Which artists deserve credit and which one's don't?
Trick question! All of them do.
So, I came across a job posting for an illustration gig the other day that had my higher brain functions in a bit of a fit. I won't go into the specifics, but it's one that interested me on several levels. I ended up not just skipping the application, but walked away with inspiration for one very annoyed, very specific blog post.
I'll start this off with a nice, easy fact: artists deserve credit for their work. At the risk of sounding blase, there would be no work without the artist.
This seems like a simple nugget of wisdom, yet, unfortunately, we live on the planet Earth. Here we have Twitter users reposting other people's work without credit (or giving credit in the second, less-viewed comment), shady online sellers making profit off of stolen designs and potential clients haggling down professionals. The job application I came across was more insidious, appearing perfectly professional on the surface with its highly specific rundown of the job and all that it would entail. That is, until it came to the pesky subject of due credit: this would be a work-for-hire position that would see all copyright going to the owner. As a working professional with over five years of experience, this is nothing new to me.
...Until I got to the following stipulation: the artist may get credit...as long as they are high-profile.
Ha ha. Yikes.
It gets worse. It proceeded to state that a high-profile artist would still have to provide a compelling reason why they should be credited, alongside the usual portfolio-and-resume fill-out. Even the popularity contest had an asterisk attached! I've never come across an illustration gig that required a certain level of nebulous prestige, then a subsequent debate for a line of credit. What gets me is just how vague 'high-profile' is. Does the artist need a certain amount of followers on Twitter? Do they need to rub elbows with mid-tier art celebrities at fantasy conventions? A minimum of ten book covers published or no dice?
Then it begs the biggest question of all...wouldn't a high-profile artist know better than to fall for a scam like this?
Let's not get it twisted, here. There's no hidden meaning to suss out. This is a garden variety power play, pure and simple. The mere existence of a job application means this business needs a professional to create a product, yet won't do the most basic courtesy of admitting it cannot do the thing. Artists, to this day, are not a respected class. Despite this, we remain highly sought after in a world swaying on its ever-towering pile of misery. Music, illustration, filmmaking, game design, literature...we make life worth living, and this cognitive dissonance manifests in crappy applications that tell you to jump, dance and backflip for your withered carrot.
There are a lot of jobs out there. If you see any variation of this bullshit? Make like a banana and split.
The only time you should accept a work-for-hire agreement is if you're getting paid out the damn nose. I'm talking triple what you would normally charge. Even then? You may still not find it worth it, and that's perfectly valid. A line of credit and piece in your portfolio can provide you more worth than a lump sum paycheck that gets torn to shreds sooner than you'd like. Work-for-hire doesn't interest me, because the ones asking don't provide the money needed to make up for the void that comes with surrendering a creative property in its entirety.
Let's reiterate the basics:
As a working professional, you're going to come across variations of 'jump for your withered carrot' a lot. These applications or emails will use different words, shift the goalposts around a little, but your answer will always lie in what you do or don't get at the end of the job. Will this work give you enough money to pay rent and your income tax? Will you able to showcase this work in your portfolio for similar work down the line? I won't sit here and pretend these answers are always easy -- not when capitalism is designed as a losing battle -- but you do have options.
To any and all working professionals: use your options. Sign up for Indeed's keyword alert to get notified of relevant jobs the minute they're posted. Keep your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages updated regularly. Directly pitch your portfolio to relevant publishers, studios and companies that will, at the very least, pay you and credit you. Get yourself the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines so you're caught up on fair pricing in your skillset and niche. Seriously. It's my Bible.
To the businesses and individuals who pull stuff like this? Go to hell! Yeah, I have nothing profound for this part. You're just sleazeballs who make snake oil salesmen look dignified.
If you need a little more help to get your head on straight, check out my previous post where I shared my favorite (low cost or free!) business, copywriting and illustration resources. I also have a feature on Wordwonders exploring a wonderful commission I completed in 2019 that continues to raise the bar for my career.
Being a freelancer is rough. Thing is? It doesn't have to be.
Take it from someone whose instinct is to try and do everything on her own: don't. Not only will you run the risk of burning yourself out prematurely, you can set yourself up for failure by missing important legal details or drastically underpricing. There are free and affordable resources out there that can take the sting out of the freelancing process. Pricing, marketing, state law, copyright, portfolio direction, you name it. You can't create a piece of art without tools, right? The same goes for running a successful business. Below are five resources I use on a weekly -- sometimes daily -- basis, useful for both experienced freelancers and budding professionals starting to dip their toes into the working world.
Without further ado:
Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing And Ethical Guidelines
Screw saving the best for last: this is a book you need on your shelf if you want to make good money on your art.
This is the commercial art Bible to end all commercial art Bibles. I was first introduced to this book a few years ago by an art peer/client (you know who you are!) and was instantly floored by how comprehensive it is. No detail is too small, no topic too specific. Graphic novelists, commercial illustrators, fashion designers, concept artists, animators...I don't have enough room to go into all the working artists that could benefit from this tome. If you're intimidated by its page count, rest easy knowing the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook steers clear from being a stuffy compendium and keeps its language -- whether discussing fair pricing or exploring kill fees in a contract -- very accessible. The whole book feels like a patient teacher sitting by your side and walking you through a hurdle.
It doubles as a self-care book, to boot. You can't turn a page without being reminded of your value as a working artist.
The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing And Ethical Guidelines is consistent and organized in its layout, providing useful pricing spreadsheets that are separated based on experience, page percentage, geographical sales, etc. With a shelf life that'll last as long as your career does, give or take a few technological advances, there's no reason not to get it. The $45 price point on the home site can be a little steep, but you can find used and new copies on Amazon starting at under $25. Beware of shady sellers, as some reviewers have reported getting copies with missing pages. I got my book in pristine condition, I'm happy to say, and this is now one of my greatest treasures. Hell, I even read it for fun.
To repeat: you can't do everything by yourself. This means both in the quiet of your home office and in your day-to-day interactions with peers or prospects.
Freelancing isn't straightforward, and that's by design. I won't speak for artists in other countries, but the United States is a workaholic culture that wants workers dependent on employers as much as possible. Right down to when you take a shit and when you can recover from a cold. As such, becoming your own business (or even just making a little side-income) can be an uphill battle. Should you do the 1040-ES or the 1090? Do you need a state license to sell physical goods? What about writing out an effective contract? The Freelancers Union gives you knowledge in bite-sized pieces to ensure you're up-to-date on law changes, ethical business practices and health insurance.
I'm a big fan of the Freelancers Union newsletter and have been subscribed for over a year, which uses appealing templates and straightforward copy to give you important information at a glance. They also discuss self-care, share opinion articles written by experienced freelancers and offer much-needed words of encouragement. It's a full package. Sign-up is free and their newsletter crops up several times per month. Check out their blog to get a taste of what you can learn.
Ed Gandia (High-Income Business Writing)
There are a lot of advice coaches out there. How do you sort out the pragmatic teachers from the out-of-touch gurus?
I checked this guy out based on an anecdote of the fourth recommendation on this list and wasn't disappointed: Ed Gandia is a copywriter with years of experience in business writing, with a fantastic site dedicated to helping today's freelance writers make more money. He runs a blog, podcast and newsletter filled with useful advice to help freelancers avoid what he calls the 'feast-or-famine cycle'. He's no snake oil salesman, either, and never promises to get you knocking out six-figures overnight. His demeanor is practical without being cold, and his sense of humor goes a long way in helping absorb new information.
Even if you're not a business writer: you can still learn a lot about self-promotion and smart financial habits for your illustration or design career here.
I always enjoy sitting down to one of his podcasts in the morning. His free newsletter is weekly and is chock full of tips he's gathered over the years, offering practical approaches on everything from daily self-promotion habits to overcoming self-doubt when contacting a prospect for the first time. Just one example: his method of dividing daily tasks into high-priority, medium-priority and low-priority (with estimated timeframes) has done a lot to chip away at my anxiety. I use this method every day (except for days off, of course) and finish 80% of my list on average. That's not bad from someone who used to be a serial procrastinator!
Attention, any and all black freelancers: there's a resource just for you.
Getting specific with your hurdles is how you find answers. The one-size-fits-all approach does nothing but a disservice to your unique challenges and just ends up wasting your time. If you work with a chronic illness, then you need to find resources that tackle the intersection between class and accessibility. If you are trying to find work in a certain country as an expat, then you need to find resources that supplement that experience. Blackfreelance provides a plethora of concise, practical blog posts, resource lists and a newsletter to help you navigate building yourself as a freelance black professional.
Black burnout, maintaining professional boundaries, defining a niche...you name it, it's been discussed. The advice provided here easily applies to several skillsets, since much of it focuses on a groundwork of shifting your mindset toward your work. Another example: I can happily thank Blackfreelance for convincing me to choose a niche, as I went the longest time convinced I had to be a jack-of-all-trades. In fact, the creator of the site was the one to recommend Ed Gandia up above! I'm still part of this community and am endlessly grateful for all I've learned. If I have a frustrating question or need a little feedback on an idea, I know where to turn.
Recent estimates are expecting to see freelancers making up the majority of the workforce in less than a decade, so now's the time to consider some side-income if you haven't already. You can find BlackFreelance over on Twitter or the website here.
Super Condensed Informational Zine: Portfolios, Websites, Pitching And Agents
If all of this is feeling a little overwhelming, particularly for those just starting out, look no further than this short-and-sweet zine by graphic novelist Shannon Wright. This is a nine-page .pdf that hashes out the basics of getting your work together and sending it out to the right people. Nice and easy!
While most of this (very on-point) advice on portfolios and websites is familiar to me, I still got some helpful tips on working with agents (a partnership I'm looking to expand to in either in 2021 or 2022). When it comes to the whirlwind deluge of freelancing, those little nudges in the right direction are everything. You get to choose the price of the zine, as well, so pay it forward and support an artist who wants to support you! Also, her portfolio is gorgeous. Take a gander and get inspired.
There you have it. Five freelance resources that have helped me -- or are helping me -- and could very well be an anchor in your sea of chaos. If you've got any resources that have helped you out, please leave a comment and share the goodness!
Here I post WIPs, sketches, speedpaints, thumbnails and anything else thrown into the veritable stew of artistic process.