Is Being an Illustrator Stressful? How to Deal with Problems You May Have


Like many professions, being an illustrator can be stressful.  Depending on your situation, stress can be brought on by tight deadlines, lack of money, artist’s block or difficult clients.

Illustrators can prevent or mitigate stress by actively working towards improving the following:

  • Communication
  • Time management
  • Spending habits
  • Planning ahead
  • Exercise
  • Sleep

In this article we will look at why working as an illustrator can be stressful and what to do about it.

Deadline Stress

The start of a new Illustration project is always fun and exciting in the beginning. You’re in the concept stage, cranking out ideas and discovering new ways of doing things. But before you know it, you’re bingeing Gilmore Girls and necking a bucket of Shiraz, trying to forget about the looming deadline that you’re struggling to hit.

When time is not on your side, the quality of your work might take a dive.

Communicate the Problem

Whenever you start a project, please always make sure you are communicating with the client at all stages of the design process.

What if they decide to change the brief half way?  Well, that will impact the timelines of delivery. Let them know this up front. (And make sure you state this in writing – in email or a text message)

For example, if you were tasked to create an illustration of a labradoodle riding a bicycle and then you get a phone call asking to tweak things a smidge so that it’s now a triceratops with a flame thrower, then you have every right to be stressed, my friend.

Okay, let’s stop blaming the client for a sec and turn the spotlight onto someone else. There will be times when the reason that you are struggling to meet the deadline is because of…

You.

And that’s totally normal. It’s how you deal with it next that matters.

You might be feeling unwell, have a family emergency or are just struggling to get the design right. The important thing for you is to recognize and acknowledge when the reason that things are not progressing is you… And then talk about it.

If you can, get the client on the phone (or in person) and explain to them what your issues are. The sooner you can identify and address the problem, the quicker the client will be able to work with you to come up with a solution.

This could perhaps be in the form of a deadline extension or changing the brief of what you agreed to deliver on. But I’ll leave that one up to you

(By the way, once you’re done reading this article, check out my main article on how to become an illustrator for more tips on getting started!)

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Financial Stress

Do you know what I love more than art? Paying my bills on time (I will safely assume that you also love paying your bills on time).

Like any freelance job, illustrators will have a not-so-steady stream of income. (If you are employed by a company and have a salary, then this might not be as problematic for you – unless your salary is peanuts).

Freelancers might have dry spells where there is no work coming in. Or perhaps you have a difficult client who is allergic to paying their designers.

Wherever your financial stress is coming from, it can be managed. Here are some very boring but very helpful solutions.

Sacrifice – Spend Less than You Earn

Getting behind on bills (especially credit card bills) is not fun. If there are some things that you can live without, then cut these out of your habits until you are in a more comfortable financial position.

Take Up a Temporary Second Job with Regular Income

I don’t know what you are good at, but I’m sure there are other jobs out there that you can pick up that will give you a bit of a financial boost.

Plenty of artists have second jobs – and it’s these jobs that help them to fund their artistic pursuits.

I know that it’s frustrating having to do a job that you’re not passionate about, but having a steady flow of income coming in will clear your mind as an artist. If you have a clear mind, you will create better artwork.

Always remember: Never feel that a particular job is beneath you.

Artist’s Block

This one’s a doozy. For all artists there will be times when they feel they are creating boring, lifeless artworks. And even if the client is happy with what you’re doing, it might not be up to your standard.

Take a Break / Sleep More

If you’re getting nothing done, then put down your tools and take a break.

Also, a good night’s rest can put your head in a good space. For night owls especially, it may be tempting to stay up late, but try and hit the hay early.

You might feel amazing eight hours later.

Seek (and Find) Inspiration

Open up your favourite art books, put on a movie that visually inspires you or jump onto Instagram or Pinterest.

When you see something that fills you with inspiration, save it and analyse it! Ask yourself why it makes you feel this way? Are there things in it that your illustrations are lacking?

Being inspired by other art will push you to try new and different things with your art.

Exercise

Go for a run, go and swim, kick a ball with someone. Disconnect from your work life and relax your brain. A relaxed brain will let in new ideas and concepts that you may have not had access to when sitting at your desk, having a big ol’ stress.

Personally, I find running without my listening to something is a big snooze fest. But on the up side, it does help me get the creative juices flowing again.

Stress from Clients

Good clients are great! Bad clients? Nein danke.

You may have had clients in the past who were just terrible to work with. Reasons for clients being difficult could be because:

  • They have a bad attitude
  • They keep changing the brief
  • They don’t pay you

Heck some people are unlucky enough to have all three at once (Let’s call it… The Client from Hell Trifectaaa!).

Stress brought upon by clients can do some major damage to morale, and may even leave you having trust issues with future clients.

Years ago, I had a client who I was doing some illustrations for. For the last piece of work I did for him, he didn’t pay me for a good six months. A few months after finally paying me, he contacted me again…

What did I do?

I put on my little jetpack and got the heck outta there. FAST.

I don’t need that in my life and neither do you. So what are some ways to solve this?

Protect Yourself from Being Walked Over

How do you prevent getting bad clients? Talk to your prospective clients up front about your terms.

Scared they won’t pay you? Ask for 50% of your fee up front. If they agree to this, then chances are they will pay you the other 50% at the end. People putting forward the money at the beginning of the project will give you confidence that they respect you and take you seriously.

I digress… But what about the good ones? A few years ago, I had a client hand me the full cash amount before I even agreed to doing the work. This gave me immediate confidence that he would be great to work with, and that he takes my work seriously

(Whatta good dude, I hope he’s doing well).

Get Things in Writing

To mitigate the risk of the client changing the brief on you… Hit them with those fancy terms of yours! Get it in writing – if the brief changes (or if there are too many reworks) this will increase your fee and will push out the timelines. If they are okay with that, then you’re good to go.

Talk About It

If you have a client with a bad attitude that is impacting your mental health, then (if you’re willing to do so) try and talk to them about it.

What’s bothering them? How can both parties make this work better?

Problems with clients can sometimes be solved with a bit of simple communication.

On the other hand, if they are a completely lost cause, then you need to cut them out of your work life.

(If they pay you big bucks and the work is interesting, then I’ll leave that up to you to weigh up!)

Chances are, you are better without them. So if your relationship with them is just too hard, finish up your project with them, be civil, put on your lil’ jetpack … and get outta there.

Let’s Recap!

If you are stressed, it is important that you ask yourself why. If you can identify exactly what is bothering you, then you will be able to work on how to work through the problem.

Are deadlines getting you down? Keep up the communication – talk about it.

Is money a bit tight? If it’s possible, try and cut back on a few things for a while. There’s also nothing wrong with picking up a second job.

Artist’s block? Sleep, exercise and try and find some inspiration which will help you with your own work.

Difficult clients? Try and talk about the problem with them. If things are really bad, then finish up your project with them and end the relationship.

I hope that this article gave you some ideas on how to prevent or manage your stress as an illustrator. Work is hard, and I hope you keep at it and work through your problems.

What stresses you out as an illustrator? And how do you manage it? Drop me a note below, I’d love to hear from you.

All the best,

Malcolm

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