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Freelance Artists Are Crazy

Updated on October 29, 2019
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Reading for Adventure
Reading for Adventure | Source

My Love of Art

I love art and the way it makes me feel when I do it. I love the escapism of it and how the whole world goes away when I fly into it. However, making any kind of living as a freelance artist is just plain nuts. Every day, week, month, you are constantly searching for new work. At the end of each job, you can’t just revel in the success of it because to continue to pay for the beans you will soon need another job. Someone once said you have to be crazy to be an artist, and perhaps that’s true. It is the sheer love of the work that drives us on. We love what we do or we wouldn’t be doing it.

Get Sucked Into a Book
Get Sucked Into a Book | Source


To be a freelance artist means you are a business and you have to constantly market yourself. I hate this part of the job. I would love to just sit back and wallow in the part I love with paint all over my face and bits of paper and debris all over the house, but that isn’t smart. I have to spend a certain amount of time every week and month to regularly market, set out mailers and emails and reminders that I am here, available for work. This makes me a touch crazy.

Did you hear about the cartoonist who was found dead in his apartment? The details are sketchy. Police officials couldn’t draw any conclusions. His life was erased.

Reading is Out of This World
Reading is Out of This World | Source

Long Hours

Art isn’t like construction. There isn’t much that can be prefabricated. Everything is from scratch. When a client with a brief presents a potential job, you have to start by spending hours sketching a dozen or so possibilities for each illustration asked for. The client then looks it over and decides. At that point, the client can then decide he has the wrong artist and keep looking, which means your hours of sketching have been wasted unless the client offered an advance or a “closing fee” for closing the project. Many don’t offer that. This means we offer hours of work for free more often than not. Isn’t that crazy?

Let a Book Carry You Away
Let a Book Carry You Away | Source

Unsharpened pencils are pointless!

All Night and Weekends

Often even when the client loves the sketches and decides to let you finish the project, they have a tight timeline and want the art in just a few days. This means you are working all night for several nights or weekends even. This is the worst because you cannot guarantee good work from a sleepy artist but that happens. Many clients are responsible enough to give plenty of time for quality work, but they are fewer than I’d like to say. Now that is crazy.

Touch the Stars With A Good Book
Touch the Stars With A Good Book | Source

Work for Hire

It is an accepted practice that when you are hired for an hourly wage or on salary (like as a secretary or bookkeeper), that everything you create on that job belongs to the company paying the wage. It takes someone experienced in copyright law to avoid the pitfalls of this kind of loophole. When I was just 20 and working as a secretary for a county agency for $2.15 an hour, I was asked to create a cover for a pamphlet the agency wanted to print for the community. I went home and drew out the black and white images of two teenagers in a couple of hours and presented the image to my employer the next morning. He thought it was great and used it for the printed brochure cover. It printed well in black and white and I was happy with the look at the time. If I had been aware, I should have asked a special copyright compensation for the piece since I technically had not done the work at the office but at home on my own time. But I didn’t know and only now consider what I lost. You see even now 40 years later, they are still using the very same cover I created, reprinting it over and over.

The Earth without art is just Eh.

Join a Book Club
Join a Book Club | Source

Another Work For Hire Experience

Another time when I was young and stupid, a friend hired me to draw some line drawings for her nutrition classes and offered me $20 for the work. I drew 5 separate pieces for 5 calendar pages for her meal-planning calendar. Later I found she was not using the pages for a class display but using my work for reproduction. She printed them on a meal-planning calendar and sold them to her students at a profit. I came back to her and said that each time she printed and sold the work I should receive a royalty. Not that I was asking for anything large. She flatly refused and said it was “work for hire” and that I had agreed to do the work for the $20 price. My friend is sadly no longer my friend. She didn’t value me or my work, beyond what she could get from me for free. For all I know she is still using that artwork 30 years later. She certainly got a bargain for the art; it was literally a steal. I know that was crazy.

You might be an artist if…

--The only piece of new furniture you have in your home is a $2000 easel.

--You’ve ever cleaned your fingernails with a palette knife.

--You’ve ever considered framing your palette instead of the painting.

--You notice the burnt umber in the background of anything including Playboy centerfold.

--Your children are forced to share a room so you can have an art studio.

--You routinely drink the rinse water instead of the coffee.

Let a Book Pull You Out of the Dumps.
Let a Book Pull You Out of the Dumps. | Source

Art Curriculum

Working for an hourly wage for the city where I live, I created a teaching curriculum for the After-School Program they were introducing. This curriculum included the purpose of each art lesson, an artist to study, and a corresponding project. I wrote it so anyone could lead the class even if they were not fluent in the arts. Later I realized this could be construed as “work for hire” and asked for special compensation (not royalties since they weren’t selling the curriculum) but was refused. They looked at me like I was crazy for asking. The truth is that I ought to have known better. The “oh well” moment came when I realized that it was for the children and not for the compensation I was originally thinking. That wasn’t crazy as much as kind-hearted.

Artists don't create for the income. They create for the outcome.

Final Thoughts

I may be crazy but I do love what I do and that spurs me onward. Someday I may be recognized for my work but for know I’m older and wiser, having to fall into many of the pitfalls that crazy freelance artists often fall into.


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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      11 months ago from Fresno CA

      Lawrence Hebb,

      Good luck to all three of you. I'm sure you can do it even if it does drive you crazy. Thanks for commenting.



    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      11 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      This one brought a smile to my face, why? Because after a five-year Hiatus my wife has taken up her hobby again, and we converted the spare room into a 'craft room'

      Along with that, my daughter decided that she wants to try and create extra income by turning her hobby (crafts like quilting and the like) into an income-generating endeavour!

      Oh and I've started getting serious about marketing my books on Amazon, and all this while the two of them are still studying at Uni and I'm working full time. Now that's crazy, but we love it!

      Great post.


    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      13 months ago from Fresno CA

      Lynne Samuel,

      The love of the craft has to be what keeps us going because compensation is so slim and seldom. It is nice to wake up each day and say to yourself, "I GET to do this." Thanks for commenting.



    • lynnes75 profile image

      Lynne Samuel 

      13 months ago from Malaysia

      Understandable. It can be stressful at times, wondering if you'll have an audience and customers interested in your ware. Even so, I think it helps that you love your art. It keeps you going.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      13 months ago from Fresno CA

      Brian Leekley,

      Absolutely right. In the case of self-publishing, it is best to just ask for a fair fee upfront (work for hire) rather than royalties per issue sold because that would be difficult to collect on from people who may be less than reputable. Of course, the fees depend on the number of illustrations needed, the medium required (oil or acrylic or watercolor or black and white ink or charcoal). If only a color cover illustration and b&w interior are required it won't be as expensive as if you want color cover and color interior illustrations. Also, it depends on the complexity of the illustration. If you wanted original character designs such as a storybook it is more costly than if you want generic type illustrations of still life materials. The cost could be anywhere from $5,000 to $500. To me, that seems pretty costly for a self-published book where you have no guarantee of sales, so I try to be sensitive to that and adjust my fees accordingly. Still, if I'm going to spend months of time working on it I want to be compensated for my time. Thanks for commenting.



    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      13 months ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      What would be a typical arrangement, Denise, if I wanted you to illustrate a self-published work of fiction or of poetry by me? Half of my net income from it, with a minimum in case my income was zilch? (I'm behind getting writing projects done, and I'm currently working on several essays, so it likely will be months or years before this question will be more than hypothetical.)

      My brother John has been a screenwriter and in the Writers Guild of America, West, for more than 30 years. A production company or studio pays him at each step—story idea, synopsis, first draft, rewrite, and so on, plus he gets residuals. The screenwriters had to organize and strike to gain that. I guess all a freelance artist can do is make their requests for fair compensation up front and have what's agreed upon put in writing and signed.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      13 months ago from Fresno CA

      Linda Lum,

      Yes. Fabric and Textile arts makes you an artist also. I'm glad to be included in this community of off-kilter folks! Thanks for commenting.



    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      13 months ago from Fresno CA

      Bill Holland,

      It is true. I feel a little like the black sheep. I never drank (not even coffee), or smoked, no drugs not even weed (I must be the only one in California who can say that) so I don't fit in with the crazies. That's why I wear hats. I have to be a little off or odd in some way, right? Thanks for commenting.



    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      13 months ago from Fresno CA

      Mary Norton,

      In a perfect world, society would take care of the creatives. Too bad this isn't a perfect world. Thanks for commenting.



    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      13 months ago from Fresno CA


      Absolutely. I'm so sorry you were treated that way but it seems like it is a common theme with artists to be exploited and ripped off. In some way, it's the affirmation that we are that good. I had one student do something similar to me. I drew the picture and showed him how to paint it, doing a number of touch-ups to help him with it. He entered it in a show and after winning a prize sold it. He didn't even thank me for my input. Thanks for commenting.



    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      13 months ago from Fresno CA

      Lora Hollings,

      I think I love you! You really get it. And you know as a freelancer yourself how hard it can be to do what you love and pay the bills too. Ah well, we GET to do this every day. What could be better? Thanks for commenting.



    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      13 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Wonderful article Denise. I'm sorry that people took advantage of your big talent and big heart. I don't work with paints but I think fabric counts as an art medium. We're all a little bit off-kilter (but especially Bill Holland hahaha).

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I think anyone in the Arts is a little unhinged. :) We would have to be, right? Loved the article!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      13 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I love your illustrations. They are whimsical and magical. It is indeed hard for artists as they are not naturally entrepreneurial and would rather spend the time to work on art. Hopefully, society will be more supportive.

    • Nicoartz profile image

      Jason Nicolosi 

      13 months ago from AZ

      Your Amazing Denise. You understand me. I can't even tell you how many times I got my art ripped off. Ever since high school people were stealing my work. Once my "friend" asked me to draw an image for him. He said he wanted it for a gift for his mom. I drew it for him. It was a beautiful pencil drawing. Not only did he not give it to his mom, but he erased my signiture and added his own. Then entered it into an art contest and won 1st place. I found out later. His mom had it hanging up with the blue ribbon. Embarrassing for him, when i was like "Hey thats the picture I drew for your mom!"

      The problem is that some people can't understand that as artists, when we create something weather it be a sculpture or a painting. We are putting our life into it. Our souls pour into the artwork, its value is great to us. To be undervalued or plain ripped off hurts. Not just in the pocket, but even more so in the heart.

    • Lora Hollings profile image

      Lora Hollings 

      13 months ago

      Great article, Denise. You really have to love the arts if you want to be a freelancer and be totally dedicated to something more than the monetary compensation. Beautifully stated in your article and I'm so sorry that your talent was used by people who were so devoid of integrity! Your artwork certainly is wonderful and I think anyone would be fortunate to hire you as it is so obvious that your work emanates excellence!


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