Job title : Freelance digital artist and small business owner

Money earned per month: $2,500 (all prices in Australian dollars)

Number of side hustles: 0 

Location: Australia

Living situation: I generally live roughly 6 months at my parents house and 6 months in a hotel or airbnb while travelling. I haven't officially rented a place with bills etc for the past 3 or so years.

Monthly expenses: 

Bills including utilities: none, all included in rent
Food: $200
Phone and internet $15
Subscriptions - Prime video, Bonsai accounting software, cloud storage, charity, misc subscriptions: $70
Rent: avg $500
Transportation $100
Subcontractors for my art studio: $700
Business costs: $20
Language lessons: $40

Total: $1,645 

I’ve been a freelance artist for about 10 years. For the last 5 years I was living out my dream as a nomadic artist, travelling and living in cheap countries. I managed to live on a low income doing this, and saved some money by spending part of each year living with my parents in Australia.

Everything has changed since COVID.

I’ve spent most of the pandemic living with my parents, saving money on rent. At the time of writing, however, I’m living in a long-stay Airbnb for a few months in a different city. My dreams of travel have shifted to dreams of running an art business - which I have started, and begun growing in the last 6 months. My expenses have shifted thus to include paying subcontractors and social media managers, etc. I want to grow this business and achieve a bit more financial freedom.

My deepest dream would be to make my own art and sell it independently, without having to do any client work. I’m working on that by growing my reach through hiring a social media manager for myself and working on my portfolio in my free time.

I don’t get paid on a regular basis so the earnings this week are not what landed in my bank account this week but rather what I will get paid a month or two down the line. Also I’m currently in lockdown in Sydney, and have been for the last 3 months, so my routine is a little different to normal life but not hugely so. The main things missing are sitting in cafes, maybe a few meals out, and perhaps train travel on weekends and some extra spending on a day out. In general, lockdown has given my days more routine, and less spending.

day one

I usually work from home with my job, so that means in my room or in a cafe for part of the day. Today I am working on a 2D animation for a TV pilot show. This job is quite extensive and I’ve been working on it roughly 2 days per week for 6 months now. It involves a lot of character and prop design, as well as animation. This month the work has been spent entirely on one animation for a scene where a character is ducking and diving around. The work is enjoyable enough although not my most favourite. I used to enjoy animation more but now I prefer drawing still images.

I generally put on a TV show in the background and grind away drawing or colouring frame after frame on my iPad Pro in Procreate. The job is priced by item or asset, so while this whole scene will earn me $1000, today's work will probably amount to about $100, which is not a great rate. Pricing this kind of thing can be all over the place, sometimes the hourly rate works out great, other times not so much. 

Today I saved on my usual takeaway coffee by drinking coffee at home. I did some grocery shopping for $30. I also bought some snacks in the evening, $9

Money earned: $100
Money spent: $39

day two 

Before I work on some video game art for my art studio, I go out and get a coffee, $5.

Today's task is character design, and I spent most of the day drawing a female orc as we have to show her from a few angles, looking badass. I can really have fun with this, looking up pose and lighting references, preparing for a nice drawing and then just getting into the work. 

This job is billed at an overall price for the total job, and within that I have to pay some of my subcontractor artists for their work, then I pocket the rest. Today’s work probably earned me about $350

Fantasy art is one of my favourite things to draw and so I can really have fun doing this type of work. I love my job and I often work with smaller clients who are just creating a new IP and often working solo or in a very small team. I sometimes feel less glamorous about this, but while bigger clients have mass appeal and seem to glitter with promise and glory (and money), the smaller clients tend to allow a large amount of creative freedom and responsibility. There are no separate departments pending approval/feedback/changes. It’s often just smooth sailing, easy communication, a lot of my own input, and generally fun work. At least that’s what I tell myself when I don't get called up by Ubisoft.

Money earned: $350
Money spent: $5


Today I’m working on the TV animation and video game work alternatively, and pop out in the morning for another coffee for $5.

I do a bit of work on one project, have some calls with the client and make some changes. It’s not a huge amount of progress, but these calls are part of the process. I wish I could charge for the time spent on calls, but I don't like to charge hourly as I think it’s quite a limited way of pricing your work.

The flipside is that sometimes you don't quote the job correctly, and spend a lot of time on extra things like calls and discussions. However, it’s all part of relationship-building and there’s no telling how valuable that may end up being to the future of my business. There’s no way to quantify it, but it’s definitely worth doing. 

All in all, today's work probably gets me about $200. Today I also sent a payment to one of my subcontractors for some upcoming work, that comes to $475.

In the afternoon I go out and pick up a few extra groceries to stock up the cupboard, $15.

Money earned: $200
Money spent: $505


I go for a long walk and get some instant coffee sachets from Starbucks with a mind to save on those $5 takeaways. Today is also my food-shopping day so I buy a bag of groceries before eventually starting work at 1pm.

Today I’m enjoying working on a comic book for another client. There's something super fun about drawing comics and telling a story through pictures and sequential art. I’m working on a children’s fantasy tale so there’s a lot of cool and creative character, prop and environment design to do. I take a call with the client to bounce some ideas around about how best to tell the story, then I get stuck into the flow.  

I always have something on in the background, be it a podcast, audiobook, YouTube or TV show. I know some artists struggle with this kind of multitasking, but it puts me in the zone. When the work is fun and there aren't too many interruptions I can just cruise through the day doing this kind of stuff - I often have to remind myself to get up and move my body. I don't make a huge amount of money doing this job, but I really do love it. I feel so lucky when I get to work on people’s passion projects. The client’s usually excited, and there’s always a good vibe. You’re essentially bringing their vision to life visually and that really is a beautiful thing. So, I really can't complain at all.

I spent $40 on coffee and shopping today, and cooked all my own meals at home. 

Money earned: approx $350
Money spent: $40


Today I go back out for my morning walk, and cave and get another $5 coffee. 

Afterwards I spend a huge chunk of my morning working on a quote/proposal for a new job. This always takes a lot of time as I have to read through/watch the relevant material and try to envision how much work it will be. I have to find a balance between writing a fair quote for myself and not scaring off the client with too high a price. This really takes a lot of brainwork and can so often land me with a bad deal if I don't do it right. There’s no way to quantify how much money I earned today from doing something like this but it’s all part of the job. 

After finishing the quote, I get a late start to the day. I work on more of the video game art, painting a background today. There's a lot of conceptualising involved and I have to bounce some work off one of my subcontractors to align with what he’s doing. Part of the work is setting up what he’ll be painting and I really have to spend time giving him clear context and instructions so he can do the job I want him to do. I will make roughly 15-30% off of the work he does but I cannot give exact figures for this today as it's priced as a whole project. 

Of that 15-30%, some of that will go to the costs of business and the rest will be profit. I like the feeling of being able to provide other artists with work, and also of making a bit of money from my client for their work. I also really like painting the environment art that I work on today. The brief is super flexible, the designs are all my own, so the freedom is liberating and makes the job a pure joy. I feel very satisfied that I get paid to do this stuff.

Money earned: approx $150
Money spent: $5


Today it’s the weekend. I like to spend the weekends with my girlfriend or working on some personal art and relaxing, gaming, watching TV etc. I go for a walk, buy my girlfriend and I coffee ($10) and have a Zoom call with my family. 

I buy a snack from Chinatown later in the day ($12) and kick back on the couch drawing for a few hours. I’m working on my own personal graphic novel purely as a passion project and a portfolio booster rather than a money-maker. The work I have already done for this is on my public portfolio, and has definitely got me client work in the past. It’s not direct earnings but again the value of the work I do today is unquantifiable. 

I start to do a little online shopping and think about buying a sketchbook, but I have so many of the things at my parents’ house so I decide to save money and ask my mother to post one down with some pencils, which saves me probably $50. The postage costs $15 but mum covers it. So, thanks mum!

In the evening, my girlfriend and I usually like to eat out but since we’re in lockdown we get a takeaway of delicious Chinese food for $60. This ends up lasting us for the next 3 meals so it’s a good deal. We rent a movie online for $5.

Money earned: $0 
Money spent: $82


Today is Sunday and I normally wouldn’t work, but I do have a session booked in with a client to work on a character design for a comic book - a different comic to the one I worked on previously this week. We do this over Zoom with my screen shared so he can see what I’m drawing and make any comments or suggestions. 

The total for this character design is $800, but today's work probably earns me about $150.

I also go out for a walk and grab a coffee for $5. Additionally I need to pick up some supplies for the Airbnb apartment I’m staying in, which comes to around $15.

My girlfriend and I stretched out yesterday’s takeaway with some ingredients we have at home, so didn't spend any extra on food.

Money earned: $150
Money spent: $20 

Final thoughts:

I feel pretty good about my spending habits this week as I’ve managed not to go over budget too much. However, Lockdown has a lot to do with my limited spending, and this has certainly been a better week for me than some others as far as spending goes. It’s also been a good week for earning.

As I wrote this diary I became more and more aware of how much of the job is unquantifiable in straight dollars-per-day value. A lot of what I do is running in the background, client calls, quotes, and personal work that goes towards improving my portfolio, as well as social media management which is improving my reach. All of this is working towards monetary gains at some point in the future, which is only speculative. This is the plight of the freelancer, and on some level we just have to have faith that our efforts will pay our bills later down the track. It takes a certain kind of mind to be comfortable with this type of lifestyle. I personally enjoy it because of the freedom it allows.


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