How to find clients and contracts

  • Pro

    Hello artists!

    I was recently thinking about the question of how to find clients. Although I now have a good grip on how to do that, when I was just starting out I didn't have a clue and I would have loved a very comprehensive list of ways we can go about this. I thought maybe we can create our list here! I will give some of the ways I have successfully gotten contracts in the past, and you can list your own in the comments. I'm sure we'll all learn some new ways!

    Here are some of mine 🙂

    1. Emailing: That's still my go to. Every once in a while when my schedule starts to dry up, I update my portfolio and email the link around to as many companies and publishers as I can find. How I find them is a mix of internet and in-store research. I love to go to book store and peruse the children section for books, toys, anything that catches my eye. I take a picture of the credits page or company name then when I get home, find their website. Some of them have artist submissions guidelines so I follow those. If they don't have anything I email them directly. I've gotten most of my contracts this way.

    2. Agency: I've had 2 agents so far. The first one was not a great fit and only got me 1 contract in a whole year. The second one, Astound Us, I signed only 3 months ago and have been really happy with them so far. They find me illustration contracts and forward any inquiries they receive for me. It's not full-time work and they take a commission, but it's worth it.

    3. LinkedIn: Many artists don't think of using LinkedIn to find contracts because they think it's just for regular jobs! If you search for keywords like "remote work" or "illustration contract" you can get relevant hits. I've found one of my most profitable contracts on there, a mobile games studio that sends me a little bit of work every single month for a year and a half now. I also found the call for submissions from my agent Astound Us on LinkedIn, and that's what inspired me to take the plunge and try them out.

    4. Social media/my website: This is more rare for me personally and I wouldn't advise just waiting for people to hit you up - reaching out yourself is more proactive. However, I did get a contract once from an Instagram DM, and another one reached out to me through my website contact form (likely after seeing me on social media). Maintaining a professional, consistent presence on Instagram is important for that reason, however I'm still too small to get regular work from those channels. This is a long game!

    5. Art site forums/job boards: The job postings on ArtStation, Behance and Deviantart are a mixed bag. Especially on Deviantart you'll have to wade through tons of requests for 10$ anime illustrations or 100$ for a children book. However once in a while you can get a pearl. Last year I got one from a guy who paid $50 USD per hour for commission work. He ended up commissioning 4 detailed illustrations from me and I made thousands of dollars that month. I also recently signed a $10,000 USD contract to color a non-fiction comic, after responding to an ad on Deviantart from the comic artist.

    6. Upwork, Fiverr: Same as previous, a huge mixed bag. There are so many bad offers it can be a huge waste of time and discouraging too, and now that I have an agent bringing some of the work for me I no longer bother. However I once got one of my most profitable illustration contracts from there. It's a small scrapbooking company that hires me every month to make illustrations for their new monthly scrabooking kits. So there ARE some jobs on there that can be worth it.

    What are some of the ways that have worked for you? List them in the comments!

    Here are some of the wonderful methods from the community listed in the comments:

    • Book fairs such as Bologna, Frankfurt or SCWI
    • Kidlit411 Facebook group, and other such Facebook groups
    • Mailing postcards to art directors
    • Etsy
    • Writing your own books to submit as author/illustrator

    Will update with more of your methods as they get added to the comments!

  • Moderator

    @NessIllustration This is great! Thanx for sharing. As soon as I get a contract I will share too. 😜😂

  • Excellent Ness thank you so much for posting this🙌. Will have a proper read through when the kids are asleep.

  • I’m still very new to it Ness and it’s a part time income for me. All my illustration work so far has been through Instagram. Some have been through previous contacts who found me on there, got in touch again and said, ‘I didn’t realise you were doing this again, I have a project could you draw stuff for me?’
    I’ve sold a couple of bits from Etsy.
    I’ve emailed a few agents, although one is interested and trialing me, I’ve had nothing yet.
    I just started with Facebook and I’m guessing there’ll be work from there at some point. Nothing yet though.
    I will let you know if I get anything and where it comes from.

  • Have you tried the kidlit411 group on Facebook, it’s quite active and there was a publisher posted a request for submissions, specifically from illustrators, on there the other day.
    The post has been deleted and I’m really kicking myself because I can’t Find or remember who they were.
    I think their name started with Loo....... and I’m sure they are connected to Phoenix kids mag.
    I’m sure there’ll be more though.

  • Pro

    @peteolczyk Etsy is a good one! It's a great additional stream of income for freelance illustrators 🙂 All sorts of things can be sold, not just prints like we all tend to focus on. We can also do commissions and a ton of other products with our art on it. I sell clipart personally and I've had quite decent success with 250+ sales in my first 6 months open. I'm thinking of soon expanding into digital planner stickers, which is hugely popular on Etsy. I'm a big fan Katherine Kay, who's shop Katnipp sells sticker sheets, enamel pins, bookmarks, mouse mats, coasters, etc. This last year it's grown to be her full-time income + 2 part-time employees under her.

  • @NessIllustration These are great tips. Thank you for sharing!

  • Thank you for sharing your insights.

    I started to listen to Giuseppe Castellano's podcast The illustration department. I hear lots of guests on the podcast talking about face-to-face communication in one form or another. It seems to me that there is a good chance to build a relationship with potential clients/agents over book fairs and conferences. I am going to the Bologna book fair next year and will share my experience here if anyone is interested.

    I am very new as well. @NessIllustration. My first/current gig is from Instagram.

  • Pro

    @xin-li That's a good one! Face to face meeting make much more of an impression on people. I really hope I can go to an SCBWI conference or book fair one day, but travelling to another country for that is out of budget right now 😕

  • @xin-li I’d be interested to hear how you get on at the book fair. There’s a few artists I follow who have recommended going.

  • @NessIllustration I will definitely have another look at Etsy, based on what you’ve said. I’d love to see your shop too, have you got a link to it.
    I was thinking of doing smaller originals for Etsy but I never thought about offering commissions on there.

  • Pro

    @peteolczyk Yeah the language on Etsy is different which is maybe why you didn't make the connection. You don't see commissions but you see "custom portraits" or some such thing. Customers are usually prepared to pay higher on average on Etsy for custom art compared to some other art platforms 🙂

    I don't think I've shared my shop here cause it didn't seem super relevant. But I'll gladly show it off hihi
    It's my baby!

  • @NessIllustration that’s a cool shop Ness, so well organised too.

  • Thanks @NessIllustration ! This is really helpful. My goal this year was to make money from art for the first time and my art has leveled up, but business skills are lagging. Maybe Fiver would even be ok as an entry point to convince my mind that art can be traded for money. 🙂

  • Pro

    @ThisKateCreates Congrats on leveling up! Business skills are hard ^^''' And pushing our art is hard because we tend to see all the flaws and know exactly where we need work. While that's helpful to improve ourselves, it's not helpful to help us build the confidence to reach out for work. We artists are great at practicing, picking another class, improving our portfolios... not so great at selling ourselves. We can all use the reminder that we can do both at the same time. Like.. email 100 companies then take a class while waiting to see if we get any hits from that. Getting paid work is also in itself an experience that helps us level up like no other, so it should be included in our practice regimen 🙂

    As for Fiverr, it CAN work sometimes, but it's a place that can be very discouraging and give you a bleak outlook on the state of the art industry. As the name indicates, most Fiverr customers go there when they only want to spend $5-10 for a job. Finding a worthwhile gig would a lot of searching, a lot of applying, a lot of time wasted, and I usually get away from the experience with a feeling that making a liveable wage in art is not possible nowadays. Which is not true - there are people and companies willing to pay a fair wage for art and there are ways to find and target these people.

  • Pro

    @peteolczyk Thank you Pete! ❤

  • @NessIllustration Thanks! I looked at Fiverr and it does seem less efficient. I'm not so focused on getting publishing commissions, but I would like to sell my paintings. Talking to people in the sci-fi/fantasy publishing community (I spent the last year focusing on higher realism after doing SMARTschool) the market there seems to be approached similarly as children's publishing, just different key elements in the art/portfolio. Right now I think my art is at the local gallery/show/art fair level and I would love to do fantastical/nerdy portrait commissions. I went to Illuxcon this year (sci-fi art convention) and made good connections and learned a bit about business. It sounds like I need more pieces at my current skill level, to finish up my website, a mailing list to keep up with potential collectors, to start sending out quarterly updates to the few art directors I've met, and probably enter art fairs. One art director literally asked me to send updates after my review, and at a large publisher! As the year closes out I realize I haven't succeeded at the stated goal, but leveling up is important. Still need to learn the sales though. :face_with_stuck-out_tongue_closed_eyes: Always a next step.

  • Pro

    @ThisKateCreates It is quite a big goal indeed! I looked over your insta and I really like your portraits 🙂 You may also want to try selling portrait commissions on a place like Etsy, it's a great secondary income for artists!

  • Pro

    Anyone has any other suggestions for things that have worked for them? Anyone tried postcard mailings and other methods?

  • @NessIllustration
    Writing PB is also a way to get new contracts. Since writing takes a LOT of time from illustrating and one or two book contracts is far from enough to survive financially and there is no guarantee that a book is going to sell. On the other hand, illustrators who writes well have a much better chance to stand out and rise to the top.

    I am curious of what you guys/gals think.

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