Yesterday I sat here at my studio desk. I went through my daily routine, (or as close as a freelance creative gets to routine) checking my run of websites, eating lunch when I felt satisfied with my mornings progression. Familiar people infiltrated my inbox and my ever expanding Itunes spat out it’s increasingly erratic playlist. Then one of those regular invaders, Charles Williams dropped me a very interesting link.
I’ve been aware of Ben the Illustrator’s work for a couple of years now, but it is this piece that lit a fire under my arse yesterday and really made me take note. Read it and read it well. It convinced me to reintroduce myself to the world of blogging because not enough people talk about the hard truths.
It’s all too easy to believe that this business is a haven away from checkouts, administration and routine where watercolour skies and talking bears brighten up the realities of a recession and making money. What was already a tough industry in the UK is now on it’s knees as the government continues to make decisions with it’s collective cock out. But let’s not get distracted from the focal point of this piece, this is no political rant.
I am a doer and a positive thinker. These two things have enabled me to make a better living from freelance Illustration than in any of my previous jobs. I know how to create an opportunity for myself when I see one. I have talent, yes. But there are thousands of more talented artists out there than myself. So I network, I ask for jobs, I tell people why they should be using me.
As a child, I drew. If I wasn’t playing football or winding up a neighbour, I was indoors drawing wrestlers, footballers or Damon Albarn. When I realized I wouldn’t be gracing the Elland Road pitch, I turned my focus to my creative streak and went to art college. Ten years on and after two and a half years of freelancing full time I am very fortunate to say that I am doing something I enjoy, for a living. Which brings me to Ben the Illustrator’s article and answer to the question, “Would you recommend becoming a freelance Illustrator?” Put simply, I’d say no.
In my portfolio you’ll find several portraits created for WWE in New York to show them how my product fits their business. Get it? This is business and a business that has been badly hit by the recession. You have to realize that every job available is fiercely contested and at the mercy of the whim of the commissioner. It always has been and now with the ready availability of the internet, is becoming a more harsh environment than ever. After all, Illustration is a luxury that many can no longer afford.
In two and a half years I have achieved many of my career goals within Illustration. I have worked regularly for my boyhood football team Leeds United. I have worked in Television, Music, Film and Media. I have become established in my field and have been lucky enough to travel whilst continuing to work for high profile clients.
This morning I found out that Design Week is the latest to be cut down in these grim financial times. That was client four of five to vanish from my ‘Regular Clients.’ When I say regular I say people who return each month. No contract, no guarantee. They just materialize in my inbox, confirming that the water rates will be paid before the third warning. Some failed to even notify me, they just slipped away unnoticed. HSBC Noticed and so did the security camera next to the reduced shelf at ASDA when I became a daily face pawing at the 10p pasties at lunch.
What I’m trying to say is, this game can be highly lucrative and extremely rewarding. But there are no guarantees. I have no family to support, no car to insure, no mortgage to pay and yet I lie awake at night, bouncing off the walls at the prospect of work drying up. I also rattle round my room knowing that there are amendments to make, that the colour profile on my agent’s website is a little washed out. You cannot lock up the office at 5pm and ‘leave it until tomorrow.’ What happens when a client calls at 5.30pm Friday with a Monday morning deadline and you promised your girlfriend a weekend away? Lose a client? Turn down £300? Or turn down the £120 that you’re being offered for a double page spread that should pay £400 because the budgets have been slashed? I could go on but you get the picture.
Ben’s points have hit the nail on the head. The money can be great. I’ve earned £1,000 in a day before now. Full priced ‘specially selected salmon?’ Go on then. Eight weeks down the line that will help clear the overdraft. There is no ceiling to what you can earn if you can handle the workload.
Illustration opens many doors to other areas if you’re canny enough. With no formal training I am currently also working as an Art Director on several projects and I hope that this will create opportunities to find some stability down the line.
It takes time. I graduated in July 2006 with a 2.1 degree. I got my first job in December 2006, it paid £80 and wasn’t published due to bad art direction. I gained my first commission in May 2008 after working full time for almost two years in a wide range of jobs. I went full time in November 2008 and have seen the boom and the bust. Be prepared to work in jobs you hate whilst you forge your own opportunities.
In a recession, people will be more choosy in who they commission so you’ll need an iron chin. The cream will rise to the top they say, yet I see clients dropping amazing practitioners for people who’ve learned how to use a computer. Just another certainty…
My summation is this: You will need to be more astute than the next Illustrator. You will need a set of fucking bollocks. You will need to be reliable and good at what you do. You will have be prepared to cancel your social life at short notice. If you can handle these often unspoken truths, you may gain more satisfaction and success than you could have ever imagined. I certainly have and I’m proud to say that the 70 hour weeks I burned out in 2008 have enabled me to win awards and work with some of the world’s biggest clients. Just be prepared to use that overdraft and look like Ronnie Wood by the time you’re forty. Whether it is worth it or not will be determined by circumstance and you as an individual, but above all else, this is a hugely demanding and almost vampirical business, know it.