The Business of being an Illustrator #notahobby

This article is written by Christine Garner who is a member of the Association of Illustrators.

This year the Association of Illustrators (AOI) started running a campaign #NOTAHOBBY to highlight the need for Illustrators to be more business minded and get a fair rate for their work. This followed a previous announcement by the AOI that they would no longer be giving set pricing recommendations for individual illustration jobs to their members, but rather advise on industry standards for royalty rates and licensing models and encourage illustrators to establish a fair pricing model more suited to their individual business needs and to the scope of the clients project.

There was a recent survey for 2018 conducted by Ben the Illustrator. The survey stated that 73% of Illustrators said they don’t earn enough to live sustainably. The majority of jobs being taken on were under £499 and the majority of Illustrators gross annual income was less than £9,999.

Many Illustrators have been working below minimum wage.

The majority of Illustrators are self employed so they don’t get employers benefits, holiday time or sick pay and often work alone with no support network. As well as this many that are new to the industry and the job market in general can get taken advantage of and duped into working for free if they are not careful and aware of this bad practice.

There is no such thing as free exposure, it is usually a scam tactic some people use to get free art and make money off of it without paying the artist for the work.

53% of Illustrators taking the survey said they had worked for free but never would again.
This trend could be stopped if new Illustrators were more aware that working for free rarely pays off and is damaging to the Illustration industry as a whole because it encourages the bad practice to continue. Only 15% of Illustrators in the survey said working for free had paid off for them in the long run.

The survey also highlighted a worrying trend in increasing mental health and confidence issues among the Illustration community.

Illustration is a highly diverse and skilled profession but ironically it does seem to have an image problem. It is often derided and dismissed by the art establishment and academics. Sometimes Illustrators are unaccredited or undervalued for their work. Some artists hate to use the word Illustration or Illustrator when referring to themselves because of it’s poor association over the years.

Related reading to this topic:

Many new Illustrators stumble into Illustration from a hobbyist or art student mindset and the transition to a more business-led mindset is often at odds with their passion for creating art. All too often business skills are not discussed with Illustration students.

A naive attitude in business can and will be taken advantage of.

Illustration as a commercial service has aspects of Graphic Design and photography so looking at those fields and how people conduct themselves in those business models may also be useful. Illustration is a diverse field that has many different business applications. It is a really good idea to do your market research. An article written by Fig Taylor here outlines many of the applications of Illustration to different markets:

Illustrators should realize and assess the value of what they can offer to the world with their unique creative skills.

Illustration (sometimes called commercial art) is a business and it is very valuable. It is not just a hobby. From looking at the survey there are even Illustrators earning over £50,000 a year so it must be possible to make a good living doing Illustration.

We need to drop the association with the myth of the starving artist.

It is possible to survive and prosper doing what you love as long as you do your research. You can diversify your income streams as an Illustrator by not just doing client work, but by selling prints and merchandise with print on demand services, selling digital and physical artwork, licensing existing work, self publishing and monetizing your own projects, selling digital resources and stock art, doing teaching, online donations, making paid online courses etc. With modern technologies developing all the time we should think creatively about how we can take advantage and capitalize on them, not be scared of change.

I believe the value based pricing model is something to strive for when doing client work. It is fairer for the Illustrator and makes more sense to the client in establishing the value of what they are getting in commissioning bespoke Illustration. Set or hourly fee prices often punish Illustrators because everyone is an individual with their own needs and with different skill sets and experience levels. Treating every job like it can be priced the same way as some other Illustrator once priced it, is impractical and unfair because Illustration jobs are based on many different factors and additional licensing needs and have to be carefully considered and priced accordingly.

We should avoid a race to the bottom pricing model which will keep damaging the viability of the Illustration industry as a whole.

Another issue is that some Illustrators are not paid when they complete a job because they don’t sign a contract first and they don’t discuss upfront payment. Without a written agreement or contract you have no legal protection if something goes wrong and a client for whatever reason decides not to pay you for the work. Because Illustration works on licensing models you will have no legal record of a license agreement for the usage of the artwork if you don’t sort these things out before you do the work, which could ultimately punish you in terms of potential earning power and create copyright and usage dispute issues down the line. In short there may be confusion and resentment created for both the client and the Illustrator if business terms are not openly discussed upfront.

Establishing a professional working relationship from the start helps the project go more smoothly and increases your motivation to do a great job for the client.

Thank you for reading this far and I hope this article was interesting and perhaps useful for you.

Related Links for this article (no particular order)