Episode 09: How Much Will I Make In Illustration?

  • 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.

  • SVS OG

    I really enjoyed this episode and the podcast in general. Thanks to everyone that has a hand in making it possible. Most of the time I have trouble coming up with relevant questions so I
    sit back and let others ask questions and then I try to soak up the info. This time, though, I'm specifically curious about the chapter book market. It rarely gets mentioned and I get confused whether it's lumped into the early reader/educational market (are they the same?) or the young adult market. I understand that picture books are more lucrative and thus more people want to spend their energy pursuing that market. So is there less of a market or representation in CB making it a harder market to get into and with less return? I assumed that it could be a "foot in the door" type to build up a portfolio and repertoire while earning some income but it's not talked about much so I don't really know if it's worthwhile. Do you get jobs the same way for those as you would for PB? How does that work when you're hired? Do you get the complete manuscript or does the editor/art director narrow down specific illustrations and notes and you don't know how it all fits together until it's published? If anyone has the experience to shed some light on it or point in me in the right direction I would greatly appreciate it. Meanwhile, great episode and I can't wait for the next one!

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    Glad you guys are liking it! We have so much fun doing them. This episode topic was mine and one I feel very passionate about. Educating people about the life they can expect as an illustrator is super important!

  • SVS OG

    Another great episode. I'm glad @Jake-Parker got the answer he was looking for from his wife otherwise that would have been awkward haha... Interesting insights into the life of an artist... There was something @Will-Terry said that made me think when he talked about focusing on one thing you could make more money on that one, made me realise I'm not really focused on anything haha. Odd realisation now I'm going to focus on two things. My youtube channel and my picture making other ideas are now in the bin along with all my hollywood movie ideas lol

    Great episode as always guys.

  • Can someone tell me or link the name of the book that was mentioned that has the inflated pay rates and common documents? I did’t see it listed in the episode notes.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @K-Flagg The information we were discussing is available digitally now at: https://graphicartistsguild.org/handbook/cat/digital

    You can still buy the book there too if you wanted it.

  • @davidhohn As a high school art teacher, I do not find your comments to be harsh. It’s a blunt reality. I’ve seen way too many students who do not have the passion, motivation, desire, and for some, the ability to actually persevere full-time in the field of illustration. Many of my students have gone to well known art schools, only to return home with their tails between their legs and realize that unless they are willing to eat, breathe and drink art, they are not going to make it since there are 100’s lined up behind them that are willing to “show up”.

  • @lee-white thank you!

  • @smceccarelli They are probably speaking about US awards because of their experience, but I've also heard of the Hans Christian Andersen Award which is the highest international Children's book award, and the Kate Greenaway Medal. I'm sure there must be other regional and international awards. I found this link which lists some: https://natlib.govt.nz/blog/posts/international-children-s-book-awards

    I'd imagine that such awards would allow a similar 'result', so to speak, as the Caldecott. Jake, Will, and Lee probably haven't mentioned those because they don't have the proper experience with those awards, but they do exist.

    Brett Helquist and Lisbeth Zwerger are two well known, prolific, talented illustrators and to the best of my knowledge neither have won the Caldecott. Zwerger cannot as she is Austrian, but she has won the Hans Christian Anderson award in 1990. Helquist worked on a series that has prestige as great as the Caldecott in my opinion. And there are loads of other examples. You can't predict whether a project is gonna be a best seller or if it'll win a Caldecott, but I think there are other avenues than just the US award.

  • First just let me say I love 3Point Perspective one of the best podcasts out there. I have a question for those of you who do there art fairs/cons. Are the prints that you sell Giclee prints ?

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