Graphic design is not immune to the fickle boom and bust of freelance work. Even when times are flush, it’s good to have some creative ideas to generate income during downtime. Here are a few favorites:
You have skills others want to learn — Photoshop, HTML, Flash, illustration, design, photography, and plain old drawing. These subjects are always in demand at night schools, art centers, and even senior centers. Teaching is both a rewarding and lucrative supplement to a graphic design career, and you’ll meet plenty of new contacts for future networking in the process.
It’s a well-known truth among the indie crowd: if a band wants to break better than even, it needs great merchandise. You probably know bands, cartoonists, and start-up businesses that need tee shirts, posters, or even novelties items like coffee mugs. For a more steady part-time gig, look to local screenprint shops—they have a constant stream of graphic design work that requires both an eye for design and a mastery of Photoshop.
3. Local Papers
On-staff designers create many of the ads in local newspapers, as well as the page layouts. Pitch your freelance portfolio and graphic design skills to the town newspaper and local alternative weeklies. Don’t overlook local businesses—many galleries, cooperative groceries, and other community-dependent organizations put out high quality newsletters with a fully-paid staff.
4. Figure Drawing Group Facilitator
Most amateur and professional artists want to keep their hand in practice. Unfortunately, in most areas, figure drawing opportunities are hard to find. If you live near a gallery or cultural center with a large closed room, pitch your services as a figure drawing coordinator to the owner. You’ll find models in accordance with local union rules, promote and publicize the group, and ensure that the tone is serious and respectful. The gallery will receive the lion’s share of the profit, and increased visibility to boot.
5. Airbrush Artist
The look of the 1980’s is upon us again, this time with a heavy dose of irony. The return of the roller derby alone has been enough to increase the demand for the classic airbrushed tee shirt. Practice your hand at flames, kittycats, dragons, unicorns, and classic cars, and then look for a job at specialty tee shirt shops. If you have a sense of humor about airbrushing, get a gig on the boardwalk like the cast of Jersey Shore.
6. Etsy Storefront
If your art has mass appeal, sell your wares on Etsy.com. On this DIY craft market site, graphic design business is booming in the form of prints, stock art, cards, postcards, and tee shirts. Standing out on Etsy requires a bit of self-promotion—you’ll do best if you simultaneously network through a blog and advertise yourself locally. If you’ve never been your own boss, building an Etsy business is a thrill. You have infinite creative freedom, and your design sells itself over and over.
Above all, when demand for your freelance work stalls a bit, don’t despair. Any of these supplemental jobs will allow you to build your graphic design portfolio and explore a new outlet for your skill.