The transition from Student to Professional Artist can often be a painful process, full of missteps and difficult lessons learned. I'm still deeply within the learning portion of this journey and continually growing with every falter, but here are some things that would have made the start considerably easier!
Get a Contract.
As a gullible Sophomore during my Winter Break, a friend of a friend offered me the opportunity to design an entire line of advertising for a spinoff company funded by a major corporation. The mix of wanting to please my friend, the prospect of possible connections, and the decent payment offered by my contact at this new business, all were exciting beyond belief. I felt very professional and creative, being offered such an important freelance job like that!
To shorten a lengthy tale of harsh deadlines and waves of critique, I have yet to see a single penny of the agreed upon payment. As soon as the job was complete my phone calls and e-mails were no longer returned. I worried that the company may have gone under but, upon further investigation, they were doing quite well and using the fliers I had made for them. To this day the company in question has continued to grow and excel, thus pounding home my message.
Don't be a chump.
Get a contract.
Until you have their signature, your pen does not touch the paper.
I have had clients who know exactly what they want out of a project and clients who will give you complete freedom, both are dangerous in their own way. As an artist it is extremely important to get inside the head of the person or organization that commissions you. The best way to do this, for me, is a Skype conversation. This allows me to ask them on the spot questions about the material and receive their immediate reactions; sometimes their perspective on the project is slightly different from what they may write in an e-mail.
A client who knows exactly what they want can produce a difficult situation as what they see in their head may not be actually aesthetically pleasing. A commission is as much your work as it is theirs and your input and inspiration is essentially what they are paying you for. With clients like these it is important to inform them of issues you have with the design in the very early stages. Supplement the issues with fixes; bring many sketches to the table that offer solutions in your trademark style while still remaining true to their basic vision. What they want may not be any good and it is your job to use your psychic art powers to show them an alternative that strikes the same pleasing chords to them.
When dealing with a client who seems to not have an opinion, you may have to spend extra time with them. Present more sketches in a variety more diverse than you would usually. Once they settle on a sketch be sure they understand that backtracking will take time and money. Check in every once in a while with a progress report that details the project so far. Use your artistic intuition to determine how to proceed. Over time, your conceptual thinking will become more refined and you will be able to latch onto fresh concepts quickly, but until then I recommend a thorough Skype interrogation!
Know the Value of Your Time.
How long will it take you to do a professional level black and white sketch?
What about a full color illustration?
Does style and subject matter factor into the amount of time it will take?
Figuring these things out ahead of time will save you all-nighters of despair as you will be able to accurately give the customer an estimated time of arrival as well as an accurate bill. Does this mean the quicker you work, the less you'll have to charge? Not in my view of it. If anything your rates will raise as the continual work will drive your skill level up...you'll just have more free time to attain more commissions!
What have you learned the hard way through your professional art pursuits?
Please feel free to leave a comment!
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