Thursday, February 25, 2010

Freelance Living

Hey everybody! Wanted to go over something that I think is very important if you're an aspiring freelance artist. I talk about this all the time during my LiveStreams but I've never really posted this stuff anywhere. To some of you this may seem like common sense but... It must be enforced!


You must always be producing work. Whether it be studies or personal work, you always have to be out there pushing your art around and letting your name be known. Make sure you take part in all the challenges on places like, CgHub, etc. These little challenges show that you can meet deadlines and produce quality concepts which is important(and many people follow these challenges, helps bring people back to your sketchbook or wherever you update). Lots of really popular concept artists use this(not just because it gets them popular, they are fun to do :)) and grow a substantial amount. Its always good to work on things outside your comfort zone, each challenge gets you thinking.


Make sure you're always networking. This can be between forum members or just any sort of artist group you can find. Bobby Chiu hosts his LiveStreams and I'm sure plenty of people link up through there. Same thing happens with the Crimson Daggers group. People will share ideas, inspiration, resources, techniques and tutorials. Theres endless benefits to being connected in the community. Always be willing to ask questions even if you think they're stupid, if you don't know what saturation means... Find out as soon as possible! Also make sure to comment and send messages to members of the online forums to hopefully talk outside the boards. Take advantage of every opportunity to meet new people who work in the field you wish to work in.


Many artists I know are very weird about posting their work everywhere on the internet. Some don't use Deviant Art because they believe its only for anime people and 'furries'. This is ridiculous. If you're looking to get work, post absolutely everywhere as much as possible. I've gotten plenty of jobs from Deviant Art and I'm not talking about drawing Ash Catchem kissing Brock. I'm talking real jobs like cover work and interior illustrations. Don't hesitate to sign up for every single forum, website, and social networking website. All of these places can gain attention for your work and further help promote the fact that you're looking for a job.

Here is a list of places off the top of my head where you can post work -

If you're a freelancer and you're upset about not getting work. Just check that list and see if you're on all of these updating consistently. There is always more you can do to get noticed.

Create a Web of Links

After you've signed up for all of these websites and have started to post you're gonna wanna make sure you have a central place for people to head to. Something like a blog is ideal. Basically just any kind of homepage you can update often where you can host process work, tutorials, videos, etc. It doesn't absolutely need all that, but some kind of content that is different from the forums, and social networking sites is ideal. You're going to want to find everywhere you can on the sites above where you can post a link back to your central page. Let that be a signature, a post in the finally finished sections(example - my new stuff, got some process shots on my blog here -link-), or within the actual posts in HTML like in Deviant Art(click for example). All of these websites should relink to your blog in some way shape or form. Once they're on your blog you can focus on making content.

Awesome, I'll Hire you, Wheres your email?

If you have a website, post the email huge at the top of the website. Also put it in all your forum signatures. Make it very very easy to contact you. People are lazy and you have to make sure you compensate for that laziness.

I Love This Image... Who's the artist?

Post your website on the images you produce. Don't wanna leave any mysteries!

Stay Consistent and Don't Dissapear

A lot of people I know that I follow for their work tend to disappear for long periods of time. This is because of course they're way too busy to ever post and most of their work is buried under contracts... But until you're at that point, make sure you're everywhere(if your goal is to get those jobs anyways). I mentioned this before already but I can't stress it enough. I'm not saying you have to produce a personal illustration every day, but at least do some sketches, do some study, or just do anything to keep on moving. The main focus is to become known as a striving force. People follow those who lead vital lives. It gets them excited to follow along and keep watching your work. A vital life vitalizes. Just look at Hannes' work(check back to the beginning and watch the dates of each post and see how daily studies help) on But really you should be studying daily anyways, and I don't mean to get all bootcamp about it until you're just hating art. I mean to just make it a habit to do just something. Anything to learn.


When sending out a portfolio make sure its geared at whatever company you're applying. Don't send paintings of dogs to Wizards of the Coast. Make sure it fits within the universe of whatever brand you want to work within. Also, make sure that when you send the emails to put as little distance as possible between the Art Director and your work. I would suggest the you attach the samples directly to the email. Most AD's are really busy and you want to make sure they don't have to take a lot of time to scout around links for your artwork. There shouldn't be too many to attach anyways, just send around 5 images that are your best.  It also doesn't hurt to look at their best artists and try to figure out what qualities it is about them that you enjoy. Figure out what exactly sells for that brand and try to incorporate it into you own work. When I applied to Wizards I was looking at all my favorite WotC artists. I didn't copy them but I wanted to make sure I got the general idea of that world and atmosphere in my own work.

Giving Back

Once you are working, make sure to always give back as much as possible. Provide a blog or whatever else you can think up to create tutorials or give tips to artists(couple times a week or more if possible). If you want to stay relevant and make sure you don't just drop off the map, then you'll have to stay involved. Use whatever name you've made for yourself and start helping other people. You get everything you want out of life by helping others get what they want. And that, to me, is totally true. This will help you in many surprising ways, I can tell you first hand that many awesome things have been happening since I started the Crimson Daggers. Its very beneficial in many ways to keep giving back. I don't hide the fact that it helps in promoting my work. Because it totally does and I know that it works for anyone who does it. Just make sure you're 100% honest about everything and it'll all be totally awesome. Totally promise.

So! That about does it for now... Just wanted to get that out there and off my chest because I always talk about this stuff and people who don't watch the stream just never hear it. Hope it helps!

Also, heres a study I did today!

Metal! Blind Guardian - "Banish from Santuary"


Anonymous said...

Awesome Dave, thanks a lot - this is really helpful!

Luca said...

Thanks Dave ,really great info. I do listen to this everyday on the stream, and it's better to read now cos I can print it and read it whenever I'm workin on my desk or at school. It will chill me up! :)

Dave Rapoza said...

Thanks guys! Glad this helped. I also know you're both Daggers so... You've already heard this a hundred times(probably literally a 100 times).

Jaunay said...

Im always trying to keep these things in mind, it's great to have a refresher though, thanks Dave. <3

I love that your have these morals and thoughts, it's a breath of fresh air. most artists dont get told this from my experience.

Im trying to fluff your ego. Love for you man! <3

-Red <3

Ed said...

Hey Dave, I really want to thank you for all of this. I had to drop out of art school because of money and I feel like watching your live streams and blog is like getting a senior class I missed out on.

It's really keeping me motivated to succeed despite not finishing school.

Dave Rapoza said...

Jaunay - Thanks! Hopefully people listen and actually apply this stuff :)

Ed - Awesome man! Glad I can help get you moving again! We all have to get moving in the right direction if we can ever hope to succeed

Guik said...

Thanks for this, man! It makes us newbies feel more motivated to keep doing what we like. I haven't started to post my stuff on forums yet, because I think my stuff is crap, and I know it's stupid of me to think that cause I know I got -a little- better, I think I'm just shy (even more stupid), I don't know...
But again, thanks!

Daarken said...

Great post Dave!

There are a few things you might want to mention as well. One is to always meet your deadline. I know you kind of mentioned it briefly when you were talking about entering challenges, but once you have a client be sure to always meet your deadlines. Building that kind of trust with a client is extremely important and will definitely help with getting more work from that client. The art world is a little bit incestuous as well, so if you have a bad rep as being the artist that never meets his/her deadline, you can be sure it will spread throughout the industry.

Another thing that freelancers have to deal with is change. Many students or artists that are trying to break into the industry may not even give this much consideration, but once you give your client a sketch or a final, you are going to have to go through rounds of revisions. I had some teachers in school tell me that if you ever have to make any changes you need to charge them extra for it...for the most part this is untrue and just not possible. Doing an illustration for someone else is a constant negotiation, sometimes more than others. If you have a client ask for a simple change and you refuse and demand more money, most likely they will not work with you for much longer. You need to learn that this isn't your illustration anymore, it is for another company (and most likely you will not own the rights to it anyway), and that you need to be willing to negotiate and make changes...because in the end you are producing this illustration to fit the needs of your client. Most contracts will even state how many changes you could be required to make before you can charge extra for the changes. The contracts I sign usually say that they can make me go through 3 rounds of revisions on the final illustration for free. The contracts also state that they can have a third party make the changes for you, and in some cases they will dock your pay if they have to do this. Don't get me wrong, there are some cases in which you need to fight against the change or fight for an extension or more pay. I have had clients approve my sketch, and then a few days before the final was due they wanted me to throw out my illustration and start over from scratch. In that case I told them I would make the changes, but due to the lack of notice and the fact that my sketch was already approved, I required either an extension or more pay. They were very understanding and gave me the extension. That brings me to another point, always be professional in your communications with your client. If they ask for a ridiculous change, talk to them about it...don't just go "that is stupid and it goes against my artistic vision and I won't do it." Tell them why you did something a certain way and how your way makes a better illustration, or creates a certain composition that helps the focal point, etc. Most of the time if you talk to your AD about a change they want they will listen to reason.

Another extremely important subject to talk about when freelancing is taxes. Since freelancers don't have taxes taken out of each paycheck, the IRS requires you to pay quarterly taxes, or estimated taxes. If you do not pay these quarterly taxes, you could get in trouble with the IRS. Typically it is a good idea to save 30-40% of each paycheck for taxes. The tricky part is determining how much to pay. You have to try and guess how much you are going to make in the coming year, and then pay taxes based on that amount. So, let's say you think you are going to make $40k in the coming year...I would save $16k of that for the estimated taxes ($4k payments 4 times during the year). Hopefully after deductions you won't owe that much. If I were you, I would find a good CPA. It will save you a lot of time and stress, and could possibly save you money. Plus they can help you determine how much you should pay in estimated taxes.

Dave Rapoza said...


Daarken - Awesome, yea thats all good info. I'll put that out there next time. Theres some things in freelance that I just don't even think about because it seems like common sense after awhile. But its always good to get that info out. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave...
Thank you so much for the nice explanation here.
I'm working as a freelancer, but it's also nice to read some stuff about this...
Today a friend of mine was asking me tips to get some work, and I'll tell him to read this...Fantastic inspiration.

I was part of some daggers streams, and I'd like to say that one thing I really admire is the artist behind the work...I'm always trying to think and understand my head, write and read theoric stuff, and you tell a lot of this.
Keep rocking over the world, and congrats for everything you got...for sure you deserve it and better.

Best Regards from Brazil.
Glauco Longhi

Freelancer character artist
(Take a look...I'm attaching my website here also, everbody should do that...hahahah )


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