I was working from parents’ conservatory just after leaving uni, and was looking to move out. My work was showcased on a number of creative blogs, and a week or so later I received an email with the subject ‘Google Chrome Illustrations’. My immediate thought was that it was spam! But it wasn’t, and I ended up creating illustrations for Google Chrome, which in turn received a nice £3k paycheque. It allowed me to get out of the conservatory and to Bristol to pay for a studio of my own!
But for my first unpaid commission, I was probably around 17. I contacted a range of magazines to offer free work to get my portfolio together. One magazine got back to me about a half-page illustration. I was super-excited and couldn't wait to see my work in print. But just when I thought I was done, the client was like, “This is great, can you send over the high-res?” And I was like, “Errr, what the hell is high-res?” I gradually began to realise that I’d created the entire thing in 72 dpi. It was like looking at drawings through frosted glass! I then stayed up all night long to create it a second time to meet the deadline. Art-school boy error.
– Jack Hudson, illustrator, London
My first commission was with Esquire US a few days after graduating. The job actually fell through a few days after being commissioned, before I even started any work. However, the creative director was great and paid me the full fee, even though nobody had signed terms or contract.
Then the first client I completed a full project for was Brilliant People (a creative recruitment site). I actually received the call from them the same day I was made redundant from my first job, so it was perfect timing. It was for around £2,000. They paid quickly but the payment was by cheque, which seemed weird considering it was 2012!
– Stephen Ong, animator, Norwich
My first paid commission was for the sadly now defunct Bristol-based magazine Venue, the West Country’s answer to Time Out. Completely at a loss with what I was going to do with my painfully traditional English degree, I’d done a couple of weeks’ work experience. During that stretch I interviewed Irvine Welsh, reviewed a pole-dancing class and helped out on a shoot with trip-hop royalty Martina Topley-Bird.
The details of the commission are a bit hazy now, I remember it involved interviewing an undertaker. The fun thing about working for the Venue was that you never really knew what odd missions you’d be sent on. A tip I’d give to any burgeoning journos would be to look for first jobs that give you a broad range of experience, from the type, size and scope of articles to non-writing tasks. You may find you love writing long features, or that you’ve got a knack for social-media strategy, producing events, courting sponsorship, even the dreaded doorstepping. Modern journalism is all about versatility.
– Laura Snoad, journalist, London
The magic number
When I invoiced for my first official freelance job I labelled it ‘Invoice No. 00003’ because I didn't want the client to know it was my first-ever invoice. Little did I know that clients don’t look at things like that, nor do they care!
My first commission was to do the branding for a little bar in New York City. I lived on the same block so I’d go there all the time, plus they had the best grilled cheese sandwiches. One day, inspired by the chalkboard craze at that time, I offered to draw the menus on their chalkboards in exchange for a bar tab. It took a few evenings, filled with cocktails, chalk dust and grilled cheeses. They liked the boards so much that they commissioned me to design their logo, menus, signage and bar ephemera. It’s still there today, with my neon sign blazing into the night!
– Sarah-Grace Mankarious, CNN art director, London
Lights, camera, reshoot
My first commission was for The Saturday Telegraph. I went back to Deal, near the coast, and had to reshoot it four times, because I was so nervous that it wasn’t good enough. I shot it all on film and it was printed the size of a stamp. The payment all went towards paying for all of the film I used!
– Laura Pannack, photographer, London