Monday, March 1, 2010

Fair Trade For Artists...

Professional illustrators and artists alike would already be aware of the ongoing issue of unfair pay for their artistic labor, but little is actually said about it. So here I am making somewhat of a stand, and expressing the frustrations of many.

Everyone wants to be paid fairly for the work they do, whoever they are and whatever their profession. And the Government makes sure they are with laws and rules that employers need to follow. So why is it, when it comes to the visual arts, there are few clients who are willing to pay for the work to be done? They want high-quality artwork, but aren't prepared to pay for the hours of idea brain-storming, the drafting, the hours upon hours of wrist-aching rendering and painting, not to mention the stress of working to the few day deadline that is demanded, and going back to the easel and making changes just to make sure the client is happy. So really, we're actually quoting a fair price before we begin, and then putting in extra hours for free, just to make sure the final artwork is exactly how the client envisioned it.

Recently I was offered an illustration brief from an established fantasy magazine, which was very exciting for me, and I couldn't wait to get started. The client was expressing how much he liked my work and how perfect it was for the magazine, so I was sent the brief for a full colour cover for one of their upcoming issues. I was getting more excited as I read, with dozens of ideas beginning to form, but my great mood came crashing down when I read how much the client was offering to pay. An average rate of pay for an illustrated full colour cover is around $1500, and this client was offering to pay me $75. For something that would take me about 30 hours of work would mean I'd be making $2.50 per hour. Fair? I think not. I was forced to turn this exciting job down, because the client was not willing to pay fair rates. I was so offended that I actually lost a little of my confidence, because it seemed this client didn't think my hard work was worth more than $2.50 an hour.

Why is this happening? Why are some big-name publications offering peanuts for quality? I have actually seen a magazine offering as little as $50 for a full colour cover! These clients are exploiting artists who just want to make a living from something they're good at, just like everyone else. I mean, I'm sure these clients themselves wouldn't work for the rates of pay they're offering their artists.
I could go on and on about this issue, but I shall finish with this piece of advice to fellow artists: don't accept a brief for an offensive rate of pay just to get the work, and have your art published. Don't underprice your talents, or clients won't respect the industry. Every time you take on a brief for a ridiculous amount of pay, the level of respect for all other artists alike will also be reduced.

So stand up for the price you're worth, and keep the art industry alive!


  1. Well said! It's a shame that there are people who want to exploit up and coming artists who just want to get thier name out there.

  2. We all have a similar story. You are right in what you say. The question is what do we do about it? To do nothing is the same as endorsing what is put before you.

  3. I feel a Facebook group coming on! :)

  4. I couldn't agree more, it's actually our own fault. The illustrators that continue to do work for substandard pay are the ones that continue to sink the ship.

  5. The Companies are doing two things:

    1) They aren't realizing the value/hard work it takes to be a professional illustrator.

    2) They are taking advantage of wannabes and beginners.

    With the tools to create illustrations readily available and easy to use, there are a LOT of people who are illustrating with varying degrees of skill and knowledge that are willing to take a job for $75 just to add to their reputation.
    As well as new artist willing to take low play or NO PAY just to get a foot in a door.

    And the companies know this.

    It's hard to combat this type of pillage when you have willing victims.

    What needs to happen is Illustrators have to somehow agree to a generic rate and that word has to get out.

    Video Editors in NYC get paid right in the vicinity of $50-$60 an hour. That's just the going rate. I don't know how we managed to keep it that way except word of mouth.

  6. You guys couldn't be more right! It IS our own fault! But how do we get through to the illustrators that are sinking this so-called 'illustration ship'? Any ideas, guys?

  7. Yes, it's so unfair and so frustrating, but we can't stop there or lose confidence.