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.