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January 11, 2013
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Years and years ago, at the beginning of my illustration career, a veteran illustrator got mad at me, and at a number of my colleagues, for charging too little.  We all protested loudly.  "But, dude," we said, "we are not veterans like you, with years of experience and stunning portfolios to back us up.  We are newbies, and we need to eat, too, so we'll take what we can get.  We're not in direct competition with you, so why do you care?"  Then, we added, with great smugness, "Oh, and our rates are the current industry standard, so pthbbbbbt!"

Except more than a decade's gone by, and I see that my colleagues and I are now veterans, with our own pretty portfolios and lengthy CVs.  We have become the indignant illustrator's direct competitors, and we're not earning that much more than we were at the start of our careers.  We're certainly not getting what he did, at the height of his.  And we did this to ourselves.  Oh, sure, we're not solely responsible.  These are hard times, to begin with.  Rates would've taken a hit, regardless.  But we're not blameless, either.  Rates HAVE come down to match what we were willing to work for.  This is something I've witnessed firsthand, over and over again.

Why did I do it?  Even at the start of my career, I was doing work that, for the most part, thrilled my customers to their boots.  This is not said with ego, to imply that I was at the level of a veteran illustrator even then--I certainly wasn't--but to point out that my product was exactly what somebody was looking for, and willing to pay for...and yet, there I was, producing it for what amounted to less than minimum wage.  I was even a bit proud of myself, when people were surprised by my low rates, and thanked me for making my work affordable.  

There are a thousand excuses.  I needed money fast.  I lacked experience.  There's no single set of industry standard rates for artists, only a loose collection of generally accepted rates, which vary wildly by market.  My living expenses were lower, then; I was in an area where a decent one-bedroom could be had for as little as $200 per month.  Food was basic, but cheap.  It didn't occur to me that my colleagues might be paying ten times the rent I was, for a home too small for their families, or that there was already a recession on, and that artists, furnishing a luxury commodity, would be among the first to see cuts to their earnings--and that my willingness to undervalue my work was not helping.  None of these excuses are particularly helpful now, when I find myself arguing with the next generation of people who Just Don't Get It, and probably won't, till it's too late.

DA is now contributing to the problem, in their own small way, with a new commissions widget, which offers artists the chance to sell their services for a maximum of $50, minus a 20% fee.  At best, this feature will go largely unnoticed, and will be used primarily by kids and by hobbyists with no potential to become professionals (ie, people who will never be competing for mainstream jobs, and bringing that undercutting mentality to the grown-up arena).  The young, inexperienced, and simply oblivious will be exploited--and that's the best-case scenario.  At worst, it'll be used by people who are genuinely skilled, but who don't rely on art to make a living, or who have extremely low overhead, in terms of rent and bills.  Apparently, DA also plans to present the people using this widget as the artists on this site who are looking for work, contributing even further to the common perception of art as a commodity with little value, and artists as people who should work for peanuts.

On its own, DA's widget is not a disaster.  The problem is, it's part of a much larger trend towards rock-bottom prices.  A tiny part, to be sure, but a part nonetheless, and we shouldn't let it happen without a murmur.  Think of this widget as an ant.  When one ant comes in your house, it's annoying.  You stamp on it, and you're done.  When ten ants come in, it's a little problem.  Maybe you don't stamp on all of them, and one of them gets into the strawberry jam.  When a hundred ants come in, it's a disgusting infestation, and you'll probably get bitten.  When a thousand ants come in, they might actually kill you, or do serious damage to your home.
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:iconbjoernsiebolds:
BjoernSiebolds Jun 28, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is so true!
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:iconmatildarose:
matildarose Apr 28, 2013   Traditional Artist
I hate to comment on an old thread, but THANK YOU. I wish you could tell my parents and well-meaning friends this, as I get comments from them all the time about 'well, it gives you exposure!' and 'you can always price yourself higher later!' Not producing a lot money-wise on art and getting refused by magazines left and right who charge a reasonable rate makes it tempting to go 'just this once', but it's better to spend that 'just this once' on a project you're willing to lower your rates for, like something that's going to be for charity or for a project you really believe in.

I'd consider the widget for small, quick commissions (at the fifty dollar rate) if it didn't have that high commission rate. Then again, I doubt my prices would attract anyone here.

Of course, even people outside DA have this mindset of 'I can get it here for cheaper'. I had one client ask me if I could, basically, work below minimum wage for a children's book, because 'someone else is willing to do the entire book for $500'. Even if I just illustrated 16 pages plus the cover, it'd be less than 29 dollars a page.

I apologize for using your page for a rant, but your post really touched on a few issues I've had with this new commission widget annnnnndddddd the market in general, especially for those who are 'starting out'.
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:iconsocar:
socar Apr 28, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
No worries on the rant...I'd say it's justified! :-)

I've noticed that there are sites out there, such as freelanced and elance, where it's very common for people to request entire books illustrated for $500 or less. These sites are an absolute joke. The fact that people are accepting such lowball offers is very disheartening. :-(
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:iconmatildarose:
matildarose Apr 29, 2013   Traditional Artist
Yeah. I can understand why they do it if they're in a country where 500 US would translate very well, but it's still a situation where someone is taking advantage of an artist since the artist could be receiving so much more at a proper rate.
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:iconfantasio:
fantasio Feb 4, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Good journal post and an important topic, didnīt dug further into the "commision feature".
So in general we all start by accepting a low budget client, and maybe we evolve from there.

The thing is we have the chance to do so with every new day, because when you are honest, you are where you want to be, everything else is just way too expensive in your imagination... "kicking this client would mean to have a month without income, omg, what should I do..." yadda,yadda.

I know that talk with younger generations can be daunting, itīs like telling "Blue skies from pain".

I agree on the problem with the common perception, that is not easy to get out of peopleīs head, and I see how the widget can add to the drama. However, it is up to everyone to represent themselves as they please, I think when skill is not a matter for setting yourself apart from other artists there are other assets, and it is up to the perception of each artist to determine them in order to attract clients with the right pockets.
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:icontenfeettall:
TenFeetTall Jan 13, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
A maximum of $50? My college holds an annual exhibit where submissions must be 2x2" and the maximum price we're to charge is $44, and that's for itty bitty pieces!!

Materials are expensive, and labor is time-consuming. This commissions widget's requirements are insulting.
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:iconemberguard:
Emberguard Feb 21, 2013   General Artist
after the 20% taken away it becomes $38.78 D=
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:iconbergholtz:
Bergholtz Jan 12, 2013  Professional General Artist
This past week I have been rather concerned over the veritable flood of kids on the forum asking about what to charge for commissions. I wonder if this widget has something to do with it. I spent a few hours writing to some of them because some were getting insanely bad advice like "keep lowering your prices until you get commissions." Most of them are complete begginners with art as well and can barely hold a pencil straight. I have no idea what's going on.
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:iconsoliton:
soliton Jan 12, 2013  Professional General Artist
Good post.
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:iconendless-spirit:
endless-spirit Jan 13, 2013   Traditional Artist
Great icon!
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