Your Artistic Reputation, the misunderstanding that pisses people off.

Cross posted from Deviantart.

Artistic reputation: people mistake it for knowing people and networking. It’s not. It’s your portfolio. I tell people that I started out working at $5 per piece and worked my way up. I now charge $100 per piece and people are willing to pay because of my reputation – me showing work that’s worth it. This doesn’t mean I’m not willing to take less for the right project. It means I’ve worked my way up the ladder and have earned the right to charge $100 per piece.

There’s this continued heated debate between artists, comic script writers, and others of the like. It encourages trolls here in the Deviantart jobs forum and, really, I and many others like me feel it’s very silly. The debate is: artists should get paid what they’re worth. Art is hard. It takes a lot of time. It should pay a lot of money. How dare those amateur children’s book authors and/or young dudes with their first comic script that work at Starbucks expect to pay anything less than top dollar!!!

My philosophy stems from the firm knowledge that even though art is hard work, it’s still part of a very specific realm: that of the entertainment industry. In most cases Hollywood stars have to work their way up. You think they get paid top dollar for their first two-bit role? Surprise. Not usually. Dancers have to work their way up – do some research. Many of them work one and two jobs while sharing a small apartment with several other dancers. Does that sound like they’re getting paid oodles of money to you? So then, if you’re not Boris Vallejo or Stan Lee (who both have large reputations) then you gotta earn one. That’s what Paula Abdul did. She started out as a dancer. Her first big gig? The choreography for some silly movie staring Schwarzenegger.

Yes, you should get paid for your hard work.
You should also keep in mind that some people can’t afford $100 a picture. Getting angry at them for simply not having it to spare is childish and stupid. When you do that, you’re like the two year old kicking their legs and feet in the grocery store because Mommy said no to a piece of candy.
You should remember your reputation. I, for one, won’t hire a screaming toddler for any of my projects. Even if I had the top dollar you’re showing your diapers for.

One mistake I keep seeing is art majors loading up their portfolios with projects they did in class and calling that good enough to ask for rates higher than what I would charge. With a portfolio like that, there is some reputation to be had… but it’s not as much as people seem to think it has. Do you have any references that are connected to work you did outside of school projects? Can you vouch for your timeliness with deadlines, your reliability, that you really did the work in that portfolio the way you claim? How about flexibility with changes and how much of a team player you are? What about how much time you have and other factors you may need to make claims to? This is why your reputation is so important.

Let’s look at a friend of mine’s portfolio – she went to art college and even did some paying work while attending. She has a lot of school projects she has done – all on a variety of subjects to show her versatility. She has work experience with a couple of companies as an artist. She has one teacher who was willing to give her a reference. She ended up having to join the military.

Her reputation was this: She was a college student who did some side work in work studies (and not the real world). Her one real art job didn’t last because her spelling was atrocious. She only had one good reference – that of a teacher. And her only paid piece of independent art was a logo she did while attending school. She had an education and a lot of really nice pieces. The rest of her rep didn’t speak well of her. As good art jobs are scarce to start with, making the market very competitive, she couldn’t find a job although she really tried. And this, my friends, is the truth of the art world. Even if her spelling were perfect, the job was slated to end in a couple of months. She still would have been out an income later. ALL of that was in her portfolio, the thing people brandish as if it were the Holy Grail. All you have to do is look past the art pieces at the person holding the cup.

Take for example my flatting reputation. I have a lot of good pieces. I’ve done some really interesting work with some big projects. (The X-men being one of them.) For the past year I’ve had numerous computer explosions and have spent 50% of my time too sick to work. The result is my flatting has been super slow – so I don’t have any references to back me up anymore. I haven’t been reliable. So I don’t get flatting jobs anymore. So yeah I have fantastic examples of what I can do! I have no rep to back me up.

I could fix that, by the way. I could take a few free flatting jobs, or ones for super low pay, and rebuild myself from scratch. You know… doing that low pay thing people get pissed about. I choose not to – I’m way too busy right now. Maybe I’ll fix it later, if I can.

Now there are companies out there who are willing to take a look at your portfolio fresh out of college and give you a chance. I encourage you to look for them because there’s always an exception to the rule. But as someone pointed out on Facebook today there’s a philosophy that, if everyone would just stick to it, would cause a lot less animosity in the art world.

Don’t go to amateurs expecting professional rates. Amateurs work at average jobs making, usually, minimum wage. Sometimes they have mouths to feed. I worked for one that was homeless, making his money handing out flyers and saving it just to pay me the low rates he offered. You go to amateurs expecting amateur rates. If you’re not willing to take an amateur rate, don’t waste their time. Don’t waste your time. Be an adult, get your diaper off the floor, and go find a professional company to apply to.

Professional companies WILL offer professional rates. They will also only hire people whose skills are worth those rates – reputation aside for the most part. I’ve had a lot of professional companies look at my rates, sniff, and tell me I deserved more. And at least one decided I must not be a professional for expecting so very little. They also decided I had to be under 20 years of age… which just shows this situation has its reverse.

This means those of you who fear the low-paid amateur artist is making it so you can’t get any jobs are probably wrong, by the way. But I don’t want to go into that right now. I’m tired of rambling for the day.

Take care of your reputation and it will take care of you. It’s as simple as that. I know if I were better off, I’d offer reasonable rates for the times I actually hire out. I don’t. When it comes to being published I am still earning amateur level pay – which is my only income – so can only offer work to amateurs hoping to build their reputation. If a law were passed making it so I had to offer higher rates, I’d have to stop hiring out. And the jobs I and those like me have to offer would vanish. I’m not sure how that would help things along, really. Seems to me these temper tantrums only hurt the situation – and you.

I have a list of names: people I will never ever hire. Their work is nice, too. Their reputation is not.

What is a Bachelor’s in anthropology good for anyway?

When trying to get the former mascot to consider going to college after graduation, she once sneered at me that I never used my degree so what was the point. Her reasoning was that I had a Bachelor’s Degree in anthropology with a minor in history. But I was drawing comic books and writing stories while making ebook covers and formatting for people for a living. My degree was going to waste, she haughtily exclaimed.

Taking into account that she had decided many years ago I was the bad guy and my efforts in life were pointless, I at first tried to explain and then gave up, I won’t go into the case of parent estrangement here. Just suffice it to say that in the end she chose to move away to Florida and, as far as I know, is not going to college.

Perhaps this post will help some other young person make a similar life decision – not based on misinformation but by knowing what getting a degree has to offer and how I am indeed using mine. And maybe it will help someone else who has decided late in life that college might have something to offer them.

The first thing I use daily that comes from getting my degree is life experience. When I first got out of high school I tried to go to college but it wasn’t in the cards for me. So I had to return to college later, after I had children. And one thing that hit me in the face was how very little I knew about life and the world for all I had been an adult in it for a while. Getting to know people who lived differently from me simply by advantage of education and thus a different mindset was a real eye-opener. There were things happening around me that I’d never known and understood. I could feel myself growing and stretching. And that was just on a social level.

The second thing I got is a damn degree. Now there are those of you out there who come from  families that have college graduates going back to Europe. And there’s me: a first generation graduate of high school and a first generation graduate of college. I had to find out the hard way what the difference between an undergrad and a grad student was – by having one of my professors scream it angrily at me in the hallway because he took it for granted everyone somehow knew. That’s how out of touch with formal education my background is.  I fought to get that degree through family fist fights, pressure to quit and just take a job at a grocery store, and even homelessness. It ain’t no laughing matter to me when I put down on my resume that I graduated from the University of North Florida. It’s a matter of pride, and it means I’m worth more an hour. If I wanted to I could use it, but I choose to use my degree in other ways.

The third thing I got was an education. Which also ain’t no laughing matter. I now know that such funny things have happened in this old world like the holy goose and it’s short crusade. I know that women have had more power in history than mainstream society originally has thought, that algebra is still fun, and why it is you usually take first hand written accounts with a grain of salt.

The fourth and probably the most important thing I got was a bit of self esteem.  I became someone of worth, and I knew it. It was a hard process in which rumors flew, professors were professors, and I made my last bad decision regarding men. But the fires were worth it.

How is all of that used in my life now, you ask? First you have to look at my life. I had a hard time of it not because I was uneducated or educated. As a matter of fact, it’s been often assumed I was uneducated and downright stupid because of my accent. Things happened because I was a single mother with very little resources to turn to. I didn’t get child support, and any attempts to pursue it only proved to be a waste of time. I didn’t get welfare, and any attempts to pursue it only proved to be a waste of time because the child support was  a waste of time. I’ve had people hang up on me after a tart, “I only rent to women who are married.” I’ve been sexually harassed by bosses and lawyers alike. I had a hard time of it because I was vulnerable. Period.

Getting that degree didn’t completely save me from such vulnerability – I’ve only ever had one formal job in archaeology and that was while I was still in school. It only didn’t provide me with a real job after graduation because when I weighed being a full-time archaeologist or continuing on to grad school versus being a mother, being a mother won. What it did was give me an edge that, when I finally figured out how to use it, let me cut through most of it. Once I stopped listening to everyone who told me I didn’t have the edge because I was a single parent and the archeology field is still largely stuck somewhere in the 50’s, I founded my own business. I went back to doing what I love, and this positivity brought me a good man – not because I needed him, but because we were good for each other. If only I had figured it out sooner.

My degree is used every day I live and breathe. First of all, my characters stopped being so freaking shallow. I suddenly had a plethora of outside knowledge to build my worlds upon. Things happen in  my stories – real life things – and I no longer have to rely on a wizard popping up to make things happen. People make things happen, as it should be. And the scenarios can come from a wide range with broad topics filled with interesting bits that would make them realistic. If you read or write, these are important things.

Second of all, I stopped letting people push me around as much. Mind you I’m still a nice person and things happen out of that, but there’s a line now. It’s a nasty line. Try pushing it. See how hard I push back.

And if you really want a physical representation on how I’m using my degree, the Page of Cups is the best example I have right now. So third of all, I do choose to use my brain and my education in the way my education was meant for. I just do it independently. The story and truth behind the Page of Cups is that it started out as an essay my husband wrote to get his knighthood in a Medieval Re-enactment game. (Not the SCA.) It used to be called the Knight of Cups and some people consider it good enough to post on the internet.

He asked me to fix it up and maybe illustrate it. Asking a historian to fix something like that up isn’t always a good idea, he soon discovered, as the writing began. I checked all his facts. I dug up ancient references. I picked, prodded, and footnoted the sucker to death. We argued frequently. In the end, I ghost-wrote a part of the book as facts were corrected, parts were added, and other parts were rearranged. I did what I had been trained to do, after my fashion. And now it’s out there for people to find and read. Sometimes I even have copies at my con table.

Using my degree doesn’t end there. It probably will never end anywhere. Even if I never wrote another book, there are my stories or even how I relate to the world around me. Barring a shot to the frontal lobe of your brain, your education is with you forever. All  you have to do is think outside of the box when you use it, and you’ll be successful at just about anything.

Of course you don’t have to go to college to learn and grow. You can also join the military, the Peace Corps, or even work for the White House. Walk the Appalachian Trail.  Just don’t be afraid to pop your bubble, to go places. If you always stay inside your little home town and never see America, how can you know most of America is real? How do you know you won’t end up as that professor screaming at the ignorant first generation graduate in the hallway, or judging someone with more education than you because they have a Southern accent? Or the guy who screamed in the forum “OMIGOD I drove by the Reservation and there really are red men!!!” Do you really know anything? Might as well make sure and go learn something new. Now. Before it’s too late.

And for the record, I have not stopped using my degree in the formal sense. I am preparing for my next book – these things take time, I’m afraid. And when you  have my budget and my available resources, they take slightly longer than  usual. So if anyone is interested in buying me a copy of Lady With a Mead Cup: Ritual Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tene to the Viking Age, I would be very grateful.

The current going price for this masterpiece used is over $200… and we’ve been living without a refrigerator for a while. Um… book.. .fridge… book… fridge… oh well. Can’t afford neither.   Carrying on, moving on, thank goodness life taught me how to rough it.

And to endure.