Some old drawings that taught me why illustrating is a real job

Today I found a few old drawings I made when I had just started doing commissions.
Of course I was crazy excited about making money out of doing something I love, so I was letting my clients get away ridiculously cheap. I think I must’ve been working for less than one dollar an hour. Not to mention that I didn’t have a scanner of my own, so for every delivery I had to bike up to the library and borrow theirs, which made it into even more hours.
These are a few drawings I made for one of my first clients, who told me she was working on a scrapbook.

While making these I started to realize that I can’t keep on working like this. This particular client needed everything really fast, really cheap, and never ran out of projects for me. After a few months of working my butt off for her, I finally understood that this wasn’t just some scrapbooking project. She was selling my drawings to someone else.
I have no idea how much she might have made out of that, but it was undoubtedly more than I did. So eventually, when the excitement of having my dream job had settled, I had to let her know that I wasn’t going to be working for her anymore.

I know that many new illustrators constantly deal with the same problem. How does one rightfully charge a decent hourly pay, for a job that most people only dream of? Well, after making a few drawings that I really didn’t enjoy making, for a pay any waitress would’ve declined, it became pretty clear that this wasn’t just a fun hobby. It was a real job, in which I have to work extremely hard. I spend my time mailing with clients more than I do drawing for them. Sometimes I have to put so many hours into a painfully ugly drawing, because I couldn’t convince the client it wouldn’t look good. And when it’s finished, the client might tell me it’s just as awful as I said it would be, and ask me to remake the whole thing. Often only a few hours before deadline.
Negotiating with clients and harsh deadlines is something that is really tiring and stressful. And above all, they are things that makes this job qualify as a real one.
NY.jpgSo, while this project (and a bunch of others in my early illustration days) was a horrible experience, it taught me a lot of important lessons about this business. Most importantly it taught me to stand up for myself. A conflict with a client isn’t the end of the world, and my work is worth more than one dollar an hour.
I still charge my clients very cheaply compared to other illustrators out there, and I should probably start raising those prices. Not only for my own sake, but for the whole artist community. Because how could anyone in the business ever survive if the competition does the same work for less than half of the price it’s worth?

So for all the new illustrators (or any kind of freelancers) out there: It is ok to charge more. I know it’s a dream job, but it’s a job nonetheless. It’s really hard work, and you might not ever earn much more than a minimum wage. But if you can realize that you’re worth at least that, you’ll eventually stop wallowing in self doubt, the thoughts of going back to being a cashier will fade, you’ll be happier working, your work will become better, your clients happier, and the whole business will thank you for not taking it down with you.

Have a great day!


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