art related, while building their portfolio and skills on the side.

If  you plan on doing art as an independent contractor, you must make sure your income situation is under control. Those who create art as a freelancer full time often have supplementary income.  While you are making your own art, you are not getting paid for it right away.  Even if you plan to sell the original or use a high resolution scan to make prints, there is no immediate income.  Commissions may come sporadically.  For pet portrait artists, they may get lots of commissions around Christmas time but not as much during the rest of the year.  This can create a huge income gap.

When you take commissions, you have to do them quickly, or risk losing business.  A lot of times you have a deadline, the person needs it by a specific time.  This is more true of corporate commissions than private commissions.   You also must work quickly enough to maintain your income. Taking more commissions will mean you can make more money, or else you will have to charge more for each commission.  If you are just starting out, you may not be able to charge so much for each drawing, so it is a balance between time spent on each drawing and what you charge.

Art Block and Stagnation

This is the worst.  Sometimes it can be difficult to come up with your own ideas.  Especially original ideas; you never want to feel like you are just copying someone else. The down side of only drawing what you want is the tendency to stagnate.  While it is important to develop your own style and be known for a particular type of art, the worst thing you can do is pigeon-hole yourself as an artist.  Some artists fall into this trap, where they only will draw a very particular thing and nothing else.  It is always good to experiment with new techniques and styles as well as subjects.  If you only draw dogs, try drawing a cat.  If you only draw flowers, try a still life.

Pleasing Your Fanbase

You must maintain a very strong social media presence.  Your fans can be your best asset and your worst enemy.  For example, if you are very well known as an anime fan artist, and you want to do something else for a change, those people who originally loved your artwork may get bored with your new art and lose interest in following you.  It can be hard to change your style or subjects when you have a large fan following that expects you to do a very specific style or subject.  This occurs more with people that do a lot of fan-art, but it can happen to anyone.

Risk of Bad Customer Interactions

Many artists refuse to take commissions because of bad experiences.  Customers who refuse to pay are not common, but can be enough to deter artists from taking commissions.  It is very disappointing to complete a work only to have the client refuse to pay.  Also, some customers are extremely picky and request numerous changes to the piece.  Often, commissions are highly personalized portraits of family members and would be difficult to sell on the market.  This results in frustration and lost time and revenue for the artist.

Further Reading