Beach time vs Work time

I used to make my living freelancing. The Holy Grail was illustrating children’s books but the realistic and more available was logos, brochures, business cards and the like. Interesting work even on the worst day. Once in a while I’d score big with a maze or puzzle in Highlights, or spot illustrations in another magazine. Quite often jobs were few and far between but I did get work from local publishers that kept things moving.


Once, while illustrating some books and awaiting a much needed and greatly overdue check, I had the opportunity to get to know some of the publishing house staff. That’s when I got the scoop, the big skinny, the inside story on how things work there. I had to laugh when I was told that a common thought in the accounts payable department was that while they worked away the artist was probably laying about on some beach, begrudgingly coming in just long enough to scribble off some drawings then crawl back to the beach to wait for that huge check. Employees never got checks like that and the artist does “ then the artist can just wait.” What never crosses their minds is that while it could be a sizable amount reflected on the check that could be the only check the artist got that year. I certainly have had my share of single check years.

The business of freelancing artwork is much more complicated than most people imagine. The Planning Department (You) has to research markets and discover what work is available or potentially available while The Sales and Marketing Department (comprised of you) has to be out selling your services for the next couple of projects. Meanwhile the Production Department (you again) is back at the drawing board working on the projects you already have. A considerable amount of your work is “Spec Work” meaning you’ll never get paid for that but you need to keep putting out there, according to the Marketing Department. Then there is the Accounting Department (You guessed it…you again) that bills the clients, keeps track of which checks are in hand and which are pending or overdue (see above) and reminds the Sales Staff they need to work harder to make ends meet while they pay bills and deal with creditors.      

Add to that the fact that selling your creation is a bit like selling a tiny piece of you. The artists’ perception is that the prospective client either does or doesn’t like that part of you. Ouch! Then there’s the part when working on things like catalogs or brochures especially,  you realize that your contribution, your part in the bigger scheme of things, is more often than not an after thought (at best). It is usually voiced as “Gee. do we maybe need some graphics in this ? ” or “Have someone throw together a broucher quick”. The close brother of that thinking is that your part of the whole process should somehow take a small fraction of the time you think is realistic and no where near the time they’ve allowed. But, fingers crossed and Cosmic assistance pleaded for, you do it. You make it happen. And when it all comes together, when it all works and everyone is happy there’s nothing better. It’s like real magic. That’s when you realize how incredibly lucky you really are to be doing what you are.

And now I am beyond fortunate. All of that freelancing is behind me. I get to throttle way back, create what I want and share how I choose. I no longer read the memos. My wardrobe has been remarkably reduced. I rarely feel guilty about forcing all of my various departments out of a job. They served me well and shared the profits. Now and then one even comes back to help. As I see it, how could anyone choose to live any other way?

Rats…I think I just got sand in my drink. But that little umbrella kept most of it out.


Published by Kevin McCarthy

Artwork and other creations by Kevin McCarthy

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