Nine to five Go­ing it alone, or find­ing your feet in a stu­dio. Both have their ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages, but which is right for you?

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The 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 – and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

How­ever, he’s care­ful to re­it­er­ate the sig­nif­i­cance in de­cid­ing upon this par­tic­u­lar path for your­self. “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 nonart re­lated skills that stu­dio artists don’t need to con­tend with.”

Ex­actly what skills? “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. These are on top of ac­tu­ally get­ting client work done.”

lifestyle choice

Yet with ad­min­is­tra­tive set-backs, self­dis­ci­pline 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,” says Dar­ren, “is be­ing able to see my twoyear-old son grow­ing up ev­ery day. 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.

You’re run­ning a busi­ness, which re­quires many non-art skills that stu­dio artists don’t need to con­tend with

I’m not a door­mat. To bring about the best out­come we need to re­spect each other’s skill sets and worth

“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,” adds Jana Schirmer, a free­lance artist and il­lus­tra­tor based in Ber­lin. “I love do­ing con­cept art and I love il­lus­tra­tion, and I’m able to do both as a free­lancer.”

When it comes to clients, how­ever, tak­ing the free­lance route comes with its down­falls. Sim­ply re­ceiv­ing pay­ment can be strug­gle. But as Jana 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 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. 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.”

fun and games

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, Paul has worked on a range of huge 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.”

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 Paul.

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 Paul 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!”

Free­lance artist Thomas Frick found time to paint this char­ac­ter for a per­sonal RPG pro­ject.

Dar­ren Yeow re­cently painted this, on top of

his usual work­load.

Jana Schirmer’s fan art of Over­watch’s Mercy. She says it’s im­por­tant not to un­der­sell your­self as a free­lancer.

Paul Scott Cana­van works at in­die game stu­dio Blaz­ing Grif­fin, and painted this im­age for its game Dis­tant Star: Revenant Fleet.

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