Motivational Tools of the Trade by Jim Hunt

How to Stay Motivated

how to stay motivated

If this is you, check out Jim Hunt’s great tips for staying motivated!

Is your to-do list a mile long, but you’re having trouble getting started? Keeping motivated is a common problem for artists and one of the biggest challenges for freelancers. If you’re the boss, you’re also the one who has to make sure you stay on track! Experienced freelance cartoonist Jim Hunt offers great advice for staying motivated in his article “Motivational Tools of the Trade.” You can read the entire article on how to stay motivated below. You can also find more inspiring articles and interviews in the 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market or on

Keep creating and good luck!


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Motivational Tools of the Trade: Advice from an Experienced Freelancer by Jim Hunt

cartoonist Jim Hunt

Use Jim Hunt’s motivational tools to keep on track.

Staying motivated is an issue every artist deals with, both creatively and on a business level. Regardless of whether you’ve just begun your career or you’re an established veteran, finding ways to stay motivated can be a challenge—sometimes even more so in the case of the latter group. Trust me, I know more than a few established artists who have practically begun “phoning it in.” For some, success leads to monotony; for others—it’s motivating!

How do freelance artists stay motivated while trying to establish their careers? For me, it’s quite simple. Since I began freelancing in 1989, I have never subscribed to traditional guidelines (or Sports Illustrated for that matter). One thing I knew early on, was that if I was going to succeed, I had to build on my strengths: salesmanship, “people skills,” and my wife. Now lest you think that’s simply a gratuitous plug to earn points on the home front, be aware that having a support system when getting established is a very important part of staying motivated. It can be emotional support and, in many cases, financial support. Usually, it’s both. The point is, as you develop your business (and confidence), you’ll need others along the way. And it’s very rewarding when they also get to share in your success after having been there from the start!

Your artistic talent will develop as your business sense develops. That’s the beauty of being an artist—you only get better as you get older. That very same principle applies to the marketing of your work. It becomes refined and, therefore, more effective. But in order to survive the early days, you’ll need to sell yourself as much as the work. In fact, most art directors tell me they prefer to work with someone (even of lesser talent) who is professional in handling of an assignment, and also a pleasure to work with. Remember, you are trying to build long-term relationships as a freelancer. Developing these qualities early on will carry you a long way. They are, in fact, your reputation.

Establishing a new client is very motivating. But continuing to find more and more clients is the challenge—a challenge that some (myself included) use as motivation each and every day. I’ve always viewed marketing my work as planting seeds or casting out fishing lines. Not a few lines, mind you, but one of those trawler boats with dozens of lines in the water at the same time. Watching a few “tugs and nibbles” (replies of interest, and telling you they’ll keep your name and Web site on file) is encouraging. When a line gets a serious bite (request for a quote, or an assignment), that’s even more encouraging—and definitely motivating! Of course, every once in a while you’ll snag a tire or old shoe (assignment offer with a budget of $10). Just clean that hook and recast the line.

Why you shouldn’t read about the industry

There are so many websites, blogs and publications that address the issues freelance artists want to keep up on. Those resources can be very helpful. But the one thing I find most unhelpful, is the “doom and gloom” editorial in relation to opportunities for an artist. There will always be blogs that talk about how bad things are for freelancers. Who cares? Do you really want to base your career decisions on some frustrated artist’s blog rant? Yes, there will always be certain areas where opportunities for work are fewer. But when a blog (authored by a struggling artist) tells you there’s no work out there, I suggest you ignore that, and cast another line.

Why limit yourself?

For most of us, the style we work in is pretty specific. That design doesn’t suggest, however, that the client base needs to be as well. Even though my cartooning style is very specific, there are so many different applications for my work. When building a freelance business, it certainly makes sense to look for opportunities everywhere. I continue to do this, even after 18 years. One of the common outlets for a cartoonist’s work is magazine illustration. There’s always a call for sidebar and article spot illustrations, in certain publications. But after you’ve established that magazine client, why not introduce your work to the marketing manager of that publication? You never know what sorts of promotional pieces they may design. And in many cases, that magazine is owned by a publisher who also has several other magazines and possibly even book imprints. The marketing manager may in fact handle all of them.

This is one example of how tee application of your work can vary. But that’s just the tip of the example iceberg. When I’m in a casual, family-style or bar-and-grille type of restaurant, I immediately look at the menu. Does it have the type of design that spot cartoons or icons would fit with? If so, I make note of that (or take home a to-go menu to remind myself) and introduce my work to the restaurant owner at a later, more appropriate time. Don’t forget the ever-popular “kids’ coloring page,” or even T-shirt designs.

If I’m flipping through a newspaper or magazine and I see an ad with clip art (or a spot cartoon that looks like it was drawn by their “brother’s friend’s nephew who likes to draw”), I introduce my work to that advertiser. It may take some digging and a few e-mails to find the right contact person, but it’s worth it. I’ve even brought brochures home from the Department of Motor Vehicles that had clip art on them. Needless to say, I had plenty of time at the DMV to notice the various brochures and pamphlets lying about. The point of these examples is to show that your style may be the same, but the possibilities for work are limitless.

Panning for gold

I know I used the “casting out fishing lines” metaphor earlier, but when it comes to motivation, you can never invoke too many metaphors. I’ve always thought of having examples of my work in the marketplace (via direct promotional pieces, or assignments) as panning for gold. In the case of a magazine assignment, my work is now in front of all of those magazine readers. Whether they’re subscribers to that publication, or dental patients killing time in a waiting room, they have now seen my work. And since (in most cases) there will be a credit line associated with the illustration, if by chance they are in need of a cartoonist, they will immediately know how to find one.

Another benefit of having your work appear in a variety of outlets is the likelihood that a prospective client may already be familiar with your work before contacting you. That establishes a credibility that goes a long way. And it’s nice to refer to an example that hey may have already seen. I was in a restaurant one day discussing this very topic with a friend (he had asked me where I find work), and I said, “Ask that woman next to you if she’ll hold up her shopping bag.” It just so happened that the bag was from a local bookstore, and the front of the bag featured a cartoon I had drawn for that store. Certainly the timing of that woman’s appearance was pure coincidence, but the impact of that example at that moment would have made quite an impression had I been meeting with a prospective client. And that moment was also quite motivating for me.

Let e-mails pound the pavement

There’s nothing quite as motivating as a reply to an e-mail inquiry—even the ones that say “Thank you for thinking of us, but we don’t use illustration,” are welcome. Those replies often include a nice complimentary remark. Compliments never get old; they are like kindling for the motivational fire (yet another metaphor). And since freelance work is as much sales as it is creating the actual work, getting responses to your solicitations is what you want.

The great thing about an e-mail introduction of your work to a prospective client is that it really is the “cold call” without the nervousness or pressure that comes with sales. And the better you get tat targeting your brief introductory e-mails (which include a Web site link, of course) to the right prospects, the higher the percentage of replies that say either “Great work! We’ll definitely keep you in mind…” or “Your timing is perfect! We just so happen to have a project that you can help us with.”

Every job is about you

As a freelance artist, you are developing both your artistic and marketing skills at the same time. But in order to increase your chances of landing a new assignment, you need to back up the work that clients are already impressed with by being professional and easy to work with. Your motivation in this case is the hope that they will give you another assignment, and yet another. Once you establish a reputation as a solid professional, the work will continue to come in—assuming, of course, that your promotional and marketing efforts continue to go out! Remember, it’s not just what’s on paper that matters. If people like working with you, you’ll have those clients (and others they refer to you) for life.

Conversely, even if you produce what is asked of you but make the experience a frustrating or difficult one for the client, you’ll likely not be hearing from them again. I’ve had more than one art director tell me horror stories of artists who acted as if they just exhibited in The Louvre and shouldn’t have to take art direction on an assignment.

Let them motivate you

So what about when the tables are turned? You’re great to work with, deliver what a client asks for, but the client is never satisfied; or they’re all over the map with their editing comments. Every freelance artist has, or will run across these types at some point. If you’re lucky, it’s only going to happen a handful of times in your career. As you become more experienced (and don’t need to take EVERY job that comes along), you will become more aware of certain red flags that present themselves when you’re approached for a quote. You will get a sense that this may not be a person you’ll want to collaborate with. This will normally not be an issue with an art director or an editor. It tends to be a problem with “nonprofessionals” who want to hire you for a project.

In my case, an example of this type of candidate would be the author who wants to self-publish their work. Most are very mindful of the fact that you are the professional and they are not; they defer to your judgment on the artwork being created (as long as you allow the to have some input). But others decide to micro-manage each line that is drawn. Unfortunately, you often have to persevere and finish the job, while griping to your poor spouse or friends about this “nightmare of a client.” I have come to use those past experiences as motivation when moving ahead. I’m motivated to be more aware before agreeing to sign on to a project, and motivated to have more of an appreciation for the other 98% of the jobs that are enjoyable experiences.

Transcend doubt

There’s one more very important thing I suggest you remind yourself of each morning when you go to your office: The fact that it is your office! Whether it’s an office that also happens to be the laundry room in your home (my first workspace), or a private studio somewhere, you’ve just sat down at your desk, in your office, of your business. The way your day unfolds is determined by your outlook. You are in a position to be able to build a business, and to control your future.

To quote Thoreau, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life that he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

It may not be a day where you receive an assignment, or even a request for a price quote. But on those days, you stay motivated by remembering those fishing lines. Do an online search for a category of potential clients (T-shirt printers, magazine publishers, etc.), then grab a can of e-mail worms and start casting those new lines. You never know when or where that “big catch” will come from—the type of job that can carry you (both financially and motivationally) for months! Every e-mail or promo card you send can possibly lead to a job. How’s that for motivation?


Jim Hunt is a nationally recognized cartoonist whose clients include NASCAR, Hershey’s, Eastman Kodak and Bank of America. Visit to learn more about him and his work.


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