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Working Guide for Artists

Freelance 101 for Artists

More and more graduates see starting their own business as a valid career choice. Also, freelancing can offer flexible income for students. The information below is a quick reference guide to give basic business know-how to the self-employed artist. Students and alumni who wish to take on freelancing as a source of income should use the following information and resources as a base to do more in depth
research of their own.

Marketing & Self Promotion

Unlike giant cookies and the Forum, "build it and they will come" does not necessarily apply to your new freelance business. It takes quite a bit of time and effort to build and maintain a client base. Most successful freelancers agree that the bulk of their income is generated from repeat business, so it is a good idea to put at least as much effort into keeping your clients coming back as you do into getting new clients

Your first priority should be to do the best work you possibly can for your clients, and make their experience working with you as pleasant as possible. This means finishing projects on time, and responding to emails and phone calls promptly. Also, just being nice will earn your favor with your customers.

As for new clients, if you do good work, you should get some referrals. Build a mailing list of clients, friends, family, arts professionals, the media and decision makers in your field. You can also buy mailing lists from other businesses and/or organizations. Try to send out at least three mailings per year so that you keep your name in the air.

Besides browsing job listings on the CalArts Job Bank, newspaper classifieds, etc., online databases are another way to get work. Try posting your résumé on the CalArts CommonSpace or use sites like CreativeHotlist.com and NowCasting.com to promote yourself. Be sure to include examples of your most recent work, plus a way to get in touch with you. Also, You might even try siteslike elance.com.

Time Management

Panic is the most natural response to moments in life when everything needs to be done five minutes ago. Unfortunately, while pressure can help prompt us to finally finish an important project, it can also make it impossible to get anything done due to the sense of being totally overwhelmed and out of control. Fortunately, it is never too late to start managing your time instead of allowing your time to manage you.

Something that is very easy to forget is we only have one body a piece and each day is only 24 hours long, while a reasonable work day is a mere eight hours long. Many time management experts recommend only scheduling half of your available time to allow for time to deal with unexpected emergencies. This can be impossible when you are juggling a full load of classes plus a rehearsal schedule, but it is a good guideline for your "free" time. If you sit down and work out the amount of time that you need for class, plus sleep, plus rehearsals, plus any projects you are working on for class or auditions and you come up with only 10 hours of personal time per week, when a friend asks you for a favor, try to think of yourself as having only five hours available per week before you make a commitment. This will allow you more flexibility with your schedule and help avoid resentment on either side.

It is also helpful to set goals for yourself to help guide your daily priorities. When you create goals, write them down somewhere where you will not lose them and can refer back to them often. A good guideline to use when you create goals is to write S.M.A.R.T. goals. A S.M.A.R.T. goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. In other words, have each goal relate to a specific task that you would like to accomplish, break a long-term goal into a series of short-term goals, if necessary. You should also have some way to measure your progress toward accomplishing your goal. Be honest about your time, resources, and current level of ability when you create your goals. Stretching yourself is a great idea, but setting the bar too high can undermine your confidence in your abilities. You are also much more likely to achieve a goal if you have a deadline in mind. When you set a deadline, keep in mind how much time you have to work toward your goals every week and plan accordingly.

Try to limit your tasks to activities that are meaningful to you. Even if you manage to do this, there will always be some task that you will want to procrastinate on either because it is really hard, time intensive or it's just plain boring. The best way to conquer this type of task is to break it down into 15-20 minute mini-tasks. This will allow you to see progress with minimal effort and will encourage you to keep chipping away at the project.

Most important of all, remember to reward yourself for your accomplishments, even the small ones. This will help you balance work and play, and it will give you something to look forward to when you'reworking on a difficult task.

Protecting Yourself and Your Work: Copyright

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

U.S. Copyright Office
Learn about copyright, search copyright records, publications licensing, how to register a work, how to record a document, law and policy, patents & trademarks and more.


Forms and Information Circulars, (24 hour voicemail) (202) 707-9100

Public Information, (Monday-Friday 8:30am to 5:00pm Eastern Standard Time) (202) 707-3000

Information Specialists, (Monday-Friday 8:30am to 5:00pm Eastern Standard Time) (202) 707-5959

Artists Beware of Work-for-Hire!

Work for hire is a special term used in the United States Copyright Act. Normally, when a person or group creates a copyrightable work, whether a song or a computer program or a sculpture, the person or persons creating the work have a copyright in the work. Thus, the creators can exploit the work and receive money for their creative energies. By signing a work-for-hire agreement the artist(s) gives authorship and all attendant rights to the employer. Learn more about work-for-hire:

What is Work-for-Hire?

Working with Freelancers: What Every Publisher Should Know About the "Work-for-Hire" Doctrine:


There are always two sides to every assignment. A contract defines the working relationship of the client and the artist. Confusion and misunderstanding are likely if details such as, timeline for the work, what rights the client owns, when the artist is to be paid, etc. are not outlined.

To Call a Lawyer or Not?

Although contracts can appear daunting, in most circumstances, calling a lawyer is not necessary. The more contracts you read the more you will begin to understand. If you need help in the beginning try calling up fellow artists to talk openly about contacts, and ask their opinions. Also, chat boards and guilds are great ways to form a support group. When writing or negotiating a contract, there are times when it's best to consult a lawyer: for large, complicated projects involving complex royalty or licensing issues, projects involving lengthy schedules and/or penalties, licensing work in multinational markets, etc.

California Lawyers for the Arts Lawyer Referral Services:

Barely Legal Radio:
Listen on the radio or listen on the web every Friday at 11 AM to Noon.
Use our online resources or call in and we can talk about your show biz legal questions, give you some professional advice, and make you a little more prepared for what's out there.

Legal Zoom:
Created by top attorneys, LegalZoom helps you create reliable legal documents from your home or office.
Simply answer a few questions online, and your documents will be prepared within 48 hours.

Easy Ways to Protect Yourself

Make a folder for each client and keep copies of all documents, correspondences, receipts and notes.

If your business is art, then take it seriously and know how to protect yourself and your work. There are several good publications on legal issues and contracts for artists. Visit your local bookstore or library or search the Internet.

Pricing and Rates

Even though it may sound trite at this point, it is worth mentioning again that as a freelance artist you are a businessperson and in order to run a successful business, you must keep your eye on the profit. To make a profit, you must have a positive difference between the total price a client pays you for your work and the cost to you of creating that work. Examples of expenses that you incur while creating a piece include: overhead expenses (i.e. studio rent and electricity), materials, software and training (for computer generated art), and your time and expertise.

As a new freelancer, it is easy to underestimate the value of your abilities and potential contribution to the client, especially since you do need clients to build your reputation. However, if you sell yourself short in the beginning, you run the risk of having more trouble getting what you are worth later. If all goes well, clients will return to you for other projects, and they will not respond well if you triple your rate six months later.

The best way to avoid future conflicts with a client is to take the time to write-up a project budget proposal after your first meeting, and present the proposal to them for approval before you begin the work. Your proposal should address: the amount of time you expect the project to take, the stimated cost of materials, overhead, travel (including trips to visit your client), long-distance phone calls, and your creative fee. If you write all of this up and total it and it still seems a bit high or low, call around and see what other freelancers are charging for similar projects. Once you have finished your research, set your rate at the high end of the reasonable range, and decide before you meet with your client what you consider your minimum charge. If you enter the meeting with a range in mind, it gives you and your client room for negotiation, which will help you build and maintain a good business relationship.

Once you and the client have reached a satisfactory agreement, make all the necessary revisions to your proposal and get your client to sign the final version. At this point, you will also want to make sure that you get an agreement that spells out your rights and privileges as well as your client's rights and privileges regarding use of the completed piece. You can incorporate this into your final version of the proposal, which is a contract (See Protecting Yourself and Your Work).

Remember to document everything that you do related to your client's project. It may be helpful to keep a sign-in sheet by your desk to keep track of the amount of time you spend working on a project each day. Also keep all of your receipts for any expenses incurred while working on the project. Whenever possible, get a completely separate receipt for the materials related to that particular project. If you cannot get a separate receipt, be sure to highlight the items related to the project as soon as possible so that you do not forget. It is a good idea to get into the habit of documenting expenses related to your art career because you will also need this documentation for tax purposes.

Many of these guidelines still apply for art that you have already created and shown at a gallery. While it is true that you would create art even if you could never make money off of it, the expenses that you incur from creating each piece are legitimate expenses and you should take them into consideration when you price your work. Also, take the gallery's/dealer's commission into account. It is not unusual for art dealers to take a 50% commission from each piece sold. So if you price a painting at $2,000 that means that the dealer gets half and you get the other half. $1,000 might sound like a lot of money, but keep in mind that you spent a lot of money on studio rent, materials, and the training that it took to be able to create that painting.

It is important to have an idea of how much your particular market will bear so it does not hurt to scope out what other artists are charging for similar work, but keep in mind that many artists do not charge enough, and going exclusively by what artists in your region are charging may cause problems for you down the line. If you really want to show somewhere and the dealer insists that you set a lower price and you can live with their recommendation, then go ahead and lower it, but be wary of setting low prices just to please other people because as a rule customers rarely want to pay more for anything than they absolutely have to, and you need to eat.


A majority of artists are considered "self-employed" in regards to filing their taxes. In a legal and taxpaying sense this means that your "business" as an artist and you as an individual taxpayer are one and the same. There is no legal separation, such as one would have in a corporation, partnership, LLC or other legal entity. The artist has a number of tax deductions that are unique. Be informed of deductions and keep your receipts so that you can reduce the amount of money that you give to the government. It is advisable to consult a knowledgeable tax accountant when tax time comes along. These sites will outline deductions and give tips for tax time:

Tax Tips for Musicians:

Tax Guide for Actors, Directors and Performers:

Last edited by kerrishak on Sep 22, 2015
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