I’ve been working as a freelance artist in the Netherlands ever since I graduated in August 2009. I do mostly character design work at the moment, as well as generating income from Patreon and selling my art as books, prints and merch.
I often get asked whether it is possible to make a living off of art, usually from people who are about to choose that direction in life and are worried about their future. I can attest that it is definitely possible! I personally am able to make a living from my art, and I know a lot of other people who do the same. However, it’s not a guarantee for everyone, and can be complicated depending on what you do, where you live, and what your options are. For me, having an online presence and living in The Netherlands, which is relatively easygoing for freelancers, has made things a lot easier. I also generate income from various sources, like client work, book sales, teaching workshops, and more. If one of these sources falls away, I can try to compensate by focusing on other areas of income. If you want to make a career off of your art, do not put too much pressure on yourself to succeed immediately, but give yourself time to find out which path works for your situation.
When I first became a freelancer, I had already been posting my work online and building a following for about 6 years. By the time I was ready to accept freelance work, I already had some interesting requests for projects lined up, so I could instantly start working. However, in the beginning, the work I did varied enormously and was not always the best fit. Some of it was very low-paid or didn’t match my skillset, and sporadic in nature – sometimes I had numerous offers, sometimes my schedule was empty for a few months. I filled those gaps by doing commissions. It took about 5 years to get a steady stream of client work that was a good fit with my abilities. Getting there was really a question of building work experience, gaining confidence in my skills, and continuing to make and post personal art in order to expand my online exposure. Almost all of my clients approach me because they have seen my work on the internet, so for me, it’s been essential to keep sharing my art on social media in order to find work. For artists just starting out, my main tip is to give yourself lots of time to find your footing and figure out how you want to approach networking. There are many options out there, so find out what suits you best!