Friday, December 19, 2014


As the year draws to a close, I thought I'd talk about something you don't hear too much about in the illustration world: paperwork!

When I started working steadily, I realized I needed a system to keep track of my various assignments, income, expenses, and so on. For a while, I just scrawled everything in a notebook and stuffed all my receipts into an envelope only to sort them out at tax time, but eventually I streamlined the process into something that works much better. I now keep simple spreadsheets to track my expenses and income.

The "income" one is far more interesting, and I refine it every year, to better suit my needs as my career grows. Here's a screenshot as well as a breakdown of what I put in each column, and why:

All the specifics (dates, clients, fees, etc.) are made-up, so don't read too much into them

This is the date the job came in. Handy if I need to comb through emails to find details or particulars about the assignment at a later date.

New for 2015. I used to be able to keep this kind of stuff straight in my head, but as I get more work, it's hard for me to remember overlapping deadlines. The plan for this year is to write the date sketches are due in this box, then replace it with the date they were actually turned in as I submit them.

Same basic idea as "SKETCHES" above.

This is the date on which I submitted an invoice. Depending on the client, I might hear right away that my final art was approved, and I can invoice on the same day. Other times, though, the art director needs to present my art to editors and other staff, and by the time they all approve it, sometimes the word doesn't get back to me. If I haven't heard anything in about a week, I check in with my contact and make sure it's okay to invoice.

Self-explanatory: for whom I did the job. Right now I'm still using pretty broad descriptions of these, but as I do multiple jobs for different departments/publications at the same parent company, I may have to be more specific in the future.

My friend, the illustrator Mark Zingarelli, once suggested starting these with an arbitrarily high number, so it wouldn't look like my first couple invoices were my first couple jobs. That has worked out well!

The date the check arrives. This is more for my own reference (keeping track of the time between invoicing and getting paid) than anything else. For tax purposes, it's more important to know when I've actually deposited the check, but that's only an issue at the very end/beginning of the year.

How much I got paid. This automatically gets totalled up at the bottom so I don't screw up the math doing it myself.

Everything else I want to note about the job. Usually a sparse description is sufficient, but if a client has a purchase order number or submission ID they want noted on the invoice, I jot that down here too.

The color-coding is kind of a new element as well, to help me keep things straight when I'm working on several jobs at once. The jobs that are in white are completed, while the ones highlighted in yellow still require something else from me, whether it's sketches, final art, or just writing up the invoice. Also I use a different color scheme overall from year-to-year so I don't accidentally open up the current year's records when doing the previous year's taxes, and so on.

Anyway, I hope that wasn't too boring! I know when I was starting out it was hard to find this kind of information so I thought I would share my method in case it helps any newer artists out there. Let me know what you think!