Friday, May 29, 2009

Time Management & Sketchbook Meanderings

There has not been much spare time to fritter away these days. The next few months look to be a fairly tight packed schedule. Two more Dreamscapes chapters in June, matting prints (which I hateHateHATE doing) to ship to DragonCon (alas I will be missing this year for the first time in 9 years), L5R cards that I had committed to, and a couple of private commissions.

How does one manage time as a freelance artist?

Well first of all you need to be of a personality type that can handle self-discipline. I think that perhaps might be the most important quality you need to make a living with art, after a love of creating art in the first place. You need to be able to handle drawing and painting for X hours every day, as well as manage the random other less fun aspects: tracking orders and jobs, responding to emails, keeping up your website, dealing with complexities of tax as self-employed (or a corporation). Because here's the thing - if you don't do it, you can't sit around twiddling your thumbs hoping that someone else will. There's no coworker to pick up your slack. There isn't anyone else.

I'm fortunate enough to have had a programming background from my pre-full-time-artist days. As a result, I've been able to write my own system that keeps track of due dates and pending jobs I've got going at any one time. Generally when I have a job incoming, I estimate how long it will take me, and whether I can fit it into the current schedule while working within the client's timeline. Sometimes the timelines just don't mesh and I have to regretfully tell them so.

I like to give myself some nice padding of days with my estimates because the business model I've ended up with is that only about half my income comes from actual commissioned jobs. The rest is from prints, products, and originals, largely from paintings that I do for my own personal expression. It's an arrangement that has worked out well for me because I do enjoy creating work for publication, but I also need the freedom to paint my own concepts as well.

It's possible to eke out a living as an artist from a variety of combinations of commission vs. private work; from solely doing commissions in which you need a constant pipeline of work streaming through and a very precise scheduling of your time, to solely doing private work and selling prints, originals, and products. The former requires more up front investment of time and constant marketing of yourself to potential clients to keep your work fresh in the minds of art directors. The latter may seem more laid back, but the work comes on the tail end - once you finish a piece, comes the work of selling it, processing sales orders, or personally selling your work in some kind of venue or show circuit - be it website, gallery, street fair, or conventions. You have to figure out where along that scale you fit, and your comfort level with other peoples' deadlines and concepts as opposed to your own.

What this all comes down to, is that while it's a wonderful fantasy that all an artist has to do is sit back and create, the truth is that those creations are just the beginning.

* * *

Private commission currently in the works. A couple of the preliminary thumbnail sketches. "Too fat!" she said of the first one. I put the dragon onto a diet.

Random old oak I sketched while at Fanime last week. I think this might work its way to being a painting in the next months.

Another Fanime sketchbook doodle...


  1. Thank you so much for posting this! I'm trying to go freelance and get my own business ready to go on Etsy. And sometimes I feel very overwhelmed. Luckily I too have some kind of programmer aspect, my husband, who is creating a management system to help me out. It was great to read your own personal thoughts, having experience and all. I appreciate the insight!

  2. You're very welcome Carolina! Etsy's a good place to start.

  3. I agree with Carolina :) I'm in such a position, too. I like your honesty and the fact that you don't try to sell it as a fairy tale. You've been very helpful!

  4. Glad to find your blog, Stephanie, but disappointed you won't be at DragonCon this year. You'll be missed!
    Jean Marie