It's interesting to look back and find those little nuggets of wisdom to share with the next generation of freelance creatives. Wh...

12 Things I've Learned in the 12 Years I've Been Freelancing (Part 1)



It's interesting to look back and find those little nuggets of wisdom to share with the next generation of freelance creatives. What seems so obvious to me now was just a statement of "Oh, that'll never happen to me." back then. Being young and full of life and energy, we all too often make the mistake of letting our pride take the wheel.

1. Learn the basics first (walk before you run)
Whether you paint, create graphics, music, stained glass, or any other creative pursuit, it's the basics that turn you into a master. When you are learning how to draw, you don't just sit down and bust out a full comic scene utilizing perfect perspective and spot on anatomy. Those things take planning and careful execution. People who learn the basics get farther, faster. Learning to understand color theory will allow you to execute subtle color palettes in your art which will literally drive the audience's emotions as the view your piece. Learning how to divide a canvas by the rule of thirds will allow you to create more aesthetically pleasing compositions.

2. Draw Small, Think Big (Thumbnails)
When you are starting a new piece, rather than getting out a piece of paper and working feverishly on one concept for hours, only to give up and throw it away in a rash of irrational self loathing, draw a crap ton of small squares and rectangles and explore the idea in as many different ways as you are able. I like to start new projects with a 20-in-20 exercise: Literally set a timer for 20 minutes and aim to get at least 20 concepts (very roughly) sketched out in order to get your creative juices flowing.

3. Leave Your Ego at the Door (It's what your client wants, not what you want, that matters)
You'd think this one would be self-explanatory, but I can't believe the number of artists and designers that complain when a portion of the project doesn't go the way they wanted it to. Your JOB is to create the artistic vision entrusted to you by your client. Your RESPONSIBILITY is to educate your client when a decision would otherwise hinder their brand integrity or public perception. However, if at the end of the day, the client still wants an angry unicorn shooting rainbow muffins out its ass, then by God, you deliver the best God damned muffin shitting unicorn anyone has ever seen.

4.  Master of at Least One Technique (One is good, three are better)
I began by learning how to remaster all of my terrible concepts in Adobe Illustrator. In the beginning of my career, vector art was barely even heard of let alone requested as a final product. By learning to master vectors in Adobe illustrator, I gained a profound knowledge base for how to approach digital art for commercial product development. I also mastered one interface and keyboard shortcut set that tied in with almost every other product Adobe makes. This saves time and money ;) Eventually I mastered Adobe inDesign and then finally Photoshop. From there, I branched back out into traditional art and applied all the theory and procedures I'd learned from working digitally. I'm by no means a master of traditional mediums, but I'm well on my way.

5. Never dismiss anyone (You never know who is on the opposite end of a handshake)
I have learned that making snap judgement about a person can be detrimental to both yourself and other parties. I've met folks that seem dressed in the shabbiest clothes who are happy go-lucky millionaires, and I've met people dressed to the nines who are more poor than some of the poorest people you can imagine. Regardless of wealth, or imagined, or actual status, there's still a person standing in front of you and your paths have crossed for a reason. Take time and talk to your fellow human, you never know what pearls of wisdom and learning opportunities await you both if you are quick to dismiss people. This doesn't just apply to potential clients, this applies to potential collectors, fans, mentors, students, and everything in between. You could be sitting in front of the opportunity to influence the next Van Gogh, or Monet, or even the opportunity for someone to teach you to become the aforementioned prodigal artist yourself.

6. Your art is not free. It is not a portfolio piece. It's not a contest (Do not work on spec)
Spec work is a dangerous topic to broach both in the field and out of the field, but let me posit a situation here: Imagine going to a mechanic's garage and telling them "I've never worked with you before, fix my car, and if I like how you've done it, I'll pay you". Or, better yet, imagine you have 3 mechanics and you tell them whoever does the best work out of the three will get a nominal amount of money and big acclaim, but the others won't get anything You'd get laughed right out of the building if not punched in the nose for such a ludicrous disrespect of someone else's livelihood. So why do we allow ourselves to go through this? For the sake of imagined respect and fame we'll acquire when we make the next Nike logo, or super amazing fantastical product that everyone has to buy. You know what, it rarely, if ever works out that way. Most times, you're left starving, anyone you work for, does tell others about you ( they mention that you work for free ) and you feel less fulfilled. Often you find yourself trying to find other gigs to fill the void and your soul dies a little more each time you give your art away and receive neither validation nor income.

Stay Tuned for Part 2.

Lance T. Miller is a professional artist and designer in several mass product development fields. He consults with artists to lead them toward their goals in life and works with some of the top agencies in the Board Game Industry as well as the Magic Industry and his own line of consumer products.