This is it folks, battle of the century!
Who will win!? The powerful uppercut of salary? The flying kick of ‘work from anywhere’? Both opponents are strong contenders and mean business! Place your bets, grab some popcorn and settle in for this title match.
In the 10+ years I’ve spent as a professional art person, I’ve worked in both studio environments and freelance. Currently I work full-time freelance, and have been for the past 3 years. While I love working freelance, I also terribly miss some aspects of studio jobs. Each have their own ups and downs and can vary pending on an array of factors (ie. you, the work, the people, etc).
I figured the easiest way to write this post was to set it up as such, and do a good ol’ dissection of “Pros and Cons”.
These are my own opinions, experiences, and observations. If you disagree or feel differently, cool.
Without further ado, ring the bell, and let’s try to have a clean fight.
(Assuming it’s full-time)
PROS (Each one of these points are best case scenarios):
- Pretty simple one. You are guaranteed moneys while employed.
- Depending on your health, where you live, and whether or not you have a family, this can be a pretty big one.
Leave the business side to others
- Who wants to deal with the nitty gritty business side to running a company?! When you’re employed, you don’t have to!
- Depending what type of work you do and what type of projects you want to work on, working at a studio gives you a better opportunity to work with a team on larger scale ventures. Such as game and animated shows/features.
Feeling of Security
- I say ‘feeling’ cause let’s be real folks, at the end of the day working in a studio may ‘feel’ secure, but it’s still just as unpredictable as anything else. That feeling of security can feel mighty nice though.
Turn it off when you go home
- Being employed means, hopefully, you can turn off work related matters when you are done for the day and go home. There’s a clear line of work is over when you leave. Of course this isn’t always the case, but we’re using this in the assumption you don’t have to bring work home.
- When you’re working at a studio, you are around other people. You have humans to socialize with: “Hey Frank, did you see that new piece of cinema?”, “Oh Donna, how’s your Great Aunt Sophie doing?” “Yo Percy!” This can also be a great way to meet new friends and people who have shared interests. Complete disclosure I met nearly all my friends from studios, as well as my wife. Working at a studio allows you to meet and hang out with cool people without having to drag your socially awkward self out into the cold harsh world. And on that note...
Forces you to be out
- Working at a studio literally forces you out of your hobbit hole everyday, so you don’t fully transform into the majestic hermit you would otherwise likely become.
- Being in a studio can give the opportunity to work together with other artists as well as possibly collaborate. Having others around to bounce ideas or provide feedback can also be a big bonus.
- Week...ends? I’ve forgotten what that word mean… BUT if I worked at a studio I would still understand why everyone is so happy when Friday rolls around. Being employed means enjoying weekends and holidays free of work. (I know that many still have to work some weekends, remember, I said best case scenarios!).
You are working for someone else
- Don’t care for the property you’re working on? Not a fan of the Art Director’s creative choices, or Studio’s overall vision? Well too bad. You are hired to do the thing. Sometimes you may be able to toss your two cents onto the table, but a lot of the time if you aren’t feeling it, you’ll prob just have to suck it up and do your job.
Can be kept in the dark and not know how secure job is.
- Back to that ‘feeling’ of security. The downside of a studio, is most of the time you’re going to be in the dark as to whether things are going tip top, or if layoffs are a coming down the road. You’d hope all studios would be transparent, but alas, it's not always the case.
Some people are terrible and ruin it all
- While it can be great working with people, other times, people can ruin everything. It can even be one person in the whole studio that turns it all into a gut knotting experience coming into work. Some people love spreading the gossip and/or any negative things they can, poisoning a work environment like a virus. Some are trying to get ahead. Some have no idea what they are doing, yet they are who you report to. Some have terrible ideas. Some have terrible personalities. Some are just plain weird. BUT regardless of all that, you still have to come in and work with those unpleasant turnips.
You may get stuck in overtime hell
- Does ‘Crunch time’ cause alarms to go off in any reader’s minds? While, theoretically, you get weekends off and enjoy a 40 hour work week, sometimes you just need to ‘buckle down’. Soon 40 hours turns into 80 hours, weekends are workends, and crunch time somehow just becomes all time. Sadly most studios (every studio I worked at) don’t pay for any overtime work done. Some do get you to collect the overtime hours to use as extra vacation time, but that only works if you can actually take time off in the constant busy chaos.
You have to go in everyday
- Just not feeling like you want to go into the studio today? Can’t take the idea of looking at Gary’s face? Well too bad! Unless you’re taking a personal or sick day, get your butt into the studio! While I will say some studios do let employees occasionally work from home, it’s not everywhere and really depends what you do. More than not, you are going into the studio every working day.
The poison of workplace gossip/complaints/politics
- While I sorta mentioned this under the ‘people are terrible’ point, it is actually something to note on it’s own. It’s amazing how fast and how powerful workplace negativity can grow, affecting the entire mood of a studio. It can even begin through one grumpy chap, who’s just a bit of a bitter pants. Once the workplace becomes tainted and grabs ahold of you, it’s actually quite hard to shake off. These unpleasant feelings can also follow you home and feed on you like an uninvited parasite. I will always say that I love the first couple months working at a studio, because you are still wearing rose tinted glasses, completely unaware of any festering studio gossip, politics, etc.
Becoming stuck doing the same thing
- With working at a studio comes the possibility of repetition and monotony in your work. Depending on the studio, job, property, you may be drawing a lot of the same thing. Over and over again. Year after year. I worked at a studio drawing penguins for nearly 3 years. Penguins. Three. Years. It can be a good thing if you love the project/property, but also can be a creative trap for artists. A resulting effect of this can be:
Lack of growth
- Unless you are busting out the art and pencils in your free time, working a studio can sometimes be a creative growth stunt. If the property or project doesn’t require anything outside your current skill level, you may flatline, or dare I say...even decline.
- A lot of companies like to make sure their employees always look like good little worker bees. Meaning even if you’ve worked hard to finish up a project early or have nothing to do due to waiting on approval or feedback, you can’t do your own thing or leave. On more than one occasion I’ve been told to ‘look busy’. I think it’s more of an old school mindset in running a company and not the biggest Con, but it is the worst to sit staring at your screen, maybe pretending to click the mouse or do some fake typing.
- This is the big one that I think makes freelance sound so inviting, so romantic, so sexy. The freedom in freelance doesn’t come without a price, BUT there is indeed a lot beyond that in a studio setting. Such as:
- As long as you have the set-up needed to do what you gotta do, you can work from anywhere. I can fit everything I need in a backpack. As long as I have internet and 2 plugs, I’m good to go. This freedom has afforded me (and my kickass artist wife Jess) the ability to work and travel abroad. Skyping into New York from the jungles of Bali is pretty swell.
Make your own hours
- Feel like you need the afternoon off? Want to head out for the morning to solve a mystery? You can move around your working hours any which way you please. Whether you work better at night or always want to take Tuesdays off. You can take 4 months off if you want! (if you can afford it). It’s all in your power to make and mould your working hours/days as you please. Just as long as you get your work done. I do know that some studios do also give more freedom in individual employee's hours, but will be somewhat limited compared to freelance.
You are in control
- It’s all you! In your tightly clenched fist you hold the power to what projects you decide to take, what creative decisions you want to push. You are in control of the direction you want to go and what sorts of projects you hope to break into. A feeling of empowerment, but as we’ll see below, it can also be an overwhelming feeling.
Excitement of different projects
- In freelance projects can drastically range and often be things you would never have expected. The variety of projects can keep you creatively excited as well as (pending the project) can help push your skills. While gigs can range from short term one off illustrations to multiple year contracts, it’s a thrilling feeling not knowing what may pop up.
- Speaking more on different projects, it can also be a nice positive to dip your toes in different parts of the industry, since you are not necessarily tied to a certain area in freelance. I’ve done comic work to toy design to character design for animation. It’s great being able to have a taste in different areas and see if any grab you or make you want to change your direction.
Clients who like you for what you do
- As you break into freelancing and begin getting your work out there more and more, hopefully your work will be what grabs a client’s attention. While in both freelance and studio work I feel you need to have the skills to chameleon and shift your style depending what is needed for a project. I also think freelance has a much larger opportunity to push your own personal ‘look’ (meaning the type of art/style you really want to draw) and begin getting hired specifically for ‘you’ and what you do. Whereas in a studio, I feel you are generally expected to work in whatever style the studio needs for a property project. This does depend on what you actually do though.
Can have more name recognition
- In many studios you may begin to feel like faceless cog in the big machine. Teamwork is what makes a studio able to produce such amazing things, but at times it can result in you feeling unappreciated and unnoticed. Working freelance can be nice in having your work more personally credited as well as dealing directly with clients and feeling valued for your efforts. This is best case scenario, and like everything else isn’t always the case.
Look at me, I’m a real grown-up! ...sort of.
- While not everyone’s cup of tea, doing the freelance thing gets you out of your comfort zone, and teaches you how to find clients, deal with clients, discuss timelines, budgets, revisions, and all the adult things that go into a job, beyond the actual work. While not always the most fun, all these different skills can add up to help you get better work and also help inform you what projects/clients aren’t worth taking.
Write that thing off!
- Working for yourself means time to start writing things off come tax time! Business expenses may not be enormous as an artist, BUT they do add up. Got a new computer? Write it off! Cintiq? Write it off! Phone for work emails and contacting clients? Write it off! Internet, work related trips, supplies, mail outs, anything and everything related to what you do. Write. It. Off. Keep them receipts people!
So, where’s the work?
- Remember how I said you are in control? Well you are also in control of getting and finding work. It most certainly does not just fall into your lap and most clients aren’t jumping outta the trees for you the moment you announce you’re freelance. It can be HARD finding projects and building a name/reputation for yourself to begin receiving offers from clients. Never mind good paying jobs. It takes A LOT of work to build up steady gigs and worthwhile connections.
How do you turn off?
- When I said you can make your own hours, what I also meant was there is a good chance you are going to work all the time. With freelance there is no real division of work and home (like that of a studio job). Unless you create those boundaries (as I said, you are in full control), working all the time can become a freelance hazard. When you have projects on the plate and deadlines creeping, how can you think about taking a weekend off? Might as well keep pushing ahead. Should I relax and take it easy this evening? Welllll that one project is looming on the mind, might as well get back at it… There is freedom in freelance, but it’s up to you to create it.
I would like X amount of Money please
- Since you’re the one dealing with clients, you need to be prepared to haggle and fight for the dollar bills you deserve. One of the hardest things for many artists is feeling confident asking for a good rate or giving an estimate without lowballing, afraid they’ll go to someone else. We’ve all taken jobs that pay garbage, just because that garbage pay is better than no pay. BUT it’s also a deadly pit of unhappiness if that becomes your norm. It also brings the industry down as a whole when we undervalue ourselves and take on work for scrap pay. I’d say this one can be a negative and a positive though. As in many ways it can be great being able to be in control of how much your asking and what you are taking.
Where’s my money?!
- Not all clients are eager beavers (that’s a saying right?) in making sure your check is in the mail and just because you landed a gig, doesn’t mean you’re going to see money in your account that week. The shyness and timidness of talking money has got to go. Sometime you just need to break some knee caps! Ok well maybe not that far… but you are most likely going to have situations where you need to be bugging clients about getting that payment out the door. It can take a while for some jobs to get that money over to you, which means you have to:
Manage your money and taxes
- In freelance you are the creative end and the business end. In coming to terms with that, it also means you need to be on top of money management. Ensuring you are budgeting all your daily costs with what you are bringing in, and being prepared to go without routine payments each month. It can be pretty sporadic depending on the gigs you are getting. You also can’t forget about the ol’ taxman’s cut of your earnings, being sure to tuck away the needed percent from each job. Otherwise you’ll be one unhappy Cathy come tax time. It’s not the hardest thing in the world, and I don’t want to do grown up stuff either, but keeping track of your finances is definitely important in freelance.
Stresses of finding work and keeping it coming
- There is a certain stress that can easily piggyback on you when it comes to freelance. Whether you have a 3 day gig, month gig, or year gig, it’s hard not thinking and worrying about the possibility of nothing coming in afterwards. And it can be a real stress. There are no guarantees, unless you are signing up to do long-term contract work with a company, otherwise it’s something you just need push out of your mind. The freelance stress goblin is a real jerk!
When it rains it pours, when it’s dry it’s a desert
- Speaking of finding work, there are generally only two states of a freelancer's schedule. Either it’s bone dry with no projects in site and panic setting in, OR it’s a flood of projects all at once, making you have to figure out how much you can physically tackle and what ones to turn down. Somehow it always ends up becoming this project pile up, no matter how hard I try and space out gigs, they all inevitably overlap.
- Well that’s an easy one. There are no health benefits or coverage.
What’s a person?
- There’s a good chance you’re working from home if you’re going freelance (though some of you may get a studio space or co-working desk). Working from home can be nice, but it can also become pretty isolating, lonely and cause you to begin making sock puppets for social interactions. Working and living at home may also cause some serious cabin fever to kick in. I think you need to proactively try and meet up with people and get out of your place. You don’t want home to begin to feel like a prison. You also don’t want to lose all sense of social behaviours, turning into an antisocial shadow monster (unless that’s your thing).
- A hard part of trying to get together with friends who still work in studios once you’re freelancing is the old studio bubble. When you’re in a studio it can become a sort of bubble of friends and people you hang out with. You all work together and can plan things to do because you see eachother everyday. Once you go freelance, in some cases, you break out of the bubble and can take a bit of extra work to make sure you don’t lost contact with those people. It’s not in all cases and depends on the people, but once you don’t exist in the same world of shop talk and things going on, it can be a bit tougher.
OK Cale. If that is your real name. So what do you prefer? Who’s the champ in your eyes?
With the time I’ve spent working in both studio environments and freelance, I don’t think there is a stand out winner. So much depends on you, and what type of work you want to be doing. Whether in books or animation, games or editorials. It also depends if you are a self motivated type or someone who just wants to create without having to worry about all the added work in freelance.
Personally I do love freelance. I love being able to work from anywhere and set my own schedule without some middleman telling me when and where I need to be. I love the work I get to do in freelance and the excitement in not knowing what project may show up in my email next. I like feeling the security in knowing that I’m alright with finances and projects lined up, rather than a producer or project manager telling me that we have security and believing it on faith. The one big thing I do miss from working in a studio in the people. I really love being around other creative people, bouncing ideas, collaborating, and just having a good chat. It can also feel great working with a team and seeing something develop that you all worked together on.
This is a big beefy list of various things I could think of that I see as Pros and Cons in both freelance and studio work. As I said it still completely depends on you, the type of work you want to be doing, and the type of person you are. I hope these random points help you if you are on the fence or simply curious the difference between the two.
I may add other points if I can think of any. Feel free to comment any that I missed! Such as Studios that allow dogs, which I think we can all agree is the biggest Pro of all.