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Freelance Artists Are Crazy

Updated on October 29, 2019
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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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