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The 5 Dirty Words of Freelance Illustration

October 6, 2010

(Illustration by Øivind Hovland)

In our daily lives as freelance Illustrators, we experience both the joys and terrors of our unique creative profession.

As you probably know, freelance Illustration isn’t always unicorns and rainbows. Those are just the facts of life.

One of the redeeming things about this, however, is that we can often recognize the more common dangers and take steps to avoid them because they are usually pretty clearly defined.

Here’s my list of the 5 dirty words you’re likely to encounter in your day-to-day life as a professional Illustrator:

1. Spec work

This one likely needs no introduction, because you won’t be an Illustrator for very long before somebody solicits you for free work.

The more desperate you are, the greater the danger in falling prey to this trap.

Just know that it potentially hurts your business, so proceed at your own risk.

2. Exposure

The frequent sidekick to ‘spec work’ is the word ‘exposure’, because clients who want you to work for free often promise that your art will be seen and adored by millions across the globe.

If for some reason you didn’t recognize that a project is actually a call for spec work, then this secondary term will likely tip you off.

3. Theft

Another inevitability is that your work will be used without your permission at some point. In fact, posting your work anywhere online pretty much guarantees that.

It’s a frustrating one, but there are steps you can take to combat this sort of thing, and the online community of artists often comes together to join the fight.

4. Burnout

Here’s one that’s usually brought on at least partly by yourself.

As with all the other dirty words in this list, it’s inevitable, but a healthy dose of time off, a well-rounded life, and personal projects can do a lot to ward it off.

5. Slushpile

This term defines the overwhelming pile (physical, virtual, or otherwise) where your promotional materials may be buried by Art Directors amongst countless others sent by your fellow artists.

The only antidote is to create work so compelling that it stands out from the crowd and makes a lasting impression.

So there you have it.

A brief look at 5 of the prime offenders in the daily life of a freelance Illustrator.

Get to know them, avoid them, and defeat them when you can, but know that they will be back.

Here’s a little something to keep you going:

Got some more Dirty Words of Freelance Illustration? Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Special thanks to Øivind Hovland for providing the artwork for this post.

About Øivind Hovland: Øivind Hovland is an experienced freelance illustrator with a long list of international clients, covering a broad range of media.

He is also the author of two illustrated books, published by Tabella, and his work has been short-listed for IMAGES and the Nationwide Mercury Prize Art Exhibition.

Øivind is represented in the UK by NB Illustration.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 6, 2010 5:22 PM

    Very well put, my friend. It’s remarkable how much the business of design, illustration, photography and copywriting has deteriorated in the eyes of clients and agents. Now, we’re subjected to crowdsourced competition and people don’t value the distinctive quality of a trained professional. It’s hard to maintain high standards in a market full of amateurs and software jocks who don’t know anything more than clients about the art and craft that we have honed over years of study and discipline.

    No spec work. Ever. Never, ever.

    Cheers,
    Dom

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