In the world of publishing professionals, the graphic designer and the illustrator are finding that their skill set is being outsourced more and more often. Publishing houses are finding that they have access to a larger pool of potential talent than ever before through their online sources, and with the growing popularity of art-share sites like DeviantArt and even Tumblr, we are finding that the time of the artist’s bullpen is over. It has been replaced by video conferences with visual artists that live sometimes hundreds of miles away.

Although this shift in workflow has been jarring for the industry, it can be seen as both a positive and a negative change. Now that a large number of working graphic designers and illustrators are considered freelance, they have many opportunities to pursue different kinds of projects, make their own hours, and devote more time to personal projects and publishing endeavors. Conversely, it has also led to a lack of regular work and networking opportunities for those artists that do not have a strong network already in place. Luckily, there are avenues that graphic artists can employ to find others in their field and make contacts that can lead to new clients.

Online communities are some of the easiest to get into, and they provide a great place to showcase your work. Sites like DeviantArt, Artrift, and CG Society act not only as online galleries, but also offer robust social options for those that are looking for critique, or for collaboration with other creatives on new projects. Whereas art directors used to rely on portfolios and samples sent in by prospective designers and illustrators, many are now turning to these online communities to find new talents. Making sure to put your best work up is important, but artists should also remember to keep a few key pieces to themselves to include in the portfolios they send to clients.

Although online communities are a great way to dip your toe into networking and sharing your work with other graphic art professionals, creatives should never forsake gathering. One of the main drawbacks of working on your own is the feeling of isolation. Being in your own headspace for too long can have negative effects on your creativity as well as your social interaction skills, which are vital to communicating not only with clients but also with others in the art community. This isolation can be remedied by joining one of many artists groups in your community, as well as those online. Even though the communities online can be lively and engaging, we should never forsake the simple pleasure of sitting down with our peers and sharing our thoughts.

But where do you look for these groups? In Portland there are at least ten different art networking groups on the website Meetups alone. These groups are devoted to giving art professionals a place to meet, share stories and tips, and talk about current work. They are great places to meet future collaborators and get the inside track on possible freelance work. In addition to these informal groups, there are also the official trade groups like SCBWI, or Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. For a yearly membership fee you are able to take part in monthly meetings, go to annual workshops, and rub shoulders with other industry professionals. However you choose to do it, networking is essential to developing as a freelance graphic artist. These social groups give you the opportunity to share your work and ideas while learning from the experiences of your peers.

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