How to make money in Illustration & Minimum Wage artists

  • Just started watching the second part of "How to make money in illustration" by @Lee-White and at the beginning he mentions the idea of working as an illustrator for card games, specifically "Magic: The Gathering", and provides a baseline of how much one can earn from each card illustration.

    So, I just wanted to share some thoughts by Noah Bradley on working for some analog games companies (i.e. board games and card games). It's not specific to illustrating Magic The Gathering, but he draws a good line on the idea of charging for your work.

  • @diego_biosteam I have read this it is very depressing,just makes you wonder if it is worth it to keep trying if there is no good paying job at the end.Art education and materials ,software/computers/pen displays etc are not cheap,I love my art hobby but as a principle I would like a decent wage if I did a job for someone.

  • Hi @DOTTYP

    Please, don't feel depressed.

    Keep this in mind:

    (0) Like Noah Bradley said: if you are sure your art is not worth a good pay, then work on improving your art. If you are in a life situation where you need to support yourself or family, then get a job to pay the bills and work on your art meanwhile. For some reason, people don't want to accept it.

    (1) whatever you want to do, takes a long time to convert it into a source of stable income. It requires experience in producing it, dealing with customers, optimizing things, giving up on other things, creating a name... Long time means 5 or 10 years or even more... Regardless of it, you must keep doing and improving (not only your artistic skills but your ways to sell your product).

    (2) Engineers that make a lot of money are the ones that stop doing engineering and start a business, so they become business men. Programmers that make a lot of money are the ones that start a company and they stop programming and start managing the company. Why can't artists understand it?

    If I were a programmer and wanted to stay at home programming my own scripts/software, I would not make money as a programmer. I need to offer something that is not for me, but for the consumer to buy.

    You do not make a living as an artist, you make a living as a business man. You may choose to be the crafter, accountant, marketer and public relations of your business or you may hire people to help you in one of these. Note that in all of this, your art only enters as part of the crafting process.

    (3) If whatever education system you went through was a failure (which is good), 50% is the systems fault, 50% is the student's fault. If it was successful, 50% was the systems fault, 50% is the student's fault.

    (4) It is not the software or the special paper that makes good art, it's the artist. If you want to go fully digitial, there are plenty of very good (industry level quality) free open-source software with great communities. I will give you a list of some:

    3D Design (modeling, texturing, animation, special effects): Blender

    Digital Painting and photomanipulation: GIMP ( and Krita (

    Vector Graphics: Inkscape

    Everything office-style (word processor, presentation, excel, and vector graphics): Libre Office Package ( or Open Office package (

    Desktop publishing (to create your book or magazine layout): Scribus

  • Pro SVS OG

    It took me about a year to realize this, but starting a career as a freelance artist is not any different than starting a business of any kind. Chances are you are not going to make any money in the first years. You are almost certainly going to loose money in the first year or two. It´s not only the cost of materials, the biggest time and money pit is marketing (postcards, website design and hosting, social media, conferences, etc..).

    Then, if you establish your business right, have something valuable to offer to your customers and manage to reach out to enough of them, you´ll start to break even and then, slowly, to make a living and, possibly, to thrive. If you see yourself “only” as a service (that is, paid by the hour or any measure of output) or have the attitude of an employee (somebody is going to pass by and tell me what to do - this was actually my problem for a quite a while), it´s probably not going to work out. So, as @DOTTYP pointed out, if you need to support yourself financially from the start, you need another job to pay the bills.

    You need to think about your “value proposition” (a fancy business term for “what do I have to offer that nobody else has”?) and who your customers are and how to reach them. You have to take a hard look at your “product” and be sure that it has the quality standards the market expects and, if not, you need to spend time in “product development” before you consider starting a business at all.

    Applying business terminology and thinking to freelance illustration has changed the way I think about it and helped detach my emotions from my work. Talking with people who have startup business in consumer goods, paradoxically, has helped me enormously. Little paying jobs will come your way, and then you are not going to think about your hourly wages (a very dangerous trap for a start-up business!) but if and how this job drives your business development. Does it help to refine your product (I.e. your skills?). Does it establish a relationship with an important customer? Can you use it as a promotion (for example, a pro-bono work for a good cause?). A mill work system like the one described in this article, is probably not the kind of thing you want to get involved into. As an illustrator living in the Northern emisphere, you also cannot ever make “low cost” your value proposition, so you should not compete on jobs for which that is a driving factor.

    I am rambling, but you see how this can help to re-frame your thinking around making a living in art. It definitely has helped to shift my way of thinking and I feel much more confident about the way forward (it´s also the first year my “business” is ending with a positive balance!).

  • Having savings in the bank and or having a job while you develop your art business is a good idea for a lot of people because it takes the urgency out of working with poorly suited prospects (people who have no money for art and / or don't see it as an investment or enrichment for their product...). Personally I just live very simply, use open source software and never spend money I don't have so that I don't feel desperate regarding money, I also have a supportive partner. I have spent a lot of time and money over the years on software and training (business and art related) so far, but I see it as investing in my worth as a good Illustrator.

    I know what it is like to be taken advantage of and work for peanuts because it happened to me a few times when I used to do web design. In my experience the poorly paying jobs were the nightmare jobs. I realized it was my fault for having the wrong mindset though. I learned how to say no to the wrong opportunities so that I could be open to the right ones.

    During my art course a few years ago I found the Sean Wes podcast and it helped me develop a better mindset. I was a community member for a while and they discussed this sort of thing all the time. People ended up making more money and being happier as a result. I also got his audio book the overlap technique- It helps with this stuff.

  • @diego_biosteam Hi there diego thanks for the reply.I may have misunderstood the original discussion I assumed artists who were painting for these big companies would already be experienced very good artists that is why I thought the minimum wage was insulting. Are these entry level jobs? Still even so the companies are making a lot of money out of this type of thing.
    Thanks for the free resources information,but I have already got most of the paid software by now.I do disagree with one thing though the expensive paper is better for traditional art lol.
    I am not looking to be rich (although it would be lovely) just enough to buy the bills and live nicely though my art. Thanks for answering you have made some very interesting points.

  • Hi @DOTTYP

    I am glad I could present some points to help you think more about the career!

    I don't think the company will decide whether it is a entry level job or advanced level. They will offer that price and it's up to the artist to take it or not. Usually a seasoned artist with 5 or 10 years of experience will be able to say no to such offers (or maybe not even waste time looking for them).

    It ends up on the hands of artists starting their careers. We know some starting artists may be quite good in terms of artistic skills and they may think this is a great opportunity. Or maybe, some of these starting artists are just desperately needing money and they accept the offer.

    As for the quality of the materials for analog art, I agree that better quality materials have an effect on the quality of the creation, but I mean that a good artist can use a 2 dollars sketchbook and a 10 dollars watercolour set and make a piece that is much better compared to a bad artist that invested on high quality materials. So, I believe the beginner artist should invest on becoming a good artist. The seasoned good professional artist is making money to be able to afford good quality material in case the work he is being paid for requires higher quality material (or maybe he just want to have fun with new materials 😛 )

    P.s.: just a detail... I used the term "analog art" instead of "traditional art" because I think the term traditional is very misused. I think even in digital art, there are techniques and processes that are not used anymore and are therefore "traditional". For example, nowadays in 3D computer graphics its very common to create characters by doing digital sculpting (high polygonal sculpting) while in the past it was done by basic geometry modeling (low polygonal modeling). So, the low-poly modeling can be considered a traditional way to do 3D digital art. Or even in non digital art, someone can be using a new technique that was never used before - I think using high tech machines to cut metal to make a sculpture is a very "non-traditional" way to do sculpture, which is not digital at all.

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