Episode 09: How Much Will I Make In Illustration?

  • SVS OG

    alt text

    Art by Tanner Garlick
    We just launched Episode 9, be sure to check it out! It's a good one.

    Every student has the question: "How much will I make in illustration?" The frustrating thing is that this is too often avoided or glossed over in school, which honestly, is a bit crazy! In this episode we hope to cut through the fog of uncertainty and shed some real light on what the market is like and how much you can expect to make in illustration, in different fields, and in different stages of your career.

    You can listen to it and read the show notes here.

    We'd love it if you had any more insight or shared your own experience with this topic, and let us know if your experience is different from what we talked about in the podcast.

  • Is one part of why they don't talk about how much you stand to make as an illustrator because they let anyone take the courses and fail no one?
    Like, no matter how hopeless you are they will let you pay them for their services. Therefore they can't start talkin money because they're thinking 'maaybe one person here could make some money..'

  • SVS OG

    @kylebeaudette grade inflation was a huge problem when I was in art school. Art is pretty subjective to a point. Plus, an artist’s journey and skill level can progress over a lifetime. But there were a few that really didn’t have much hope at breaking into this competitive field. I almost felt bad for them.

    That being said, I think mine did tell us about price and what a job could pull in. I forgot it though. That was in the dark ages. My illustration professors where pretty forthcoming about the pay because a few of them were working.

    I really appreciate how the svs guys are pretty forthcoming about what they could bring in and how diversified their careers are. It seems like having a work/work/work balance is helpful to prevent burnout. And make sure you can pay the bills.

  • @whitney-simms Yeah, the SVS guys have been really informative. It almost seems like some information is purposely impossible to find.
    I do know some artists that I believe to be well... hopeless, but I wouldn't dare tell them that. Instead, when they ask about my opinion I say 'Ha, that's great.' Or 'Hey that's neat.' Never anything like 'Oh wow, I love the colours' or ' Wow! that's AMAZING??' I'm never negative, but I've learned not to go overboard unless it really warrants it. I now listen for that when people look at my art.
    There are people that look at my art and think 'Yikes that's bad/pointless' and some have even said it to my face, and it stung. It also made me reflect about my own beliefs about how talented I was. It made me realize that just because I was better than some people, it did not mean I was special. There will always be someone better than you, but if everyone looking at your art has a very 'meh' reaction, it might be time to level up. That's where I am now.

  • SVS OG

    This episode was particularly interesting! It's certainly worth listening to more than once.

    I took a workshop last week during which I talked to some other artists about what the advance was for books here in Italy. The figure I was given (for a small, but high quality publisher) was so low that I don't even want to repeat it for fear of spreading false information! It's interesting to get the POV of a totally different market. Most books I see in stores are translations of American or British books, and others are translations from French. One store owner told me it was because it's just too expensive to publish for a smaller market. There's some beautiful stuff out there, but I don't see how Italian illustrators, even the best ones, can make a living!

  • SVS OG

    @kylebeaudette hang in there. There is a market for every niche. But continue to grow as well. As you keep working on your craft you may find the perfect fit! If you grow in the direction you’re interest in you can go wrong! “How much money can you make” seems like the question really is “how much are you willing to work for it.” There is money to be made, just start your hustle and do the kind of work you love! Best of luck! Me- I’m lazy and just like to paint. So I’m not bringing in anything!

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @whitney-simms "But there were a few that really didn’t have much hope at breaking into this competitive field."

    @kylebeaudette "I do know some artists that I believe to be well... hopeless"

    I'm curious what qualities these artists had that gave you that particular impression.

    Edit Update: This question came off much more harshly (judgmental, is maybe a better word?) than I intended. I would delete it, but for any future readers of this thread it will only be confusing. My sincere apologies to @Whitney-Simms and @kylebeaudette. Please know that my participation on these boards is intended only to further discussion, not inhibit it. I hope that any who have an opinion will engage with this topic.

  • SVS OG

    @davidhohn oh dear, that statement sounded a bit harsh. Sorry for that. I should've added a "bless their heart" (cause I'm from the south). It's hard to really know how to start with that statement. When there is no grade to determine how well you are doing you must be extremely self aware. If your drawing (not literal drawing, but ability to make quality work in the style and field you would like to go into) skills haven't improved throughout your entire college career there can be a few red flags.

    Are you trying? If you are slack in college and putting forth little effort, how in the world are you going to have the push for a career that you can't simply apply for? (I wish I had gone into dental hygiene. Go to school, do well, apply for jobs, get paid. I'm a friendly person, I would be a fit somewhere.) You are barely completing a project. Just doing it to make a check mark and get an A or B. Because no one got C's.

    Are you listening to the advice your professors and peers are telling you? How argumentative are you at critiques? You're just stubborn and want to do things the way you want to. That's lovely. You don't need to be in school. Just paint for you. And the more you argue, the more people will just shut their mouths. No one likes contention. Open a shop with your work and don't bother trying to work with publishers, bosses, whoever that will have an opinion on the work that they are expecting from you.

    I think one of the biggest things that I didn't hear (maybe I missed that day) was don't compare your work to your peers, compare it to what is out there. How does your work stack up? No one cares what your art BFA GPA is. No ONE! I would say most don't care that you went to school. It's your portfolio that gets your work. I think I stopped looking at school work as assignments and viewed them as portfolio pieces when I was a junior.

    So, those qualities are : skill level is low, no ambition and argumentative... probably not going to happen. People aren't going to seek you out. Not how this field works.

    Now to my self realization. Please don't think I am holier than thou. I did not mean to come across that way. And I feel super bad it did. I know that my skills as a story book illustrator are NOT there at all. They may be there at some point. I am improving one direction at a time. However, I do love some of the work that I do. It fits in more of the etsy print, fabric patterns, decor, licensing area. One day I will be brave enough to submit something, or open a shop.

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @whitney-simms I am so sorry if my question made you feel self-conscious! And thank you for such a clearly considered and well articulated response. I am genuinely curious. As a art school undergrad student I had an opinion on this topic. As a working professional my opinion shifted. And as a college instructor my opinion has shifted further still.

    I asked because it is easy to think that one's (in this case my) current opinion is the most "valid" one and I wanted to understand the topic from a different point of view.

  • Ugh, yes! THANK YOU! I asked one of my friends how much more he makes now that he was hired full-time from his internship last year (the same one I am finishing next week), and he refused to tell me. Awkwardly laughed it off and looked like I asked him to murder someone. And I asked the question politely! He was sure though to list off all the benefits they offer (What about the biggest benefit—a paycheck!?) which is nice, but benefits don't pay day to day bills. How am I supposed to even know if working at this company is a viable option for me? How am I supposed to make any long-term financial plans? How are we even supposed to want or apply to and for jobs and build careers when the most basic thing as compensation is so taboo to talk about? I can find out nearly everything else about the job except this. It's so frustrating to me! I actually want to enjoy my life outside of work.

    And my school's slogan is 'Shattering the myth of the starving artist' yet we don't talk about dollars and cents unless it's maybe individual job pricing or the price of attending the school. It's also hard to research the industry standard for these things because no one talks about it online and some of the books are no longer relevant to changing markets, so thank you again for making this!

    Why is encouraging kids to 'follow their dreams and passions' and make art that makes them happy and to spend exorbitant amounts of money on education okay, but how they'll actually live life afterward, day to day, week to week, or twenty years in the future is so scandalous?

    I also think that talking about the cost of certain jobs is really relevant in this discussion, which you guys mentioned. I've heard how poorly game interns who returned to my school who worked at big companies like Blizzard and Riot were treated. Yes, they worked at a prestigious company on cool projects and learned a lot, but they were worked so hard and had to do ridiculous overtime and had no personal life or free time. That sounds unsustainable and miserable to me. They seemed pretty miserable to me. I think while everyone must pay their dues when starting out, you want to build a sustainable career that won't swallow you whole or burn you out. It really depends on the culture of the companies and industries you choose. My summer experience working at a big company has been amazing; I've worked on projects I enjoy and the company truly cherishes and lifts up its employees. They care about me as a person and don't treat me as just a number which I feel is, unfortunately, the case in some of the entry-level jobs in animation or games and the like because they are so highly competitive to the point of notoriety with a high turnover rate. This is what I've observed at school and from creators on social media, which has turned me off toward those industries, to be frank.

    I think every commercial artist needs to realize the actual usefulness of their work, and the quality of life they desire overall, be it emotional or financial before randomly picking an industry just because it seems fun. I hope a day comes where me innocuously asking money questions doesn't seem mercenary, and people can actually find the information necessary to make a good living.

    Again, thank you for this!!! Gonna bookmark it!

  • SVS OG

    @davidhohn ha! Yeah, I totally peed my pants. “David Hohn totally just called me out for being mean.” I loved my time in college. I loved my classes. It was fantastic to work for hours on end in studio classes and get continual feedback from professors and peers. I miss that! I guess the main purpose of being an art major is to make the students stronger artist and to teach them how to get work. When Grades can help filitate that and that’s their purpose. To make stronger artists. But, you don’t want to squoosh someone’s love for creating. It’s a fine balance. Good luck with it!

  • @davidhohn Hey, I wasn't offended or anything so don't worry about that.
    What do I mean by hopeless... Like, a person draws a little girl and I can't even say it looks human. Or maybe that's too harsh. I don't know. I'm sure we've all met people who are very invested in making art, but seem to have no talent or patience to make enjoyable/pleasing art.
    Like I said earlier, to some people that's me. It surprises me when I get that criticism, but I roll with it and strive to get better.

  • Pro SVS OG

    @lauraa The advance on royalties is proportional to the expected sales volume. That´s what made me realize very early on that if I ever wanted to earn a living as book illustrator (or at least make it worth my time) I had to focus on the English market. Any other language market in Europe gives very little advances - because the markets are too small to bet on. In Switzerland, on one negotiation, I got offered no advance at all. UK publishers already pay considerably better than any other European country - but not nearly as much as US publishers, because they can never be sure that the books will be good exports.
    The rest of the world is a question mark. I got contacted a few times from China, but they seem to work very different than the rest of the world, and so far nothing came of it. South America (and possibly the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking market in general) seems interesting - at least better than any European country. This is just very limited experience from discussing job enquiries in the past two years - some came into being, most didn’t.
    In theory, if a book is successful, or if it gets translated in different languages, you may earn a decent amount even from an Italian (or Dutch, or French) book. But it´s a bet for you as much as it is for the publisher.
    As for Italian illustrators, the good ones make a good living...working outside of Italy. As it has been the case for Italians for any other profession in the past 100 years. That´s what they call “the brain drain”. 😉
    I´ve left Italy nearly 20 years ago to earn a living as a scientist. Now I hire Italian illustrators, represented by American reps, from out of Switzerland. My agent lives in NY. How this is going to evolve in the next decades (knowing that Indian and Chinese illustrators are doing the same thing) and what the shape of the publishing market will be for illustrators in 10 years from now.....I have no idea.

  • Pro SVS OG

    Another excellent podcast episode, with lots of food for thought. I have a minor comment, a question - or rather a topic for discussion, and maybe a suggestion for a future episode.

    Minor comment: the Caldecott gets mentioned very frequently here and in many other videos and lessons on SVS in connection with highly successful book illustrators. For a while, I saw it a bit as the Holy Grail of children book publishing: the one thing that would allow a children illustrator to relax and enjoy the creative side of illustration. Then I realized that both the Caldecott and its corresponding writing award - the Newbery - are reserved for US citizens or residents only. While being aware that the goal is too lofty to be relevant for career planning, I still get a twinge of regret every time it's mentioned. Maybe it would be nice to mention other awards or accolades that foster an independent creator career and are less restrictive in their terms. Will mentioned the librarian association awards, for example. I think there are quite a few international artists here on SVS (and of course in the world in general) that would be interested in knowing that there is a range of goals worth achieving, rather than "the Caldecott takes it all".

    Topic for discussion: The episode mentions the two types of artists: the one that focusses only on one thing and the ones that differentiate on a range of markets and opportunities. I've always wondered wether there is an "opportunity cost" with the latter choice. Is it possible that you really need to focus on one thing to reach a certain "status" within that specific area? To keep the metaphor of the table, maybe to put more legs under it you're actually taking what could be a really tall single leg and cutting it in shorter pieces - you have a stable table, maybe, but it's lower than it could be. It's again the old discussion of the specialist vs generalist. Since I have a day job doing editorial illustration and two kids and really want to write as well as illustrate children books, I am exceedingly conscious of how I invest my time and more than aware that time is a very finite and rapidly exhausted resource. My concern is that you need to focus that resource on one thing to be able to peep out from the crowd.

    Possible suggestion for future episode: in relation to royalties, what can you do as illustrator to boost the sales of your book? Is that a thing at all or does the publisher take full ownership of marketing? What are the pros and cons (if any) of book signing events and school visits? Should you build a personal brand? Can or should you hire a publicist? Should you approach bloggers and how do you go about that? How do you collaborate with the author, especially when you don't live in the same corner of the world? I hear more and more that marketing is a collaborative effort between publisher and authors/illustrators and that terrifies me - also because resources are few and tend to focus on local circumstances. I understand this is a very narrow topic, but maybe it could be considered within the scope of a wider episode on self-marketing...

  • SVS OG

    @smceccarelli That makes sense. I noticed that the illustrator who taught my course has had his books published in several different languages, and at the moment is working on getting his latest into the English market.

    Beatrice Alemagna is a good example of someone who has done very well by emigrating. Speaking of which, Alemagna is one of the darlings of the NY Times Best Illustrated Books list, which is widely respected, open to people from all countries, and based on illustrations only, whereas the Caldecott choices are influenced by the story. I still think the NY Times talk was the most informative session I attended at Bologna!

  • Thanks again for another great episode guys. I’m in a unique yet also frustrating position in that I was very into drawing at a young age, let it fall off and then now I’m getting back into it at 34. So on one hand, it’s a bit of a bummer when I think about how much better I would be now if I didn’t let my skills lie dormant for the past 15 years but on the other hand, it’s kind of nice to have the freedom to put my time into developing my craft as a side pursuit without stressing out too much about how and where to make money with it.

    With that said, I do hope to make art a source of income and then eventually my sole source of income down the road and when that time comes, having resources like you guys and episodes like this will come in very handy.

    Thanks for sharing with us the things you wish somebody told you when you were coming up in the industry.

  • While I have loved all of the podcast episodes, I think this one is my favorite because I haven't come across many resources that will talk about this particular topic. Thanks so much for doing it!

  • @gorillo then we are in the same bucket... i was also into drawing when i was a kid. I feel the same about past years (not drawing). Plus i am only a year older then you and hope also this will become my main income one day. Love to see i am not alone... Time for a change now.

    And ofcourse thanks guys for the great episode again!

  • Hi all! @Lee-White , @Jake-Parker & @Will-Terry , thank you again so much for this invaluable advice and information. like you have said, this topic seems to be generally avoided in most art education establishments. I’ve been a little bit on a different side from the students that really want to only do 1 thing and make it big as “an animator” or “concept artist” my problem has been trying to figure out what field of Illustration I wanted to go. I love making art and the process, experimenting and learning is really a great experience. However, I’ve been really torn on what field to focus on and what kind of illustrations/ work I’d want to do.
    I’ve done a Bachelors in Animation, I thought It’s what I wanted to do and I was convinced it was my calling but after finishing my degree and coming out of art school, I realise I didn’t love it. I felt lost and a bit aimless. I moved to the big City(London) to try and get my portfolio out there but living in the city was so expensive I had to take admin and corporate jobs to pay the bills. Needless to say I couldn’t get art jobs because my portfolio reflected where I was artistically which was aimless. Anyway I decided to leave the big city with my partner to pursue our creative lifestyle goals. Now much like @Gorillo at 34 i’m brushing up on fundamentals and basics, quit my office jobs and now working part time as a Barista at the local independent coffee shop (for some income and feed my coffee habit)and work on my art. After listening to all of the podcasts and YouTube vids, I’ve managed to really pintpoint what I love about making art and figured out what kind of work I want to do. I’ve participated in a local art fair and in process of self publishing a children’s book with a writer. My partner has also been getting more freelance work as a photographer. All in all I think what you’re doing is amazing and I’m truly greatful for the time, the advice and everything you giive to this community.

  • Hey guys 😀 so I just ended an 18 hour road trip and the 3 point perspective helped it go by quickly. Especially the embarrassing stories lol. But this episode in particular was well done and thought provoking. I appreciate the no nonsense all fact approach to this topic in particular. It makes it easier to make informed decisions. Thanks guys for your hard work.

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