Hi, your work inspire me a lot :), I was wondering do you have any tips for someone that wants to start a professional career as a illustrator? thanks and sorry for bothering
geekdonnatroy asked you:Hi, your work inspire me a lot :), I was wondering do you have any tips for someone that wants to start a professional career as a illustrator? thanks and sorry for bothering
I get asked this every once in a while and I’m admittedly sort of bad…
Reblogging this post for IMPORTANCE, and also to say a few things about the comments made here. Everything stated above is so integral to being a freelancer. Students often walk away with college degrees and no knowledge of how the business works, and that’s horrible! You’re paying for a good education, and should be given information on how to run the business that is you. This is an important idea I don’t think often comes across enough.
As a freelancer, you are your own business of one. Literally, on taxable record, you are a tiny company which consists of yourself, and the tools you use to make your art. That’s it. But incredibly, such a simple concept makes for an incredibly confusing process. Sure, you’ve got your degree in your hand, but now what?
I am fortunate enough that Massachusett’s College of Art’s program in Illustration has a wide array of teachers, who know so much about all the different fields illustration has to offer. Being aware that illustration is not just pictures on paper has brought a whole new angle to many of my peers’ portfolios. It’s not just novel covers and Magic cards. Illustrators can create spot images for cookbooks, technical drawings of historical warships, representational maps for resorts, and the beast that is licensing. Those images on snowboards, arcade games, and T-Shirts have to come from somewhere. Not to mention the 3D possibilities. Did you know that through licensing, a company could buy your designs, and work with you to print a line of holiday ornaments? No, really.
My teacher John Roman wrote a lovely article called ‘The 45 Job Markets of Illustration’ which you can get the meat and potatoes of here:
He told us recently he’s up to 49 now.
Wow, pricing could not be more important. That Ethical Pricing Guideline above is a near invaluable resource. When magazines are asked to hand in a budget, an art director sometimes even refers to Ethical Pricing for a good idea of what should go into that budget. But there are pros and cons to this system
The ultimate pro are that you have a guideline. It’s so important to know even the ballpark of what to charge. For instance, do you know what price to say, if an art director emails you and asks for a 1/2 page color editorial illustration, with a week turnaround, and unlimited reprints? What if they wanted to also possibly use it for a promotional brochure? Sometimes you will be on the phone with these people, and you might have to answer them right away. The guide also ensures that you have a back up. If an art director gets snappy with you over price, you can feel confident in politely telling them that this is certified industry standard, and you have a right to your money.
But there are cons too. For instance, for a 1/2 page color editorial illustration, the Ethical Pricing thinks you can charge between 400-1,200 dollars. But wait, that’s an 800 dollar margin! And 800 dollars is nothing to scoff at. You don’t want to give an art director an estimate that is outrageously high, and out of their budget. You’d look dirty if you asked for 1,000 dollars, then accepted an offer for 300 when you found out that was their budget. But at the same time, if you offer 300 and find out their budget was 1,000 dollars, you’ll regret that too. Another con is that some of these numbers literally haven’t changed since the book’s information was first polled and published in 1983. Back then you could buy a car for 3,000 dollars, and that 1,200 was nothing to scoff at. Now, 1,200 just barely pays your rent and groceries, if you’re even lucky, and 400 it little more than an insult. With the current prices written in the Ethical Guidelines, an illustration career is mathematically not feasible. Not unless you put your foot down and get the high end of the list prices, or even a strong middle.
Does that worry you? It should. Because right now, the industry is being killed, as stated above, by artists who will take less than they are worth. You just enslaved yourself to the government with shackles of debt for the next fifteen-twenty years. Why should an art director ask you to work for any less than any other paid professional? As an illustrator, you are branding a company. You are creating the way they will be perceived by clients, the people who make them their money. They should be paying you handsomely, because you are essentially giving their company a face. No one buys from a faceless company.
And speaking of which, no one does real business without…
If you don’t get a written contract between yourself and someone you do business with, then you are basically asking for your business with them to be unspecific, unprofessional, and unenforceable. In fact, feel free to explain to a reluctant client that the contract protects both you and them. When an illustrator signs the contract, they are required to deliver the exact work specified, on the exact date specified. It means that everyone will know the exact terms and conditions in advance.
But it also means that you, the illustrator, can get paid. That’s right, cash money. Good luck enforcing a late payment when there’s no invoice to send, the date written in ink and signed with the client’s name. If you visit Client’s from Hell, the majority of their horror stories are of either late payments, incomplete payments, or clients simply refusing to pay. “Oh, you want to be paid? Then you should be called a ‘paidlancer.’” And while it seems funny told at a distance, happening to other people, you won’t be laughing when a client simply avoids your calls and messages, and leaves you with 30+ hours of work, and nothing to show for it. Without a signed contract, you have nothing that means they owe you the money for the hard work you did.
Clients will sometimes try the “Oh, I didn’t end up using your work, so I won’t be paying for it.” But see, you already did the work, whether they utilize it or not. Without a contract, good luck getting your money. But if they’ve signed their name on the dotted line, they will be required to pay you, usage or no.
Another thing about contracts is the fine print. It’s an old trope, but you should always read a contract as if it were holy scripture. If you don’t like something, cross it off, scan the document in, and send it back asking for the revisions to be made. This is your business agreement between to companies, theirs’, and your little company of one. You are allowed to negotiate the terms of this agreement, and you are never forced to sign anything. But once you have signed, it’s too late to go back. Always know.
There are definitely things to watch for. The big scary one is ‘Work for hire’ or ‘WFH’. Any time you see this on a contract, cross it off immediately. When you sign a work for hire contract, it means the company literally owns your work. This is a huge deal. When you sell copyrights to magazines, you are selling the rights to print your work. You still own the original, and depending on the contract, may be allowed to sell licensing for printing again, or even sell the original painting for a larger amount of money. But when you work in-house or for hire, the company literally now owns that image, all the rights to it, and even the physical original. Unless you are in-house with a company you trust, and you have read your contract fully, never sign these contracts!
Another thing to watch out for is the licensing agreement. When you sell to a magazine, you sell them the copyright for one run of prints. That’s usually it. Some, like the New York Times, will take more. But you should always get more money for any additional run of prints, runs in other advertisements, and basically any alternative use. Check the wording! Companies will even try to put things like the licensing for ‘any future universal technologies.’ That’s right. That wording says that they can use your image as they like in any technology invented in the future, in our known universe. See, they are serious about this stuff, you should be too!
A good thing to include in your contract is something along the lines of ‘Terms of copyright applicable only upon delivery of payment.’ That is to say, if a magazine buys your image and prints it, but they haven’t yet paid you, then they are breaking the law!
And speaking of the law, taxes can be a freelancers best friend.
Freelancers fill out quarterly taxes, and there are benefits to the frequency. For instance, did you know that as a small business, you can write off a number of business expenses including but not limited to:
- Your art supplies. Paint, canvas, brushes, every single thing. Save the receipts.
- Your car mileage. Yup, if you drive to meet a client, and you keep track of the miles you drove, you can get .56 cents to the gallon.
- Your phone, or a percentage of it. Yup if you use 10% of your phone minutes for business calls, then you can write off 10% of your phone bill.
Now here’s where it gets crazy:
- Your studio. Yup, if you have a studio, that is technically where you rent your business. You can write off the full amount of your rent. But beware, if you’re ever audited (and the government looks closely at claimed quarterlies), even having a TV in your studio will get you busted. Your studio must be a place of work.
- Your studio’s utilities. Not only can you write off the rent, but also the heat, hot water, and electricity. If your studio is a (television free) room in your house, you can calculate the floor space, and then write off a percentage of your house’s utilities in your taxes.
- Travel expenses. Be super careful with this one, because they watch, but if you do a show in NYC and you drive there from Boston, you can get your gas claimed in your taxes. Or your train ticket.
- Museum visits.
- Art books. (That’s right, books. On your taxes. Dreams come true.)
- Lunch with clients. No, really. Again, be careful. Save every damn receipt you have. But if you have lunch with a client, and you pay for them, well then write it off in your taxes. That was a business brunch.
There are more, so do your research. Knowing where you can get money back makes the difference when those tax returns come in.
Don’t abuse this stuff. The IRS pays special attention to quarterly claims, and especially if they have outrageous returns like 2,000 dollar trips to NYC. Claiming is a privilege you should never abuse.
I can really only say what I’ve been doing in school, but again, Massart is preparing me. A senior portfolio class of mine requires me to design myself a logo, a resume, a web presence, and even a promotional mailer. And sure, some people turn their noses up at the mailer, or postcards. My teachers themselves told us that the first time you send them, they will be thrown away. The second time, they will take the magnet from your promotional mailer, and throw the rest away. But the third time they might look. And you want to be looked at. Things like postcards are painless, sometimes even attractive ways to get an art director to look at your work without them having to spend any effort.
The real thing about self promotion is that you, as your own business, are your own greatest advertisement. No one will sell you better than you will sell yourself. When you get on the phone with an art director and tell them how great you are, and how qualified for the job, they will be a lot more willing to give it to you than if you just kick your feet around and mumble. Be proud. The time for being modest about your work was back when you were afraid peers were going to judge you, or back when you didn’t rely on your art to eat.
And that is the last thing I will say. As artists, we rely on our art for our livelihood. You paid a lot of money to get the degree you have now, or even if you don’t have one, you put a damn lot of effort into looking like you deserved one. No art director or private client has the right to belittle you, or tell you that you are worth less. They do not have the right to underpay you simply because they think you are an hippy-crunchy, head-in-the-clouds artist, who pushes around pencils all day. If they could do this stuff on their own, they would, and if not, then they should pay you good money to do it. Always feel right saying that you think you are worth more money, because they will never feel like they have to offer it to you.
The Owl Student.
I forgot what the original title of this was, though! Gosh, took me a long while to produce this, because of working on it on/off. Imagine how upsetting it is not to finish artworks at all! Especially if you lose the drive for it!
30 DAY ART CHALLENGE
Day I | Yourself or your persona
The Philippines, unfortunately, does not have snow. But that is my dog and I.
“Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid and he gives me courage!”
The Hobbit was genuinely exciting for me, and I can’t wait until the next movie arrives. Also, Martin Freeman is a very good actor! Spread that love!
From my art blog :)