Skip to content

Episode 10 – Breaking Into Freelance Illustration

October 27, 2009

Episode 10 of the Escape From Illustration Island Podcast features an audio interview with Holly DeWolf, Illustrator and author of the book Breaking Into Freelance Illustration.  Together we discuss the many great features of her book, and the ways that Illustrators can take their art from hobby to career.

As a special treat, Holly is teaming up with EFII to award a signed copy of this great resource to the winner of this week’s competition.  Listen to my conversation with her to find out how to enter!

I also announce the winner of last week’s Wacom Tablet Giveaway, and tell you about the new developments in the EFII community.

Here are some of the resources mentioned on the show:

Breaking Into Freelance Illustration
Holly DeWolf Blog
My Pocket Rock
Creative Blend
Living Out Loud
Tear This Book Up
What’s Your Twitter User Name?
Escapee Speaks

Wacom Tablet Giveaway sponsored by

Audio Editing Provided by

Whiskey Sound

84 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2009 4:18 PM

    The biggest question I always faced when starting out was all about pricing. It’s difficult to know how much to charge. One of the most important lessons I learned was that once you have the portfolio to back it up, you need to value your services and ask for what you want to make. This has the added benefit of a perceived value in the client’s eyes.

    Knowing the industry standard rates is also very helpful.

    What is (or was) your biggest question?

    Comment below to enter to win a signed copy of Breaking Into Freelance Illustration by Holly DeWolf.

    • October 27, 2009 8:40 PM

      Thank you for the great opportunity to chat about one of my favorite things! Cheers!

  2. October 27, 2009 5:46 PM

    One stumbling block I have is as to whether or not to hire an agent. What are your perceived pros and cons on having one?

    • October 27, 2009 7:58 PM

      Hi Blake! Getting an agent is like a great marriage. It has to work for both parties involved. You need to feel confident that they will work in your benefit plus the agent needs to feel that you are right fit for their agency.

      So pros are: more freedom to work, someone is helping to promote you, more exposure, different markets, agents can help motivate you to try new things, they can be a good creative sounding board, also agents can help deal with clients.

      The cons: you lose a certain percentage of money earned (this covers costs by being represented), it may not be the right fit, some agents need to know if you are worth the risk so to speak…often they will not take on newcomers, you may feel stifled doing work that does not interest you, they may be representing too many illustrators, they maybe representing too many illustrators with the same style, its a partnership so if you prefer being independent then it may not be a good fit, also not all agents are the same so do your research-if you feel uneasy about one I say go with your gut before you sign that dotted line. Hope that helps.

  3. October 27, 2009 6:15 PM

    my biggest question is about style and portfolio. I am a freelance web designer but I want to make the switch away from web design and into illustration, i need to work with my hands and not only in front of a computer screen. I’m drawing more now, working on getting some finished pieces and developing a style – all of which takes time. But i am having trouble knowing what to put in a portfolio. A piece of a little girl with a lollipop is cute but is that it? I see people participating in sites like illustration friday but it’s my experience that a client isn’t going to come up and ask for a piece about germs, no specs, just go wild. Yes it does happen but not the norm. I know i need a consistent style, but what kind of pieces should there be? I’m still researching markets but they only leave more questions how do you create with editorial in mind, or greeting card or children’s book illustration? I’m teaching myself all of this and don’t know where to look for these answers.

    love the podcast, i learn so much and get so much inspiration to just keep going. it’s fabulous.

    • October 27, 2009 8:15 PM

      Hi Jessica! All very good questions. For starters-what markets would you like to focus on? For example: if you want to pursue children’s illustration then focus on what a publisher is looking for. So putting in illustrations of children interacting is a good start. You can throw in illustrations showing that you represent the human form well. Also adding in work that is based on narrative can be good as well to let them see that you can visualize text. When it comes to greeting cards start a theme or illustrate certain occasions.

      Also, keep in mind that you can have more than one portfolio. You can have one that is all icons for business cards/stationary. Another can be editorial for magazine/newspaper work. Another can be greeting card illustrations. So basically if you break it down into sections of what market it is for, different sections for those markets and know what possible clients want to see- then you will have an easier go at it.

      Good places to get information on what clients are looking for are the 2010 Artist’s & Designers market & the 2010 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market plus my book! Check out what is on the shelves at your local card shop. Look at others illustrators sites that focus on markets that you want to break into for example . Hope that helps. Cheers! :)

      • October 28, 2009 6:37 PM


        thanks for all the great replies to everyone. i’ve loved reading them and have learned quite a bit. cant wait to check out your book.

  4. October 27, 2009 8:44 PM

    I’m interested in children’s illustration, but it seems like a very tough gig to break into. So many publishers only take agented work, and then there are publishers out there that are hard to find information on to send samples to in the first place. How do I go about finding places to submit samples to? (I’m guessing this must be why an art rep is a good thing!) I use the book Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, and also look at who publishes the books I could see my art matching up with, but that doesn’t seem to be enough. I don’t see my art as a hobby, but as a business – a business that needs that little extra shove into steady or semi-steady work. Thanks for your help!!

    • October 27, 2009 9:28 PM

      Hi Debbie! This is a tricky market to get into but not impossible. Persistence is key. Also, you do not necessarily need to have an agent. It helps in some cases but not a requirement.

      Some ‘hidden’ publishers are online but this requires some digging and others can be found at your local bookstore. Write down as much info as you can. All of this requires some patience and a lot of leg work.

      When it comes to getting work out there-like I mentioned in an earlier comment, try to approach your work, web site, blog and promotions from the markets point of view. Make it ‘book’ like! Make it narrative, show themes, show a story and show different situations or play.

      Another approach is creating a mock book. Could you write one & illustrate it too? It could be a nice alternative-this way you are creating an opportunity for yourself. Just keep plugging away and with promotion and persistence it will pay off. Hope that helps some. Cheers!

  5. October 28, 2009 4:05 AM

    Really wonderful interview, thank you Holly and Thomas!

    I’m just starting my journey to become a professional illustrator, and I’m interested in a lot of different areas in illustration at the moment. I want to get some work in doing children’s books and publications, but I also don’t want to be drawing cute kid’s characters all the time – I like to explore lots of different things, for instance, I like drawing cheeky burlesque pinups, but I don’t really want to put that stuff on a website that I want to direct children’s book publishers to!

    When you’re starting out, is it best to focus on a single niche market, and promote yourself as, say, a ‘children’s illustrator’? I’d like to get into that type of work but I also want to do editorial and magazine illustration, advertising, and design . I feel as if I might be coming off as an illustrator who doesn’t have any direction/focus, when all it really is, is that I simply like drawing a wide variety of stuff!

    Thanks, looking forward to another great podcast next week!

    • October 28, 2009 9:14 AM

      Hey Melanie,

      You bring up some good points here. First off, there is a market for ‘pin-up’ type work-either for print to animation. So that maybe a field to look into. Some Illustrators to check out are:
      • Matt Pott-
      • Shane Glines-
      • Bill Presing-

      Also, keep in mind you can have more than one portfolio or website that spotlights different work. My thinking is you like to focus on the body and that is a very large marketable skill!! Markets that demand that is animation, children’s books, young adult books, editorial, fashion to advertising. I say focus on what comes natural to you and creatively works for you and then go from there. Keep yourself flexible. All the creative best to you. Cheers!

  6. October 28, 2009 5:53 AM

    I am just starting out myself. I had the opportunity to quit my full time job and have a lot of support from my parents and boyfriend, so I could concentrate solely on my freelance and see what I could make of it. I spent the past 6 months wandering from podcast to podcast, websites, books and blogs trying to find out how in the heck do you get a client?!

    A lot of the artists that inspired me to get into freelance in the first place were great at motivational speaking, but offered little to nil on the practical aspects of a freelance line of work- and how to even get that work.

    I’ve considered myself a freelancer to some degree for a while, doing commissions for family and friends since 2001, but I had never worked with an actual company that hires freelancers. There wasn’t really much out there to tell you how to go from doing work for Uncle Joe to White Wolf, D&D and all the other science fiction and fantasy companies I’ve seen my art heroes work for. The bad thing is that, for as much as I know illustrators want to help each other, there is one area a lot of illustrators want to keep a bit of a secret… So no one I asked would outright tell me how to get clients, they’d just suggest I go to conventions and nebulously “make contacts”. How do you go about doing that? I didn’t have a clue!

    I finally got a tipoff from’s seminar on networking. I started a Facebook page and connected with a ton of contacts- but they were all artists like me looking for work. Not people who were looking to buy my illustrations… So I took that idea and started researching companies I’d like to look for, then browse their website or even their company profile on LinkedIn to see who were the art directors I needed to get in contact with. I contacted a lot of the big names with my portfolio and body of work, but 6 months later, I have still yet to hear back.

    Another way I looked for publishers, small companies and the like was through watching other artists’ work and seeing who they did work for (a lot of times when they post up new work, they mention which company it was for), until FINALLY! I got my first break just about a week ago from a smaller publisher whom I found through the method I just mentioned. It’s just a start, but it’s the first project I’ve had where I feel like I’m finally doing “real” freelance because I’m working with an actual company.

    I still have loads of other questions- how do I properly managed my time, work faster, find more clients (will it always be as much work as this first one was for me? when do clients start coming to me?), when should I start my business (legally I mean, filing a company name and which country should I file with), as well as working as an American freelancer abroad (currently I am in Norway)… It’s a long road ahead and even if I don’t win the book prize this week, I will be purchasing the book anyway because it looks like such a great resource to everything I have wondered and still wonder about!

    • October 28, 2009 10:58 AM

      Hi Char!
      I wanted to say that you are doing all the right things. You are getting yourself out there & doing the required leg work. Well done. About your questions:

      • how do I properly managed my time, work faster?
      Time eludes many of us. I say break it down in manageable chunks. What is important right now, what needs to be done this week, this month and work that into a goal system. Keep a running tally of your time that way you you can start to figure out how long certain things take to do.
      • find more clients (will it always be as much work as this first one was for me? when do clients start coming to me?
      Keep doing what your doing. Build up more of a web presence with a web site, blog/s and lots of persistence will help as well.
      • when should I start my business (legally I mean, filing a company name and which country should I file with)?
      You can start by mulling over your brand and how you want to market yourself and go from there.
      • as well as working as an American freelancer abroad (currently I am in Norway)…
      Location should not be an issue. Illustrators can pretty much work all over the globe without traveling!

      Hope that helps. All the creative best. Cheers!

      • November 4, 2009 7:03 AM

        Will your book be available to buy in Kindle/ebook format? I move around the world a lot and this doesn’t allow for me to have much of a library at all, so my medium of choice is ebook. Thanks!

  7. October 28, 2009 11:38 AM

    Along with the wonderings of “what to put in the portfolio”, I often wonder how more dimensional art (like the artists would collage, work in felt or layered papercuts–that sort of thing) translates to a web or print portfolio. Do you have any tips on photographing or scanning those sorts of illustrations and should mixed-media illos be kept in their own portfolio or is it acceptable to keep them in thematic portfolios next to their 2-d brethren?

    • October 28, 2009 2:45 PM

      Ok what I can suggest is to look at illustrators like Roz Fulcher and Holli Conger (both contributed to my book). Roz uses felt in some of her work. Holli often creates work in 3-d. Perhaps you can ask them for advice or possible places that will give you advice on this subject.

  8. October 28, 2009 12:00 PM

    I’ve been in illustration for awhile along with other parts of my career as an artist and author I am still perplexed – where are all the illustration jobs hiding?

    My rep and I send out mailers and do postcard promos as well as the illustration source books but it feels as if I am knocking on doors that are tougher and tougher to open. Maybe its the economy but there has to be some work out there right!?

    • October 28, 2009 2:55 PM

      Hi Claudine!
      I truly think that it is a challenging time. I think we are in a position to dig deeper and look for those unconventional markets. When the market dips we have to get creative. Sometimes we even have to create our own opportunities. Some illustrators I know are getting work outside of their own countries to keep the money flow going. It is the economy however I still remain optimistic that it is a dip like many dips in the past. So hopefully this economy shift will change.

  9. October 28, 2009 12:55 PM

    Thanks Thomas and Holly for all that great information.

    When looking around, you can find illustration on EVERYTHING from bubble gum wrappers to toilet paper. I would always tell myself that “Somebody drew that”. But, the question I have is:

    How did they get that job?

    Not to bring everything back to the bathroom, but how did that particular illustrator get that job to design stuff on toilet paper? How did that person get the job to draw a cartoon on that box of cereal? This kind of work doesn’t seem to be posted on or Is this the kind of work that only an agent can get?

    I actually have an agent, but I’m not getting any work yet from her. So, obviously an agent doesn’t solve all of your problems.

    So, it’s not that my dream job is to illustration toilet paper, I’m just saying that right now I’ll take anything I can get.

    I guess my question is, HOW DID THAT ILLUSTRATOR GET THAT JOB? Is it all about who you know, or is it something more. I would hope that this industry is above all that, but it doesn’t seem to be. I’ve seen a lot of poor illustration on things and assume that they only got that job because they were the art directors cousin or something.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m whining, but It’s probably coming off that way. Anyways, I just want to know where everyone is getting work. I must be looking in the wrong place or something.

    P.S. How do I get my picture to appear next to the post?

    • October 28, 2009 3:09 PM

      Hi Mark!

      I think there are few things to mention here. First off there are many illustrators doing all sorts of different styles. One thing to keep in mind: it’s not always the most talented that gets the job but the one who yells the loudest with big persistence and a “I wont take no for an answer” type approach.

      Also, I do think that the markets you are discussing is licensing & packaging. If that is a market you want to pursue then do your research. Look up Licensing agents & companies and arm yourself with as much information as possible.

      Lastly, if you feel you maybe looking in the wrong spots then determine what market or markets you would like to pursue then go from there. It will help narrow your research effort down a bit.

      And yes Thomas, how do you get your pic on this thing? (Good question) :)


  10. October 28, 2009 1:28 PM

    I’ve done some freelancing part time, but have now gone full time with it. The problem is that I still only have my old clients and have yet to add any new ones. I’ve stepped up my marketing in the hopes of greater success.

    So my biggest question right now is what expectations should I have regarding billable hours? What’s a lot, what’s a little? What’s just right (I feel like Goldilocks)You mentioned in the podcast about calculating fees based on what you’d like to make in year and work backwards. A large part of that is the estimation of hours/projects in a year. I know it will vary greatly, but what has been your experience, and the experience of those you know?


    ps. I was just in Nova Scotia for the first time this summer and loved it!

    • October 28, 2009 3:37 PM

      Hi Marcus!

      I think this is a tough one for many including myself. I do think it helps to have a number in mind. What would your average hourly fee be and why? Do you know how long it takes to come up with roughs/sketches on an average project? Also I do believe that having a yearly fee idea helps because it makes you take a look at how you will get to that number. So if you want to make $50,000 a year-how much will the average month be? Doing it this way makes it easier to wrap your head around such a daunting thing as money. I know some illustrators who charge $50 an hour and some who charge $75 an hour. Both work differently and in different markets. If you have a number that works for you, know how to back it up and throw a little explanation their way. Again, it helps you feel comfortable and your client feel comfortable and less shocked! Plus, also it helps build a relationship with your client. Check out the books- Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines & The Designer’s Guide To Marketing And Pricing: How To Win Clients And What To Charge Them by Ilise Benun and Peleg Top. Hope that helps some. Cheers!

  11. October 28, 2009 1:43 PM

    hello. i have a lot of questions about getting into illustration, and would like to enter this contest. thanks. :)

    • October 28, 2009 2:47 PM

      Hello Grace,
      Thanks for the note. All you have to do to enter is share with us what your biggest, most important question is regarding breaking into a career in Freelance Illustration.
      Best of luck,

  12. nic permalink
    October 28, 2009 2:22 PM

    I would like to know the actual process of producing an illustration, ie the client contacts you with an illustration request, then what? Does the illustrator then come back with pricing, roughs etc? What next?

    It would be great to have a step-by-step.

    • October 28, 2009 3:19 PM

      Hi Nic!

      There are a few approaches here to consider. First off, when meeting with client have a illustration check list. Jot down as much information as possible about said project. If money needs to be discussed in this meeting then ask what budget they are thinking. Write that down. If you need time to come up with a quote then you will have all the information on a sheet to refer to. Never feel pressured to give a number right away if you are not comfortable. Also, when you all in agreement of the project, the price and time frame you will need a Letter of Agreement/Contract. From there you will progress into the idea stage/ roughs/ final roughs and then work on the final piece. All this revolves including the client in all stages that way everyone is in agreement. Keep in mind-Clients don’t like surprises so make sure you include them in the process. It helps to build a great creative relationship. Hope that helps. Cheers!

  13. Jose Gonzalez permalink
    October 28, 2009 4:37 PM

    Clearly, I’d like to enter the contest, and thanks!!!!
    I started to learn drawing some months ago using books and online resources. Actually sat down years ago to draw doodles from a cartooning book and liked it, so I had to try again. So I re-discovered my art bug. Now I’m interested in learning about illustration in all its forms. Sort of exploring creative expression, and would like to know more about the freelance aspect.

    So you see, I don’t have much of an illustrator related item or anecdote to contribute, but I can tell you about my first big obstacle: time. Dayjob and family will take all of your day. Other than that, I’m slowly getting there. And I’m really enjoying the discoveries along the way.

    I’m a beginner absorbing all the good advice I can find, and your interview was informative, helpful, and inspiring.
    Thanks so much for sharing.
    (checking out the show notes)

    • October 29, 2009 9:09 AM

      Hi there Jose!
      Time is a struggle for many including myself. I think the funny thing about working at home is how quickly the clock spins. As I have gone along in this career I have decided that its all perfectly imperfect and stuff will get done when it gets done. There are some days you have to tell yourself “Good enough!” But if you have a creative blue print to follow, your duties will get done a more timely fashion plus it helps you feel more organized and not all over the creative map. All the creative best to you. Cheers!

  14. October 28, 2009 5:21 PM

    And btw: to get your picture to show up next to your comments, you have to have a account (with an avatar image uploaded) for the email address you use to leave comments then link them by signing in with the same email/pw combo over at

    • October 28, 2009 8:58 PM

      Thanks for sharing that method for getting a gravatar image. I think I’ll do a post soon to pass on this info so more Illustrators in the growing community can get an image to go with their comments if they want.

      UPDATE: I just posted a How To article here to help you all customize your comments with an Avatar. Have fun!

  15. October 28, 2009 6:13 PM

    Like Thomas and most everyone else pricing was the most difficult thing to wrap my head around when first starting off. Ten years later it’s still difficult.

    Pricing aside another question I still battle with is promotion, I’ve tried cold calling, direct mail, e-mail marketing, sourcebooks etc., all with mixed results. I have yet to discover that one thing that works best. There is probably no such thing. I imagine it’s just a little bit (or a lot) of everything. That and luck.

    I’m curious what sort of promotional efforts work for other illustrators or if there is an avenue of promotion that I have totally overlooked.

    Scott Serkland

    • October 29, 2009 8:56 AM

      Hi there!
      I think promotion is a mix. Mostly because potential clients like certain ways to be contacted and they wont all like calls or postcards. I try to look at promotion on an individual approach. I arm myself with contact sheets, postcards, business cards, my website, blogs, calls, emails and promotion kits. Books such as the 2010 Artists & Designers Market and the 2010 Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market tells you how to approach many potential clients. Also on many potentials websites they will break it down as well.

      Promotion is an exercise in patience & persistence! :)

      Also a word about ‘cold calling’- try to look at it as a research call instead. This way it takes some of the pressure off…warms it up a bit. You can approach it as gaining information without the pressure. Plus it will give you the right approach on how to promote and who to address while gently building a relationship with a potential client. Hope that helps. Cheers! :)

  16. October 28, 2009 6:25 PM

    Great interview with a lot of inspiring tips and resources, thanks!

    My biggest question is how can I go about developing different styles and still have the client or audience remember / recognize me? I tend to like several topics and find that I have various styles for portraying different ones – for example, fashion vs. children’s illustration. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into one particular style since I’d like to leave it open enough to be considered for more jobs. Any help?

    • October 29, 2009 9:02 AM

      Hi Wendy!
      I think in todays economic state it is important to stay flexible. If having more than one style is important to you-then go for it. There are no rules saying you can’t!

      What you can do is separate them. Have a site for Children’s work plus a corresponding portfolio. Have another for fashion. What you can emphasize on both is a love for illustrating the human form for instance which translates well to both markets. That is a very marketable skill! All the creative best! Cheers!

    • October 29, 2009 11:25 AM

      Wendy, I posed a similar question to Kevin and Josh at Big Illustration Party time. I think they are going to do an entire pod cast on the subject so keep an ear out. I’m like you I do various styles of illustration, graphic design, murals, sculpture etc. I think It helps if you have a strong brand. If you can develop a familiar umbrella and tie all of your various disciplines to that then you have a better chance being recognized while affording you the opportunity to pursue various styles of illustration. i.e. Wendy Ding Fashion or Wendy Ding Kids with your name (the band) in the same familiar typestyle or graphic.

  17. October 28, 2009 9:00 PM

    Thanks to everyone for their participation in this competition. And special thanks to Holly DeWolf for taking the time to address these questions. I hope you all find some valuable answers here. May it help you to move forward to all the future questions you will encounter in your career.

  18. October 29, 2009 1:29 PM

    I have a couple of questions about illustration. One of the biggest ones I have is how does one find the work necessary to support oneself? I have no idea where or how to go about looking for or drumming up new business.

    Another question I’ve had and am still having issues with is how does one develop a signature style? I have a few different styles I use, depending on the medium I’m working in (digital, Drawing, Paint, etc), and to look at a piece from each category, you’d never know they were all one person doing them. I look at people like Von Glitscha’s work and no matter what he used to draw a piece, it’s very definitely his work and it makes me wonder if I’m doing something wrong.

    BTW, Thomas thanks for the great podcast!

    • October 30, 2009 3:43 PM

      You are not doing anything wrong. I think style is one thing we worry about a lot as illustrators. Some of us bang it out right away and some take a little more time. If style is important to you then one way to approach it is create portfolio projects for yourself-pick a theme. Pick something that interests you and work to create a series that looks similar in style.

      As far as drumming up business-start with an online presence, create a ‘dream client’ list, set up a promotion schedule (to send out mailers, emails, postcards etc) each month, network everywhere you can, really know how to talk about what you do-really sell yourself, research the markets that you are interested in and keep forward movement. Hope that helps! Cheers!

  19. October 29, 2009 2:48 PM

    My biggest question right now is how to build my portfolio and create projects for my portfolio outside of art school. I went to art school as a fine artist and now I’ve been out of school for 5 years and I’m trying to put together an illustration portfolio so that I can get into the industry. Another question is how to go about getting some initial jobs. I know all about using postcards and things of that nature to promote oneself, but is there a way to start on a smaller scale?

    Thank you for all your great information Holly! Love the podcast.

    • hollydewolf permalink
      October 30, 2009 3:56 PM

      Hi Michelle!

      As I mentioned earlier-if you are starting out then create the dream portfolio. Make up ‘mock’ projects. If you have a market in mind such as Children’s publishing then ask yourself what do they want to see. Look online on sites such as and check out books at your local bookstore. Look at what sells and ask yourself why does it sell.

      Initial jobs happen when you are prepared and armed with the right materials. Like I mentioned earlier having an online presence is very important, mailers such as postcards, contact sheets and mini portfolios are a great step. Also set up a blog-join online illustrator groups such as Illustration or Sugar Frosted Goodness- Like I mentioned in the podcast-get creative because there are are no concrete rules. As you go along you will see what works for you. You will know what is important to you. Lastly, Ask!! Ask for what you want. All the creative best. Cheers!

  20. andothersuchthings permalink
    October 29, 2009 3:34 PM

    ooh this podcast was great! My biggest question when I was starting out was “what is my style?” I went to school for animation which prizes being able to draw anything, any way, as the project calls for. So the whole idea of just one style and sticking with it was baffling to me. Now, I still do a bit of character design work which serves as a fun break. But its been a really great journey exploring my own voice. I guess in a lot of ways it’s ongoing.
    Anyhow, can’t wait to read this!

    • hollydewolf permalink
      October 30, 2009 3:59 PM

      Hi there!
      Well I have to say being able to draw anything, any way is quite a marketable skill. So perhaps that is your style! This could be part of your brand. All the creative best to you. Hope you enjoy the book. Cheers!

  21. October 29, 2009 4:36 PM

    Thanks Holly and Thomas for the great podcast.

    I’m from Nova Scotia too, now living in New Brunswick.

    I’m in the same position as many others that have written in, trying to get a start in the illustration world in a full-time kind of way. I’ve been promoting myself through postcard mailings and email marketing campaigns and I’m not having success.

    My biggest question is once you’ve made an initial contact how do you follow up?
    What I think I should do is send more samples with a cover letter in which I state that I will phone on such and such a date. What do you think? Is phoning ever a good idea?

    • hollydewolf permalink
      October 30, 2009 4:09 PM

      Hi Drew!

      We are in opposite-I am from New Brunswick and now living in Nova Scotia. Hahaha!
      Following up- you can approach this in many ways. It is a good idea to follow up always. It lets then know you are on top of things and are proactive and interested. What you can try is a research call as opposed to a ‘cold call’. From here you can ask what the best way to be approached. Some potential clients like email, some like letters and some like to chat on the phone.

      If this information cannot be gained easily then mail is a friendly approach such as a letter or postcard. When in these situations always ask yourself this: “If I was an art director, how would I like to be approached by an illustrator?” This is twisting it around by focusing on the end result. Often if we put our audience in the focus it makes it easier. Hope that helps. Cheers!

  22. October 30, 2009 8:10 AM

    Great Blog! I think all the comments echo what all illustrators and aspiring illustrators want to know: How to find your voice and how to find enough work to do only this? Like the rest of you I am struggling to keep money coming in and creativity going out and I agree with Holly that the only thing that seems to work is persistance and following up on every lead. For my question – I would love to ask for 5 simple things you should do every month to promote yourself to potential clients which don’t cost a lot of money.

    Please enter me into the contest. The book sounds great!

    • October 30, 2009 12:48 PM

      Hey Susan. I really like the way you phrased your question (5 simple things…). I can’t wait to read Holly’s feedback. Thanks for participating!

    • October 31, 2009 12:47 PM

      Hi Susan!

      Great question! I agree with Thomas 150 %!

      I am on the philosphy that is does not take a lot of money to be in this industry or to start out in this industry. I know from experience that you can do it on very little money or none! So I saved this question for last today because it was a good one-but a nice fun challenge. I like challenges!

      1. Your blog- is free. You can create a illustrated blog that you can use to promote work, announcemnts, writings, works in progress and anything else business related to what you do. You can promote your blog to potential clients so they can see what you are up to and how you work.

      2. Handmade promotions- This is a nice way to stay creatively refreshed while creating one of a kind promotions that potential clients wont want to thow out. This could also lead to something to put on your website or blog as a latest promotional mailout of the month. Make it fun-make it creative and your clients will look forward to recieveing them. Having trouble getting started? Pick a theme and start playing.

      3. Free online portfolios- Again these are inexpensive ways to have a portfolio. Not all of us are web designers so this can be a nice alternative. You can update them whenver you want. Sites such as Coroflot divides your page into different sections if you are promoting to many different markets or have more than one style. Then send the link to your potentials if they want to see online work.

      4. Community sites- Illustration Mundo has a great section where you can announce portfolios, new websites, announcments, new work etc plus it is a great way to have a creative community. Many protential clients hang out on sites like this to see what is going on.

      5. Research calls/emails- Doing this once a month allows you to build a list, make contacts, touch base, help them get to know you and helps you know who to send work out to and what promotions they may be looking for. The first contact can be awkward, the second time is a reminder an the by the third they will remember you. Keep it friendly, open, and build creative relationships by giving it a nice human personal touch. Al lthe creative best. Cheers!

      • October 31, 2009 7:49 PM

        Hey Holly. Thanks for the 5 Simple Things. I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind clarifying what you mean by the “Research calls/emails”. For example, what are some of the things that you might say to illustrate the intention of the call?

      • November 1, 2009 9:00 AM

        Good point Thomas!
        Okay-We all have heard of cold calls. Not too many like them let alone actually doing them. So if you tackle this task as research either by phone or email, it takes the pressure off.
        • First step- make a list of who you want to contact.
        • Second- set aside time to contact them. I say start with 3 people to contact. More than that can sometimes feel overwhelming or stressful. Do this one to 3 times a week depending on your time.
        • Third- look online for their information such as names, email, phone number, see if they state anywhere on their site how they might want to be contacted (some do put this up), look at their work, look at their clients and arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can. If you have a directory like the 2010 Artists & Designers Market, then read up on possible potential clients there.
        • Fourth- type up a e-mail template. Add in why you are contacting them, who you are, what you do, your information and anything important that a possible client might want to see. Remember to put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine your self as a client-What would you like to see if you were them? Phone call set up- write up a a possible phone speech. Add the same things you would in an email. Then practice.
        • Fifth thing to consider- these are for research. This allows you to approach a dialog with a potential client without selling. It feels a lot warmer and less icy. Also, from here you can compile a list. A list of maybes, interested, interested in a follow up, interested in promotional materials, not interested right now but will keep you in mind for the future and lastly, the not interested. This way you will feel like you are getting somewhere, getting out there and you will also feel organized while feeling like you are a business. Hope that explains it better. Cheers!

      • November 1, 2009 9:04 AM

        Thanks Holly. I really like the research approach because it takes the pressure off of both parties and helps to actually build relationships with potential clients.

  23. October 30, 2009 10:06 AM

    Great interview! EFII and similar podcasts keep me motivated. Thank you for the hard work!

    My question is about style. I enjoy working in different mediums and styles. I’ve heard again and again (and I understand the point) that you should choose one style and really become a master at it. Is it possible for an artist to market himself if he doesn’t have a specific style? If so, any recommendations on how to do so?

    Thank you!

    • October 31, 2009 12:21 PM

      Hi Jason!
      Style seems to be a big topic here. First off there are no rules. Creative blue prints-yes! You must do what is important to you and the way you want to create your work. You can market anything if approached the right way. Like I mentioned earlier, its ok to have more than one style-no style or promote many styles on different sites. As you go along you may notice that a style developes-you may want to reinvent yourself. Also, you may come to a point that you have created enough work similar in style or theme and that could lead to a really great portfolio.

      You can do a lot of this online-on some of the portfolio sites I’ve mentioned, on a website/s and a blog. All the creative best. Cheers!

  24. October 30, 2009 10:35 AM

    Thank you Thomas for all the wonderful resources and the great podcast! Holly Dewolf did a great job on the podcast. I’d love to win her book. (I also want to see if my gravatar works). I’ve enjoyed creating since I was a kid, but never tried to make a career out of it. I’ve come to the realization that this is what I need to do. My biggest obstacle is that I am clueless about finding clients. My question is: What are the best ways for a new artist to promote him/herself to clients? I have a blog, twitter account, portfolio website, etc. I’m just not sure how to get actual clients there.
    Thanks for any advice or insights on this topic.

    • October 30, 2009 12:46 PM

      Hey, nice Gravatar you’ve got there. Thanks for the feedback. Holly was indeed a great guest and brought a wealth of information to the table. It sounds like you’re off to a good start. Your name doesn’t seem to link to your page, so I’ll ask about how you’re using your blog, and how often. I ask because a blog can be a great way to show a regular flow of work and also help to establish you as a professional in your field.

      I’m sure Holly will be along shortly to address your question, and I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say.

    • October 31, 2009 11:47 AM

      Hi! I agree-nice Gravatar!

      I say promote, promote, promote with a website, illustrated blog, fb, twitter, linkedin, illustration mundo, the many portfolio sites online such as carbonmade & coroflot. Sites that sell work such as Redbubble, Thumbtack press & bigcartel can be someting to look into as well.

      Set up a promotion schedule-I think this is important to do. Try contact sheets (4 to 5 images on a 81/2 by 11 sheet with contact info), postcards ( is a great alternative for inexpensive printing), mini portfolios that you can make yourself as well as your website.

      Make a dream contact list-revise it often. Research the markets you want to get into. Find out how thay want to be contacted either online or through a directory like 2010 Artists & desingers market. Look at other illustrators work who you admire or works in a market that you might like and see if they have a client list. Use every resource you can. Hope that helps. Cheers!

      • October 31, 2009 7:51 PM looks pretty cool. I’ll have to investigate further and add them to the resources here at EFII. Thanks!

      • November 1, 2009 9:10 AM

        The nice thing about is that is flexible, inexpensive and high quality. They look at their clients as a community. They have a flickr page where you can post your materials that you had printed by them as well as a FB group.
        Also, printing can be an expensive thing for many-so the way they make it easier is you get to pick and choose what images you want on your business cards for instance. You can choose up to 50 different images to display on your Business Cards. They don not need to be all the same illustration. This to me adds variety. Also, its printed on eco friendly paper. And every pack of fifty cards is delivered in a free holder designed by MOO.


      • November 1, 2009 11:46 AM

        I left a reply a bit ago but I don’t see it. Sorry if you get this twice. Thank you guys for being so helpful. I will start working on your suggestions this week. My blog is set up through blogger. I guess the name with my gravatar leads to a non-existing page. I’ll have to fool around a bit to figure that out. In the meantime, here is the link to my blog.

        Thanks again!

  25. October 30, 2009 6:52 PM

    Great interview – Thanks Thomas and Holly. Heres is a questions that haunts me often. While we all have our own style – should we compromise our selfs, our styles for the client whims? Or a different way of stating this – Are we better off sticking to our main style or splitting our abilities. Jack-of-all-trades? Master of one?

    Something that should be pointed out about pricing for everyone – don’t charge ‘by the hour” NEVER NEVER NEVER. Alway have an agreed upon price. If the project changes – renegotiate the price. Why should you not charge by the hour? – The better you get, the faster you should get. If you charge an hourly rate you are only hurting your self. If you charge by the project, the faster you are the more projects you can do.

    • October 31, 2009 11:13 AM

      Hi Ed!
      First off I agree about what you said about pricing. That is something I always promote. Thanks for that.

      Style is a choice. You may stick with a style or get whimsical. If you can pull off a different style for a clients needs and are comfortable doing it-then why not. Keep in mind that you dont want your signature style being stood up! So promote that as much as possible. When in meetings with clients-let them know this is the style you prefer to work in. Sometimes the client will let you combine both into a piece-your style plus the style they are looking for.

      These are tough economic times so it could help you maintain work. Just make sure you feel comfortable swtiching it up from time to time. Everyone in a while I will get techical in my style but it is not the way I normally want to work. I will make special exceptions if I like the project, I like the client and I know I will gt paid for my time.

      Lastly, if your style comes natural then working another way could feel awkward and not feel like yours. Ask yourself if you will regret doing this project, will it feel tedious, frustrating or could it compromise your primary style. Make sure you do what is important for you and right for you. Hope that helps. Cheers!

  26. October 31, 2009 8:57 AM

    Well, to say I love the work you are doing would be a great understatement. I am afraid I will be let go from my current 9-5 job here in Arizona very soon due to the state of the economy here and I have been thinking about taking my hobby and making it my new “job”. To call doing what you love a “JOB” is not really fair. Let me be honest a few months ago I would have never dreamed of trying to follow my dreams in an art field. To see all the awesome artists here and see the support offered is a real blessing, and I for one want to say thanks!
    So if I were forced to ask a question here it would be: How do YOU keep your work space from your living space while working from home?
    I know everyone is different but every tip helps.
    Thank you again for all the wonderful resources.
    Kevin Anderson -&-

    • October 31, 2009 10:50 AM

      Hi Kevin!
      I talk about this extensively in my book. Working at home sounds easy in theory but can be a huge frustration. First off, you adding another routine to your houesehold. Your sense of time changes. You may feel ‘on’ all the time to work and find yourself working all day, all night with no off swtich. You will have many distractions such as Facebook, the tv, friends stopping over, a really great dvd collection, invitations to go out or the phone!

      You need a spce to call your own whether it is a spare room, a desk in your living room or the dining room table. Have a filing system, baskets or buckets to put the piles into and computer space. Paper seems to multiplies overnight! So I suggest tackling it every other day to keep up. Things you will have to combat is noise, distactations, mess, household duties (dreaded laundry) and finding the right time to work.

      Get creative. If you dont have a door to shut behind you try to section off your space with dividers (quite easy to make) or a funky curtain. The idea is this-its your workspace so make it work for you the best way you can. I wish you all the creative best in your new career! Cheers!

    • October 31, 2009 7:56 PM

      Hey Kevin. Thanks for sharing. I’m glad you’re finding some use at EFII. I can relate to being on the brink of a new direction. One thing I might caution is to try and be as prepared as possible before you decide to take “The Plunge”. It is often recommended to try and have a few months savings in the bank as a cushion, and to help to pay for any promotional costs such as mailers. That being said, you can always start to take steps to be a self-employed Illustrator while at another job.

      Best of luck, Kevin! Keep us posted.

  27. Jason Burrows permalink
    October 31, 2009 5:15 PM

    My biggest obstical (and you might have already adressed it) as I try to build up the steam to try and break into the industry is the feeling that I’m just not good enough yet. I like my work but when I look through working illustrator’s portfolios i just see so much that is better than mine. I know that It’s counter productive but it’s hard not to think that I need more experiance, more schooling, more skills. How do you get past the obstacle of comparison?

    • November 1, 2009 9:30 AM

      Hi Jason!
      What you are falling into is the dreaded comparison habit. The thing is this-we all have done it at some point in our creative careers. The number one thing that can happen is stopping us from moving forward. It halts production and stifles us. If you approach it as ‘style’ rather than ‘they are better’ then that can shift your perspective a bit. We all have our ways of drawing, painting, coming up with concepts, to our creativity etc. Schooling, experience and skills are relative to each individual illustrator. If you look at it from a different angle and sum up all your skills, your achievements, the way you work, the way you see the world, your individual experiences and how that affects your work and creativity, that may help.

      Keep in mind there are many creative folks that will always seem more skilled more talented and more experienced. Try to remember that they had to start somewhere too. They were not born knowing how to digitally illustrate for instance.

      A nice boost is to start a creative/success journal type notebook. Jot down ideas, possible projects, quotes that interest you, your ideas on what success is too you. Carry it everywhere. Put one by the bed for those sleepy late night lightbulb moments. How does this help? It can help you see the world, your creativity and possibly projects from your own point of view and not anyone else’s. Call it a brain spill if you will. You are spending time with your talents and less time looking at others.

      It’s good to look at others work as inspiration and motivation plus to see what is going on out there in the illustration world. However, never let it stop your creative momentum! Its too important to lose. Hope that puts a different spin on that concept for you. Cheers!

  28. November 1, 2009 4:26 PM

    I’m currently an illustration student, and I’m only in my first year, which leaves me with over 2 more years of intense studies to be ready for the real world. My goal is pretty much to be able to not have to move back home (I’m currently in the UK, and home would be in Norway), but manage to have enough work ready for me when I’m done to be able to start working full time. Should I start already now trying to get smaller jobs, or fully concentrate on building a portfolio. How can I best spend my time as a student preparing for life as a freelance artist?

    • November 1, 2009 7:26 PM

      Hello Erik,

      I can speak from experience and say that there is no reason to wait until after school to begin taking on clients. In fact, when I was in school, I was shocked by the prevailing mindset amongst students that they would some day be an Illustrator, rather than taking ownership of the fact that they were already artists. School is not meant to be a rite of passage that grants you the title of Illustrator. Rather, it is a means to the end of expanding your knowledge base of skills and techniques that will make you a BETTER Illustrator.

      If you like you can refer to a recent Escapee Speaks post dealing with this topic, called How to Do Anything You Want for further inspiration.

      Hope this helps!


  29. November 1, 2009 4:42 PM

    Erik, if you can get work now take it. If the product us good enough you can use it in you portfolio. Real world examples tend to be better that student samples in my oppinion.

    In my experiance you can learn just as much if not more working in the real world than you can in school. That isn’t saying school isn’t important. It is. Just trying to express that real world experiance can and will help a lot. It also has the added benefit of helping build a client base.

    • November 1, 2009 5:17 PM

      Hi there!
      I agree with Ed. Anything real world helps. This is because you are adding a different process to your work. Typically at school an assignment is given, you work on it and then pass it in or present it for critique. In the real world you must promote yourself, get clients, listen to your client, listen to your instincts, follow your gut, be a business, quote a price, draw up a letter of agreement/contract, motivate yourself to complete the project, follow though, be able to revise said project if needed, be diplomatic, and keep getting work to do the process all over again.

      This is primarily why creative business needs to be addressed in schools. If you take on clients you are setting yourself apart, you will be prepared to step out into the creative world of work and you are giving yourself a much needed creative edge! There will be moments of trial and error. However, if you look at these challenges as learning experiences before you are sprung loose from school, then you will do just fine. Go get ’em!! Great question. Thank you Ed for your great input as well. Cheers!

      • November 2, 2009 3:30 AM

        Hi again! I agree with Thomas 150% so I have a couple of things to add-make your opportunities. This creative industry is not about waiting. It is a about doing, planning, creative problem solving, and visualizing what could lie ahead. Thomas mentioned taking ownership and I totally agree. This is your career and you MUST ask for what you want and start when you feel ready not when a school decides you are ready. Many students get stuck in the day to day routine of being a student and not planning in advance that one day they will have to leave and make it on their own. Some students get too comfortable. I say start calling yourself an illustrator now. Just begin and the rest the will follow.

  30. November 1, 2009 5:29 PM

    Hi Thomas,

    Thank you so much for your site! I am an ’emerging’ illustrator who did NOT attend an illustration programme, and am frequently tormented by the maddening impression that ‘everyone else’ knows something essential that I don’t. Your excellent resource list and podcasts (so far I have listened to two) are informative, inspiring and reassuring!
    Thanks again,
    Amanda Crawford

    • November 2, 2009 3:52 AM

      Hi Amanda! I say put your worry in a comfortable perspective that could motivate you. Many illustrators such as myself are educated plus self taught. I learned more about business by myself, just by getting out there, making mistakes and asking lots and lots of questions.

      Success leaves clues but success does not happen overnight. One way to look at this is: how did they get there? What steps did they take to make this career their own? What had to happen for them to start making a living off their work?
      So, I say one approach that could help is compiling a list of questions, concerns and observations about illustration and start looking for the answers online or by asking fellow illustrators for advice. I did this and it helped me immensely! I hope you enjoy the book. Cheers!

  31. November 1, 2009 5:46 PM

    I meant also to thank Holly for the great interview. I will definitely buy her book!


  32. mattikemppainen permalink
    November 4, 2009 4:27 AM

    Thanks for a great episode! Great job with directing people to the site and props for the redesign :)

    The number one biggest question for me when starting out was how to talk to clients in a first mail when looking for work. How much should i tell about my self? should I show that i am familiar with what they do? Should I just drop them a link? What should the tone of the mail be?

    Now a pretty much just tell them that I’m a illustrator from Helsinki and this is a link to my website.

    How do you guys do it?

    • November 4, 2009 3:36 PM

      Hi there!
      If you plan on tackling clients via e-mail its best to do your research of the company first. Get as much information as you can such as names, types of work they do, clients, and MOST important of all-check to see if they state anywhere on their web site about how they want to be approached such as email, phone, or my mail post.

      You can approach the first e-mail as an introduction. Define why you are contacting them, who you are and what you do. From here you can also find out if they are interested in seeing your work either by a website link, a mailer such as contact sheet of samples. So if you approach the email as both an introduction and research that makes it much more friendly in tone. Long description short-give them a reason to read your email! Give them something to remember you by. Hope that helps. Cheers!

  33. December 14, 2009 1:23 PM

    A great interview, sir.
    The book is now on my Christmas list. :)

    Another bold effort to overcome one of the biggest weaknesses in a budding new illustrator’s education.
    I look forward to reading it!

  34. September 20, 2011 6:53 AM

    another awesome podcast. traditional media should still exist in the future of the creative industry. i’ll buy your book Holly, I find your thoughts about pricing and how to bring myself to the business side interesting :)


  1. Twitter Trackbacks for Episode 10 – Breaking Into Freelance Illustration « Escape From Illustration Island [] on
  2. Win a Signed Copy of Breaking Into Freelance Illustration | A blog dedicated to illustration
  3. A blog dedicated to illustration » Blog Archive » EFII Podcast Episode 11 – Stefan Bucher
  4. Applied Arts Wire » Breaking Into Freelance Illustration

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s