14 Proven Ways to Find Freelance Illustration Jobs
Creatives who seek independence often turn to freelance illustration jobs — but they’ll tell you that the search for rewarding and stimulating gigs isn’t a breeze. It’s especially challenging for young artists who are still building up their portfolios and familiarizing themselves with all of the channels for freelancing success.
This post is here to help anyone who wants to make a living off of illustrating. Without further ado, here are 14 popular paths that can lead you to gratifying freelance illustration jobs.
1. Establish yourself on design-related job sites
If you’re looking to start a strong freelance illustration career, you cannot overlook Behance and Dribbble. You don’t have to be an experienced designer to join — but it’s worth noting that these platforms are go-to grounds for art directors and lead designers in search of new talents.
Both Behance and Dribbble function as many other freelance sites do: you curate a portfolio of work which showcases your experiences and skills. Meanwhile, clients can search for services, to which the site responds by displaying related posts. If someone likes your work, they can contact you to request a collaboration.
Gain followers and establish your credibility
Each site boasts an active community of creatives who can follow, like, and comment on your work — thereby boosting your exposure. You can think of Behance and Dribbble as professional Instagram accounts: the more interactions your profile gets, the more popular you are.
Aim to be active on both sites, though it’s likely that your main clientele will come more from one than the other. Both cover a range of design jobs, but each has their niches. Behance leans toward mixed photography for marketing purposes and editorial art (e.g. illustrations in magazines and books). Dribbble, on the other hand, is strong when it comes to UX/UI and web designing.
2. Join marketplaces for your niche
It’s great to start out by testing the waters, but at some point you may want to specialize in an illustration niche and join marketplaces that showcase your talent to a specific audience.
If you’re passionate about designing book covers or illustrating children’s books, for instance, you may be looking for a marketplace like Reedsy, which connects self-publishing authors with designers like you. If your specialty is in designing physical products — be it sport shoes or toy sets — Coroflot is the place to be.
The best way to find marketplaces that cater to your specific niche is to follow others who specialize in the kind of work you’re interested in. Find out where their work profiles are — it often is an account on a niche marketplace.
In the age of big data, the marketplace searches for YOU
Once you start digging around the internet for artists in your market segment, you’ll start to get ads for certain platforms. That’s the beauty, albeit slightly worrying power, of the complex algorithms of the world wide web: your search behavior can be used to make recommendations for appropriate sites. Not every ad will lead you to the place you want to be, so vet the recommendations before committing to them. You can search for reviews and scan through the list of users onsite — an obvious green light is if you find well-known illustrators on it.
3. Scour general freelancing sites
Of course, it’s possible that young artists who are just beginning their freelance journey won’t find enough traction on sites like Behance or Reedsy — where the competition can be intense. So follow this tried-and-true piece of advice: build up an impressive portfolio that will get you places. But as you know, that doesn’t happen overnight.
One common solution is to find lower-paying work that helps you develop your profile. That is where more generic freelance job sites come in. Upwork, Fiverr, and Indeed have endless postings for design jobs of pretty much every nature, from book illustrations to logo designing. The drawback is that the gigs can be quite small, and the rates might not be very high.
4. Keep tabs on social media job postings
It’s a new dawn — gone are the days of scanning newspapers for vacancies. Today, social media is the modern equivalent. You might’ve stumbled upon freelance illustration job opportunities while browsing Twitter before — why not actively search for them?
There are two places you should look: Twitter and Reddit. Both function as job boards of the digital age: all you need to do is follow the right hashtag or thread. For Twitter, your trusty tools are #designjobs and #illustrationjobs. If you search at the right time, you’ll find listings for project-based work or even part-time positions in organizations’ marketing departments.
On Reddit, the r/DesignJobs thread provides constant updates. (You can also put yourself out there and let the community know that you’re looking for work.) Reddit typically features smaller, more personal projects, but it doesn’t hurt to go through the offerings and see if anything pops out.
5. Build an art-focused Instagram account
Speaking of social media, we’ve got to mention Instagram, the king of mainstream photo-sharing platforms. Instagram’s advantage is self-evident: it’s all about the visuals, which makes it a great place to flex your skills and experience.
What makes Instagram stand out from other design-based platforms is also its broad user base. Art directors aren’t the only people who want to commission illustrations. There are restaurateurs who need their menus designed, bloggers who want a unique icon, and even homeowners who want a new wall design for their living room. Such clients are far more likely to browse Instagram than Behance. So if this is the segment you want to target, you’ll definitely want to have a Professional account on Instagram.
6. Get commissioned on DeviantArt
If you’re inspired by pop culture and regularly spend hours pouring over sketches of fictional worlds, you’re probably already on DeviantArt. Indeed, DeviantArt might even be the place where you began your illustration journey.
If so, it’ll probably be good news to hear that you can get commissioned on DeviantArt. Someone from across the world, for instance, might need bespoke illustrations of Hogwarts for their laptop backgrounds! Be active on the site and post your work to get some attention: people will send in requests if they like what they see on your profile. Note the paying rate here won’t be hefty — users on DeviantArt are predominantly teenagers. But if you want to work for passionate clients, this is the place to be.
7. Sell your stock illustrations
For anyone who isn’t blessed with artistic talent, galleries of ready-made photos and illustrations are a godsend. We rely on the vectors and designs made by professionals like you to enliven our presentations, animations, and infographics. So selling stock illustrations is another opportunity for you.
Freelance illustrators can earn extra income by selling stock designs and typography on sites like Adobe Stock, iStock, and GraphicRiver. The concept is simple: just upload your design onto these galleries, and get paid around 33% royalties in return. That’s not an incredible return, but if you build up a collection of designs to license, the payments will start to accumulate nicely.
8. Maintain a Patreon
Have you built up a decent following on Instagram or DeviantArt? If yes, great — why not direct your fans to a Patreon account where they can contribute to your success by becoming a patron?
This has quickly become a popular revenue stream for many artists. It proves especially useful when you’re working on personal or non-profit projects like a webcomic. Having invested in you, many patrons are also willing to help by sending you their requests or recommending you to others.
9. Sell your craft
You’ve probably come across Etsy and society6 before: many freelance illustrators have started selling home-designed goods that are more unique than the mass-produced trinkets found in Ikea (sorry, Ikea!).
So if you have a knack for home decor (and if you don’t mind doing the logistics like packaging and mailing the products yourself), set up shop on Etsy! This route is ideal for those who want to work with real materials instead of digital art.
On the other end of the spectrum, society6 makes your job a little simpler by fulfilling, printing, and shipping all orders. Of course, this means that you’ll get a smaller percentage of the revenue, but that may be worth the hassle for some artists.
10. Network through fairs and events
Freelancing full-time can be lonely, so seize the chance to mingle with other creatives while selling your handiwork.
Attend illustration fairs
If you’re willing to go the (literal) extra mile, pack your bags and head to some of the bigger fairs happening in Europe (think the London Illustration Fair and The House of Illustration’s bi-annual fairs).
And if you’re not in Europe, don’t worry: there may be other illustration fairs that you can find in your vicinity. To name a couple, there are Renegade Craft’s fairs across nine cities in the US, and the Market Collective’s extensive effort to support the local art scene in Calgary, Canada.
Find local gatherings of creatives
Other than these big conventions, you can also find artists at events like product launches and art shows in your ZIP code. Attend these regularly to stay in touch with existing connections and make new ones — you never know who might lead you to your next freelance illustration gig. Even if there aren’t any job openings available right now, you still want to be the person others seek when a gig does come up.
11. Pitch to an art director or department head
Sometimes it pays off to be proactive. If you're checking out a website whose designs can be improved, or if you’re a fan of one particular brand's style already, consider pitching them upfront. It may well be that art directors of brands and magazines don’t even realize that your art is what they need until you reach out.
Generally, you’ll always find contact details available on their websites. Send the right contact a thoughtful, personalized email and attach a link to your portfolio. Don’t just let your work do the talking: impress them with your enthusiasm and initiative!
12. Take advantage of word of mouth
As Jim Rohn once said, “One customer, well taken care of, could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising.” That’s the power of word of mouth, which can help you build a reputation that will get you more clients.
You can start by asking your customers to leave a testimonial on your LinkedIn profile, or send one to you so you can put it on your website. If your working relationship is very good — i.e. you’ve communicated well throughout the collaboration and actively helped them realize their vision — you don’t even have to ask them to recommend you to others: they’ll mention it themselves!
13. Join a contest
If you’re a young artist who’s still trying to establish your name, this is definitely an option to consider. There are countless design contests in various areas, from fashion to billboard designing, that you can join every year. Though contests don’t guarantee a return, they will give you a chance to test your abilities and potentially earn recognition. Winning or getting shortlisted for one will boost your CV, and might even bring freelance illustration jobs to you once people see your work.
Some international contests you might already know are the World Illustration Awards, the 3x3 Illustration Award Show, and the Artists Magazine Annual Competition. You can also keep an eye out for local, smaller-scale competitions, many of which are advertised on designcontest.com.
14. Start an online course
If you’re an illustration graduate who has an excellent grasp of the basics, you may be able to share your wisdom with others on platforms like Skillshare and Udemy. You’ll get a cut of the revenue and a chance to build a following. (On a similar note, you can start a Youtube channel — although payments from ads will only trickle in once you’ve attained a wide enough viewership.)
If you decide to teach your own course, you’ll need to do some extra field research to see what courses are already available — and what special content you can offer learners. But it could be well worth the effort: creating your online course is a great way to polish your skills, share them, and earn some extra income while you’re at it.
Regardless of which path you choose, one thing is certain: with illustration and design becoming increasingly important in our media-saturated lives, there are plenty of freelance illustration jobs out there waiting for you. It takes time to know your way around this vast field, but we hope these 14 pointers can give you some sense of direction.