11 Things Every Starving Artist Needs to Know

Some days, I regret ever becoming an artist as a career choice. I have my moments when I wonder if I should have kept it nothing more than a hobby and instead continued my pursuit of other things, like theatre or the stage. Even now, I'm getting more and more into other things that threaten to take up my time, but no matter what, my heart is in the art.

I continue to do what I do because it's where my heart is. I always said that when I auditioned for a part in a play, I knew I gave it my all, but still made mistakes that were imperceptible to me and cost me the part. When I goof something up on paper, it just makes more sense to me. I'm sure that doesn't make sense to many of you, but I digress. I draw because at the heart of it, I enjoy it. I love it. It doesn't mean I love every project I take, but sometimes you just have to do what needs to be done. Work is work. My husband jokes sometimes that I'm the Bobba Fett of artwork...pay me enough, and I'll just about draw anything. I have pretty low standards I guess.

...though I draw the line at Loli, Shota, and non-con. *shudders* Sorry, gang. Just not my cup of tea.

When you choose to become an artist and start looking for paying gigs, there are inevitably a few things that are going to happen. When anything stops being a hobby and begins being a way to pay your bills, you're going to have a hard time being all hearts and flowers happy about it. But there are a few things you can do to help yourself along the way, and keep the enjoyability in the work.

Again, just some advice. Strictly my opinions, and based entirely on previous experience. I.e., THE HARD WAY...

1. THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT, EVEN WHEN HE'S WRONG! This is the hardest part to get used to when you become a freelancer. When someone is paying you for your work, usually, you have to pretty much do what they want. Now, commission work may be a different story. Most commissions aren't contract gigs that pay you a big lump sum. So get used to the fact that if the company you are doing work for wants everyone in period garb, you're going to have to research it and draw it the way they want, even if you think it's dumb. They're paying for it; do it their way as long as it isn't morally objective to you.

2. This should be #1, but sometimes it falls to slot 2. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS GET YOURSELF A CONTRACT!!!!!!! I can NOT stress this enough. Long story short, I was on a large project once back when I got started for a company that ultimately kicked the bucket. I did roughly around $2000 worth of work and conceptual stuff that never saw the light of day, and I never got a penny for it. From that day forward, I insist on contracts. They cover your butt and make sure you get compensated for the work you've done, as well as ensure you don't go crazy from extra work getting dumped on you.

3. NEGOTIATE A KILL FEE. Let's say you're working on a comic book for a small company, and they have a very different vision than the one you are presenting. Neither party can agree on anything, so they pay you a 'kill fee' and you amiably part ways. I usually negotiate my kill fee to be half of what the full payment would be for whatever gig I'm on. That way, I get compensation for the work I've done, and if the company decides to kick my sorry booty off the project, I still get payment for what's been done. This is a safe thing to do and trust me, no professional company would argue a kill fee. If they do, that's a red flag in my opinion.

4. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ARTISTS BLOCK WHEN YOU ARE ON A DEADLINE. Let's face it. If you are going to take freelance work, you're going to have to get over artists block. There's no such thing as an 'off day' when you are working on a severe deadline. If I have a day where I just can't draw, I put on music that inspires me, or...gasp!...draw something for myself! If I'm having fun with it, I tend to loosen up and then the ability comes back. Experiment and find out what makes you relax, but always make sure you get your projects done on time.

5. I need to take my own advice here, but DO NOT TAKE ON MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE! Otherwise, you'll be like me...working on a massive graphic novel, 12 backlogged commissions, and a weekly updated webcomic at the same time. -_-; I am full of suck and fail...

6. LEARN TO ACCEPT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM. Not every person from a company will like what you are doing. I had a massive project for a marketing company in Chicago a couple years back that made me want to rip my hair out. There was criticism coming out of every angle, but I smiled and nodded, and took it to heart. Don't let yourself get bent out of shape. You opened yourself up for this when you took on the project.

7. SMILE! You have to be friendly. Treat your freelance work as what it is; BUSINESS. If you were a dick to every Tom Dick and Harry who wanted to get artwork from you, you'd have no business at all. Your clients are customers. Treat them with the same respect you would expect as a customer.

8. Again, need to take my own advice... DO NOT LEAVE EVERYTHING TILL THE LAST MINUTE! Now, me personally, I work better on stress and deadlines. I've been known to pull all nighters with energy drinks, and I like doing it. But I don't recommend it to you. Inking with the jitters sucks.

9. LEARN TO TIME YOURSELF SO YOU AREN'T GOING CRAZY. I work a 40 hour a week job on top of my studio work, and I also volunteer at the local animal shelter, take weekly bellydance lessons, lecture at libraries and colleges, AND I am a gamer. How do I do it? I make sure that I make time for myself to do the things I enjoy. If I didn't, I'd go crazy. Make time for yourself, and remind yourself why you are doing what you do. If you are miserable, it's not worth it!

10. HAVE A FALLBACK! Getting paid is good. Paying your bills is good. Working a freelance project and knowing you are going to get $3000 but not knowing WHEN you will get it is BAD. Freelance work often has uncertainties when it comes to pay, so you ARE better off having some sort of day job on top of everything else, so that you have regular, steady pay coming in.

and finally, 11. OCCASIONALLY DRAW SOMETHING JUST FOR YOU. This is something I forget to do alot, but sometimes I just need to sit back and draw something that makes ME happy. Sure, it's selfish, and not often the best thing to do when I'm in the midst of a deadline or something similar. But I need to recharge like everyone else from time to time, and if drawing Gojyo and Sanzo beating one another upside the head will make me smile, damn it, I'm going to do it!

The point I'm making here folks is that sure, it's work. Any time you do freelance work, it's a job. And you have to treat it as such. But that doesn't mean you have to make yourself crazy. The day drawing makes you miserable, it's not worth doing as a career any longer.

I have more advice for aspiring professionals and other artists, but I'll talk about that later.