The Business of Art: Top Ten Tips to be a Successful Freelance Artist

By Kara Caroccio,
Stillman News Writer

The Art world is one of great competitiveness and lack of lucrative opportunities. Many artists from painters to photographers often find themselves as broke freelance artists passing up weekend activities in order to save money and work on projects that they may or may not get paid for.

As a Fine Art minor at Seton Hall I value our art department and all the amazing artists I am able to work with but also have my fair share of questions. As a result I interviewed three freelance artists on their opinion of the best way to approach the business of art and complied 10 tips to help ease into the freelance career field.

Ruth Rachlin is a New York City based former freelance artist. She is now and Art Teacher at the Stephen Gaynor School in Manhattan. In our own Seton Hall community, Professor William Hudders is part time adjunct fine arts professor at Seton Hall University for sixteen years. Thirdly, Adam Gaynor is a Promotional Freelance artist based in New York City.

1. Get your feet wet!
When Rachlin first graduated college from SVA she sold her illustrations to the New York Times. Her advice was if you want to work for a big company like the New York Times see if they have a smaller branch and start with them. For instance, when she was selling her illustrations she went to the smaller branch of the New York Times that didn’t directly deal with Manhattan but New Jersey and Connecticut (a less competitive place to work). This allowed her to get space as an illustrator in the Times and move up.

2. Always copy right your work.
This means something as small as signing your work as a student or actually writing a copy write sign on your publications. Gaynor suggests to always ask what kind of copy write a company is looking for. Before going into a project ask what rights they are looking for, if it’s one time publishing rights or all buy out publishing rights (this is most expensive). This way you are aware of who will own your work.

3. Know your history!
Especially for fine artist studying art history is extremely useful. According to Rachlin, knowing art history has allowed her to have a mental file of resources to pull from for inspiration. The knowledge will also help with interviews too.

4. Don’t let your education end.
If you can take additional art course after degree completion do so. According to Rachlin this is a great way to network and continue building your portfolio. Also, professors who are fond of you will push you in the right direction and you will have the chance to compare your work to other classmates and get feedback.

5. Do your research.
Research is important for any job interview, but it is very important to research the magazine you are applying to be published in or the gallery you want to be featured in. Learn about their policy and specific styles.

6. Make a website!
According to Gaynor this is the most important thing to have as a freelance artist. Creating a website or hiring a web developer to create a website for you is a smart investment and the best way for people to see your work.

7. Have an estimate sheet.
As a freelance artist you will be asked for prices off the top of your head. Gaynor warns never to answer this on the spot. It is nearly impossible to come up with an accurate number for a project off the top of your head. Unfortunately once you give a number it is hard to go back and you will have to over extend yourself to making the project work with a low budget.
Creating an estimate sheet that includes supply fees and travel expenses will help later on when you are able to process how much work the client is asking for.

Professor Hudders recommends for murals to ask for half upfront and the rest after completion. He also recommends to keep prices simple for collectors. For instance, pricing something at 4,800 instead of 4,639.23 and recommends offering a ten percent discount to buyers who seem unsure if they want to buy. Another way to allow buyers to be more comfortable is to allow them to pay in installments.

8. Know your clients.
When working on a project it is important to know who the client is. Gaynor says to find out if it’s a big company like Nike. For a photo-shoot with Nike your budget will most definitely be higher than an editorial shoot.

9. The little details.
Find out as much as possible before you commit to a project. As a freelance artist you may seem eager to take any opportunity that comes your way. And while you should be taking as many chances as possible it is also important to know the fine details of what you are getting yourself into.

The best way to find out is through emailing the client. Ask them questions about what exactly they want. It is important to do this at first because if you need to go back and redo a project due to lack of information you will have to resubmit a budget. For instance, you may want to find out if they want a makeup styles on shoot or if someone wants a mural done from real life models.

10. Take it slow.
Professor Hudders suggests to let clients know in advance about the budget and don’t push them in the process because it may take some people months or years to buy a painting. It is important not to push anyone into buying your work.
Professor Hudders says, “Do not bring your art work or portfolios to the gallery openings, in fact don’t push yourself as an artist at all, just hang out and talk to people and get to know them first. Later (possibly much later) you can bring up the subject of yourself as an artist and your art work.”

This is especially important for us soon to be graduates. While we are trying to make a living off of our work it is important to not lose site of the reason why we create art and get carried away to becoming the next big thing.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 18th print edition.

Contact Kara at

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