Jumpstarting Your Career as a Freelance Artist: 3 Essential Tips

Woman posing confidently with text that says "Be Expressive" illustrated by Lo Harris
Illustration by Lo Harris. See more of my work here.

A career as a freelance artist may be for you if you’re looking for a way to turn your passion for art into a profession but you also want the freedom and flexibility to work on your own terms.

A freelance artist is someone who isn’t an in-house employee at a single company but instead might have several different clients that they work for on a short-term basis. As a freelance artist, you’ll probably make most of your money working on commissioned projects, but you can also bring in extra cash by diversifying your income through other means like selling artwork

If you’re interested in being a full-time freelance artist but you’re not sure how to get started, it can feel super tempting to work for free to “prove yourself” as an artist. But as you start building your business, it’s super important to remind potential clients (and yourself) that freelancing ain’t free! Even with the lure of “exposure” or building your portfolio, you deserve some form of compensation for your artwork.

Here are a few things to consider while starting your journey as a freelance artist.


1. Strategize Around Your “Niche”

The conversations around niching down can feel super limiting, especially in a creative economy where audiences value authenticity above all else. But it doesn't hurt to have a good idea about what types of clients and business opportunities you’re most likely to attract with your artwork. There's a need for illustrators, designers, and animators across various industries, but knowing which markets your work would do best in and tailoring your marketing and outreach around those communities will make finding clients a lot easier.

Do you want to do graphic design for small businesses? Maybe you should double down on being present on corners of the internet that attract entrepreneurs and startups looking for logos and brand identities. Do you want to do editorial illustration work for brands or media outlets? Follow the art directors at your favorite publications and post your work consistently to get their attention.

Figure out the kind of work you want to do and the kind of clients you want to work with and set some professional goals based on that.

It’s also important for you to figure out what makes you you! What’s your unique artistic style? What makes your work stand out from that of other artists? Knowing this and conveying this well will help you carve your own lane.

But don’t get stuck on this first step. It’s okay to shoot your shot and start going after gigs before you’ve figured all this out. In fact, one of the best ways to determine your niche and your unique artistic stamp is through trial and error.

Clarity comes through action.


2. Build Your Portfolio

Once you’re clear on the kind of work you want to do and who you want to do it for, you need to start building a portfolio that shows you can actually do it.

Your portfolio website is your corner of cyberspace to show off your talents and skills. Make sure the pieces that you feature in your portfolio captures the essence of your work and your unique artistic style. You also want to be sure to fill your portfolio with projects that really represent the sort of things that you want to be paid to do in the future.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to work for any of your ideal clients yet, you may have to create mock projects that represent the kind of work you want to do. Yes, this will be time consuming, but I promise you that it will be worth it.

Make sure that your online portfolio is easily accessible and that you also have your contact information listed.

If you need some inspiration for your portfolio, check out these examples.



3. Network, network, network.

People can’t hire you if they’ve never heard of you and if they don’t know what you do. So, you have to put yourself out there by networking online. Don’t be afraid to attend in-person networking events too.

When it comes to networking online you may automatically think of visual social platforms like Instagram or TikTok, but here’s my top networking tip: Don’t sleep on LinkedIn!

That might seem unintuitive to creative folks, but the people you need to connect with are on LinkedIn. That's where the art directors are. That's where the marketing management people are. That's where the people who have the money that you want to get for your art are spending their time. So, you need to be there too.

Yes, I practice what I preach. You can connect with me on LinkedIn here.


Be sure to follow me on Instagram @loharris_art for more advice on how to thrive as a creative entrepreneur.

Give a
lo harris poses with her choice illustration markers

Lo Harris is an NYC-based artist, educator and children’s book illustrator who champions vibrance, confidence and joy.

Learn More

We don’t gatekeep in this galaxy!

In an effort to make life as an artist more accessible and approachable for all, I’ll be sharing tips, tricks and resources to help you thrive while navigating a career as an artist, designer, or freelance creative. If you like what I do, consider making a donation to help support me in sharing with my creative community.
Let’s learn together!

Return to Learn
Give a