Hi! It’s me, the author: Justin Criticalcomic.
It’s been a while. My hosting dudes recently fixed a major problem that had occurred during a server migration, and so I decided it was a good time to reskin the site into something other than default settings. Things are gradually changing, graphics will be replaced, ads may or may not begin to appear, I may actually learn some CSS.
There is a big void in my archive, because I basically had to remove and re-upload all the comics I had previously posted (thankfully I was incredibly lazy these past 3 years, so all those gaps in the timeline mean fewer files to sift through). I’m not very far into this restoration, and I backed up the blog posts attached to each one, so it’s gonna take a little while.
Thanks for bearing with me. You guys are great.
[End of Site Note, on to Comic Note ]
The metaphor here may be a little too subtle.
Today on Newgrounds I read a writeup warning burgeoning artists about the all-too-common scam of unpaid creative work.
I know I’m going to butcher this quote, so I’m going to paraphrase it.
Your client is hiring you because you have something they need. They are paying for both your time and your expertise. Included in expertise is all the practice and education you have undergone prior to their hiring you.
Everything you make is grinding experience points (to be clear: I’m not just talking about drawing. This goes for animation, photography, video, music, voice acting, any other creative discipline and skilled labor). Every class you take on the subject, every big project, every little sketch. Different things are worth different amounts, but it all counts and it all adds up. Somebody wants you to work for them because you’re a high level healer, but they want you to work for free. Well, that’s not gonna fly. They can either pay you what you’re worth, or they can go back to character-creation and roll their own goddamn healer and work their way up from level one.
If somebody suggests that you should make their project for free because you’ll get more exposure or because it would be good practice, remember that you can get good practice doing a project that is your own idea and is fulfilling and enjoyable.
The “value” of creative work has been a tricky subject since basically forever. Creative work is typically subjective and so its sheer value is hard to quantify. This makes it difficult for new creatives to set firm prices on their work. Many creators don’t know what is a “fair” price to charge, and many clients don’t know what is a “fair” price to offer.
Some clients lowball for a variety of reasons:
- They know the work is worth something, but have no idea how much.
- They know what the work is worth, but they’re trying to get more for less.
- They don’t think the work is really worth anything, because they feel creatives are a dime a dozen.
- They feel exempt from paying (especially when a project has no budget whatsoever).
- They know you.
If somebody asks you to make something for them, but assures you that the exposure or possible future paid work (or, audaciously enough, the OPPORTUNITY to practice your craft) is adequate compensation, it’s a pretty safe bet that they know they’re cheating you.
If somebody likes your work and wants to commission something, they make an offer, and you go deer-in-headlights and accept a job for one-tenth of what you perceive the value to be, that’s not their fault. That’s your fault. It doesn’t matter if it’s because you don’t know what to charge or if it’s because you’re too timid to push back when somebody lowballs you.
Figure out what your work is worth.
It can be difficult at the beginning, but it gets much easier over time. It doesn’t matter if you have doubts about your skill level. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never sold anything before.
Find somebody who does the same type of work at roughly the same skill level. Find out how much they charge. Boom. Charge a similar rate.
It’s very common, especially for illustrators, to have “tiered” pricing depending on the complexity of the work. You may see separate prices for concept/thumbnail, sketched composition, cleaned up lineart, flat colors, shading/lighting/effects, and a variety of other factors.
Protip: Have your prices actually listed somewhere, so it doesn’t look like you’re just pulling numbers out of a hat. If you keep a website for your art, have a page for pricing information (you can incorporate it into an “About” or “Contact” page, but that may make it less obvious for people who are looking for it). Also write/print out a physical copy to have handy. So when somebody from school or work or wherever asks you if you’ll design their tattoo or album cover or bootleg Naruto poster, you don’t have to nervously stumble around the price. If you can pull out a card with your prices on it, and the potential client scoffs and says you must be joking, it’s easier to shrug them off because that’s what it fucking costs. You have the ability to change these prices at any time, but that doesn’t mean you should let somebody haggle you down, especially if it’s a project that doesn’t particularly interest you. The point is that even though you can be flexible if you have to, you have a solid foundation to help inform other people of what it’s going to cost to hire you. If you present your prices in a casual but matter-of-fact way (like you do this every day), not nervously or preemptively firm, the potential client is more likely to believe that this is business as usual.
Remember that as you improve, you should adjust your prices accordingly. If you got a 4-year degree from an art school (the 4 years are what is important, not the degree itself), you should not be charging the same amount for illustrations as you did when you were drawing them on lined paper in high school.
You can take care of friends and family but still take care of yourself.
There will be a lot of times when you feel obligated not to ask for pay when the client is relatively close to you. There are several variables at work here, but the biggest one depends on how close you are to the client (or indeed how close you perceive each other to be). Maybe a friend from work wants you to make something, and you don’t mind taking on a project. You can mention that you’ll do it for X% of what your normal price is because it’s them (this is more likely to avoid tension if you bring it up before anybody mentions money/favors, just be prepared in case the friend has a different idea). If the client is your beloved grandmother who raised you singlehandedly and worked three jobs to help put you through school, you may be more inclined to take on that job for free.
Contests can be fun, but they can also be a scam.
An increasingly-popular trick is for somebody to publicly announce that they are hosting a contest (often online) for somebody to design their new book cover / movie poster / logo / any other work that would usually be paid freelance. These contests are an easy way for people/companies to get a lot of ostensibly free art but only have to pay one person (and even that is usually much less than a “hired” artist would get for the same work).
That’s not to say all art contests are bad. Here’s an easy way to tell if the contest you’re checking out is worth entering:
“Are contest entries going to be used by somebody in a way that makes them money later on?”
If the answer is yes, you should probably just walk away. Or, at the very least, do some homework comparing the contest prize to the value of the work.
The work is defined by its process, not by how the client intends to use it.
If you design an album cover consisting of the title & artist and a very basic geometric logo, and you charge, for example, $20, you should not define your pricing as “Album Cover = $20.” So when somebody else comes along and says “Oh cool, I’d like to commission the $20 album cover” and it turns out they want a hand-painted recreation of the Sistine Chapel ceiling but with substituted faces, you don’t screw yourself over.
There will always be curveballs, but take some time to evaluate yourself and your work every so often, and you’ll be ready for most of what gets thrown at you.
GO FORTH AND GET PAID
If you like getting mad about this subject, I recommend you follow @forexposure_txt on Twitter for a curated list of quotes from real unpaid/underpaid creative job listings.