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Freelance Money Matters

freelance-money_72.jpg I wish I knew then what I know now about how to deal with money as a freelancer. I think I've done all right as far as it goes up 'til now, but I had to learn things as I went along, sometimes not getting as early a start as I could have, which is a shame. So I've put together here a few items to give you a leg up. Of those suggestions I've listed below, some are common sense, some we know what to do but put off, and some are "why didn't I think of that sooner?!" Some of these pointers are broad-based and could apply to anyone, freelancing or otherwise, but are particularly helpful for those living the freelance lifestyle, especially if one hopes or expects to go at it long-term. Savings for Living Regardless of your living situation (single, co-habitating, married, providing for dependents), it's smart to save in fluid funds three-to-six months worth of expenses. Freelancing can be a crazy roller coaster ride, and having that cash safety net for the slower periods comes in awful handy. It relieves stress, allows you to make more focused, relatively desperation-free choices about what kind of work to pursue, and when and how to go after it. Pay off your credit card every month Credit cards are convenient and great for keeping track of business expenses. Many credit cards offer cash back for all purchases, so make a lot of sense, especially for large expenditures and investments like computers and studio equipment. May as well take advantage, providing you can be disciplined enough to pay it off every month. Interest is a killer, so avoid it at all costs. Line of Credit For those times when cash flow may be a problem, a line of credit is invaluable as a second safety net. If you're going to pay interest, make sure it's interest you can write off on your taxes, which a second mortgage like this allows. To qualify, you'll need some equity or collateral, so you'll already have to be in debt with a first mortgage, so this will not apply to everyone. There's nothing wrong with renting, especially if you're younger and just starting out. Personally, I preferred owning a home and building up equity as soon as possible, but to each their own. You can use a line of credit to expand your business by purchasing equipment to keep current, or for promotional purposes. In the end, even if you never tap into it, a line of credit is a good idea for peace of mind, at the very least. Buy used cars If you drive, and unless you're freaky for autos, never by a new car. It's a waste of money to buy new, as a car depreciates considerably as soon as you drive it off the lot. Though as a freelancer you may be called on to work on site, much of your time can be spent at home. Either way, there's no sense having a sparkly new vehicle sitting and gathering dust at home or exposed to the elements in a downtown parking lot. If you do drive for work, business meetings and to pick up supplies, make sure to keep track of your mileage, which can be claimed. And when the old car has hit a wall, donate it to a worthy cause like a Veteran's Donation Program like we have here in Minnesota. Then it's time for the next used car. Long Term Savings Saving for retirement is especially important for the freelancer, for reasons mentioned above, and more. Being self employed, you have to create your own equivalent of a 401K account, and no employer will be offering matching funds. I sure wish I'd gotten an earlier start on this, as I'd be in even better shape had I socked away a few bucks here and there when younger and beginning my career. Take advantage of the power of compound interest. This may seem like a boring subject for artists trying to live a creative life, but if you're attentive to it and follow through, you can buy yourself security and autonomy. If you're twenty years old and can set aside even $25 a month, it's better than nothing, and can add up. And if you've waited or couldn't get an early start, it's not too late, just begin now setting aside as much as you can spare, and envision painting and drawing in your retirement without having to worry about monthly expenses. Additional Freelancing Tips I've plenty more I could share about rates, estimates, how to set up a company, licensing and copyrights, etc., but it's been covered comprehensively and in good detail at other blogs, such as Cedric Hohnstadt's and Tom Richmond's MAD blog. Check out these links and their "Business of Freelancing" category pages for some great advice and insights.


Faces of Men

mansketch03.jpg Another round of sketches, the old-fashioned way: with pencil in a sketchbook. Some are impressions of actors or characters I drew while watching TV, others are wholly out of my head.


Scary Monsters Look 'N' Find Book

lookfind_cov.jpg The project that convinced me I would enjoy and could find work outside the comic book industry, Look 'N' Find Scary Monsters & Other Creatures was a lot of fun in many ways, and took a ton of time and energy to execute. Over a three month period, I produced nine large detailed color spreads, eighty-three small spot character illustrations and of course, the cover. To complete the sizable project, I worked 13-15-hour-days, holidays, nights and weekends, with only a couple nights off. I'd probably never tackle something exactly like this again, but in hindsight it sure is fun to peek through and for kids to pour over. lookfind_undersea_detail1.jpg In the vein of the popular Where's Waldo series, this book required me to fill vast areas with multitudes of silly and scary creatures, all meant to hide and disguise certain specific characters throughout. Printed at a 10 x 12 size, the book opens then to spreads of roughly 12 x 18. The original art was done on huge sheets of illustration board, sized about three feet wide, drawn with brush or technical pens, then colored with markers, occasionally augmented with colored pencils. I never would have made the deadline for not the aid of my trusty Gal Friday, Mary, who jumped in at the second half of the book to help color. It also helped to have company in the studio as we headed to the finish line. Drawn in the days just before the advent of the world wide web, I made numerous trips to the library to check out large and toppling stacks of books for reference to help me get details right and for inspiration. I found some of scariest monsters actually exist, especially deep sea creatures, requiring no additional imagination from me! You can view one of the large spreads in our Prime Projects section of this site. Though now out of print, one can still find used and new copies at various sources on line.


Old Man Sketch


Tried the Cintiq for another quick sketch, this time using the NagelSeries33-Pencil2 Photoshop brush. This brush is wider and darker than the one I used for my last sketch, and I worked a little smaller, too, which allowed me to retain more of the loose pencil look I'm after. I worked with a "Multiply" setting, at 100% flow, adjusting the opacity percentages as needed You can see more of the pencil effect in this close up, and before I tweaked the color for something of a sepia tone. This is closer to how it looked to me on screen while I drew.


Old man wrinkles are always fun to draw. I guess it won't be too long before I'll be doing more of those in self portraits!


Demon Boy Sketchcast

While on the phone with my brother last night, we got to talking about one of my early characters, Demon Boy. Inspired by Jack Kirby's The Demon, and his Moon Boy, Devil Dinosaur's pal, I threw in a little Mowgli from Jungle Book, and...voila! Instant Original Character! He's almost thirty years old, but the little guy can still scare the skin off a pickle, as this quick Demon Boy Sketchcast I did during our phone chat will attest.


Cintiq Sketch


I've had my Wacom Cintiq screen for a couple weeks, and am still getting used to it. I did this sketch on screen using some new free Photoshop brushes I was finally able to install, after reading about them on my buddy, Cedric's blog. This quick sketch is from a photo of a young singer, Missy Higgins, whom I hadn't heard before today. I've got the Cintiq semi-configured with my Apple Cinema Display, so I'm using a multi-screen set-up for the first time. I had a large Wacom Graphic Tablet for several years, but it is another thing to be able to draw directly on the screen. I've spent so many years at the drawing table, I know I'll never give that up. But today colored my first storyboard job on the Cintiq. I still started with scanned pencils, but instead using my typical process of printing those on marker paper and coloring with markers and colored pencils, I went to town on them on screen. This method saves a couple steps without losing the rough, loose look I like for my boards. I'm sure I'll be able to attain a less digital look the more I work with it. I'll post a couple choice frames if and when I get the go-ahead from the client.


Myrna Loy Sketches


Watching some Thin Man movies recently, I was taken again with actress Myrna Loy. What classic features! She's sophisticated and mature, but still has a little girl, china doll quality. Fun to draw!

Early in her career she was typecast in exotic roles, but broke out with The Thin Man (1934), where she had a chance to display her sharp comedic skills. The Thin Man series, inspired by the book by mystery writer, Dashiell Hammett, is worth watching mostly to see the snappy repartee and chemistry between Loy and leading man William Powell. In each movie, I can do without the gathered-group-whodunnit climax, but these movies are fun and light.

I came upon a small, strange coincidence in reading about Loy while researching for this post. Her mother, Della studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, where I took piano lessons, which I mentioned in a post just a few days ago!


Web Comics


That opening line is still true, after all these years. The first panel from a one-page comic strip called Smoke Story, drawn in 1992. It's one of a handful of comic stories appearing here in the TOONS section of the Blue Moon site. If you haven't before, take a few minutes to read the short tales of comedy and drama, chaos and corruption, guilt and heartache, love and friendship. All this for less than two bits. A lot less. Enjoy!


Superman vs. Hollywood Book Released


I drew the cover art for Superman vs. Hollywood, a trade paperback with a sub-title that explains more: "How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded and American Icon." Written by Jake Rossen, with a forward by Mark Millar, the book explores Superman's adventures with movies and television: the successes, disasters, and those that never made it to the screen due to behind-the-scenes hi-jinx. Just released by Chicago's Cappella Press, it's getting positive reviews. If you're interested in Supes or the fantasy and/or foibles of movie-making, pick it up through the Blue Moon Amazon Boutique. Update (3/18/08) There's an initially skeptical and ultimately positive review of the book, Superman vs. Hollywood for which I provided the cover. Check it out. The review links to this post. Further Update: I just received an email from the writer of the book, Jake Rossen, who's provided a link to a web site he's put up to keep tabs on all reviews and info. Read more at


Miss Potter

We planned a family night to watch the biopic, Miss Potter, starring Renee Zellweger, and our two girls were worried it would be either an old black-and-white movie or a boring, monotone thing, like the ones Mom watches on the Biography channel. Fortunately for all concerned, what we got instead was a charming, lively and inspiring entertainment, the story of a creative woman's life, Beatrix Potter. miss-potter01.jpg Her work on Peter Rabbit and other stories is widely known and read, but I for one didn't know anything at all about her story, which turned out to be an asset as the movie unfolded her life to us. It's a revealing portrait of an an artist making her way, first as a young girl sketching in the garden, then as a young woman struggling to get her work published, finally as an accomplished author and conservationist settling in the rolling majesty of her Hill Top Farm. Through it all, she's at home and one with nature, intimate with the creatures she draws and the characters that populate her stories. This is illustrated through brief and tasteful animated sequences of Beatrix interacting with her characters, as they come to life on the page. Her father is almost always supportive throughout, but I cringed for Beatrix at every disparaging comment and belittling remark from Beatrix's mother about to her daughter's talent. How fortunate we all are she pressed on anyway and persevered, regardless of the obstacles. But how much easier it is when artists are given a positive helping hand, as I wrote yesterday. Zellweger is rosey and plucky in an honest portrayal of Potter, especially sparkling when reunited on screen with Ewan McGregor (their first paring was a the fun satire, Down With Love), positively bursting with joy in their joint creative venture and as they develop feelings for each other. miss-potter02.jpg What a pleasure it was to watch this movie in particular with our girls, artists and lovers of nature themselves. Once the movie ended, our daughter, Emily immediately pulled the Peter Rabbit books from our shelves, requesting we get more, and asking questions about Potter's life. One can learn more about Beatrix Potter and see her observant and subtle drawings at some great resources on line, but you may want to watch the movie first, to go on a splendid ride, and save the further details for afterwards. But you can't pass up the virtual experience of reading the first Peter Rabbit book, apparently originally published in black-and-white.