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What to Do When Illustration Doesn’t Pay the Bills Yet

collection of drawing pencils

Congratulations, you’ve decided you want to turn your love of drawing into a career in illustration!

You dove down into the rabbit hole to see how deep it goes, and in your pursuit of excellence, you’ve gone pro—harnessing those hours spent doing something else to make a living, transferring them into your skills. The only problem: quitting your day job suddenly means the weight of your income rests squarely on illustration’s shoulders, and it’s rare to make a decent wage as a beginner.

The good news is that no time spent in your craft is wasted, so even while you’re hustling and just barely making it, you can build some really valuable resources that will provide immense payoffs later.

Read on for a modest proposal of what to do when the wider world doesn’t yet recognize the value of your work!

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How to Get New Freelance Illustration Clients

Do a quick internet search of “client chase” and you’ll come up with scores of articles exhorting, instructing, and sometimes downright pleading with you to stop trying to go to potential clients and to start getting them to come to you.

In theory, that’s great advice. It saves you a lot of time, it insures that you’re only working with people that truly want to work with you, and it gives artists the ability to negotiate the terms of the deal.

But it’s much easier said than done. What if your website is completely new, so it has terrible traffic? What if you live far away from the biggest creative hubs of NYC, LA, SF, London… or any larger city, for that matter? What if you didn’t graduate from an art program that not only granted you a degree, but also access to the larger network of working professionals in your field? (All hypothetical situations, of course.)

In short, how do you stand out in a massive crowd?

Apart from finding your niche and hoping people notice, which can take years, here’s the stupidly obvious answer:

Go look for the work.

It takes a lot of effort and discipline, but it’s stupidly simple. Here’s how we do it:

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