1. DO NOT WORK FOR FREE.
That also means do not work for the promise of money down the road. Do not work for hamburgers. Do not accept ANY gig that does not pay you a reasonable working wage. What is that wage you ask?
I'm not going to re-write this advice I already wrote-- so you can read it here. But make sure you come back to finish this.
Okay, you read that, good. Now we can move on.
When that original blog post ran I got an email from a fellow that read like this:
"How dare you write that. Do you realize what you've done? Now there will be hundreds of illustrators who will never get their start and hundreds of small bands, and authors and poets who can't afford to pay an illustrator the 'going rate'-- isn't the exposure worth something??"
The simple answer is no.
I see your logic, your band, The Flying Wannabee's finally hits it big with their smash single "I want to take advantage of you" and they land a huge recording contract. That illustrator who believed in you and did your band CD cover for $100 is going to be the person you use for your next now big CD right?
Because the record company will decide who the artist is going to be, and even if for some strange reason they listen to you they will show you someone who they consider a professional who can do the work as good-- and that person is considered a professional because they charge $4K for a CD cover-- how can your illustrator be a pro if they charge $100??
And you will forget that illustrator who will go back to the fry machine and Wendy's and weep openly as they shake the giant salt shaker.
So that leads me to:
2. WORK FOR FREE ONLY ON YOUR OWN PROJECTS.
That's the benefit of being creative. You can work on your own portfolio while you actually work on work that you OWN. So design that series of concert posters and then print and sell them. You now have a portfolio piece but you also have a piece of art you can market and sell. Do bands from the 1930s in a new funky style to show you how great your style is.
BE YOUR OWN CLIENT.
Give yourself an assignment, a deadline and goals. Then hit them.
Never let your client down.
Trust me trust me trust me. I have experience with over 3000 student artists now, and of that 3000 four of them are working professionals supporting themselves with their art. There's one more who does art full time for a big company but that wouldn't count as freelance so let's stick with four.
FOUR out of THREE THOUSAND.
I can guarantee you-- those four did not work for free.