Be a Freelance Artist and an Entrepreneur: You're Never Too Young to Make it Your Business

While this article might seem like common sense for seasoned folks that are entrepreneurs, or who know how to navigate the working world, we tend to forget about those just starting out. 

After working five years in the web and graphics industry, I rejoined the education world to pursue my MFA in Animation. This gave me the chance to reconnect with students, many fresh out of high school. In our conversations, they excitedly tell me about their unpaid internships and freelance gigs paying $2 an hour. I cringe. It takes me back to my own memories, jumping at chances to “improve my portfolio" and to "get exposure”. 

Coming from Thailand, a developing country where artists are treated as labor and not experts in their fields, I made it my mission to one day go back to improve the industry there. Yet, here I am in a developed country, where the nation’s youth face a similar situation.

Being a mentor to young artists, here are a few things I tell them they should know to make it in the business. 

KNOW THE LAW

More than anything, knowing the law is self-protection. In the web design industry, I made it a priority to buy and read up on the basics of Intellectual Property, and laws regulating the Internet. 

If you are commissioned to produce a film or piece of animation, do you know who owns the copyright? It's against the law to reuse images from the Internet unless they are Public Domain, licensed under Creative Commons or you received permission to do so. 

If someone uses your own work without your permission, you have the right to send them a cease and desist infringement letter. This isn’t always effective of course. Some countries don’t really abide by the law, but it is self-protection to a degree. Know your rights.

HAVE A CONTRACT/ BE SPECIFIC

Before you begin any freelance work, internship, or contracted job, it is important to have a contract. Without a getting it in writing, not only is there no proof of agreement of what compensation you are to receive for your work, the client may change the scope of the work or move around their deadlines, and it becomes a slippery slope as you regret taking on the job in the first place. 

In the contract, it should state what type of work and output is expected, the projects timeline, how many changes will implement, and the expected pay. 

If you are not confident about drawing up your own contract or don't have a lawyer, it’s easy to find a decent template online, or books with one. Unless you are willing to risk not getting paid, or being overworked, it is always safer to have a contract, even if it is a small sum you are getting.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO GET PAID WHAT YOU ARE WORTH

It can be daunting jumping from unpaid schoolwork to being compensated for your work. Many students are afraid to ask for what they are worth because they are afraid clients will find someone cheaper. In their eagerness, they accept whatever is offered. 

This may be the case if your skills are not has strong as they could be yet, and you are still learning. If this is so, weigh out if you are gaining something from the loss of your time. If you are learning a skill you can’t learn on your own, or the client offers a unique incentive, it may be worth being paid less starting out. 

However, if you have created a solid sample of web designs and have solid skills, don’t be afraid to charge.

If in doubt of how much to charge, I highly recommend gettting the latest version of the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. It contains a slew of freelance to full time pricing for illustrators, animators, game designers, and much, much more.

A lot of clients use the potential for exposure to lure you in. Using your best judgment, think about it from the client’s side. Are they really saying you will get attention for your work to benefit you, or are they trying to get you to work for free or cheap? 

SELL THE ARTIST: SELL THE ART

As much as it is about your work, it is also about you as the artist. Apply the logic of condominium development. You might think this is an odd example, the similarity of selling your art and pushing for upfront funding is transferable. 

When a condominium project is in development, 3D mockups are created before the real deal is built, and agents push to sell condos before they even exist. It’s all about building up trust, a reputation, and strong marketing. Your work may speak for itself in terms of what people think it’s worth, yet ultimately you have more control creating your own brand and your value as an artist than you believe.

A lot of these tips only scratch surface of what it is to be an entrepreneural artist, and these are the baby steps towards becoming one. Better to start sooner than later. Pericles said this about politics: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you".  You may not be interested in freelancing, that doesn't mean freelancing won't take an interest in you. Being knowledgeable is power and protection.

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 9.58.50 PM.png

This article was written by Marisa (Ginger) Tontaveetong from Bangkok, Thailand who also runs a blog called the Needy Animator's Guide to more than your Usual Resources focused on the different aspects of animation including networking, festival tips, and more. With over 8+ years experience in the computer graphics and web design field and a B.Tech in computer graphics & multimedia, she is currently pursuing her MFA in Animation at SCAD-Atlanta. She has also interned at Floyd County as a production/illustration intern on Archer and with is currently working at the Atlanta Film Festival  as the programming intern.