Why Freelance Artists Fail :: ArtCast #72

Illustration by Chris Oatley: A crazed octopus uses multiple phones at once.

“You need to be in constant communication with the client to the point that they expect… The worst thing is when someone doesn’t update you. It’s absolutely critical that you communicate with your clients.”

– Sean Hodge

Even the most successful freelance artists will tell you that bad clients and boring gigs are common roadblocks to a fulfilling creative career.

The popular blog known as Clients From Hell posts a new, true (and hilarious) freelance horror story almost every day.

Even the legendary Drew Struzan struggled with the client side of his now-famous career. In the recent documentary about his life he told a story that was actually painful for me to hear.

…but bad clients are so common and the stories so egregious that it’s easy for artists to remain blind to a hard truth.

…that we, the illustrators, are often part of the problem.

I’ve worked with many freelance illustrators and designers over the course of my career and I’ve noticed three common problems.

In this second half of our two-part interview, freelancing expert Sean Hodge shares insight into how you can avoid these common problems and attract better clients with better business practices.

Listen To The Episode:

*and watch the screen recording of the octopus illustration I did for this post!

[ download the mp3 ]

Episode Highlights:

  • How to communicate with clients.
  • How to create relevant work that is still inventive.
  • The value of having many mentors.
  • How to build your business with failure after failure.
  • The worst kind of professional artist (and how NOT to be that guy).

“That’s how most business is, to be honest – just bumbling your way through. Failing and failing and failing and failing and failing, being okay with that and then you break through.”

- Sean Hodge

Awesome Links:

Sean Hodge on Twitter

Clients From Hell


Music by Storybook Steve and Kangaralien

Learn More:

“Own the apprentice phase. Absorb everything that you can. It’s very difficult to reach the next phase without that because there are so many gaps in learning between school and the reality of business.”

– Sean Hodge

Troubleshooting Your Freelance Illustration Career

Become A Professional Artist

The Death Of Freelance Illustration

The Bad Client Diet

The Two Secrets To Success In Animation

How To Gather Healthy Critique Groups And Collaborators

How to Attract a Mentor

The Breakthrough:

Oatley Academy student Eva Maria Toker was featured in last month's issue of ImagineFX Magazine.“I started getting seriously into illustration as a career choice just over a year ago, but for quite a while I had a really hard time answering the question “what do you do?”

I would freeze up and although I wanted to say “I’m an illustrator” it just didn’t come out.

Sometimes I would say “I’m an illustrator, but I haven’t really done anything notable”… It was pretty frustrating.

Getting my work into the ImagineFX FXPose section gave me a lot more confidence about my work. Just seeing it printed on the pages of a magazine somehow made it more real.

Eva Maria Toker - King Of The Wolves PaintingTaking Chris Oatley’s Magic Box course (among others), helped me get my work to a level where I was comfortable even submitting it to ImagineFX.

I also learned a lot of really valuable photoshop tricks from Chris that I use EVERY DAY in my work.

Specifically, I think that my way of rendering light has improved a lot thanks to The Magic Box.

And it’s great to finally be able to tell people that I’m an illustrator without having to feel like a fake!”

You can find more of Eva’s work at EvaMariaToker.com.

If this podcast, our blog, our interactions at a convention or one of our Oatley Academy courses has helped you achieve an artistic or professional breakthrough, you can share your own breakthrough story with our easy upload form.

Any Questions?

In this episode, we talked about tangible and intangible aspects of a freelance career: Originality, Professionalism, Mentorship and Art Direction.

Did this episode conjure up any other questions we can try to answer for you?

If so, post them in the comments below and I’ll respond to them all week!

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