wow that was some teal deer

asdkfjsghdhgh “Ms. Estep” SO FORMAL.  Hello!

If you intend to be my competition, you certainly won’t get a single shred of help from me, so GO HOME.  

… Just kidding.

(and I’m sorry to disregard the first part of your question, but my education is largely irrelevant. I just went to a state school because it was cheapest, and because I needed a PLAN B if my PLAN A of working in comics never panned out.  In most-if-not-all of the areas of illustration and design I am currently employed, I am self-taught.  I can talk more about that another time if people are actually interested.)

To answer the rest of your question, I would have to start by saying that the only real difference between an amateur and a professional is that a professional gets paid.  So really, all you’ve got to do is monetize whatever it is that you do.  Some people are absolute masters at selling their art and design services online… but I’m not one of them, so I’ll talk about something else.

To really support yourself as a freelance artist/designer, you have to have clients.  People who trust you and the quality of your work enough to keep coming back to give you more to do.  It hasn’t been an easy thing for me to build up the base of clients that I have, and it hasn’t been a speedy process, either.  It’s taken me years….but let me tell you what I do.


1.) First, I make sure I have some sort of small, printed portfolio to leave behind with all the artists/editors/publishers/people that I talk to.  (and this might be a no-brainer, but make certain it’s a GOOD portfolio.) Some small example of the kind of work I do to fold and staple into a booklet, and shtup into a baggie with my business card or whatever else a potential client might need to get ahold of me.

Here’s six portfolios/minicomics that have I have used as leave-behinds, and have all helped me get work in some way or another over the years:

And here’s the interiors. (They are all sequential samples except for one, which is strictly an illustration portfolio):

I also might mention that I have extras of many of these… and while I can’t just give them away, I’d be willing to sell them.  If you’re interested, ping me at joanna [dot] estep [at]

2.) Then, I go to a comic convention (because I work in comics, so I assume that’s what we’re talking about).  Sometimes I have a table, sometimes I don’t, but I ALWAYS make sure to get a program booklet, and go through and highlight the table locations of aaaaall the publishers and other folks who I feel it would be good to meet with.

3.) Once I have these first two things done, I AM READY TO SHMOOZE.  (“networking” I believe it’s called.)  It’s best to choose a day when con traffic is less heavy, and to enact your strategic attack from there.  I mostly just approach the publishers’ booth, strike up some sort of conversation, and  leave them my printed comics/portfolios and a firm handshake.  I get a business card from them too, if I can.  With the bigger publishers, I tend to namedrop if it’s convenient.  If I have a friend already working for that particular publishers, I’ll mention them.  And how is it that I have friends working for major publishers, you ask?  …Well, chances are I either met them online, or at a convention.  Artists get tables at conventions, so go talk to them!  I love it when my fans and colleagues come talk to me!

4.) Okay, so you’ve left your portfolio and contact info with a bunch of people who could feasibly hire you.  Are they going to fill your inbox full to bursting? …Not necessarily.  Like I said, this is a process that has taken me years.  (I recall a particularly painful trip where I walked all over NYC in the middle of summer, visited about 30 ad agencies, and blistered my feet worse than they’ve ever been blistered in my entire life.  The only response I ever got from that trip was from an agency who politely told me “thanks for stopping by, but we only hire photographers, not illustrators”.)  So if you don’t get any emails or calls, don’t get discouraged.  And if you do get discouraged, learn to recover. Just lather, rinse, and repeat.

5.) But let’s say you DO get an email or two from someone going, “I’ve got a comic I’d like you to illustrate”.  This is the part where you get to negotiate prices and contracts.  Please, as a personal favor to me, please don’t work without a contract or work order.  If the client doesn’t have one for you, do a little research and write your own to send to them.  You need to have it in writing that this person is legally obligated to pay you for your work.  The ONE TIME I neglected to do this, I got stiffed for $2,600+.  Ouch.

6.) Negotiating prices and page rates is an art of it’s own.  I’m not necessarily great at it, and I have an agent who helps me with that stuff now, but…. if I had to offer any advice, it’s to always quote high when asked what your rates are.  If you quote higher than what a client can pay, they usually respond by telling you what their budget is, and what they can afford.  At this point, you can either accept the maximum they’re willing to pay, or turn down the job.

7.) Last but not least… it doesn’t hurt to be a jack of all trades.  Sometimes I’m hired to pencil/ink, sometimes I’m hired to color, sometimes I’m hired to letter, sometimes I’m even hired to write.  And be daring.  Don’t turn down a lettering job just because you’ve never lettered before.  Are you tired of paying for art school?  Time to let people pay YOU to learn a new skill set, or a new kind of design software.  Learn by doing, and get paid for what you do.



In conclusion, please take everything I say with a grain of salt.  I’m not perfect or all-knowing, I feel penniless a lot of the time, and freelancing is stressful as balls.  I often prefer to have a part-time job to offer me a little security in addition to my freelance work, but I just haven’t been able to find one since moving to Madison.  *shrug*