10 ways to make money and stay creative in between commissions for a freelance illustrator.

Anya Kuvarzina
7 min readApr 30, 2018


The nature of freelance work means that there will surely be moments when you find yourself in between projects, looking to make money with illustration but with no potential gigs. That is the time when all your perseverance skills will be put to the test, as you try to fight off the demons of desperation and low self-esteem while pondering on the possibility of getting a full-time job. Although not having paid employment brings money pressure and stress, with the right frame of mind it can be transformed into an opportunity to find new platforms and creative revenue streams. Having a break in between commissions is normal for freelancers, and doesn’t reflect on you being a bad artist. Remember, every successful freelancer has experienced what you are going through right now, and don’t be hard on yourself.

My main recipe for dealing with dry periods is to keep creating work regularly. Working on anything creative is better than doing nothing, as you will keep your creative juices flowing while gaining experience and honing your personal style. To get through the dry period easily and effectively, treat it as a portfolio building exercise. While our end goal is getting paid work from the big fish commissioners: design agencies and traditional publishers, developing such relationships can take some time. Meanwhile, there are other side projects that you can be doing with a little bit of laptop research and ambition.

Here are my 10 ideas of hustling as an illustrator, earning some money and staying creative while doing it.


Image stocks are platforms where designers go to find ready-made imagery to use for their projects. My prefered stock platforms are Adobe Stock and Shutterstock. Selling your art on stocks can bring passive income while essentially making you a digital shopkeeper. It can also take the pressure out of illustration, as you can decide what, how and when you want to illustrate. My observation is that vector images do better on stocks. In terms of images to post, I would first do research on what the audience is actually searching for. A good way to find out what is in demand is to check out the category images on the home page of stock sites or filter results by most popular. For instance, in Adobe Stock, go to search, and leave it blank, but select “images” as a category. Then filter your results by popularity and you will get the idea of which images are popular on that platform. Tagging your images with right keywords is essential, as you need to anticipate what phrases the users will search for and tag your image assets appropriately.


Opening an Etsy shop is a great way of getting exposure and selling your ready-made artwork. For example, you can sell greeting cards, prints and apparel with your illustrations. You can either print them out at home if you have a good printer or get them professionally made. Etsy already has a huge audience of craft-loving customers and it can help you learn which of your designs are more popular. Another cool thing you can sell on Etsy is digital downloads. Selling digital files of your illustrations means you won’t need to deal with the extra hassle and cost of postage. You can also offer personalisation, where customers can request a custom message or image on products, which you can sell for a higher price.

Creative market

Another platform where you can sell your illustration assets is Creative Market. Creative Market has higher entry levels than stocks and a high emphasis is put on presentation and being on-trend. Look at this link to get the idea of what sells well on there. Selling on Creative Market will suit someone who has knowledge of graphic design and branding, as you will need to put together effective presentations of your illustrations. You also need to demonstrate a solid professional web presence in order to get accepted to sell on the platform. If you like the style popular on Creative Market and are comfortable with branding, then you can enjoy benefits like keeping 70% of your earnings from your passive income stream.


Fiverr is a platform for freelancers, other similar sites include Upwork, People per Hour, etc. Word of warning: the competition is fierce on these sites and getting commissions often means working for less. However, if you are working on developing your portfolio, I see nothing wrong with getting a few gigs with clients through platforms like these. Even if you don’t get work out of it, it is helpful to learn how to deal with clients and you will probably grow some thick skin too! Extra exposure is always good, as it can lead you to a potential well-paid illustration project.

Friends and family

If you are sitting there complaining that you don’t have any illustration work, get out your phone out now and text or call the first 5 contacts that come to mind. Ask if they know anyone who needs illustration services and ask them to share this with their friends. I guarantee you that there are definitely a few people in your network who know your prospective clients or can use your services. And although it might not be the coolest commission you will ever get, it can lead to some serious projects or job offers. Plus, you will gain more work for your portfolio, a win-win!

Twitter search

Twitter is excellent for finding freelance jobs, both from serious agencies and casual clients. Type in “looking for illustrator” or “need illustrator” or something of such nature into twitter search and voila. There will be plenty of people that you can leave a reply to or get in touch with via direct message. Make sure that your Twitter profile is up to date and reflects your illustration services effectively, as that is where your prospective clients will look first.

Community, charity and student projects.

I’m getting into dangerous territory with this one, as there is a huge debate in the illustration community on whether you should ever do any work for free. What I’m talking about here, is getting involved with a small, local charity group and offering to do a small illustration job for them. Word of mouth can work like magic in your favour. Also, universities and MA students often run interesting collaborative projects where they want to get illustrators involved. In return, you will get exposure and make new connections. One of the projects I am involved with right now is a campaign run by MA students, called Another100. If you are passionate about equal rights for women and want to get involved, follow this link.

Social media challenges and competitions.

Social media challenges and competitions can do wonders in getting you organised and motivated. Essentially, they are mini briefs that you can do in your own time. It is also a nice way to connect with a community of creatives working on the same project as you. You can find examples of such challenges on Instagram and Twitter, here are just a few ideas:#the100dayproject, #100daysofanimals, #100daysoffaces. Also, Illustration Friday offers a weekly illustration theme that you can respond to. Although these challenges do not offer any monetary benefits, they act as mini portfolio boot camps, helping you hone your creative style and giving structure to your creative process. Eventually, it will lead to well-paid commissions.

Talenthouse competitions.

Along the lines of the previous point, if you are looking for a mini brief to help you channel your efforts, Talenthouse lets you submit artwork for competitions set by brands and agencies. This can work well for you if you are just out of the university and miss the structure of a brief, or if you want to get experience working to set guidelines. The community aspect of sharing your work and following other users is also beneficial. Potentially, winning the competition can give you exposure and (woo-hoo) a money prize.

Taking part in exhibitions.

As well as using the virtual portfolio platforms, let’s not discard the opportunities provided by exhibiting work in the physical space. Exhibitions can help you connect with local art admirers, which can potentially lead to a sale or a commission. Getting an art exhibition is not as hard as you think, and there are many opportunities to do it with little or no money. Ask in the local cafes and local restaurants if you can get your work shown there. They are usually open to supporting local artists if the artwork fits within their interior. Also, check out your local libraries and community centres. You can connect with other local artists and do a group show together, or take part in a local DIY market. Meeting people face to face is rewarding and can help you make friends and find potential clients.

This is it for today’s 10 tips for staying active while in-between commissions.

Hopefully, I gave you some ideas to get you out of procrastination coma and start working on some projects. When you are freelancing you just need to start the ball rolling. Eventually, it will snowball into something BIG.

What are your thoughts on these 10 tips? Reach out and leave me a comment below.