Freelancing part-time: the best of both worlds?

Combining freelance work with a full-time 'proper' job? Is Michelle Barker mad?

Since graduating, I’ve built up more and more illustration work, but I’ve always had different jobs alongside it. For nearly two years I’ve been working full-time as an events officer, mainly organising concerts, conferences and wedding receptions. I’m also responsible for organising exhibitions in the caf bar area, something that I really enjoy.

With the money from my day job, I can concentrate on illustration projects that are interesting to me. But my job does inspire me, too, although when I think of an idea during the day I can’t always get straight on with it. I’m constantly meeting other artists and I’ve had work come from it, such as an exhibition I organised for the Drawn in Bristol collective of illustrators.

It’s helpful to get out of that illustration bubble and have input from a different world. My freelancing averages out to about 10 hours per week and I usually work at least one full day at the weekend. When I’m focusing on a big project, I’ll often take a couple of days’ holiday from work – it does mean I have to save up my days, but I don’t really mind.

I like the idea of doing illustration all day every day, but the reality of not knowing where your next pay cheque is coming from would put me off. In an ideal world, I’d be doing my normal job for three days per week. Nowadays, because everything tends to be done by email, I don’t often have commissions where I’m expected to be at the end of a phone. Occasionally if people have phoned me and I’ve said, ‘I’m at work, can I speak to you later?’ then they’re a little surprised, but no-one has ever accused me of not being professional.

It’s important to be clear in your own mind about what you want to get out of freelance work. If you’re working towards being a full-time illustrator, then taking on a lot in the short term in order to help your portfolio might be fine, but if you plan to continue with a full-time career alongside illustration it might be better to just concentrate on the projects you enjoy and not burn yourself out.

Thinking of going freelance? Then check out The Freelance Handbook, on sale now in the UK and online.

Illustration: James Cooper