How Freelance Graphic Artists Can Handle Jobs Requiring Design Work

People meeting at the office

Have you ever considered taking your digital art hobby to the next level? Over time, digital artists wish to transform their skills into a viable career option. But as a new freelance artist, you might encounter several clients who don’t understand the difference between a digital graphic artist and a graphic designer. They might want to hire you based on misjudged expectations of the work you do.

Such projects offer tempting opportunities, and the work might be similar, but should you take on the challenge?

Explaining the differences

A lot of people use the terms ‘artist’ and ‘designer’ interchangeably. It doesn’t help that the boundaries can often be blurred. Many artists also work in design, and vice versa. To the layman, there might be no difference, especially in the digital realm. The tools of the trade can even be identical. Graphic artists and designers alike use digital pens and tablets, Photoshop, Illustrator, and other software packages.

As an artist, you might be aware of the differences, but you need to be able to explain them to prospective clients. Setting proper expectations at the outset of work will help avoid a lot of potential confusion and disappointment down the line. Do a little research on the internet, and you’ll find that there’s a lot of debate surrounding this topic. But rather than attempt to provide a definitive answer, you can raise the following comparisons and contrasts instead. This will help to clarify matters.

Artists are engaged in the act of free creative expression. Their work is subject to interpretation; it raises questions. The artist’s work is primarily intended to satisfy their sensibilities. Designers are engaged in the act of solving problems. Their work emphasizes practicality and addressing needs. A designer’s work must be driven by satisfying their clients or end-users.

woman designing something

Working with gaps and overlaps

From an aesthetic standpoint, individuals might feel free to embellish anything as they desire. A traditional orthodontic procedure becomes a beautiful accessory with gold braces. Form and function combine according to their tastes.

But your freelance clients have a wide range of perspectives in this regard. Those with little or no knowledge of graphic design might give you considerable creative freedom. Your work in this scenario would be very similar to that of an artist. You might need to include certain elements, such as the client’s logo or preferred color scheme, but otherwise enjoy free rein. You can feel free to create art and emphasize form because function is not a restricting factor.

On the other hand, your client might have a very clear vision of what they want and how it needs to be executed. You also have to collaborate with a professional art director. Parts of the job might require skills you’re not necessarily familiar with. Typography or layout work, for instance, tend to fall outside the area of overlap between art and design, edging closer to the latter. You need to address this skill gap before taking on this sort of work.

Moreover, clients might be sensitive to any non-essential enhancements. A PowerPoint presentation, for instance, needs to emphasize the content of each slide. This sort of job is less about creativity or adding elements than it is about exercising restraint and thoughtful arrangement. Again, these lie closer to the designer’s discipline.

Thus, settling the issue of scope with your clients will influence the entirety of your work. Your artistic skill might be all you need to do the job, or it might be insufficient.

The collaborative option

Every beginning freelancer wants to have more projects. It equates to cash flow, gives them more experience and growth, and opens up more potential opportunities and referrals. But you never want to say yes to work that’s beyond your current capabilities. Over-promise and under-deliver, and you’ll only hurt your reputation.

This doesn’t mean you have to pass up on freelance work simply because it has a heavy design element. Remember, artists can also be designers. Tackling these projects will give you the skills you need to get there eventually.

In the interim, however, you need to explore collaboration as a solution. For this, you must be upfront with your clients. Tell them that you’re comfortable with providing artwork and perhaps executing specific design tasks. If they require anything further in the design aspect, they should bring a graphic designer on board to work with you.

Clients who don’t understand the difference between an artist and a designer often ignore the possibility of collaboration between the two. They simply assume that the same person can handle both jobs. If you help them understand these different needs, you can still land the project, satisfy the client with your existing skills, and grow your network through collaboration.

Scroll to Top