Freelance journal

Your worth as an artist

By 8 March , 2019 2 Comments

I love sharing with people, so here goes:

A few years ago, I purchased the book called ?Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines?.
It?s a handbook with many useful resources for artists, art buyers, and art sellers.
I know that a lot of artist struggle trying to figure out what to get paid for certain projects. I know I still do that myself every now and then. Sometimes, when a new job comes in, your head fills with a bunch of contradictive feelings.
On the one hand, you’re super excited because it?s a fun new project and you can’t wait to start. But on the other hand, you suddenly realize that you need to negotiate first.
Figuring out a reasonable fee, read or write a contract, and going back and forth between the client can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. Especially when it’s a big client, or a client you wanted to work with for ages.
Common questions are: What is a fair price to ask? How am I going to calculate this fee? What rights do I have? Am I asking enough? Do I dare to ask royalties? Will they still work with me if I ask $$$? Etcetera, Etcetera.
Well, this book covers a lot of these questions while handing you some handy guidelines.

There is no right way

I want you to know that I?m not at all sponsored to sell this book. However, I really think this book is a gem for every artist and designer as it covers a lot of ground for multiple disciplines. And telling people about it feels like helping out one another.
The first thing the book explains (which I personally think is really nice) is that there is really no ?right? way to price your art.
Artists often feel uneasy about it, wondering if they are doing it right and frequently questioning themselves. This tidbit of info immediately felt comforting to me because, if you turn the same message around, it also means that you can?t really do it wrong either.
It tells you that there are a lot of different pricing strategies but none of them work on each and every client, nor do they work for all projects. And that?s where the guidelines come in.

Here is what the book covers:

  • Salaries: (real tables with actual pricing estimates for many, many categories!) ?
  • Hourly freelance rates per discipline!
  • Standard model (licensing) contracts and forms that you can customize.?
  • Pricing guidelines for buyers and sellers
  • Info about legal, technological, financial, and copyright issues (handy)
  • How to set up fair contracts for both you and your client.
  • Tips about marketing and ways to maximize your income.
  • Trade customs (the many trade practices unique to the specific disciplines)
  • An expanded chapter of additional professional, business, and legal resources with the latest contact information.
  • A glossary of business terms.

Being a novice

I really wish that I had something like this several years ago when I just started out as an illustrator.
I remember it well. I was such a newbie when it came to getting actual jobs. The Academy was mostly focused on learning new techniques and creating communicative imagery. But there was hardly any information on how to run a proper freelance business.

The first thing I learned (the hard way) was that being an artist meant that you needed to become a Jack of all Trades.

    • You need to create a portfolio with many great pieces of artwork and keep it up to date.
    • Create a website (back then there weren?t really any good website platforms like there are now, so I taught myself FTP, Html, and Macromedia Flash and coded my own websites?).
    • Being present on social media (this was upcoming when I first started out but it’s a huge part of my business now.)
    • Doing acquisition to get new jobs.
    • Doing your bookkeeping and taxes.
    • Self-promotion (which, fortunately, you can combine with social media nowadays).
    • Creating invoices
    • Writing and reading contracts (what does it all mean?)
    • Learning about copyright and copyright infringement
    • Negotiating with clients about fees and projects without having a clue how to do that.
    • Learning how to work with templates (for boxes or books etc)
    • Learning how to make an illustration print-ready
  • and the list goes on…

Especially at the beginning of your career, you do most of these things yourself as you’re often on a budget. Good heavens there is this thing called the Internet making it a lot easier to find all the information we need. Right?


Maaike Hartjes – Tekeningen Rekeningen

Share the knowledge

I actually managed to get a couple of jobs for teen magazines when I was still attending art school, but when I asked my teachers about the fees that I was getting paid (wondering if they were fair or not), they gave me vague answers trying to beat around the bush which left me rather clueless in the end.
Later, I found out that in the Netherlands freelancers are not allowed to make ?price agreements. On top of that, a lot of illustrators are very hush hush about their fees as well. I guess my teachers didn?t want to share that info with me because it felt personal and meddling with their business.? But initially, it also meant that I had no clue (like a lot of my fellow students) how to approach this business in general. And it also meant that I unknowingly agreed to very low payment for some of my very first jobs.
That’s why I love having art friends and joining online groups where artists share their knowledge. For example, I’m part of a Dutch illustration group on Facebook which is a nice group of colleagues who are often very helpful when you have a question. There are many communities like that so go and search for one.

When agreeing to low fees hurts the industry

It sounds a bit dramatic, but in a way it’s true. When you work for bottom prices, there is a chance you’re killing your own business and don’t enjoy your badly paid job as much as you could have. And indirectly, you?re making it harder for other artists to negotiate a fair fee as well, as low fees could become the standard. If there are enough artists willing to work for peanuts, the client won’t have trouble to find someone else to do the job. So think twice before you agree to a low payment. You and your colleagues will benefit in the long run.
Your art is needed and your hard work should be paid fairly.


Rewire your brain

Many (starting) artists are very uncomfortable asking a fair fee for their work. Some would prefer to avoid negotiating and say yes to any proposal without thinking it over.
Some might even argue: ?It?s just a drawing, I can?t ask $$$ for it, can I??
Well, yes you can, and you should.
You are a professional and your creative profession is not a hobby. ?
During the years you?ve enhanced your skills, gotten more experienced, acquired knowledge of new techniques, materials and/or software to get where you are now. Even if you?re just starting out, you should always ask for a fee that compensates for your work, effort, and time. Don?t use the fact that you are ?only a newbie? as an excuse.

Also:?As a freelancer, you don?t have the same benefits that you get with a full-time job. So when you consider the amount of money you need to earn, you also need to find out if your income will cover returning expenses like food, rent, utilities (gas, water, and electricity), insurance, taxes, travel expenses, (hopefully) vacations, the possible rent of a studio, software, art materials, and so on.
There is this really good cartoon by Maaike Hartjes that explains it all very well. I’m afraid it’s in Dutch. Maybe she’ll translate it some time, and if she does, I will let you know. But I’d like to share it in case my fellow Dutchies are reading along. ??



I realize it?s hard to find a good way to start charging reasonable fees.
It was for me as well.
Each month, you have to pay your bills, and when money is low, it?s very tempting to just agree with every incoming job you can get. I get that. It?s easier said than done. I feared the very same thing at first.
But I also knew that the situation wouldn?t get any better if I didn?t stand up for myself at some point. And when I did, it was a real eye-opener.

Remember that, even though you need the work, the client equally needs you. They chose you because they think your work is the right fit for their project.
I loved how the AOI website mentioned this too.
I quote from their website : ?You?re not being done a favor by being commissioned ? you?re offering a service that has value.?
Don?t forget to check out their Tips about negotiating prices.

Clients are most of the time open for negotiating. You?ll find that most art directors even expect you to do so. They have a starting budget and often they are willing to think along.
Don?t immediately agree to a job offer. Give it some time to mull it over and do your research first.

So that’s my last message: “Know your worth”

Noteworthy links


Logo by the price it right campaign from the AOI

Artwork by Nishant Choksi


  • lauren says:

    Thanks so much for the advice, Miriam! I kept hearing about this book, but after reading your post I decided to go ahead and order it. I’m looking forward to reading through and learning from it!

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