Someone has emailed requesting a commission, or my prices for illustrating a book, they want a drawing of their grandmother, or a cartoon of a canary in spectacles. Well that’s exciting! They want to pay me for my drawings! I do a small jig in front of my computer screen.
Fantastic, I can live the life of my dreams, doodling on scraps of paper under a coconut tree on a tropical island right? With all these commissions coming my way, I may as well book my ticket now! Aaah wouldn’t this be wondrous!
Unfortunately 9 times out of 10 a request for a drawing or pricelist amounts to nothing concrete, I mean how many times have you emailed someone to enquire about their rates only to realise that it’s too much, or not quite what you had in mind. Or better yet you are merely shopping around. There are numerous criteria that may be driving the client: style, money, the time it takes to complete a project all factor in. All this determines if you are actually hired to create the illustration. You hurry nonetheless to reply, possibly getting a finger cramp from a typing flurry! Click send.
If you are like me and these sorts of requests, although necessary for the life of a freelance illustrator, make you sweat a little as you wonder whether you are overcharging a client or underselling yourself, you are not alone. Although I have a general pricing structure based more or less on my hourly rate, I tend to work on a “every situation is unique” scale of pricing, which when I am trying to figure it all out can be quite taxing on my nerves!
Pricing guides online are so subjective! There are so many factors involved: how many published works you have, who your previous clients were, what your work looks like, or how adept you are at nailing a concept. All these impact on how much certain illustrators can charge. These numbers tend to vary from one side of the illustration charging spectrum to the other, a veritable rainbow! This can be both frustrating and intimidating to someone who is just starting out, or someone trying to break into a different genre of illustration. I find sometimes that the “officialish” illustration guidelines for pricing, although well thought out and certainly on par with how much work is involved(from rough concept to final product), are often way above what a client can afford. This also ties in, however, to who your client is, what they want you to illustrate and why. I can’t very well quote high end prices to a friend of my granny who wants a portrait of her pet cat.
To top it off, the lovely financial crisis influences where you draw the line between “I’m willing to work for this little: underselling my time, effort, talent, as well as undercutting other illustrators in the market vs I really need the money, I have my eye on a new paintbrush set, or actually I need to pay the rent this month”. As client work dries up and budgets are cut, you may find yourself having this debate more often. It is also difficult to make this decision when you know that someone else will do it in your place anyway. You do, however, need to attach value to your work, if you don’t value your time and effort, no-one will. A little research into your client may help you define what sort of prices they will deem acceptable.
The illustration world is pretty cut-throat, and competitive, going it alone can be a hard nut to crack. I am always trying to figure out if I need to be able to draw every single thing in 50 thousand ways in a million different mediums, or focus on one recognisable style. Especially in light of the fact that many advertising agencies offer a multitude of different illustration styles, where the freelance illustrator may offer only a few, so really, are you selling your name (along with your art), rather than just a nice illustration? And how do you put a price on your name (a whole other kettle of fish)?
Besides trying to eke out a living from drawing, if you are freelancing plenty of your precious minutes will be spent continually answering emails with quivering hearts, promoting your illustrations, and making new contacts. Doodling from our hammocks may be a long way off. Illustration although particularly rewarding is not easy, and I can spend hours and hours perfecting a single page.
Pricing illustration is a continual debate, at the same time fascinating and frustrating. In my quest to discover more, I have read countless blog posts on the subject, plenty of tables with prices for double spreads and spot illustrations that made my eyes square, and I am still somewhat confused!
Here are a number of resources for you to help you define your pricing structures, and I would love to hear about any freelancing dilemmas you may have encountered. Here’s to shedding light on the secret world of making illustration pay the bills, so we can all quit our “real lives” and live on oceans of ink in our paper boats!
Another option is to become a member of an illustration guild like the Association of Illustrators. They have standard pricing guides online, however unfortunately if you are not a member these are not available to you, and often the annual member fee is out of reach for new illustrators. There are also good books available to help, but since the numbers are not standard, they would be a rough guide to say the least! Good luck!