15 tips on how to set up as a freelance illustrator

Established freelance illustrators Ben Tallon, Abbey Lossing and Peter Henderson cover how to build contacts, manage money, stay connected in the creative community and more.


Ben Tallon – illustrator, author of Champagne and Wax Crayons and host of the Arrest All Mimics Podcast.

After working for years in education, surrounded by peers and tutors, the loss of those people can hit hard. I felt very lost for six months and my big turning point was sharing a studio with four others. It changed everything. So map out cafes, co-working setups, studio space and the local creative scene and surround yourself with inspiration. most importantly, take your eye off any long term goals and be responsive. Seek criticism, opinions and energising conversations and drink in every tiny step. Remember, confidence ebbs and flows for all of us, so ride the down days, they happen.

Ben Tallon (UK)

Getting a part time or full time job is a healthy thing. It lifts the pressure - a major factor. Some thrive under pressure, others buckle and with income from elsewhere, we have time to play, take time to understand what we want and seek it in the right way. The frustration some jobs brought me proved a great motivator and contacts/friends/income from others was just as crucial.

I worked full time for my first two years after graduation because I wanted to take the time to explore and develop at my natural rate. It meant I worked 9-5, then spent most evenings in a freezing garage we called a studio, working until 11pm on self-initiated projects. On the weekends I would be in there both days because I knew nobody was going to do this for me. You couldn't keep me out of that work space because I wanted to be an illustrator so badly, but needed to pay my bills!

Ben Tallon (UK)


Think carefully about who may benefit from your work. Ignore trends and concentrate on instilling as much of your unique personality into your creative work as possible. I loved football and it was my knowledge of the game, combined with my energetic, loose style of image making that proved to be my key into the industry. Compile lists of potential suitors and take the time to call them up, ask to go see them. Do not blanket email. Make the clients feel special because you love what they do and feel you can add to it. Address them properly, speak to them politely and ask how they are. Emailing is the likeliest form of communication to end up in the trash because everyone gets bombarded. Use the mail and call them. Nerve wracking? Yes, but it will go a long way.

Ben Tallon (UK)

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Get out and about. Go to launches, talks, networking evenings and coffee mornings. Listen to podcasts, read the blogs, maximise social media and reach out to people. I have made so many friends and connections because I took the time to share a compliment and vice versa. Who you know is vitally important, but you have to be a decent human, reliable, willing to learn/listen, professional and good at what you do to get to know the right people.

Ben Tallon (UK)


The one thing we all have that is unique is our journey and character. It shines through in projects that mean something to you. No matter how weird, off-trend or personal, the work you do because it's yours will resonate with many people because it is not likely to be lost amongst work created because someone felt like it was trendy to do so, or that someone else wanted to see it.

Don't be afraid to invest in the right areas. Studio space, physical promo material, good photography and design of your brand will set you up for greater good. Seek good advice for putting the correct amount of tax away - many accountants are affordable and friendly. Get a job if you have to - it is in no way a failure and more often a very healthy thing on many levels.

Ben Tallon (UK)


Concentrate on enjoying the ride. This is an exciting career and you've spent a lot of money and time to get here. So value yourself, only work for free in skill swaps, with charities and on your personal work. The Association Of Illustrators are a great resource organisation who can help with the nitty gritting of pricing and contracts. Contact those more established if in doubt, many will help.

Do not box yourself in. Too many people are narrow minded, seeking inspiration only from other illustrators. Explore and play, collaborate with photographers, filmmakers, designers, artists, scientists, fashion designers and more - your skills can be applied in so many places to have fun and find out where. Creativity knows no bounds and if you enjoy the ups and maximise the downs, yours will have every chance of flourishing. Go against the grain and be you.

Ben Tallon (UK)

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Abbey Lossing – freelance illustrator based in Brooklyn, New York. Represented by Handsome Frank currently, Abbey previously worked in-house for BuzzFeed and Vice. 

I think if you were able to build up a following and make lots of connections during school, than you can go freelance straight out of university. For me that wasn’t the case so I had a full-time job for three years before leaving to pursue freelance full-time. You have a lot of expenses after college (student loans, new apartments) so it’s nice to have a reliable paycheck when you’re first getting off the ground.

Abbey Lossing (US)


You need to be really self disciplined, you’re not going to have a boss or professor walking you through the assignment, so it’s all on you not to procrastinate. Set a schedule for yourself and create a list of personal goals you’d like to achieve within your first year. If you have a slow week - work on a personal project to help build your portfolio.

Abbey Lossing (US)


Putting together a website and social platforms to promote your work should be one of the first things you do. It’s important to have a space where you feel you can focus and be productive, but I don’t think it needs to be much more than that.

I think when you’re first starting out you should put your work everywhere. Maybe after a year of that you’ll decide to trim some out and really focus on the platforms that work for you. I mainly use Instagram and Behance, but i’ve tried them all.

Abbey Lossing (US)

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Try to save as much as you can. You never know when you’ll have a slow month so it’s nice to have a cushion. I also keep a running doc of projects that are one, in process and two completed and invoiced and three, payment received. When you’re working on multiple assignments it’s easy to lose track who has or has yet to pay you.

Abbey Lossing (US)


I try to make a quick personal project every Friday. Personal work is really important when building a portfolio, but it shouldn’t feel like a chore. If I’m feeling burnt out at the end of the week, I don’t force it.

Abbey Lossing (US)


Try to find a creative community to be a part of. In college you’re surrounded by your peers, which can be very motivating. You see them making great work and that inspires you to do the same. After school you might feel isolated because you won’t have this collaborative environment. If you live in a big city you’ll have opportunities to make connections with other creative people, but if you don’t - you can always find a sense of community through online social platforms.

Abbey Lossing (US)

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Peter Henderson – freelance illustrator and motion designer from London, now represented by Folio. He's based in Latin American from July 2017. 

Even after graduating, keep pushing out personal projects that you truly love making, that will be the sort work that you end up doing. There will be thousands of graduates with the same degree as you, walk ahead of the crowd.

Peter Henderson (UK)


A lot of internships will give you that 'foot in the door'. Even if you don't get a job at the end of it doesn't mean it won't give you that head start above the competition when applying for more roles. However there are exploitative internships out there; be sure to check what you will be responsible for doing before applying. You definitely want to get some hands on experience. If the bulk of the internship is performing "general office tasks" then it's unlikely to be very useful to you.

Peter Henderson (UK)


I think most agencies are looking for professionalism, but also something new and a clear passion in your personal work. Don't just throw everything that you made in university into your portfolio. Only select work that you're truly happy with.

Everyone is passionate about something different, try to showcase what you love. You're far more likely to stand out with a few unique interesting projects, than someone who has 20 high-level but meaningless projects.

Peter Henderson (UK)

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