Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to Get Work as a Freelance Designer - Part 2 with Miriam Bos

Welcome to part 2 in the series of blogs about working as a freelance designer in the pattern design and illustration industries. If you missed part 1 with Victoria Johnson, you can read it here. 
We have part three coming up on Friday morning (UK time) featuring Dawn Machell! If you work as a freelancer, please post your tips and advice in the comments below, I'm sure other designers would love to hear them. I don't know about you, but I'm finding this industry to be a really friendly and supportive one, one that I'm proud to be part of!

Today we have the wonderful Miriam Bos joining us, a fabulous artist and all round gorgeous illustrator. I "cyber" met Miriam on Instagram whilst we were in the finals of the recent Robert Kaufman competition and fell in love with her amazing work. 

You can connect with Miriam here.....

How long have you been freelancing?

I started freelancing when I was still attending the Academy of Arts in Rotterdaml. It is about 13 years ago that I got my very first assignment from TKMST magazine. A Dutch magazine for students who just left the secondary school and are thinking about their future (which is toekomst in Dutch > TKMST) and I have been taking on commissions ever since.

How did you get started in freelancing?

I had been looking around for magazines and called a couple of them in the hopes of them having an assignment for me. I also called the teen girl magazine ‘Fancy’ that doesn't exist anymore nowadays. It was awesome to be able to make illustrations for them since I have had a subscription to that magazine myself when I was still a teenager, so how cool is it to be able to draw for your own favourite magazine? 

How many companies do you freelance for?

I can’t really answer that because I really don’t know. Nowadays I work for a lot of different clients. Some are publishers, some are companies who want some inhouse work done, but I also have a lot of private customers want me to illustrate their anniversary, wedding or birth announcement cards.

Why choose freelancing over trying to be signed by an agent?

When I just started freelancing I didn’t really know much about agents. They didn't tell us much about it at school. I’ve heard some vague rumours about agents when I just left the academy. Some fellow students told me some second hand horror stories that agents would not allow you to have any other clients without interference of the agency. And if you didn't get commissions via the agency, you didn’t have an income. And they said they took such a big percentage of your incoming projects that it was hard to live from the jobs you got. Those were exaggerated stories of course, but at that time I figured it wasn't for me and I concentrated on getting jobs by myself.

How do you find work? Any advice for people just starting in the freelance industry?

Just look around what magazines work with illustrators. Check if your style would fit their brand, and the same goes for companies who work with artwork. Look out for them and contact them. Depending on what feels best for YOU, you can pick up the phone or decide to email them.

For my first jobs I bluntly phoned a company asking if they were interested in another freelance illustrator. Cold calls are hard, but sometimes they work, though I remember one art director from a big news paper being particularly mean to me. And I wasn’t prepared for that at all. So keep in mind that not all art directors like to be called, and it won’t always work out. Another option is emailing, which I prefer using nowadays. Mostly because you can immediately send some of your work along. 

Can you describe a standard brief a freelancer would receive?

I don’t think there is a typical or standard brief. Some art directors, like educational publishers, have very strict briefs. They know exactly what they want and send you clear pdfs with lots of exact instructions. But some art-directors are more chaotic and send you multiple emails with images, examples of what they want and bits of text. Those commissions can be a puzzle to work on sometimes because all important details seem to be shattered over more emails. A tip is to collect all emails in a text document so that you create your own brief with it. It just depends on the client.

What are the positives/negatives to freelancing?

Positive things are you can work your own time schedule. Get up whenever you want and go to bed whenever you want. If you want to work in your pj’s, nobody will say something about it. There is often a big variety in assignments, so it’s never a boring job. And best of all: you have the greatest job in the world because you do the thing you love most (or at least I know I do). 

A negative thing would be discussing about and doing finances/taxes. Negotiating a fee can be fun, but it can also be draining. If I only could I would just ignore all the financial stuff and work on artwork only. But they are a necessary evil, so you simply need to deal with it. And another thing is the fact that there is always a bit of instability about your income. Not everybody pays you immediately, and sometimes it’s very busy while at other times you hear crickets and are starting to worry.

Do you have to be trend aware when freelancing?

There will be a difference if you are an editorial illustrator or a surface pattern designer for the fashion industry. Not every client needs your work to be trendy. For example: if you are working on a medical illustration they might not care much about the latest color trends in the fashion industry. Though a fabric company might give you a color palette to work on when they commission you. Not every client is looking for trends or trendy styles. Every client is different in that matter.

What do freelancers get paid on average - does the rate depend on client/experience of designer?

There is no answer for that question. Every commission is different, every budget is different and every designer works differently. Some work with hourly rates, others with flat fees. But the best way to find out about pricing is getting yourself the book 'Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines’. It contains a lot of lists with prices to follow for different kind of jobs.

I do think it’s important that freelance artists are familiar with this pricing guideline because there are a lot of artists out there who undervalue themselves and their own work by asking too little for their designs, and that’s indirectly undermining the market for all freelancers out there. ;) 

What's next for you Miriam??

Next is Surtex 2015 with Forest Foundry I think. But I am working on some lovely jobs at the moment, but I can’t share anything about them yet. 


  1. An excellent series of blogs Ali. A great insight into Miriam's process. I also struggle with the money side of being a freelancer and the tip about collecting parts of a brief and keeping them in one document is a great tip.

  2. Excellent advice! The part where she mentioned the putting the emails together to pile just one brief was a really good tip. Love her fox and the crow cover illustration. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Absolutely fantastic posting! Lots of useful information and inspiration,
    career advice

  4. Expert Arena guides freelancers to freelance work in efficient way to expand your business and build your career. Get Start now and Join Expert Arena.

  5. I like the way you impart such useful and worthwhile article, and keep explaining in brief each point of interest. Thank you for the share. Keep writing.
    Web Design Agency | Website Redesign Company