Ask a Freelancer

Hey I’ve got a question for you freelancers.

I’ve got it in my head that freelancing is this wondrous thing where I get to work my own hours, and more importantly, live where I want to. I dream of living in a shack in the woods on a lake, or on an island somewhere, or just traveling around like some kind of gypsy nomad. Can you do that kind of thing (obviously dependent on internet availability) or do you need to stay closer to your big clients? Does all of your interaction with your clients happen through email/video conference/phone calls or do you meet face to face?

If you can live where ever you want to why did you choose to live where you do now?

Outsourcing

outsourcing

Outsourcing is a pretty hot topic, especially for those of us working in-house in a corporate environment. Obviously most illustrators aren’t too excited about the idea of losing their job to someone overseas charging 3 bucks an hour. Upper management loves it; they save on wages, benefits, computers, office space, etc. At the same time they will only pass those benefits on to the customer if they really have to.

I used to be pretty dead set against the idea of sending work overseas. I had it in my head that they were just lowly factory worker types out to get our jobs. I always thought a better compromise  would be to start up satellite offices in rural America, where land is cheap and unemployment is higher. Americans having a hard time finding work would be happy to work for even $10 per hour, but the jobs would stay in the country.

My attitude changed a bit with a trip I made to China last year to train a group of 10 illustrators there, which I commented about in this post. Who I found there weren’t sneaky job stealers out for American jobs – they were young, hungry illustrators who were lucky to get an education in illustration and not have to work in factories. They wanted desperately to learn and get good at their jobs, something I’ve rarely seen with the people I’ve worked with in the US.

Advantages of outsourcing

  • They work while you are sleeping
  • Low cost
  • Quick turn around times

Disadvantages of outsourcing

  • Communication can be difficult at times.
  • Training, either by traveling to their location or late night conference calls.
  • Getting the quality of work you expect.

How to be competitive with low cost countries

Develop a diverse set of skills. Be able to execute any project your client or employer needs, be prepared to learn how, or involve yourself in it in a meaningful way. Pay attention to what is going on in your industry. Be more than just hands, be their go-to person.

Pay attention to the warning signs. If your company starts up an office in China, chances are someone is going to lose a job. Start working on a Plan B or an exit strategy.

Stay ahead of the game, our field is constantly evolving, and we need to change and adapt along with it.

As a freelancer would you consider or do you already outsource some of your work during peak work loads? Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week advocates the use of outsourcing as a way to automate your life by working less and making more. If I picked up a huge contract I can’t say I wouldn’t consider it. Though I haven’t tried them, I know there are many sites out there to get you in touch with illustrators all over the world.

Honestly, I’m still on the fence about the whole thing. Of course I would like to keep jobs in the United States but the world is a different place, there are skilled, talented people all over who need jobs. Most of the stuff we own is made in china anyway. I think if it came down to it and I needed help with my work, I would try to go local first, if that didn’t pan out I would considering having the work done overseas.

What do you think?

Let’s see those workspaces

I love to see where people work, what kind of equipment they are using, desk, chairs, how you set up your space etc.

Here’s where I work at home. I’m really pleased with the desk. My brother in-law bought an antique mahagony trunk for 20 bucks and we chopped it up and turned it into a desk. I’m still surprised how well that turned out.

IMG_3323

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Sonic – more than just tots

We very rarely ever pick up fast food but once in a while I’ll get a craving for tots that cannot be resisted. So our last trip I was very pleased to find in my sons WACKY PACK this handy little science slider that explains how things work, with TECHNICAL ILLUSTRATIONS even!!

Update: Ed Schlittenhardt, associate art director at C3, got in touch to take much deserved credit for the artwork above. Great work, Ed!

Adobe Illustrator – Live Trace

LIVETRACEred

On the few occasions that I have found it useful, I’ve used Live Trace to create vectors from a 1 or 2 color logo that I only had a raster of. It’s not bad at that, though you rarely get a professional print quality output as it’s still hard to get really clean, straight lines and of course it depends on how high of quality your source file is. I have used software at a former job that was proprietary to them and did not have any kind of vector export feature so I would make a .jpg of a technical line drawing in the software and live trace that in illustrator. Results are hit and miss most times and really depend on how much time you want to spend tweaking the settings and how high of quality you want the final output to be.

Like all programs that I’ve ever tried out that promise easy vector conversion, I’ve usually found that I can actually trace it faster myself and get MUCH better quality without a lot more time invested. In every program I have ever seen you could easily spend as much time cleaning up the vector trace as you could drawing it right the first time.

What are your thoughts on the Live Trace feature in Adobe Illustrator? Do you use it? What do you use it for? Have you used other software that works better for vector conversion? Let us know!

Online Portfolio Sites

PORTFOLIOS

Whether you already have your own website and domain name to showcase your work, or you’re just getting started building your online presence, there are a myriad of existing free and paid portfolio sites to help you get your work in front of people. Some of these pre-fab portfolios are suitable to stand on their own, while others are great ways to direct an audience to your own website.
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Changing Industries

This is my experience with switching from one industry to another.

I get the feeling that there are a lot of illustrators out there who are working in-house for companies and are either worried about the economy, getting laid off or having their jobs shipped off to low cost countries. Working in the auto industry for 13 years and seeing what was happening, we were constantly in fear of losing our jobs.

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Mike Fraser

Mike is another one of those illustrators that’s been a big influence on me. Just deconstructing his work has been a big help in my transition from working in the auto industry to working in soft goods for the outdoor apparel industry. Mike has done a ton of work for companies like The North Face, Gerber and Boa Technology, just to name a few.

Mike is one of those guys you won’t see much online, he’s too busy working, so I’m very happy to show his work here.

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

What is your background in Illustration?

After I finished college in 1972, I was a high school art teacher for 3 years before I started
free-lancing. During the summer after I left teaching, ( 1975 ) I put together a PITIFUL portfolio
and started calling on people around town. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing! …but people were nice, and helpful, and pointed me where I needed to go.

Illustration by Mike Fraser

The North Face Back pack

I was lucky and was offered studio space to rent ( not a job, just a studio )…fortunately, there
were a bunch of other artists working there who taught me what I needed to know, a little
at a time. They also sent me “overflow” work. I did mostly print production, and occasionally an illustration here and there. Along the way, I learned a LOT…about art and printing, and picked up clients of my own, and by 1979, I was sending work to some of the other guys.
Over the next 18 years (from 1979 until 1997), I got more and more “illustration” projects, and fewer and fewer “print production” projects…

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

I divide my “career” into 2 parts…“Before” computers ( 1976-1997 ), and “After” computers…
I didn’t get my first computer until 1997, and didn’t get any “good” at it until after 2000.

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Boa Lacing System

Until 2000, I always had a studio “downtown”…and then I moved my office home. From 2000 until 2006, I worked in our “guest bedroom”, using it as as my studio…it was way too small, but I made it work. In 2006, I finally had a contractor build me a “real” studio in the backyard ( built into the garage ) with skylights, vaulted ceilings, and lots of ROOM! Even though it has gotten “smaller” as my work load has grown…it is the greatest workspace I’ve ever had!!!!

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

What’s your setup?

I’m working on the Macintosh Platform, using the Adobe Software Suite…I think my background in “traditional” art media really helps me to maintain image “integrity” when working in the computer…after 12 years working on the computer, I’m very comfortable and confident taking on just about any assignment…

Mike Fraser Illustration

Mike Fraser Illustration

Any advice for other illustrators starting out?

My advice to artists just starting out is to talk to as many people actually working in the field as you can…school is great, but it never seems to quite prepare you for the “real thing”…
Always try to learn as much as you can, and constantly try to improve your skills.

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Look at the work of artists whose work you admire. Then, once you get going, ALWAYS meet your deadlines…whatever it takes…and NEVER be satisfied to let a project go out of your studio that is not the very BEST you can do. As an artist, your reputation for quality work, and your dependability are what you sell.

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

What have you been up to lately?

Lately, I’ve been doing mostly “product” and “technical” illustration and even some photo retouching…one gal I’ve known for years told me that most of the old airbrush retouchers around town never made the switch to the computer. I used to do quite a bit of airbrush work… but after I got used to Photoshop, I never went back. ( my old airbrush is hanging in the corner… I haven’t used it in years! ).

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

If you would like to get in contact with Mike, send an email to mike_fraser@comcast.net

Adobe Illustrator Brush Freebie

After spending countless, grueling hours drawing/tracing under hood illustrations used in owners and service manuals I created this handy brush to make all of my wire looms and cables effortlessly.

Adobe Illustrator Cable/Hose/wire loom brush

After dropping the brush file in your presets directory here are a couple tips to help you out. Read More

Inspiration – Cutaway and Ghosted Illustrations

I scanned these 1st 2 out of my sons books from the library.

Construction Truck Illustration

Construction Truck Illustration

dump truck

dump truck

Dump truck from the book, Cutaway Trucks, illustrated by Simon Tegg and Graham White.

928 cutaway

928 cutaway

Northrop X-35B cutaway

Northrop X-35B cutaway

If anyone recognizes who these illustrators are let me know.