The question I’ve been asked most often in my life is probably:
“Do you really make a living with art?”
Should you go all in and become a full-time freelance illustrator? Or keep drawing as a side gig in addition to a “real” job? Here are pros and cons on both sides!
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First of all, I think the most important thing to consider is your character.
More specifically, what is your level of tolerance to risk and the unknown?
As a freelance artist, especially in the beginning, you will face all the hazards of entrepreneurship: unpredictable income, not knowing what product will work, constantly innovating to find new ideas, and running a whole business with administration and looking for clients in addition to illustration.
On the other hand, a more stable job with drawing on the side gives you much more financial and mental security, you will have a more predictable and serene daily life.
So first of all, are you more on the adventurous side, or the safe side?
In theory, when you are your own boss, you can create whatever you like. I sincerely think that as a freelance artist, having experienced it myself and having discussed it with other freelance illustrators, that you will most definitely have a phase where you lose your passion and your creativity, because you put pressure on yourself to make a living with art, you draw what sells better rather than what you truly like, you accept projects that are not necessarily motivating because you have to make ends meet or because you don’t have an established clientele yet. But really, don’t worry, we all find our way back to our passion and get even more creative after a little while of doubting and testing, that’s just part of the process.
With illustration as a hobby or complementary activity, creativity remains much more spontaneous, because you don’t have the imperatives of “I MUST produce and sell”. Which is amazing, because you’re able to keep on creating just for the sheer pleasure of creating, whenever and however it feels good, and people will feel that happiness in your artwork.
As a freelance artist, it is important to manage your money well, in the sense that you will have to make choices for the sake of your business:
- What budget for your stocks?
- How much is set aside for your VAT, taxes, personal pay?
- How do you calculate your prices to make a decent living with your illustrations?
This is often stressful in the beginning because you have to learn everything, along with the uncertainty of where your income will come from. However, with experience, it will become natural and it will be possible to make great money, which can be much higher than classical salaries.
Concerning illustration as a secondary activity, you will have much more security thanks to your main profession which will guarantee you a stable income. You will be able to afford investments and, in the worst case, test projects and suffer losses without this having a major impact on your life, because your day job guarantees you a safety net.
Your income may however be more limited because you can’t invest the same amount of time and work as someone working full time, but you can earn a nice additional salary, considering for example that some creators can easily sell for one thousand euros in a weekend at artist alley.
I have often been told that good health is essential to being self-employed. I don’t know how it works in other countries, but in Luxembourg the system is not necessarily supportive. A few years ago, I asked for a five-day sick leave when my tendinitis got worse and I couldn’t move my right hand anymore. I didn’t get any money, but the amount that was supposed to cover my work absence was simply deducted from my monthly taxes two or three months later by the health fund. So overall, if you get sick, no one will do the work for you, you’re not even sure to get paid anything, and it’s better to have good savings. On the contrary, when you’re employed – you still get paid to rest and that’s really one of the big, big benefits.
In the manga convention business, your professional papers will sometimes be a burden because you will be asked to take a professional booth which can be quite expensive, and where you will have to sell a lot to get the investment back before you can actually make any money. On the other hand, you’ll have many advantageous offers with other professionals, for example printers with a loyalty system and bulk discounts, percentages and private sales in arts shops, VAT deduction on intra-community sales, and that will save you a lot of money on that side.
As an amateur artist, you can get your convention booths at much more decent rates, which allows you to make money faster with your sales. On the other hand, some conventions like the French Japan Expo put a ceiling on the prices of your products, or you will have to sign a declaration that you don’t make commercial sales exceeding a certain figure to avoid fraudulent people who make too many undeclared sales.
Summary: Secondary or main activity?
I hope this overwhelming allows you to see the pros and cons of both sides a little better.
There is really no correct answer, everyone will have their own preferences, their own character
Personally, I’ve seen both sides – nearly seven years as an amateur, and four years as a freelancer. Both are good, but different. When I was still a student, I had much more fun creating and allowed myself to try absolutely anything I could think of, but I was limited with opportunities I had to turn down because they were at the same time as school hours. As a freelancer, I lost a lot of passion at one point, because I was always anxious about money, but I was able to pursue new opportunities that allowed me to grow my client base and revenue much faster than before. Overall, I would advise starting illustration as a side gig, at least until you understand how it works, are confident with what you produce, and have a small client base and more regular income.
If you feel you want to go much further and are limited in your creativity, go for the adventure of freelancing. If you prefer a quieter, steadier pace, keep your joy of creating as a hobby. When I was younger, I used to think it was a shame not to be able to make a full time living with art, but of course it’s not. There are people who have the courage to still create and go for their dreams after long work days, and who have chosen security for their well-being, for their family, which is admirable. And if this can spare them all the doubts, fears, stress and headaches of entrepreneurship that many of us experience in our first years, why not!
when you do something you truly love, the negative aspects are quickly relegated to the back burner because you just can’t help to keep going and give it your all, no matter the hardships.
Anyways, tell us: complementary artist or full time freelancer?
DOWLOAD YOUR QUIZZ
Not sure whether you’re more suited for freelancing or side gig?
Here’s a little quiz for you with boxes to tick to take into account all aspects of your personality, and see what would suit you best!
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