Professional Practice: Promptness, a Non-Art Skill That Will Greatly Improve Your Art Career

Jeremy Mohler, Creative Director for Outland Entertainment, is first and foremost an artist. You can find his gorgeous artwork on the covers of Vikingverse: The Jötunn War Collected Edition, Sharks of the Wasteland, and Neverland's Library and on his website at But as a publisher working with artists to hit a deadline, he's been on the other side, too. Here he offers some insight into how fellow artists can improve their art...and the business of being an artist.

As an art teacher, my job is to guide developing artists, helping them find areas of their artistic ability to improve. But being an art professional is more than the creation of the art itself. The most successful artists are the ones who act like professionals.

So what exactly does it take?

A major element of acting like a professional is being prompt.

Promptness in Communications

It seems kind of silly to have to say this, but as a professional artist and freelancer, it’s extremely important to be prompt with responses and updates to your client or art director.

Outside of the obvious reason—such as maintaining a positive relationship with your client—being prompt with your correspondence can have the following effects:

  • You build positive expectations with your client. Being quick with responses reassures the client that you are engaged and active on the project they hired you for.
  • It helps reinforce a positive work experience for the client, meaning that they are more likely to come back to you for additional work. And let’s be honest, the best client you can possibly have as a freelancer is a repeat client.
  • If you are normally quite prompt and you respond swiftly to your client, when an actual problem comes up and puts you behind, they may be more inclined to understand any potential delay. And let’s face it—there is always the potential to have something come up and throw off your schedule.

If you tend to be slow with responses or disappear for long stretches of time:

  • It’s not unreasonable to expect your client to steadily grow more and more frustrated. Nobody wants to have the conversation where the client threatens to pull the project. I’ve had to have those conversations before (on both sides, if I’m being honest), and it’s no fun.
  • It strains your relationship and makes it much less likely that the client will come back for repeat business.
  • Or you’ll just flat out lose the client in the middle of the project.

Me waiting for a response to my email.

Now, keep in mind that there are reasonable expectations here. For instance, answering promptly during a standard workday is reasonable. I’m not advocating answering in the middle of the night if your client sends you a message. Answer during the day the next day.

If you answer at all times, your client will start to expect answers any time they email you, and that can sometimes set a bad precedent. It’s important to set boundaries, even regarding this.

You want to keep things absolutely professional. Creating expectations of prompt replies during the workday will only help to reinforce your professionalism.

Sometimes, if the project is a rush project, that’s an exception to the rule. But most of the time, prompt replies during the usual workday are the way to go.

Hitting Deadlines

Just as it's important to maintain prompt communication, it's also important to hit deadlines.

The importance of always hitting your deadlines should go without saying . Not hitting your deadlines could mean the life or death of the project you are working on, which could mean retaining a client or losing them. But also, this could honestly mean the life or death of your freelance career.

Like the issue of prompt replies, hitting your deadline on a project benefits you in several ways:

  • First and foremost, getting your work in on time will make the client happy. And a happy client is a possible repeat client.
  • Secondly, hitting deadlines speaks to your professionalism, and that is how you build a reputation and career. If you have a reputation for quick communication and hitting your deadlines, word will spread. Word of mouth promotion is the best kind of promotion you can get as a freelance artist.
  • Also, if you hit your deadlines on a regular basis and provide quick communication throughout the process, when something does come up that causes you to be late, it is much more likely that the client will be understanding about the delay and work with you on it.

Where is that artwork?!? They knew we needed it at this place!

Just to spell things out clearly, if you are consistently late on deadlines you’ll begin to develop a reputation for not delivering on time. This is death to a freelance career. Clients talk to each other. They research artists to make sure they are a good fit for their project. In my experience, timeliness almost always trumps talent. You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you cannot hit deadlines, you will not get work.

This is probably the one thing that there are no exceptions to, in my opinion. Deadlines are everything, especially in publishing. This can have a snowball effect where it pushes back or delays a project that you’ve spent months marketing, which can be detrimental to the sales of the project. And there’s no better way to ensure you don’t get repeat work from that client.

Most art directors build in a buffer for the project to help make sure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen, but you should NOT count on that.

Just to review, you can be a fantastic artist, but that isn't all there is to being a professional artist. Maintain communications and hit your deadlines.

Want to hear more from Jeremy? We've got you covered:
Professional Practice: Comic Art Should Do More Than Look Good
Professional Practice: Don't Do Free Work
Professional Practice: Forums & Etiquette

Here are some of Outland's publications that got our Director's magic touch to their covers:

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