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6 Practical Business Lessons For Freelance Artists

Let's face it. You didn't become a freelance artist because of your burning passion for paperwork. In some ways, the lack of paperwork may have been part of the allure. When you think of a professional artist's typical work day, you imagine working crazy hours whenever you feel inspired, collaborating with fellow creative minds, and resisting typical business jargon like (shudder) synergy.

Alum Art by Alex Gadbois

However, the reality of being a professional artist is different. An 8-hour workday is perfect for your creativity, time management, and health. As much as your fellow creative minds love collaborating, they need paid opportunities. Business jargon provides context for your professional decisions. Plus, it makes you sound official. Try saying synergy out loud. Synergy. See?

The art industry, with all of its creativity and freedom, is still a business. It requires some business savviness. While entrepreneurship shouldn't impede or overwhelm your artistic side, it's still important to have the knowledge to stay productive and profitable so you can focus on what you truly love: art. Here are six business lessons for freelance artists who hate business:

  1. Time Management
  2. Project Prioritization
  3. Promotion
  4. Operation-Specific Schedule
  5. Lighten Your Load
  6. Nitty Gritty
Warner Bros. / Via thelegomovie.wikia.com

1. Time Management

Both short-term and long-term time management are important tools for any freelancer. It can help you set reasonable deadlines for your projects so you can deliver quality work on agreed-upon times. Once you establish yourself as dependable, clients will learn to trust you and bring you on to more projects.

Many freelancers don't have the luxury of working on one project at a time. That's where time management really comes in handy. Art Director at Pixoloid Studios Mark Molnar said that as an artist who was trying to become more business-oriented, he spent a lot of time on project and time management because it was difficult to juggle three to four projects at once.

Alum Art by Igor Kovalov

While the artist in you might want to say yes to as many cool projects as possible, laying out your schedule to plan gives you confidence and control over your workload. Harvard Business Review suggests a few ways you can get serious about your professional time management:

  • Time yourself to gain awareness of how long it takes you to do a certain project.
  • Learn when to say no.
  • Prioritize your to-do list to keep all your projects moving even when you're busy.

Read "4 Proven Tips to Find Meaningful Time to Create" to optimize how you use your time.

"We are coming from an artistic background so we are not really good at excel sheets and time management and all that jazz. But we are growing into it, slowly. We have to."

Mark Molnar

2. Project Prioritization

As a freelancer, you have flexibility and control over what projects you take on. However, the nature of contract work is inconsistent. You can have three clients at the same time, then suddenly have none. By strategically prioritizing certain clients and projects, you can set yourself up for future opportunities.

Alum Art by Chung Jui Lee

For example, a client with a large supply of projects like Blizzard Activision or Netflix could give you work in the future. You just need to prove that you're talented and reliable. Big-name studios also make you look more accomplished on your resume compared to a smaller studio.

However, there may be a project from a lesser-known client that you absolutely love, fits better into your schedule, or provides an interesting challenge. Those might be equally beneficial to your professional growth. It's all about weighing the pros and cons from a managerial perspective in addition to your artistic outlook.

Even studios like Pixoloid arrange their slate with this business perspective. "It's not really just a first come first serve kind of thing," Mark said. "There are three factors: the clients, the project itself, and the length and scope of the project."

Watch Mark Molnar and Gaspar Gombos describe the ins and out of their business run by artists.

Overall, you want to prioritize projects that will move you forward as an artist. This can be tricky. Mark's fellow Pixoloid Art Director, Gaspar Gombos, compared it to playing chess. But it's essential for your long-term growth.

3. Promotion

The more people who see your work, the better. Promoting the art pieces that demonstrate your skills and range can attract the clients you want to work with. But there are different kinds of promotion, and it's important to choose a strategic approach that lends itself to your goals. Though it's good to update your website or your Art Station page, it's more important to place your art where potential clients can find it.

Alum Art by Paul Joseph Nicholson

For example, Matte and Concept Painter Igor Staritsin posted one of his first paintings on a site called mattepainting.org. This painting was put on the main page as a featured image, where a representative from Disney saw it. "They were searching on that website to find the paintings that would work for them. They got in touch with me..." Igor said. "I couldn't believe that was happening. Disney was getting in touch with me."

Watch Igor Staritsin explain how he got his first big break in matte painting.

Igor was on the right platform at the right time. You can do the same by entering contests hosted by your dream studios, monitoring and interacting with craft-related forums, and/or publishing your work in online magazines.

4. Operation-Specific Schedule

Professionals like Comic Artist Jason Brubaker, who creates and publishes his own graphic novels and Experience Designer Luc Steadman, who runs a his own experience design business, understand the power of focusing on one creative task at a time. Jason said that without distractions like emails or social media, you can fully immerse yourself in your project, which improves quality of work and productivity. Luc said it can be almost zen-like to have long stretches of focus. That's why it's essential to create separate time to handle business operations.

Watch Luc Steadman explain the business lessons he's learned over the years.

"That process of shifting the gear into creative mode can be really rough sometimes," Luc said. "That's probably the most difficult thing I deal with on a day-to-day basis..." He explains that the operations side of his business, which involves answering questions, responding to emails, taking care of accounting, and other managerial tasks, uses a different part of his brain.

As a freelancer, you're in charge of both ends of you profession, but instead of forcing your brain to switch back snd forth, F. John Reh from The Balance suggests 'chunking' your time to avoid this difficult mental turn. By setting aside one or two hours a day for emails, calls, and managerial tasks, you can cross those items off your to-do list at once.

Alum Artwork by Marvin Reyes

5. Lighten Your Load

There may come a time when there is too much on your plate to juggle by yourself (which is the best kind of problem). Since you should spend more time on art compared to the business side, you should find ways to minimize your managerial tasks. For example, you could automate your invoicing system. You could also hire an accountant to file taxes or even manage your finances. The expense could be worth the time you earn back.

Luc Steadman has people within his business that assist with managerial tasks. "I lean on a lot of people. I have a lot of really great team members that help me out with the practical things on the operations side day-to-day..." Luc said. "I couldn't be creative without people like that."

Even if you're a one-(wo)man-band, you can still enlist help from others.

Alum Art by Barbara Lucas

If your slate is overflowing with professional opportunities, you can also consider expanding your creative team. Maybe you keep getting offers for a certain kind of project, but you don't have the specific skills set required to accept. As a freelancer, you can contract another artist who has experience in that field to work on the project together.

Another reason to bring another artist on to your projects is that you have too much to do and can't meet your deadlines. Even those who've honed their time and project management sometimes run into this issue. "Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew," Mark laughed.

Alum Art by Caroline Stauffer

For these reasons, it's helpful to keep track of your artist network. Even if it's just on LinkedIn, mark colleagues and peers who are talented and reliable. You can turn to sites like Fiverr, Upwork, and SkillShare, but those sites don't always ensure the quality of work or professionalism.

Once you've picked the right artist, you could work with them on an hourly or project-based arrangement. But who knows? Maybe working with the right person will inspire you to create your own studio!

6. Nitty Gritty

Of course, there's the nitty-gritty of being a professional. This is more important for freelancers and contractors. These specifics will change depending on your professional field, goals, and restrictions, but you can always develop the following to make your operations more smooth and successful.


Money isn't everything, but it's definitely not nothing. As a freelancer, you're in control of your rates. Start by researching market rates for your profession on Indeed or Glassdoor. The more experience you have, the higher you can set your price.

If this still isn't enough to comfortably meet your expenses, you can establish more revenue streams. According to Jason Brubaker, licensing your art, selling products on Gumroad, or selling online tutorials are great ways to profit from your art.

Click here to view the "6 Online Ways to Profit From Your Art" infographic.


It's important to have a solid contract template that will protect you and your client relationship. Artwork Archive recommends including the following:

  • Client Info
  • Scope of Work (project details, timeline, deliverables)
  • Costs and Payment Terms
  • Artist’s and Client's Rights (ownership of intellectual property)
  • Cancellation Terms


When it comes to protecting your intellectual and creative property, CGMA can't officially give you legal advice. But we can give you informative videos by other people who can't give you official legal advice. Basically, the only official legal advice you can accept is from a licensed attorney. That is your first unofficial lesson.

But as Jason Brubaker articulates, there are easy steps you can take to protect your work online. For example, including the date and copyright logo digitally cements the 'when' of your idea. If anyone uses your art without your permission, you have a time stamp available for all to see.

Watch Jason Brubaker describe his approach to copyrighting his digital work.

Jason, Luc, Mark and Gaspar all jumped into the business world without formal business training. They were artists who wanted to work on the coolest projects at the highest level possible. And while Luc admitted it was a lot to learn, he now even enjoys the managerial aspects of his work.

Alum Art by Austin Lee

"We are coming from an artistic background so we are not really good at excel sheets and time management and all that jazz," Mark laughed. "But we are growing into it, slowly. We have to."

Remember, you don't have to be the Steve Wozniak of your field. You just need to give yourself the room to focus on what you love.


CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.


Read "4 Proven Tips to Find Meaningful Time to Create" to optimize how you use your time.

Watch Mark Molnar and Gaspar Gombos describe the ins and out of their business run by artists.

Watch Igor Staritsin explain how he got his first big break in matte painting.

Watch Luc Steadman explain the business lessons he's learned over the years.

Click here to view the "6 Online Ways to Profit From Your Art" infographic.

Watch Jason Brubaker describe his approach to copyrighting his digital work.