Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why people won't pay for your art

Pricing and getting paid decently for your work is one of the hardest things to deal with as a professional artist. Ideally, we'd all just create and have people give us enough money to live happily ever after, but the reality for most of us is that we have to constantly sell ourselves.

We have to submit to galleries, show portfolios, scan craigslist and other job posting sites for freelance work. Some of us get agents. It's not the easiest profession in the world.

A huge hurdle that lots of us face is that if you don't work in a creative field, you often don't know what art/illustration/design is worth. I'll be honest, in the past, Monkey + Seal have taken a lot of low paying jobs since sometimes you have to do what you have to do to pay the bills. However, if you can at all help it, turn down these jobs!

Often, we get approached at conventions and shows and asked to do book covers. Unfortunately, it's not by large publishers (although we're hoping to change that soon) but by everyday people who have an idea they want to see made into a children's book, or who have written a novel and want a cover for it to self-publish.

According to the Graphic Arts Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines (which all creatives should own, btw), for a small press (runs of 3000-7000 units) book cover, you should be looking at anywhere between 1,200-2,500. Even assuming it's smaller, offers of $200 are a bit insulting, to be perfectly honest. We're super happy that you like our work, but for some of our illustrations we have spent upwards of 50 hours on. Illustration takes research, thumbnailing, colors and value studies, and piles of sketches before the final execution.

Besides the 50 hours, what clients are paying for are the years invested in honing our craft. Even for our paintings, if you see us whip something up while we live paint, even though we might finish something in an hour, that doesn't take into account the thousands of hours we've spent sketching, researching, studying other artists, playing with color, learning how to use our paints, experimenting with various mediums. So there is a lot of time invested in what you don't see. After all, Michael Jordan didn't just play basketball for those 48 minutes in every NBA game. Every day that you weren't watching him dominate the court, he'd be practicing in a gym, first there, last to leave. He got paid the big bucks because all of the behind the scenes work that the average viewer doesn't see.

Another large hurdle is that our culture doesn't value art like it does other trades. For example, for some reason, people think artists "just paint and draw" unlike, say, auto mechanics or doctors. This, however, is plainly false. The best analogy I've ever heard is like this: you don't go into an autoshop and say "Can you please fix my car, and then maybe if I like the way that it drives and it makes me some money, I'll pay you." You'd probably get thrown out. However, all the time, we hear "Can you please do this book cover illustration for me, and then maybe if I like it and it sells a lot of copies, I'll pay you." Not cool, people, not cool.

The more of us that take this spec work (which is highly looked down upon), the more and more people hiring us will come to expect that as a norm. Not cool.

If you think of hiring a creative:
-Our work takes time! Please be respectful of this - we usually can't do an illustration in an hour!
-If we can do an illustration in an hour, you'll probably want revisions, and those take more time.
-If you think we charge too much, please try and do it yourself. What we do is a craft - it takes lots and lots of practice.
-Please don't try and sell us on "exposure," unless you're representing 200,000 viewers/readers, or have a name like Nike or Pepsi. Even then, you should have been around long enough and have enough funds to pay us anyway.

So if you are a creative:
-Stick up for your work! Don't be afraid to ask for what your time is worth.
-Don't take spec work! You're working for free!
-If you have to take a job, we know that sometimes if its between a low paying gig and paying rent, you need to take the gig, but resist if at all possible!


Bo Lumpkin said...

If I were a real artist instead of a hack cartoonist I would say "if you fix my car I'll paint you a masterpiece."

Kim Herbst said...

Artists unfortunately get the short-end of the stick in the working world... It's seen as something of little to no value because it has the cliche of 'starving artist' attached to it. It also doesn't help when young, inexperienced artists who haven't read the Graphic Artist's Guild's P&E Guidelines take on jobs for little to no money. 'For experience.' People hiring artists prey on that inexperience. But you get what you pay for; sadly it lowers the market for other artists!

I've turned down PLENTY of spec-work. Can you imagine that an established web-games company asking me to do a full Flash Animation (that'd take at least a whole week/45 hours to do), as a 'simple art test'? When I turned it down as spec-work, they changed their tune immediately and offered compensation when they realized I didn't fall for them .

You never tell your Neuro-surgeon, "If you do a good job, I'll tell everyone what a great surgeon you are as compensation!" Or your mechanic, "if you fix my car, I'll recommend you to all my friends as payment." Art's no different!

Monkey + Seal said...

Bo - cartoonists are real artists. All in the state of mind, my friend.

Kim - Thanks for your take on this! Sad to hear established companies are still trying to prey on artists, but I'm glad you stuck to your guns and called them out on it!