Popping the Freelance Cherry!

The Art Institute Sept. 1991- Mar. ‘94

When I was at AIP. I went almost a full year before entering their free lance program. I had heard about it but was preoccupied with other things. (Many of them school related!)

I was very good in school and fit right in with the other students. In fact, I was probably a little nerdy to most of them. There was a smoking lounge were people hung out between (but mostly during classes) and I (who smoked at pipe or cigars) began smoking cigarettes and finding reasons to cut class and play hacky sack or go to Corleones for pizza and beer with my classmates.

Fun Fact: One of my classes was called College 101. The gist of the class was to inform the students of random things like how to get around PGH, how to budget money for food (and recreation…) how to get a job, etc… One day the teacher spent a full class doing the math on the chalk board so that we would understand how valuable our time was at school. As it happens, I found out that that class, that day in 1991 would cost me $650. Yea math!

I had money from graduation and didn’t spend a lot at a time, (mostly it went to my Chinese food addiction a couple of times a week) but I did get a job right away. I worked at the Giant Eagle near Allegheny Center, where I lived. I lived on the 6th floor with most of my Visual Communications classmates. These towers were not ‘dorms’ per se, but they were the recommended facilities for most AIP students at the time. Although alcohol was discouraged in the building, it was a giant party tower, so any day when I got home from school, all I had to do was grab a sandwich and go to somebody else’s room hang out to eat it and drink booze. I had no trouble getting served or purchasing alcohol at any of the stores around AC so there was almost always alcohol involved in whatever I did after school. Yes, I did some rather stupid things…

Eventually this routine got boring and the few times that I had tried drawing caricatures at school events or on the street were disappointing. I had heard about the freelance program and went down to the school office to find out what it was all about. They asked me to do a few sample drawings and a brief list of my accomplishments. I had never drawn at a gig before so I was ready to get started and glad to have a new preoccupation.

How it worked was, AIP would take a call for a request for an artist and quote them a price, or take an offer. When the artist would go into the office, the office would take out a folder full of requests and show them what gigs were available. If an artist kept on his toes, he could be the first to hear of a gig and usually got it… When a gig peaked the artist’s interest, the artist would sign off on the gig and take down the information. I don’t think the office took a cut of the artist’s earnings for their trouble at that time. They had all sorts of offers, not just caricature gigs. I did some of my first paid graphic design work through the freelance program at AIP as well. Some were for ‘exposure’ and I learned quickly how things worked…

I don’t remember the specifics, but I think the first actual caricature gig I did was for an older student who was graduating soon. He sent in a request to AIP for newbies to draw at a prom for him about an hour away from Downtown… Luckily there was another artist who was also booked for it and he had a car. (I didn’t even have a bike at the time) We drove to the event, worked in tandem and it was a blast.

I was pleased to get my first ever caricature that night from the other artist I worked with as well as my first check for drawing at a party.

I doubt if any of the artwork either of us did was kept. It was surely pretty bad… (people didn’t call AIP to get a cheap newbie artist because they wanted to best available…) but I had popped my cherry!! I also learned a valuable lesson that day… Turns out, for working a 3 hour gig I made $100, the other artist made $100 and the older guy who had hired us through AIP (who did not go to the gig) made $100. Although I was happy to have the work, I thought his commission was a bit excessive so I told him so next time I saw him. Though asked to, I never worked with him again and I am still proud I told him so. (The normal commission percentage for an agent is 25%)

Copyright Adam Pate 2013, all rights reserved.

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