Whether your specialism is graphic design, illustration or 3D art, chances are you'll have made a choice between acting as a freelancer or working in a studio. It's a major decision – are there are big pros and cons to each. In this article leading creative professions on both sides of the fence share their experiences to help you decide what's right for you.
Freelance con: The non-creative stuff
Melbourne-based concept artist and illustrator Darren Yeow failed at being freelance. Twice. Moving back into studio roles, it's only over the past five years that he's successfully crafted a path for himself working from home – and he wouldn't have it any other way.
However, he's careful to emphasise what a big decision this was. "Freelancing is a serious undertaking that requires the wearing of numerous hats to pull off successfully," he explains. "As a freelancer, you're running a small business, which requires many non-art related skills that studio artists don't need to contend with."
But exactly what skills is he referring to? "Things like client billing and chasing payment; keeping the books up-to-date; dealing with taxes; health cover; putting funds away for retirement; insurance; paying overheads and investing in skills training are just some of the things that immediately come to mind," he says. "These are on top of actually getting client work done."
Freelance pro: Choose your hours
Yet with administrative set-backs, self-discipline and time constraints also comes the ability to choose your own clients and enjoy the finer things in life.
"What I love most about my choice as a freelancer is being able to see my two-year-old son growing up every day," Yeow comments. "As well as being able to offer him front-row seats to an alternative look at how career and life can intertwine. And of course, getting paid to do that."
Freelance pro: Greater variety (if you want it)
Berlin-based freelance artist and illustrator Jana Schirmer also champions the life of a freelancer. "A nice side-effect is that you get to work on a lot of different projects, instead of just working for one for years in a studio," she says. "I love doing concept art and I love illustration, and I'm able to do both as a freelancer."
Freelance con: Nightmare clients
When it comes to clients, however, taking the freelance route comes with its downfalls. Simply receiving payment can be struggle. But, as Schirmer explains, it all comes down to the correct contracts.
"Don't start working before you see a contract," she continues. "Once I started working for a small client when I had just started freelancing. After finishing the work, I never heard back from him. It wasn't very smart on my end."
But as Darren Yeow says, you can take certain steps to ensure potential clients don't turn into a total horror show. "Nightmare clients tend to be new clients, so I begin dealing with them before they turn out to be nightmare clients," he says.
"First, the client understands that I intend to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship – not a dictatorship," he says. "I'm there to bring flesh to their vision, with their guidance. But I'm not a doormat, and in order to bring about the best outcome, we need to respect each other's skill sets and worth.
"If you communicate this part in the right way, this won't offend good clients. In fact, most will appreciate this as a mark of one professional to another – but it will bring out red flags in egotistical prima-donna types."
Studio con: Nightmare clients (again)
However, working within a studio doesn't necessarily mean you can escape difficult clients. "If it's clearly going nowhere I'll just step away," says Blazing Griffin lead artist Paul Scott Canavan. "Don't make a fuss. Sometimes these people are just going through some trouble and I always try not to burn bridges."
Having art-directed Distant Star: Revenant Fleet, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Dino Tribes and APB: Retribution, Canavan has worked on a range of projects and puts a safeguard in place. "I always ask for 50 per cent of the commission up front, and only deliver the final product on receipt of the second 50 per cent."
Studio pro: Creative collaboration
While you can't escape difficult clients either way, working in a studio does allow you to flourish in creative collaboration; gaining constructive criticism and building friendships to ensure you produce the best work possible.
"Freelance life is great in many ways – oh, how I miss 11am starts! – but there's nothing like working with a group of friends to inspire you and make every day exciting," continues Canavan.
Weta concept artist Christian Pearce couldn’t agree more. "I love the people and all the interesting stuff that happens here," he says. "Weta is different to most design studios in that there's a full workshop here – engineering, model-making, 3D, moulding and casting, sculpting, paint shop – every time you get out of your chair you bump into people doing something you don't know how to do and they're really freaking good at it."
Whether you want to get into the industry through internships and applications, or prefer to go it alone, there's an overlapping aspect to both endeavours, as Canavan concludes: "I turned down a couple of fairly large jobs because I didn't feel ready and was afraid of meeting new people," he says. "But the longer you spend in this industry, the more you'll learn that everyone is just like you really. Take the plunge – it's always worth doing!"
This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 126.
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