The Only Good Routine is the One That Works for You

Question: I’m a new freelancer … do you have any tips for initiating a professional routine?

When I think about an illustrator’s routine, two types of routines come to mind: your daily routine and your workflow routine with your client.

Find Your Own Rhythm

Let’s take the daily routine first. I don’t have a disciplined work schedule. I work late nights and weekends as needed. I know some illustrators who try to keep a set Monday-Friday schedule, but it’s just not feasible for me.

This is something you’ll need to customize for yourself and play it by ear. You have to experiment with your schedule and figure out when you’re comfortable working. For me, illustrating primarily in the editorial market, deadlines make figuring out how to prioritize pretty easy. A two- to three-day turnaround for an illustration is pretty normal for me.

Get Ahead

I’d suggest getting your long turnaround assignments done early. By nature, I have a hard time sitting on assignments because I don’t want to get overloaded. My fear is if I sit on a job with a long turnaround until the end, that’s when the new fast-turnaround assignments will hit – and then all of the sudden you’re overwhelmed by numerous deadlines.

So I’d suggest staying ahead. I often turn in sketches and final illustrations early on jobs that have a more comfortable turnaround time. Then you’re free when those last-minute jobs come around.

My weekly routine is pretty simple and usually dictated by the amount of work I have. If I have a lot of work, most of my time will be focused on that. If things aren’t too busy, then I’ll fill the dead time with self-promotion: sending emails and marketing postcards, looking for new places that might be interested in my work, etc.

The Assignment Routine

I’ll usually get an email or call with information for an assignment – sometimes a lot of information, sometimes not. If I don’t get the basics (deadlines, pay, subject), I’ll ask. If I’m feeling unsure of the topic or the client’s expectations, I’ll ask, “Was there a specific piece of mine that you liked?” or “Did you have any ideas already in mind?” This is usually geared toward newer clients, as I already have a feel for my regular art directors.

Assuming there is a full article to read, I’ll give it a good read to learn the overall subject/theme. Depending on the subject, it may take a second read to fully grasp the overall theme.

I don’t have a set number of sketches I show. It just depends on the story. If the idea has already been set in stone, I’ll focus on one main sketch with maybe a variation or an alternate idea. Otherwise I’ll generally show four to seven ideas, sometimes more, sometimes less.

First I’ll do really rough ideas or even write down ideas for the illustration. Then I’ll take these scribbles and notes and begin to work on the sketches. Most times, I show the sketches in black and white, but on occasion will add a bit of color to give a sense of where I might go with it. I usually have a good initial sense when it comes to the overall color scheme and don’t usually alter it after sketches are approved.

The Business Lab Professional Marketing and Business Routine Illustrator Brian Taylor resized 600

© Brian Taylor

Once sketches are approved, I’ll finish and deliver the final art via email, usually with a link to the high-res file. Within a few days I’ll send an invoice. I’m also starting to get into the habit with new clients of sending a customized “thank you” card. Sometimes just adding a personal touch like that can go a long way – not a bad thing to add to your routine.

About Brian

Brian is an editorial and portrait illustrator. His clients include: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Billboard, Wired UK, The Washington Post, Fast Company, Games for Windows and The Boston Globe. He lives in the Washington DC area with his wife, two daughters and a dog named Bill.

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