FREELANCE VS STUDIO WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU?
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?
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.”
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.