Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sunday Rant

Its a beautiful sunny Sunday morning and I've just returned from a walk in the country with my family and my dog. I decided to check for messages and went to my gmail account. Gmail is a great service. If you're unfamiliar with how it works, its very much like hotmail but from Google instead of Microsoft. There's a sidebar where text ads relevant to key words in your message offer you something related - in my case this means I often see ads related to illustration.

I usually ignore those ads but every once in a while something catches my eye and I can't help but click on it. Such was the case just now when I saw this ad:

Clicking through took me to a site where artists can bid on projects that appeal to them. As an abstract concept I see nothing wrong with this. As a concrete reality I think it is one of the most reprehensible, wrong-headed, and destructive ways any artist could operate. If you're looking to ruin the last vestiges of the profession of commercial artist, nothing could be more effective than to support this business model.

Here's the text from the ad I happened to click through to:

This project is perfect for someone who loves to draw in a realistic style.

"I need 12 different original (full color) illustrations of naughty but CLEAN (not too risque) old fashioned pin-up like girls posing with different types of cars. Your imagination is your only limit - only not too risque - again keep it clean. The illustrations will be used for a newsletter to be sent to people in the automotive industry, so imagine the type of girly calendars pinned up in mechanics' shops - only classier.

I will need to own the copyright to the images at the end of the project so that may I have the freedom to alter them to fit the publications if needed. (So, if your attached to your work, please don't bid. If you're a prolific illustrator and looking for a quick buck, this may be the job for you!"

That last bit about "I will need to own the copyright..." is particularly galling.

This buyer has set the following parameters as well: Estimated budget: $250 (it doesn't say if he means "per illustration") and expected delivery: "within 7 days of project award"

So far three foolish artists have chosen to place "bids" on this project. they all have varying degrees of talent, but what's most confounding is that the one with, in my opinion, the most talent is also bidding the lowest - willing almost to give his work away for a paltry $200!

I'm praying that he means $200 per and not that he's happy to do 12 illustrations at a bit under $10 each.

Even if he is offering to do the work for $200 each that's not enough for 12 full colour illustrations of this complexity in this short a time-span, and here's the critical part, with all rights of ownership relinquished.

I could (almost) see working this fast and this cheap if you're that good and that desperate for money ( although that's an incredibly sad situation if you're as talented as contestant #3 is ) but at least stand up for your right to own your own work.

That way you can resell it in a million possible ways in the future to justify the lousy terms of the original project: print the art on t-shirts, calendars, stickers, mugs, digital prints, sell it to other automotive related publications, offer it to a stock illustration house ( although I'm no fan of those joints! ) but forgodsake don't just give it away for a pittance!

Artists have never been savy business people as a group but the current market seems to be breeding a never-before-seen level of stupid. I know many younger illustrators enter the market with no hope of earning a living, doing illustration in the evening and on weekends while joe-jobbing at something else to pay the rent.

Participating in operations like and allowing buyers to set ridiculous terms like this only accelerates the race to the bottom and will do nothing to elleviate your poor financial status personally or of the industry as a whole.

Heed my words or start packing, because if this continues your next apartment hunt will take place in Bangladesh.


  1. A good friend of mine graduated from the Columbus College of Art & Design, her biggest complaint? They did nothing to teach the students of the business end of being an artist. Could these bidders be fresh out of college students thinking they are hitting the big time?

  2. Chris;

    I think you're friend's experience is very common of most art school students - including my own. This needs to rectified, and I mean NOW! If young artists don't start graduating with the same expectations of earning a meaningful living and the knowledge of how to go about accomplishing that goal, then their education might as well have been a six-week night course at the learning annex, where hobbies belong.

    I only checked the bio of the third bidder on this project (the one I fely was most talented) and he claims to have 11 years experience for major corporate clients - and the work bears that claim out in my opinion.

  3. Wow, this makes me appreciatae even more that the BAA Illustration program at Sheridan now includes a business course. I've only had it for this semester so far, but it contintues into next year as well. I've learned so much! Looking at some of the contracts that people will try to push on illustrators, that alone has been a huge eye opener. It's definitely incredibly important to learn how to manage yourself as a business so you can protect yourself. I mean, the artists is going to be the only one who can protect themselves, no one else is going to do it for you!

  4. I can totally relate to this. I'm doing a number of low-paying design and illustration jobs for local folks, only because I know 'em in addition to the fact that I know they don't have a whole lotta cash. This is a habit I have to kill right away, or I have no hope. I really should get some stuff to do outside of the city.

  5. Rosemary; Sheridan's a great school. they didn't have a business course when i went there but I'm glad to hear they now do - its probably the most important course you'll take.

    Allan; I can relate - my own town doesn't offer a lot of illustration work and what is there is usually low paying. Go get those NYC assignments!

  6. Anonymous12:59 PM

    I think the one thing that every art school should require their students to do is to purchase a copy of the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook:

    The Graphic Artists Guild

    I finmd them so useful I own at least the last six editions.

  7. A very good starting point, I've used them myself - but ultimately I beleive communication with your fellow illustrators is the key - and holding your cards close to your chest does no one any good when it comes to determining the value of a project.

    If anyone wants to know what I get paid for certain types of work I'll tell 'em - I don't want them under-pricing their own work because that drags the market price down.

    An anecdote: two illustrator friends both were asked to quote on a major project. Both quoted in the $20,000 to $40,000 price range. A third local guy who got the project but didn't want to let anyone know he was in the running quoted under 5 grand.

    Nobody won but the client - a major international corporation that wouldn't have blinked at paying $40,000 for the job. They make that amount in the time it takes me to type this.

    Information is power and sharing is a good karma. You WILL be rewarded.