Ten types of client a freelance illustrator should know about

The freelance illustrator – Ten client types

Perhaps you are just starting out as a freelance illustrator and have no idea what kinds of people will require your skills. I have been freelancing for quite a few years now and I have definitely seen patterns of behaviour in my freelance clients: some good, some not so good. I thought I would share ten types of clients I have come across in my time as a freelance illustrator in an effort to help other illustrators. If you are an illustrator just starting out this will help you to anticipate the many different types of clients you will encounter along the way. If you are an experienced illustrator you may enjoy recognizing some of these clients and may want to leave a comment with your own experiences!

Fashion illustration for Pampelone

White sundress fashion illustration for Pampelone

The very short notice client

There is nothing wrong with tight deadlines. Sometimes I prefer a tight deadline as it forces me to focus and concentrate, to work faster and get a project done and dusted pronto. A tight deadline can be both painful and positive and you can learn a lot about yourself as an artist through taking short notice projects on. You do have to wonder though, when a client comes to you with a ridiculously short notice project, if it says more about them than you. It could be a sign of a lack of organisation, a lack of real seriousness about the project and a sign of a lack of professionalism. It could also be a sign that the client has tried to secure a number of other illustrator’s services first, who were not available, so have then come to you. This may mean that you are not the preferred choice. It’s up to you if you decide the project is worth taking on or not. Sometimes there is a completely legitimate reason for the short notice, such as another illustrator has had to pull out at the last minute. Nine times out of ten though, be wary of the ridiculous deadline client, as this could be the first of many warning signs that there may be trouble to come. This is something to bear in mind as a freelance illustrator before you get too deep into a project.

The vague client

This client is the opposite of the short notice client. The blase or vague client can be very difficult for the freelance illustrator to understand. They may ask for an example or some test work for the project but be unclear as to whether they intend to pay for that or not. They may take a very long time to get back to you with answers to any questions you may have. You may have a super long phone conversation with them about the project and come away feeling you just don’t get what it’s about, what exactly they want from you or how you are supposed to go about doing it. You may be confused as to the payment, or the deadline. This type of client may even fade away or ghost you halfway through the initial briefing phase. It’s probably best to just let them go in that instance. If you have a bad feeling about how clear a project is it’s always best to go with your gut. My gut feeling in my many years as a freelance fashion illustrator has never been wrong. Believe me, when a client is serious about a project, everything usually seems very clear and understandable and they get back to you in good time with solid answers to your questions. They want to get started on the project in a timely manner. A client like this is a far cry from the blase client.

The generous client

The generous client does not have a problem with your pricing as they understand that what you are offering is a valuable skill that will benefit their brand. They give good direction but understand that you have a wealth of experience you can share with them as a freelance illustrator. They are generous about listening and taking on your ideas. They will take on your ideas where they feel it will generate a good final result or they will pass on them if they feel they have a better angle to approach the project from. It’s a wonderful creative experience to team up with the generous client. You will have an exciting time and genuinely be inspired and chuffed with the final work you produce. Working with this kind of client is a true creative collaboration and hopefully generate repeat business for you both.

The micro- managing client

The micro-managing client aka pixel pusher is a freelance illustrators worst nightmare. They are the complete opposite of the generous client. Their ego will not allow you to come up with any original ideas to contribute to the project. They are called pixel pushers in the industry because they want to use your hands but not your brains. They basically want to be on the other end of the phone telling you how far to push each pixel within the illustration. They will tell you to move a logo over 3 mm to the left, or take 20 minutes to try to convey to you the exact shade of brown they want. E mailing instructions will be a very long process with this type of client. My advice is to stay well clear of this kind of client. This kind of client probably needs an artist that they can utilize full time in house, that they can sit next to and instruct at every minuscule stage. At first you will offer this client your ideas eagerly only to have then continuously changed or turned down. The trouble with this client is that they need to micro-manage your every move to such an extent that every simple stage will end up taking five times as long as it should. But this client will not be willing to pay for that extra time. In the end you will become quickly disillusioned or disheartened and give up even offering any insight or advice and will end up just doing exactly what you are told. My advice with this kind of client is to get the project completed as soon as you can and move on, learning from the experience. Don’t ever take on any more work from this client as they will never change. Try to recognize these signs early enough in future clients and don’t take them on.

The client that is looking for a bargain

It’s completely reasonable for a client to have a budget in mind. You have a choice as a freelance illustrator whether to accept their budget and work within it, or negotiate for a price closer to what you want. If a client is not willing to pay the higher price you need to make the decision as to whether to take on the project or not. If a client comes up with a ridiculously low budget for a project that you know will take time and skill, it’s probably best to pass on the work. There will be plenty of other clients that will be willing to pay fair money for a project. It’s usually the first sign of a difficult client when the price is a big problem right at the start. My advice is to pass and wait for another client that is willing to pay.

The client that asks for a free test project

There is nothing wrong with doing a project for no pay if it gives you something in return. Perhaps there is a charity that you feel a particular affinity to and want to lend them your services. Maybe you want to team up and collaborate with a popular blogger and provide illustrations for a blog post in return for a credit and a link back to your website. However, beware the client who says they need a test project doing to see if you are suitable for the job. A respectable client should be willing to pay you for your time to do the test project. It should also be clear what your style and capabilities are from your own online portfolio or website. If a client will not offer to pay for the project it may be better to pass, as this may be a sign of trouble to come. Whenever I have fallen into the trap of doing a test project, it has never ended in paid work. Sometimes an unscrupulous client will ask ten eager freelance illustrators each to do for example a floral arrangement illustration as a test, and voila, they have their ten illustrations without having to pay a penny. Often if a client needs a lot of small illustrations I will do a test illustration for my own means just to see how long it will take me. That allows me to estimate the total project cost more accurately. I will also sometimes submit my own test illustration to the client so they can see the example for themselves and can present it to their boss to get the project signed off on. I have found this to be extremely useful in order to get a really accurate price costing and to secure the project. It also gives me confidence when tackling the real live project as I already know exactly what I am doing. So it’s OK to do work for free but it has to be useful for you, not exploitative and on your own terms.

The no boundaries client

The no boundaries client will call you at 10.30 at night to talk about a project. They will not be understanding at all when for whatever reasons a project runs over time-wise. They will push the boundaries by not wanting to pay the usual monetary deposit. Often they will really want to meet with you face to face when a phone call or e mail would be sufficient. They will constantly change their mind about the direction of the project rendering your previous work on the project useless. But they won’t want to pay for the work you have already done. They will be late with the final payment. This kind of client is probably best avoided as they will push the boundaries at every opportunity often putting you on the spot and making you feel very uncomfortable. Life as a freelance illustrator can be challenging enough without dealing with the no boundaries client. They are impossible to please and if you do not heed the early warning signs they may totally refuse to pay at the end leaving you out of pocket for lots of hours of work. Or else they will make so many changes that the time spent on the project grossly exceeds the original agreed payment.

The client that doesn’t really know what they want

One thing I have noticed is that some clients know exactly what they are looking for and some clients are frustratingly vague about what they want. Sometimes as a freelance illustrator you feel like you are playing a guessing game! Other times a client will give you direction but be quite non-specific about the details until after you have drawn the illustration. After you have done the illustration some clients suddenly have a lot of feedback ¬†for you that they didn’t have before you started. It’s always very difficult to tell if your client is going to do this until after you have gotten quite a way along with the illustration work. Probably the way to deal with this is to try and get as much direction from the client before you start the project and maybe produce pencil sketches along the way to make sure you are on the right track before you get too far in with the illustration.

The chaotic client

The chaotic client always seems to have a certain amount of drama following them about. Before you know it, their project will seem incredibly stressful to you. It’s not you, it’s them. It may be hard to see when you are in the midst of the project, but in hindsight with quite a number of chaotic clients I have been able to see that they just always seem to have a lot of drama surrounding them. It may be short deadlines, it may be unclear instruction, it may be them not knowing really what they want. It may be a third party giving them their two cents after you have gotten too far along with the illustration or maybe they constantly change their mind. Their schedule may be too packed to give you timely feedback or their thought patterns too chaotic to make much sense. There are enough organised and logical clients out there for the freelance illustrator to take a well advised clear berth of the chaotic client.


The perfect client

Of course as a freelance illustrator its always a dream to work with a perfect client. The dream client is one that comes back to you quickly, is very clear with their direction and answers any questions clearly. An ideal client will give their direction but also welcome your ideas and incorporate them. They will enjoy collaborating with you without egos being an issue. They will state their budget and respectfully see if you can come to a compromise. They will give great feedback and see things that need improving that as an artist you have not seen. And of course they will make payments in a timely manner! These kinds of clients make being a freelance illustrator worthwhile!

Fashion illustrations for Missoni

Fashion illustration for FAD x Missoni

My years as a freelance illustrator

I have many years working as a freelance fashion illustrator. I have worked for many clients, large and small. Past brands I have been involved with include Juicy Couture, Reiss, Oasis, Bravissimo and Ultimo. I have done live illustration in Harrods, Selfridges and House of Fraser. I hope this blog helps other established illustrators and also any new up and coming freelance illustrators. If you would like to have a look at my portfolio why not go to my fashion illustration portfolio or check out my services page at fashion illustration services. Thank you for stopping by and I hope I have shared some valuable tips and information!

Fashion illustration of jeans and boots for Dorothy Perkins London

Fashion illustration for Dorothy Perkins blog

Fragrance illustrations for blog

Perfume illustration of Anais Anais

Red lingerie fashion illustration for Ultimo

Lingerie illustration for Ultimo Valentines Day



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