A freelance illustrator creates visual images or animations that represent, enhance or explain concepts that can be abstract ideas or textual descriptions or writings. Freelance illustrators tend not to be tied to a single company and work either by seeking out individual projects from advertising or other sources, or by working through a broker or agent who might be connected to a number of businesses. There are many niches within the field of illustration, encompassing everything from animation to technical blowout drawings, or even panels that help create a narrative for written fiction. In some instances, a freelance illustrator can acquire work based on a portfolio of previous work; in other cases, concept sketches or, rarely, fully completed work might need to be submitted to determine if the illustrator receives the job. Regardless of the type of work, in almost all instances a freelance illustrator must purchase and maintain his own supplies and equipment, although, unlike some other types of freelance work, the techniques used to produce the final product are not usually important to the employer.
Some of the tasks a freelance illustrator might perform include accurate, photo-realistic rendering of objects, locations or people for the purpose of advertising. Animations for technical explanation, fully colored blowout drawings of equipment and even medical illustrations are all common types of illustration projects. In some forms of publishing, a freelance illustrator can be hired to create the cover of a book, music album or video game, or provide artwork for the interior of the publication. Digital illustrators can be employed to create graphics for websites, graphical user interfaces, or advertising banners, among other things.
Although the field itself is very broad, illustration is considered separate from fine art and from graphic design, although illustration can, at times, encompass elements of both. Unlike fine art, illustrations are intended to be very concise and clearly express the target concept without ambiguity, regardless of whether the style of the illustration is painterly or graphic. In contrast to graphic design, illustration work can involve more freehand and stylistic rendering, whereas graphic design tends to work with simpler shapes, fonts and other graphic elements.
It is important to note that a freelance illustrator is most often hired to produce work intended for reproduction. This can restrict more painterly styles of work that create patterns or colors outside the color gamut and capabilities of some printing processes. In the case of digital illustrations and animations, the illustrator might be expected to know how to prepare a digital file for printing or publication as opposed to presenting a raw data file when done.
When working as a freelance illustrator, there are a few ways to find jobs. The first is to use listings of jobs that are similar to classified ads, although these jobs often require bidding from the illustrator and some examples of previous work. Alternately, a freelance illustrator can use a broker or agent who has contact with employers seeking illustrators for specific projects, although the agent or broker usually charges a fee for work that is found. Some illustrators work directly for a single company consistently but retain the title of freelancer for financial reasons or because the bulk of their work is performed in off-hours or from home.