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Becoming a Freelance Illustrator — Part 1/3

When I first began illustrating and taking up freelance work, I was unsure about everything. I went around reading articles on medium to learn what others were doing. I tried apps like Fiverr and Freelancer to find projects. I also put my work online on Behance, Dribbble and even Tumblr.

Honestly none of this helped.

Now that I’ve been doing this for over 3 years, I thought, let me try to address all the questions I once had. Maybe I’ll address some for you that others couldn’t for me at the time.

Let’s get started!


How did I get here? How did I get this ‘book series’?

The ‘Ferns and Blooms’ series is a trilogy for children written by Elvira Fernandez, and illustrated by me. The first book ‘Magic at Ferns and Blooms’ was published in November 2018. The second book ‘More Magic at Ferns and Blooms’ was published in July 2019. The third and final book of the series ‘Goodbye Ferns and Blooms’ is planned for 2020.

I have known ‘the author’ for 10 years or more so, but we were not in touch for a while.

She reached out to me through a personal reference.

I was so skeptical over taking this project, I almost denied it at first. I had to do 13, detailed, full colour illustrations, based on a fictional narrative, in 15 days.

This was a very tight deadline. I was studying in NIFT at that time back in 2018 and I had classes and assignments all day.

Also there is this problem with creativity; it is an exhaustive process and demands a lot of energy. It drains you completely even if you don’t move an inch from your bed.

I hence truly believed it was impossible, at least for me, then.


How do I get freelance projects?

Mostly through personal references. Someone sees my work, appreciates it, asks for a contact from the person I’ve done that work for. It’s a cycle. And I’ve had more than enough work than I can handle this way.

I believe the trick here is to, first, give your best at what you do, when you do it. Because definitely someone who doesn’t know you is going to see it. That will be the first impression of you on them. Also publicize!

A lot of my friends are skeptical about putting their entire work out there because someone might copy their ideas. Well, someone will. But constantly reminding people that you are an illustrator, designer or whatever it is that you do, helps keep your name first in the mind. So when they need to get some work done or their friends need something, guess who’s on top of that list?

It’s like a snowball effect keeps building upon itself. The more work you do, the more work you’ll get. Publicize!


How do I begin with a project?

I begin with listening. I just listen to understand the client’s idea of how things will work out. What is it that they think they need? I take some time to come back with questions.

I sit with my diary and write down all doubts and questions I have or will have during the entire process. I create an exhaustive list of things I could think of. This also helps me visualize where the project would go and if it’s the right one to take up.

Before beginning the book I had quite a few:

(Taken from my planner dated 9/20/2018)

Who’s printing the book? What’s the print size? What kind of paper will these be printed on? Finish & GSM? Will the illustrations be full page or smaller? Would they be full coloured, black & white, or just outlined? Will they need a background? What style of illustrations the author has in her mind? Who are the characters? What is the setting of the story? Is it in a different time? I will need detailed description of each scene and character. How many total illustrations will we do? How will they be placed in the book? What about the book cover? What is the primary colour? What font has been used across the book? What feel does it give? How thick is the book? Number of words or pages? What kind of a bind will it have? What kind of colours should the illustrations have? Bold & bright or dull and calm? What about copyright for both text and illustrations?

I also generally ask beforehand if the client has seen anything that they like. If someone already has an image in mind, they will not like whatever you give them. It’s generally hard to beat that bias.

I took up this book series majorly because it was fiction and for children. I liked the idea of it. It is fun when you draw for children. There is a lot of liberty to experiment with colours and style. They won’t mind if the sky isn’t blue or trees aren’t green. They won’t mind the birds wearing clothes. They happily accept whatever you give them. The imaginative possibilities are endless when it comes to children.

I also deny a lot of projects at times because I don’t have the bandwidth. Others because they don’t resonate with me.

For instance, I mostly avoid taking any video output related projects. Firstly they are time consuming. Even the smallest of change requires hours of re-work. Rendering is a problem always; no matter what hardware you use. I honestly start losing patience. Also, I generally like doing things in one go. I want to finish what I start, mostly the same day or a part of it.

I am also skeptical at times when the project requires something new that I haven’t done before.

I would suggest don’t hesitate. You will never know until you begin, and you maybe bad at it. The output won’t be as good but now at least you’ll know.


What is my process?

I follow a lot of insta-illustrators who like going old school. They draw on paper first and then digitalize their artworks. I tried to do the same with the first illustration for the first book. I drew it on paper, redrew it on paper twice and then traced it on photoshop. This process however just didn’t work out for me.

It becomes so messy. I feel there is an advantage beginning digital. You can easily erase parts you don’t want, duplicate what you like, reduce opacity and redraw over all your drafts combined. I now do all my illustrations a hundred percent digitally.

When I work on something that requires more visualization and concept and the final form comes much later in the process, like, in case of logos; only then I use traditional pencil-and-paper method. I paste charts on the wall and then begin putting everything in my mind- all random related, unrelated, associated ideas I can think of on the chart, like a mind map. This helps ideate and visualize better. But I never do that with my illustrations. They are strictly digital.

Read more about my approach and the tools I use to illustrate in ‘Becoming a Freelance Illustrator — Part 2/3’.

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