We are all too young to have experienced a recession of this magnitude. Are you lacking work and panicking with every news bulletin? You might not be able to control all the economic ills, but you can control your response to them. We asked some seasoned illustrators what they do when times are tough. It was interesting that the universal response reflected our own thoughts: diversify! —expand your freelance venues so you are not at the effect of the fate of any one company or industry. Suggestions also included getting a steady income like teaching a college-level class or taking a staff position in a creative office.
If a ‘day job’ isn’t for you, then consider a more introspective approach to diversity stemming from pastimes you enjoy.
Expand income possibilities by pursuing work directly from local businesses and individuals. Consider the pervasive themes in your life. Are you involved with charity? Sports? Theater? Recognize these as networking opportunities that can combine your illustrating ability with your lifestyle and avocations. We are familiar with illustrators who have supplementary income from racetrack art, needlepoint design and house portraits. Consider bartering as a way to begin this venture as it may result in benefits far exceeding a cash arrangement.
For example, if you’re a nautical buff, you may arrange an exhibit of your yacht and sailboat paintings at a nearby marina’s restaurant. Perhaps a frame shop will participate because showing off your art will also show off their frames. The nautical ambiance will bring increased patronage to the restaurant and may bring you and the framer commissions from the yachting crowd. Everyone benefits. You might also find that a restaurant will barter meals in exchange for a mural or illustrations for their printed menu.
Interior Surface Painting
If you can paint trompe-l’œil or faux wall treatments, landscapes or decorative borders, try advertising your capabilities in the local listings. You might earn income from painting dioramas or surfaces in homes, offices or public spaces. Your talents will provide a value to those who wish to define their space through visual focus and impact.
Benefit from the popular spirit of purchasing local, hand- made items. Present your artwork throughout the year at holiday and fund-raising fairs. You can sell originals, receive commissions, make your own–signed prints and reproduce your art on cards, magnets, t-shirts, etc. Spend some time researching websites that sell prints and illustrated products to the general public.
Speaking Engagements & Consultations
Become a guest lecturer. You can talk about your career, the history of illustration, whatever makes a worthwhile presentation for which someone will offer a fee. These would include art colleges, high schools, libraries and organizations. As a professional in the graphics field, consider a private consultation business geared to high school students interested in pursuing an illustration career. Parents will pay for professional portfolio advice for their children’s submissions to specialty high schools and art colleges.
If your lament has been “Promotion is too expensive,” you need to find a new excuse. Advertising in a downturn is especially beneficial for an illustrator. The bright side of the current economy is that it is less costly and easier than ever to promote yourself. Printing costs are less because printers need to keep their presses going and all involved are glad to have your business.
We encourage you to invest in promotion everywhere you can afford. If you can’t afford a directory ad or direct mail piece, you can still reach your targeted clients by entering contests that will print accepted entries in their annuals and on their websites. Initiate viral marketing with your own great website and links to your work on other sites.
Not every aspect of the world has come to a standstill. Rekindle interest from previous clients and contacts with fresh samples. You might find yourself approaching them just when they have an illustration to assign. The people you have already worked with are predisposed toward illustration in general and yours in particular.
No matter what your mental state, present an enthusiastic, interested and accommodating attitude to clients and to the world. Success breeds success: Why would a client invest in someone whose business is in a slump when they can bask in the glow of an illustrator who is thriving? Consciously maintain positive energy with creative infusions; socialize and brainstorm with industry folk; attend life-drawing workshops; carry a sketchbook every where; visit galleries and museums; learn a new skill; attend business seminars and professional conferences. Be tenacious and undeterred by gloomy economic prophecies and negative people. If your freelance work is erratic, diversify today to secure your tomorrow.
And most importantly: Keep your sunny side up!