Anonymous asked: Hi! I just found your blog, and I think that you and your art are fabulous! I was wondering (if you don't mind me asking): How did you begin working in the art field? I'm in college and about to graduate soon, but I have no idea where to start in the idea of getting a job, or freelancing as an artist. Do you have any advice for getting started?
Hi! Thanks for writing! What kind of art are you interested in? Animation? Illustration? Graphic Design? Being an artist for hire is a challenging and changing business, and I’m still figuring things out as I go. I’ll tell you what I’ve done. I hope it’s helpful - I know how tough it can be!
How did I begin working in the art field? Let’s see. I’ve always been drawing as a kid. But I wasn’t sure that I’d make it in art, so I focused on biology in college. But when I graduated, I realized that art was really where I wanted to go. I started to take Animation Mentor (the online character animation school) but I ended up not finishing it because I was traveling a lot. I eventually moved to Japan for a year, teaching English.
Anyway, after that, I got back and started focusing more on freelance. I’ve taken all kinds of jobs - illustration, layout, website design. Some paid pitifully little, and others paid okay. Mostly they were friends or friends of friends.
I moved to DC 3.5 years ago, and I started working for a school that gives certificates in graphic and web design. I taught classes in Flash animation and Flash actionscript. I liked the students, but I was rarely paid on time, and it really wasn’t good money considering how much prep I did for the classes.
I sometimes go to networking events for animators in DC. There is a meetup group and an “animator’s roundtable” associated with the DC Chapter of Women and Film and Video. They had an event where people could show off their work. I showed off a reel of my 2D animation. One guy in the audience worked for the Kennedy Center and he asked me to do some animation work for them.
Since then, going to similar events, I’ve connected with other production companies in the city. I’m getting more high profile clients and charging more for my services. About a week ago, I read something about “Value-Based Pricing” - about the idea of charging not for the hours you spend on something, but the value to your customers. It kind of blew my mind. I’m still figuring out how to implement that. But it has shifted my thinking.
I’m trying to think about - what am I good at? What value can I bring to clients? What do people want? How many revisions will it take to get there? Listing things like sketches or revisions in an estimate shows to the client explicitly the value they are getting for the money your propose.
Anyway, another thing that has been extremely helpful has been connecting with other artists. I became friends with one fellow I met at the school I worked at. We have since started our own little animation group which meets at a local starbucks every thursday. Those meetings are a godsend. It gets me out of the house; I get to show off the projects that I’ve been slaving over alone in my apartment; and we encourage each other to work on the projects we’re struggling with. My friend, Stephen, has done freelance for many years, and he’s so generous with his help. One mentor figure is worth a lot more than books or anything else, I’ve found.
For example, I asked him what he liked about freelance. And he said the idea of helping people, of knowing that his artwork got so many more visitors for his client or so much more money to the client. That blew my mind. For me, I was thinking more about it as a creative challenge to be solved. That’s important, but that’s not a great motivation. When I started thinking about it more like I’m providing a service, I’m helping this person, I think I felt better and more motivated.
So, in summary, if I had to say the most helpful things for me starting out was: going to networking events and finding groups of professional artists to talk to; showing off work in different venues, online and offline; Be nice to people, and try to be helpful.
I sometimes am afraid that the spirit of being ‘helpful’ gets in the way of charging more, but looking closer at my finances and realizing that I just NEED at least a certain amount of money to live and be happy (DC is an expensive place) - makes it clearer that I need to account for my time. I’ve promised to work for cheap before and that has left me feeling pretty crappy. And poor. But it’s taken a long time. And in the past my boyfriend has made more than me, so there was less pressure. But now he’s making less, so there’s more pressure, which can be pretty motivating to being bolder about looking for clients/jobs.
That’s been my experience! I hope that’s helpful. Let me know if you have more questions. Other people have been generous enough to help me, so I really want to pay it forward!