maps, Personal and Other

A Year As A Freelance Mapmaker

I’ve talked about this before, but I want to briefly go over how I ended up as an illustrator. After falling out of uni with an English/History degree and no plan whatsoever, I ended up freelance writing for basically peanuts. That dried up, I had a months-long crisis of drafting a novel and no income until, on one fateful day in June, I decided to tweet out some pictures of the maps I made for fun in Photoshop, asking: does anybody want one?

The tweet got a couple hundred likes and I netted about 6 commissions – not too shabby at all. Since then, I’ve never had a period where I ran out of commissions, which frankly blows me away.

The First Bit

So when I started, I had one flat rate: £35. I would do a single page, black and white map for thirty-five pounds. I still remember the first one I made; it took hours. I think I worked on it for three or four days. Needless to say, that doesn’t really meet minimum wage standards.

But I don’t regret this move. Pricing the maps low at the start made people much more likely to take a chance on me, at a time when my portfolio was only four maps, all of which I’d made for my own use. It also took the pressure off me and help alleviate any impostor syndrome I might have felt – if the map was bad or if I failed to deliver, the stakes weren’t that high.

At the time, I had no website, no other rates, and no real policy for how I handled commissions. I really did just throw myself in there with no planning – I didn’t even have a way to track my earnings, nor a consistent way to charge clients besides telling them how much to send me on PayPal, which made currency conversion a hassle.

Oh, and I was drawing them all with a mouse. Yeah. That was a one-way street to RSI.

The Most Recent Bit

Fast forward to now: I have a spreadsheet that I enter every sale onto, so I can keep track of annual earnings for tax purposes (and also to monitor how much I make every month, because that’s an important statistic to know.) I use PayPal invoices, which let you send a bill to someone and automatically convert the currency – which is both more formal and much better for bookkeeping than how I was doing it at the start, since PayPal keeps a record of every invoice you send.

I set up my own website with a webpage dedicated to mapmaking – it has a portfolio of past work, a summary of my working process and what I need from a client, and a list of various map types – black and white, parchment, colour, single page, double page etc – and the prices of each.

As my skills have improved, I’ve raised my rates bit by bit, and now my minimum rate is £65. I’ve also become much quicker – I can now get a black and white map done in about 4-5 hours of work, not counting revisions.

I’ve also become much more flexible in how I work; before, if a client requested revisions to a map, that was solely what I focused on, but now I’m able to do revisions and start a new map for a different client in the same day; the morning is usually dedicated to clearing up any outstanding revisions, and once that’s done, I get on with the new map, or the one I’m most recently working on, if that’s not finished.

I invested in a drawing tablet and digital pen! I thought it would be much harder to use, honestly. The first day or two were difficult, but I very quickly got the hang of it and now I can use it without a second thought, just like drawing on paper. The pen allowed me to vary opacity and thickness solely by pen pressure, making my illustrations look much more like they were hand-drawn. A drawing tablet is *essential* if you want to illustrate in colour, because you just have to be able to shade and paint as though you’re working on paper. It’s nigh-impossible with a mouse.

I’ve recently introduced a new policy: I’ll do two rounds of revisions for free, and then more after for an extra £5 per round. I did this after a few projects ended up going into 6, 7 or 8 rounds of revisions – which I’m fine with, and I have nothing against working that way, but at that point it starts to eat into my productivity.

On productivity: I probably make around £10-£12 an hour, which is above minimum wage, but my overall earnings are rather low because I don’t work full-time. I’m chalking that up to pandemic brain and struggling to find a consistent routine, and I’m sure I’ll become better at managing my time once all… this… is over.

In the space of a year, I’ve made over 80 maps, and I’m still not even close to sick of it. I could do this forever, it’s my dream job. So thank you, thank you everyone who’s ever bought a map from me. You’ve helped me make this a reality. And I hope this post is of any use to you if you’re at all curious about the freelance life.

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