how I find work

I am a freelance artist with a somewhat steady income. Sometimes people find this strange. “How do you find work?” they often wonder. Well, here’s what works for me:

1. Pimp Friends are friends who like to talk about me. They are the #1 reason that I have any work at all, and I am eternally grateful to them for it. Bars, work, and over Thanksgiving dinner are times that they like to talk about me and my business. They recommend me to their bosses when design projects come up (thanks Meghan), they have a few drinks and introduce me to a friend of theirs who wants a design for a new tattoo (thanks Kat & Jesse). It helps to arm them with my business cards, too. I don’t know how I got lucky enough to have friends like this, but I’d recommend getting some for yourself.

2. Speaking of business cards, they are important. Few things are more annoying/embarrassing than unexpectedly running into a potential job opportunity and not having a card. This usually results in me fumbling awkwardly around in my bag before I apologize for not having one and write my contact info on an ugly little paper scrap. Not a great first impression.

Be ridiculously opportunistic about giving them out. I try to keep my ears open such that if someone even mentions science, illustration, or design, I whip out a card. I’ve gotten a few dates this way, too 😉

3. My business card has my website, phone number, and email address. The website is the most important. I use it as a portfolio that is accessible from anywhere. It’s important to keep it updated, but since my website is a little tricky to update, I use my blog for my recent work, and put a link to it on my site. The website is probably the most important thing – otherwise nobody would know where to see my work after my Pimp Friends hand out my business cards.

4. Famous Friends are other people in my field who have become ridiculously successful at what they do. Often, they are kind enough to give advice to a novice like me. I have been lucky enough to come into contact with Larry Duke and Ray Troll, two of the most successful scientific illustrators that I can think of. They are both wonderful people who will drop whatever they are doing to help me. Ray has even linked me on his website, and recommends me for jobs that he is too busy for. Also, be a Famous Friend. I’m certainly not famous, but sometimes aspiring illustrators email me, and I try to be as helpful as my Famous Friends have been to me.

5. It is important to thank your Pimp Friends and Famous Friends. Tell them you appreciate their help. Buy them a drink. Send them a Christmas card (especially if you designed it!). Speaking of thanking people, always send a little card or something when someone is considering you for a job, or when you’re bidding on a job. I’ve only done this twice, but I got the job both times.

6. Printed material seems important. It can get a little expensive, but I like to remind people that I exist by sending out postcards with my work on them. Usually I aim for winter holidays. I try to make my cards memorable. Someone really smart once told me that in order to be noticed, you need to email, call, AND snail mail stuff to people. Not just one will do the trick. I’m a little awkward on the phone, so I usually just stick to mail and email unless I can think of a really good reason to call.

7. You are not as annoying as you think. Emailing, calling, and sending snail mailings probably sounds like a bit much. Fantastic photojournalist Mark Ovaska (you can see his photos in a little newspaper that you might have heard of, The New York Times) told me that there will come a time when you think that you’re getting to be so annoying that the person that you’re trying to contact is getting ready to knock down your door and strangle you. This is the time when you just might be showing up on his/her radar for the first time. Sometimes I think up strange and convoluted reasons to contact someone. Like “Hey, Barb down at the zoo really likes tigers. I drew this house cat. Maybe I should email it to her and say ‘hi!'”

8. Sometimes I like to snoop through magazines that I like and try to find the name of the art director. Then I can go to that magazine’s website and, if I can find anyone’s email address, I can usually extrapolate to figure out the email address of the art director. For example, if the name of the art director is Mr. Art Fart, and I find the contact info for head custodian John Scrubber is JScrubber@cheesejournal.com, then I know that Art Fart’s email address is probably AFart@cheesejournal.com. Yeah, it’s borderline stalker, and not foolproof, but I have received a couple of return emails.

9. Keep pounding the pavement even when you have work. Too many people get a short-term gig, then stop looking for work, and essentially run off a cliff into unemployment when that job is over. Even when things are good, keep touch with your other contacts, so that you can continue to line things up (this is the thing that I’m worst at… so hopefully I can learn to follow my own advice).

10. Don’t be picky about the type of work. Not at first, anyway. Be like a seagull, or a pigeon, or any number of those (given, somewhat annoying) animals that will eat anything that gets dropped on the ground. Take jobs that are a little out of your comfort zone, and learn as you go. Be careful not to get in over your head, though, and make sure that you get paid fairly for your work.

Whew. That was a lot of stuff. But those ideas seem to be working for me (for the moment, anyway!), so maybe they’ll help the other budding business owners out there! Happy scavenging 🙂

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