Ask the Art Prof: Can I Make a Respectable Income on Freelance Illustration?


Illustrator Barry Moser

“Do you feel like one can make a respectable income doing only freelance illustration? Could I expect to be able to feed a family of four in my forties?  I have terrible anxiety about the future and the path I’m choosing.”

It’s possible, and there are certainly people out there who are able to sustain themselves exclusively on freelance illustration.   However, the reality is that in general it’s extremely difficult to get to that point for the majority of people. You have to have developed a consistent track record and relationship with a number of well established clients, which usually takes a number of years to build.

Very few people can rely solely on freelance work as their income to support themselves, and even fewer are able to feed large families. Most illustration professionals I know have some other kind of regular part-time job that provides a steady income for them while they pursue freelance work on the side. For many people that is a good, practical balance that allows them to satisfy their hunger to work freelance and stay fairly sound financially speaking.

Brad Holland

Illustrator Brad Holland

One of the main issues with freelance work is that the work tends to come in sporadically and can’t be relied upon. Unless you’re one of those rare people who is already very well established with a huge roster of past clients, be ready to live in constant anxiety about whether you will have work day to day.

Then there are all of the financial logistics of being freelance.  You have to pay taxes and health insurance on your own. You have to keep detailed records about every job you do, and you’ll have to hound people to get paid.  It’s not uncommon for one to receive payment two months after the job has been completed. There is a lot of housekeeping that has to be done when you work freelance, so be prepared to be your own agent, accountant, manager, promoter, etc.

It’s a tremendous amount of work to be a freelance illustrator, and the pay is extremely unpredictable and unreliable.  My recommendation if you want to pursue being a freelancer is to keep you day job, and slowly ease your way into the field.  That way, you have a back up plan in case the freelance work you’re getting is insufficient to pay the bills.

Anita Kuntz

Illustrator Anita Kuntz

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ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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