Finance & Illustration: My First Year of Freelancing

Finance & Illustration: My First Year of Freelancing

In this post: a summary of my finances as a first year full-time freelancer, sample expenses, resources, and thoughts on money.


My goals for freelancing as an artist are to support myself, invest in education, and support others working in important fields or causes. To get there, it's crucial that I have a good grasp of my finances. When I started illustrating full-time in the beginning of 2017, I promised myself that I would keep good records of my finances, so that I'd be able to look back at the year and assess how it went.

This post is a reflection on my experience, and I hope it will be insightful to anyone looking to understand the business side of freelancing as an illustrator and creative worker. I owe my thanks to all the illustrators who blogged or created resources on being a freelancer, and to those who gave feedback on this post (thanks Winnie and Allie!).

The content caters to both an international and a Malaysian audience. Prices are given in their original amounts, with accompanying conversions.

Context and caveats: I illustrated part-time for a few years while I held a full-time job, resulting in my being able to build up a decent buffer of savings. This allowed me to make certain purchases that I wouldn't consider were I fresh out of school or in dire financial need. It also bears mentioning that I do not have dependents to support, so I am in a very different situation compared to a parent or a caretaker. I live somewhere with a mid-range cost of living: not a big city, but not a rural town either.

Akan datang: rumusan dalam Bahasa Malaysia untuk setiap diagram dan bahagian.

FAQs on illustration / Soal jawab tentang ilustrasi

FAQs on illustration / Soal jawab tentang ilustrasi

I've answered the following questions in a general sense, but also tried to cater some of the responses specifically towards the Malaysian scene, since there are plenty of illustrator FAQs written from an American/UK perspective already.  Thanks to Mursyiddah Johari for sending me the questions, and helping to write the Malay translation!

Jawapan ringkas dalam Bahasa Malaysia dipaparkan dalam font italic di bawah. Saya telah cuba menjawab dari segi ilustrasi secara am, serta kondisi spesifik industri kreatif di Malaysia yang masih muda lagi. Terima kasih kepada Mursyiddah Johari kerana menghantar saya soalan-soalan berikut, dan membantu menterjemahkan teks ke dalam Bahasa Malaysia.


1. Any good advice for young illustrators? / Nasihat untuk ilustrator muda?

From Sketch to Sorcerers

In this post: a walkthrough of the completed 'Sorcerer to the Crown' cover illustration, from inks to digital colours.

PART 1: Sorcerers, Studies, and SmArt School
PART 2: Creatures and Characters

It's been a while since I last wrote about this project, but here is an update! Previously I'd described the process up to the value sketch (read about it here); this post will take you through the colour studies, line drawing, ink and painting, and final digital adjustments.

COLOUR STUDIES: Exploring different options.

I was a fan of the more graphic, limited colours I accidentally generated when working on the colour studies, and #3 and #4 could also be interesting directions to pursue, but I decided to go with a cross between #6 and #8.

 DIGITAL LINE DRAWING: Fleshing out elements, figuring out the face.

DIGITAL LINE DRAWING: Fleshing out elements, figuring out the face.

Next up was to make a more detailed line drawing, where I worked out how different elements looked like in the image. I went through different iterations of the face as well; I tend to not draw particularly expressive faces, so I tried to push here to get an appropriately irreverent expression for Prunella. This won't be the end of the faces.

I printed out the digital lines, and transferred them to Arches watercolour paper using pastel pencil on the reverse of the printer paper - I scribbled out a layer of pastel, then turned it over and, using a pen to press down on it, traced out the lines. Much careful inking then followed; I'm using Daler Rowney FW Acrylic Ink here - a mix of sepia and black, diluted accordingly. Inking is therapeutic. There are few things more soothing than the sound of a brush going over paper, and the physical motions of making careful strokes. I loved drawing the map. But I managed to ink the face wrongly!

Thankfully, there's Photoshop.

I then laid down more ink washes to establish values on the piece, as much as it pains me to paint over those map lines. Next, I scanned the piece in portions, then stitched it using Photoshop's File > Automate > Photomerge command. The next big part to tackle was adding colours, layer after layer, making use mostly of Multiply, Overlay, and Screen modes. Justin Gerard's post on Muddy Colors here goes over the basics and I highly recommend reading it.

And Prunella's face gets redrawn! I sample some of the paper texture from the background to ensure that the new layers of (digital) ink and colour blend into the image. Taking a step back and leaving it for a few days helps; when I return, I get to tackling the lighting.

Many, many layers and adjustment layers later, we arrive at:

The whites of her skirt have been toned down, thanks to feedback in class from Marc, and the focus is on Prunella's face now. A few more touches of detail - the embroidery on Zacharias' coat, swirling vines on the green fabric of Prunella's dress, some rays of light and texture on the map - and our Sorcerers Royal are complete.