Everyone here has already caught wind of the infamous game developer controversy (who wrote a blog encouraging others to troll for cheap art), right? Since I proudly make my living as a freelancer, I refrained from making any immediate emotional outburst. Well, I guess it’s my turn to get on the soapbox. (I haven’t read every single blogger’s response to this story, so I apologize if I accidentally plagiarize someone)
The sad reality for many freelance artists is the mediocre salary. I learned from Collen Doran’s blog that the average artist earns about $15K a year. That really isn’t much. Most depend on a day job to make ends meet. That’s why I can’t blame a freelancer for jumping at any opportunity, even if it undercuts me. Don’t get me wrong, I hate any employer who tries to weasel his/her way out of paying a decent wage, but I know what it’s like to be desperate. I’ve been there before, trust me.
Why do struggling artists get exploited so much? Well, there’s your first answer:
1.) They’re struggling. The stereotype of the starving artist isn’t just a stereotype, it’s an accurate portrayal. I’ve run across potential clients who literally think that ‘exposure’ is a legitimate form of compensation. How many times have you heard someone offering ‘exposure’ as compensation for designing a website? Or tailoring a suit? But hey, you’re a struggling artist; exposure is all the payment you’ll ever need. I paid my landlord in exposure once. Something about an eviction followed…
That leads right into the second point:
2.) Art is still viewed as a hobby, especially cartooning and comic art, rather than a serious, profitable craft. Two years ago I was visiting friends in Amsterdam and had dinner with several couch-surfers. They asked me what I did for a living, to which I responded, “I’m a cartoonist.”
“Oh…that’s pretty hard to break into.”
I held back my indignation, handed them my business card, and replied, “No, I’m an actual cartoonist.” The rest of the meal was pleasant.
3.) Artists are treated like a dime-a-dozen. “If an artist doesn’t want the work, then they don’t have to accept the work; stop whining about it!” How many times have we all heard that argument? That’s the conventional belief out there: artists are disposable, they’re interchangeable. (In fact, that’s how all of Corporate America views workers, so it’s not specific only to artists)
4.) Most people are just plain ignorant to how much an artist should actually earn, least of all the artists themselves. I’ve run into artists who have no idea how much they should charge (as emphasized by the infamous game developer), and I’ve run into potential clients whose jaws plummet to the ground when they hear my rates.
“You make THAT much?”
No, sir, I don’t make that much. I make an honest, decent living because like everyone else in this country, I have bills to pay and a belly to feed. Just because I make more than $2 a page doesn’t mean I’m rich.
Here is my response to each of these 4 problems:
1.) Be professional. I’ve talked about this in previous blogs entries: you need to hone your business skills. This may seem obvious, but you can’t believe how many freelancers I’ve known who are completely unaware of proper business etiquette. When you’re dealing with a client face-to-face, be eloquent, be affable, exert confidence, make eye contact, don’t laugh at your own jokes. Be sure to listen, but don’t be too timid to speak.
A personal website is important. You are a business, and all businesses need a good website to function. I never went to business school, but I can’t imagine a company saying, “We don’t have a website set up? Eh, fuck it.”
2.) Emphasize that what you have is an indispensible skill, not just a hobby. Remember, they need you more than the other way around. The average person couldn’t draw a table lamp if their life depended on it, let alone a 22 page comic. Don’t let anyone trivialize your profession. That’s why I seldom use the term ‘comic’ and ‘drawing’ while communicating with clients. I use the term ‘illustration’. It just sounds better, don’t you agree? Like a real grownup.
3.) Gather as many good references as you possibly can. You wouldn’t spend a fortune on eBay if the seller had terrible ratings, would you? Build good relationships with your clients and allow them to speak for you. It’s easier on a freelancer site such as guru.com or elance.com, where feedback is monitored. But a client list with contact info works just as well. “Call these people up; I’m sure they’ll have nothing but great things to say about my services.” You are not just a dime-a-dozen.
4.) When asked about pricing, have very, very specific numbers planned out. For instance, I break down my prices into categories: sketches, character layouts, full pages, storyboards, covers, poster size illustrations, and so on and so forth. Make sure it’s descriptive yet clear. Make sure the prices are not too low and not too high. Yes, there is such a thing as over-bidding. A client will be immediately turned off if the price is too exorbitant, and start looking for someone else. Plus, it’ll look weak if you make a steep price slash in order to accommodate a budget.
On that note, also have very clear payment options laid out. It’s good to be flexible when it comes to payment, but not too lax. You don’t want to be stuck with a large bill for months. Make sure that all the payment options work for you.
That’s all for now. If any of you have any other theories and solutions to go along with these, please feel free to leave a comment.