Q: In a past article you said, regarding showing potential clients your reliability and professionalism: “the easiest way to demonstrate this is by having a body of work already established… in comics, magazine illustration, advertising, etc.”¬¨‚Ä† As someone who has only done commissions for friends and very small published works, my big question is how do you go about getting professional freelance work in the first place?¬¨‚Ä† You have an impressive client list and I realized I don’t know the first thing about trying to contact those types of clients (ex: Scholastic, magazines, advertising).¬¨‚Ä† Any hints, tips or tricks for a beginning freelancer on how to break into the business in general?
A: “Commissions for friends and very small published works” is professional work. Few people go straight from zero to the cover of TIME. The most productive way to “break in” is to start small and built up a body of work. There is a lot of work to be had at a local level, even in the smallest of towns.
Every town has small businesses that need advertising and images to go with them. Set up meetings with local resturants, pizzarrias and coffee shops (not the big chains, but independently owned stores) and pitch them on cartoons for kids menus. For caricaturists, there are lots of “personality” driven small businesses like used car lots, personal training centers, realtors (ugh) or travel agents that might be interested in caricatured “characters” as part of a branding or ad campaign. Local printers will often get jobs designing fliers for businesses and might need some illustration work done. If you live near a bigger city, there are usually free creative-type newspapers that like to use illustration for features and sometimes covers… they don’t pay much but your goal at first is to build up a body of work. Obviously any publishers in the city, including ones that just publish ad circulars or catalogs, will find they need illustration now and then. Even your church and local schools need some stuff done now and then. Most towns have local newspapers or suburban papers that will occasionally need illustration. Whether they give you work on the spot of not, they should know who you are and that you are in the area.
The important thing is to treat even the most humble client like they are TIME, and their job is important to you. Nail your deadlines, and do your best work all the time. Word gets around, both good and bad.
In the meantime, do not be afraid to send work to larger potential clients… just make sure what you send them is professional and well presented. There’s no secret way to contact them. Magazines have a mailing address and the name of their art director on the masthead, somewhere in the first dozen or so pages of each issue.
Check out the article in my FAQs on “How to get started doing Freelance Illustration” for some more detailed info.
Thanks to Char Reed for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!
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918 New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550
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