How much to charge for illustrations?

By heather at 9:21 pm on Monday, April 23, 2007

‘How much should I charge for my illustrations?” is one of those unecessarily ambiguous questions creative people face when they are asked to provide an estimate for a project. While many clients have a set budget that you have to work within, others ask you to provide a quote for your project. You could pick a number out of a hat… or if you’ve got a little business sense, you’ll take the time to do a little number crunching to be sure all your bases are covered.
When I started out freelancing, I found this article (below) by Neil Tortorella posted at Creative Latitude very helpful in establishing my own illustration pricing. I never ‘quote’ an hourly rate for illustration work, I quote for the entire project up front… but my starting point for every quote is working out how much time the project will take, and how much I need to earn at a minimum to to meet my annual salary.

Below is a step-by-step guide of what to take into consideration when coming up with your hourly rate… it’s a good starting place for establishing your illustration rates :

Creative Latitude : How do you Rate?

“If there’s one question I’m asked by designers more than any other, it’s how to figure out what to charge for a project. We have several ways. We can look it up in the Graphic Artist Guild’s Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines (PEG). We can charge the ‘going rate’. Or we can make a good guess at what the client is willing to pay and charge that. There are others, but these are the typical methods.

The Guild’s PEG is a good source and every designer should have a copy. You might find it a bit too general, though, in some areas. The ‘going rate’ is called that because if you’re not careful with it, you’re going out of business. Unless you happen to be clairvoyant, guessing what you think the client will pay is just plain bad business. The idea isn’t to figure out what the client will spend. It’s figuring out whether you can make any moolah on the project.

A better way to approach the problem is figuring out your bottomline: where you need to be to really make money. Go below this point and you’re paying your client for the honor of working for them. The more work you take on at the wrong rate, the deeper the hole you’ll dig for yourself. You can actually ’sell’ yourself right out of business with a rate that’s too low. Go too high and you’ll price yourself out of the market. Once you know your true costs of doing business, you can make sensible decisions.

You’re unique. Yup, just like every other designer out there. We all have different set ups and our costs vary. So we need to tap into some of that high school math you complained you’d never use. Actually, this is pretty elementary, so don’t sweat it.

The place to start is you. What’s your target salary? And let’s be realistic here. If you have employees, you’ll need to add up all the salaries. On top of that, you’ll need to figure in other associated costs like taxes, FICA, insurance, etc. A safe figure is 25-30%. I lean toward 30%. The math looks like this:

* Salary: $40,000
* Associated costs at 30% of salaries: $12,000
* Total: $52,000

Well, that’s a start. So how many hours are there in a year? Hmmm; let’s see. Eight hours each day. Five days in a work week. Fifty-two weeks in a year that’s . . . er . . . Hang on. I’ll save you the trouble of digging out that calculator. It’s 2,080 hours. Again, if you have employees, you’ll need to multiply that by the number of employees.

Now, if you’re like most people, you probably would like to spend a few holidays with the family and you may get a bad cold now and then and need to take a day off. Let’s factor those things into our equation (based on an solo practice):

* 7 legal holidays (US): 56 hours (8 x 7)
* 2 weeks vacation (you need some time off): 80 hours (8 x 10)
* 5 sick days (did you get a flu shot?): 40 hours (8 x 5)
* Total: 176 hours

Take that off the top of our total hours and we’re left with 1,904 billable hours. But, you probably do other things around the office like invoicing, sales calls, surfing the net and reading articles like this one. Well, you can’t bill for that time so we’ll need to ax those hours too. If you’ve been a good designer, you’ve kept time sheets. A review of a few weeks can give you a pretty good idea how much ‘down time’ you have. If you’ve been bad and haven’t kept time sheets, you’ll have to give it your best guess and make some adjustments later on . . . when you do keep time sheets. A typical target is 25%. If you’re new, it may be as much as 50%. Hopefully it’s not more than that. Let’s use the 25% for this example.

That brings our billable hours into the more realistic area of 1,428 per year. Now we’re getting somewhere! Now simply divide your billable hours into the cost of salaries and voila! You have a rate of $36.41 ($52,000/1428). Let’s round that down to 36 smackers. This is the amount to must charge to get your salary and its associated costs.

You’ve got stuff. Stuff is good. We all need stuff. Designer stuff includes things like office rent, utilities, phones, computers, software, paper, ink, marketing materials, yada, yada, yada. You get the idea. Now it’s time to start adding up all your stuff. The accountants like to call this overhead. I guess that’s because if you buy too much stuff, you’ll find yourself in way over your head. Let me pull a number out of the air. Say for our example your overhead costs $35,000 per year. We need find the percentage of salaries this overhead represents. Simple. Divide the overhead ($35,000) by the salary ($52,000) and you come up with a little better than 67%. Add this to the base rate we calculated earlier:

$36 X 67%= $24.12

36 bucks plus the $24.12 for overhead is a whopping $60.12. Again, we’ll round that out to a clean $60.

And there you have it. Now you know you need to charge at least $60 per hour if you want to eat and pay your rent. We also know that we need to contract at least 1428 hours per year, or 119 hours each month, to make this mark. Pretty neat, eh? Now we’re starting to act like a real live business! We not only solved our rate problem, we also set a sales goal.

Well, I guess that’s about it. What’s that the Accountant is saying? There’s one more thing? Hmmm . . . we took care of our salaries. Our overhead is nailed. What else could there be? Oh! A profit! We need to make a profit. Profit is that funny money that allows our business to grow and expand. It’s the leftover nest egg that gives us the ability keep employees on when things get slow. It’s what allows us to replace the old G-3 with a nifty new G-4 and a Titanium Powerbook to go. Yup, we need to make a profit.

How much profit do we need? I’d say not to go below 10%. 20% is better and that’s what we’ll use for our target. Time to pull out the calculator again. We’ve established our base rate at $60. 20% of 60 is 12, so we need to tack $12 on top. Our final rate, to recover salaries, overhead and a healthy profit, is $72.00. If you’re like me, you’ll round this amount up to a tidy $75. It just sounds better and adds a slight fudge factor.

Now that wasn’t too bad, was it? The final rate is the number you’ll use to do your estimating, whether you charge by the hour or by the job. It’s the number you can’t afford to go below. No more wondering if you can afford to take on this job or decline that one. You have facts to back up your decisions.

If you can’t find your calculator, you’re in luck. Being the nice guy that I am, I’ve posted a spreadsheet on my site that will do all this for you. You can find it in either Mac or Windows flavors at Happy calculating!

About Neil Tortorella
Neil Tortorella has been calculating his hourly rate for over 25 years. He’s pretty sure he’s got it right this time. ”

Neil Tortorella, Tortorella Design

Filed under: inspiration, business of illustration


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Comment by Mo'

June 19, 2007 @ 1:33 pm

I would like to add something here…

Be very careful with the hourly rate thing…

The calculator and hourly rate thing is BAD for illustration and fine art.

The HOURLY RATE it is good for some types of work, like proofreading, translation, etc…and if you have jobs coming all the time…

Illustration, fine art works should be priced per project…not per time it takes you to do it.

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Comment by heather

June 19, 2007 @ 3:30 pm

Hey MO’
I agree with some of what you said… glad you brought it up, I didn’t really touch on ‘why’ I use an hourly rate as a starting place!

I never ‘quote’ to my clients an hourly rate. I just use it to establish my prices behind the scenes. Say for illustrating a kids book, I know roughly how much time it will take to complete a book… so I make sure my quote for the whole project will pay me adequately for the time I’d like to spend on the project. I also take into account that I’m a quick illustrator and that a quick turnaround is also valuable to clients… so I’ve adjusted my hourly rate by adding extra for that. Illustrations that have taken me 20 seconds I’ve charged as much as something that’s taken me a day!

Also, often clients have a budget to work within, or royalties to consider… so it doesn’t always simply come down to hourly rates. You have to consider WHERE your work is being shown… if you’re selling work to a friend down the street, you mightn’t get as much for it as you would selling your art to a posh law firm in the city. Same with any illustrated publication… you have to consider the end audience and whether the budget is fair for what you product you are providing.

However, I do feel that for students and startup artists especially that calculating how much they need to earn annually to live comfortably, and then working backwards to see how that translates into their quotes is a GOOD idea and something they need to do to run a good illustration business. Illustrators need to know in their head how much they need to earn at a MINIMUM per hour / day, so that they can then have the freedom to charge more or less for a project… depending on whether they take on a project for love or money!

Heather Castles

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Comment by Mo'

June 19, 2007 @ 4:06 pm

Hi Heather,
Now I understand.

Your blog and your artwork are truly wonderful!

Thank you for sharing all these tips and resource with us!


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Comment by Nia

February 13, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

Hi Heather, I just stumbled upon you web page by sheer luck of Google and am so impressed. Yesterday I was asked to illustrate a children’s book for the first time and I had no idea where to start or what to charge for my work. So thank you for the wealth of information you have provided and shedding light on the business end of things. I will be checking in frequently for more tips as I go along.


Vancouver, BC

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Comment by David

March 16, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

I’m looking to begin a career as an illustrator. This was very good info. I didn’t really know where to start with pricing. Thanks very much, and God bless!

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Comment by Vanessa

March 17, 2008 @ 5:31 pm

Hey I also found this site tonight and boy, it’s helpful. I just got an offer to use my art in a children’s book, and after reading this, I hope to be professional and get paid what I’m worth. I’m still searching for maybe guidelines for how large an illustration painting should be and how much a finished “page” would cost and maybe that would give me a better idea of how much to charge..maybe. But, I’ll keep reading!

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Comment by Uriel Dana

August 17, 2008 @ 7:47 am

Accept that 50% of a children’s book royalties go to the illustrator. All of the figures in this wage calculation will have to be deducted later. It’s better to ask for an advance on royalties and retain ownership of the illustrations when the project is done for sale.

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Comment by Jason Reynolds

January 19, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

hi!! My wife just got an offer to do 60 illustrations for a book - detailed hand drawn illustrations and has been offered a 3000$ advance and 5% royalties. the project is 3 months. Do you think that is a reasonable amount??? I think it is not , because of the time line and the amount of work. But I am not an illustrator and just wanted a second opinion on what she should charge??

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Comment by Crystal

April 28, 2009 @ 10:18 am

Thanks so much for this infomation. It has been very helpful. I just began doing freelance work and wanted to get this all down before I take on any real work. Thanks again.

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Comment by Hans Kaushik

July 3, 2009 @ 4:27 am

Thanks for all the tips…. I am a painter/set designer for theater in India and have recently been asked to design a children’s book/DVD and had no clue how to go about it.. Many thanks

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Comment by Gareth Partington

August 15, 2009 @ 4:53 am

Found your blog by accident and i have to say your break down has just made it very clear for me to understand as an artist starting out and it has helped so much.

I did a bit extra math, as I’m in the UK so worked out the conversion rates so I understood it all in sterling.

Thanks for the help.


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Comment by Pam P Houpt

January 5, 2010 @ 9:13 am

Great information. I love your site Heather! I am aspiring to begin a career as an illustrator in Toronto, Ontario.

I’m also a Bowen Therapist and have been asked to quote on doing 140 line small anatomical LINE DRAWINGS for a new instructional manual for students at the Bowen Colllege. They are on a limited budget - this much I know.

It was mentioned earlier in a comment that for books, we should be charging royalties somehow. For something like illustrations for a manual that will be given to students that pay for their course should I take this into account or because of the nature of the business and their limited budget should I stick to my one price for the job?

Also in this case is it appropriate to retain owner ship of the originals?

Any insight would be appreciated.

Many thanks!


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Comment by heather

January 6, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

Hi Pam!
Thanks for your comment… to answer your questions, it’s different when you do educational publishing as they aren’t for profit so don’t generate royalties from the sales of their books. So you don’t have to worry about charging royalties, they generally do a flat fee for the job. And yes, it is normal for the artist to retain ownership of the original artwork… publishers only are paying you for the rights to use your work, not for the paintings themselves. Often after a book has gone out of print the rights to use the art returns to you, so you’re free to sell the artwork itself.

Hope this helps!

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Comment by Stu

February 11, 2010 @ 6:23 am

Hi, I wonder if you can help?

I have recently started doing some freelance illustration work and managed to land myself a nice project creating some illustrated maps for a website that compliments a book.

I have been a cartographer for 9 years and studied illustration and design through school so after much deliberation I decided to charge £25ph as it was my first job.

I finished the 2 maps which took just over 40 hours and my client was really happy with them, so happy infact that she spoke to her publisher and they are now potentially going on the endpapers of the books as well!

Great news but thats where my question lies, I will need to alter the maps to fit the book so was thinking I would continue charging the same fee for that additional work, but do I then charge a usage fee? And if so how much?

Any help would be appreciated.



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Comment by DomDom

February 15, 2010 @ 5:01 pm


Thanks for this website! I really helped me to understand how I should charge for the work I do. I illustrated my first book and didn’t know how much I should charge I have been working with the Author for quite a while now and she has been paying me according to the amount of work I do and when i send the work I do to her she sends me a check. I think she has paid me a descent amount. Now I am offered another job by another author and just by looking at your website, gives me an idea of what I should do this time. Can an illustrator write out a contract? Can an illustrator get paid by the author and get royalties?

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Comment by Kristine

February 16, 2010 @ 10:41 am

Hi! Thanks for the great advice so far, Heather.

I recently self-published a children’s picture book- I am both author and illustrator. An arts organization has offered to create a dvd version, with music, narration and my original art from the book (32 pgs full color art).

How should I formulate appropriate compensation for this? They want to pay a flat fee without my compensation being tied to royalties. (which is fine by me, since I’m not expecting huge distribution) I will retain all copyrights. The dvd product is not tied in with any of the book sales since I produced that myself.

I have found some info on subsidiary rights, but compensation is usually tied in with the original book publishing contracts in those cases. SCBWI says subsidiary rights can start at $750 and up– but that could be for a single poem published in a magazine, for example. My feeling is that an entire book and all art should be well above that, and yet I know I should not expect to get what I would receive if the book project was entirely published by that second party.

Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks!

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Comment by Adam Holt

October 8, 2010 @ 7:25 am

Great advice. Being an illustrator is certainly not easy but is a really rewarding career in other ways. I would have of loved to continue my own career as an illustrator but I was not that great at it :( I still do a few doodles though from time to time.

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November 30, 2010 @ 7:44 pm

[…] I don’t think there’s a "normal", because everybody has their own rates really. The factors that weigh in are: skill, experience, and time invested. Mostly you have to gauge how much time you think this project or piece will cost and how much said time is worth. If it’s going to take you 6 hours - how much is each of those hours worth? I think this blog may be helpful. How much to charge for illustrations? As for copyright, whatever you do for a client becomes theirs wholesale. It’s their IP in the end, that’s what they pay you for. Whether you get some form of royalty… not sure. "Hey, go ahead and get snippy, baby. If you knew the science, maybe I’d listen to a word you’re saying." Reply With Quote + Reply to Thread « Yeah I know | - » […]

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Comment by Lauren

February 14, 2011 @ 4:55 am

Hi Heather,

Thank you for sharing such invaluable information. I was just trying to get back into Illustration after a 5 year absence and had been taking far too long building my portfolio and making excuses. When out of the blue I got my first commission. Your costing formats gave me exactly the information I needed in order to price the job and I won it! I can’t thank you enough as I honestly had no idea where to begin.

Lauren :o)

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Comment by Allison

May 4, 2011 @ 10:43 am

I’m entering an illustration job where the client has created a character. I, however, have actually designed the character from descriptions via the client. Another thing is that they want me to do a 3-panel comic strip, which I’m assuming will eventually be serialized and I’m curious how do I handle this aspect, too. Do I do an estimate expecting royalties? How does one create a contract that takes into account of something like working on a comic strip?

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Comment by Amanda

May 17, 2011 @ 5:47 am

Recently I designed a children’s book for my senior show at college.. After showing my book off to family, friends and complete strangers, people wanted to either buy my book or have me make one for their child. Two of which are my family. (Uncle & fiances sister). My uncle would like me to illustrate a book for his daughters imaginary friend after he writes the story line.

Before speaking to one of my professors via email I was expecting to charge hourly but once I had spoken to my professor, he explained to me about charging fees per illustration.. At the moment I’m not sure how long the book will be but I’m unsure about charging per illustration.. Since my portfolio is abundant with children’s books I figure this will be a good source of experience and also another portfolio piece..

Other than the fact my current clients to be are family, I’m also not sure how to charge since I sell my books off a site called Blurb where they can purchase the final designed book which gives me a profit of 5-10 dollars when they purchase the book.. Depending on the cover, pages and size of course. (Ie: 8in x 8in, 24 page, softcover book is sold at $12.95 and then added $5 for a profit fee of my own which comes to $17.95 without shipping and handling. Figure the book cost $20 to be sent..)

Any advice on charging my uncle [or family and friends] for the mean time?? Should I charge per illustration and if so how much?

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Comment by Phil Martin

May 27, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

I’m based in the UK. A few years ago I was asked by a company to produce an illustration for the cover of a retail training manual that was to be used across 600 of their retail units in the UK. I did the job for approx £400. I also did the artwork for the manual for a further fee.

Since then, I have produced the artwork for many further training programme manuals for that company and each time they use the same illustration for the cover. I started to think, hey wait a minute, should I be charging an extra fee for each time the illustration is used? however, I did not. Since they ask me to create the artwork for the manuals, I thought well, there’s a steady stream of work.

Now though, they want to use the same illustration globally across 30 countries and have asked me to supply them with the artwork. I said that really I would like some form of royalty for this, but they have refused saying that since they paid me to do the illustration a few years ago they have the right to use it wherever and however they please. The thing is that I never had a contract with them stating where and how the illustration can be used, I just assumed it was for a one off job, more fool me. But, some people have told me that I should be automatically protected under copyright law and some say theres nothing I can do but hand over the illustration because of the lack of contract. Not really sure now what to do.

Anyone else been in a similar predicament?

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Comment by Daniel Combs

June 21, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

Great information, though I have no idea who you do this sort of original art work for? Are these rates you give to major corporations or celebrities that have extremely large amounts of extra money sitting around to pay $75 an hour? For the past ten years when there is work to get my hands on it’s rare and I may get 50 cents per hour (anywhere from $0- $500/ project) when I do get the honor to work with clients. In the real world who can afford prices like those mentioned in this article?

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Comment by Vincent Wolf

July 5, 2011 @ 7:16 pm

Great stuff and it helped a ton! Thank you!

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Comment by BigTreez

July 14, 2011 @ 10:20 am

@ Daniel Combs. You, and people like you, are the REASON clients think that they can hire someone for peanuts…. For anyone looking here to see whay you should PAY your designer. Find a good one and pay them what they are worth.


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Comment by BigTreez

July 14, 2011 @ 10:21 am

Oh yeah, I almost forgot…great info, thanks!

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Comment by Sharon

July 27, 2011 @ 8:53 am

@bigtreez - I can kind of see where Daniel is coming from. I too, find that since the recession has started, I am having trouble with clients nickel and diming everything. I quoted a price for a logo, and told the client that I’d have it for her in 2 days. She said, “well such and such site, advertises 3 logos for $99 in 24 hours.” I encouraged her to pursue that route b/c I would not be able to match that. I did tell her that my QUALITY and follow-up would be better than the site, but I could not match the price. She came back to me later after recieving no follow up from thm in regards to edits. I believe Craigslist and graphic designers in 3rd world countries like India being allowed to bid on sites like elance against us has hurt the industry greatly, and more and more people are having the experiences that Daniel is having, just b/c they need to make SOME money to pay bills!

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Comment by Pawluh

August 11, 2011 @ 9:28 am

This is most helpful. You’ve done a wonderful job of breaking down pricing and hours, Neil. I’m bookmarking this page so that the next time someone asks me how to price their time, I can send them here. (Such a timesaver!)

For someone just starting out, they should remain flexible. A designer/illustrator should know what their price is, but be willing to go below it. Or above it. An experienced designer/illustrator should know what their price is but be willing to go above it. Or below it. :o)

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Comment by Anita

September 2, 2011 @ 6:02 pm

Thanks for this post, as far as fine art goes for selling and not a hobby - an hourly rate is best. Just like a regular hourly job. A fixed quote may cause disadvantage due to screw-ups and revisions.
In the end, to make the buyer happy you can always lower your price from the actual quote. People are always looking for deals! Even if it’s fine art. It’s still a product and you provide the service.

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Comment by Ann

September 30, 2011 @ 8:53 am

Hello…. I have been commissioned to illustrate a 25-30 page childrens picture book. My hourly rate used to be between $37.50-$100 per hour depending on what job I did… Board work… illustration… design … or photo shoot/ art direction. Currently just freelance stay home mom breaking back into field! Client asking me for a price… on full job… any ideas what picture books go for…

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Comment by Greg - Lordart

October 8, 2011 @ 2:46 am

Hi Ann, Have been looking for the same kind of advice so hope these links will be

but remember at the end of the day it is up to you and what feels right based on
the amount of hours / complexity etc.

All the best with the project!

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Comment by Nick

November 6, 2011 @ 6:04 am

This was pretty helpful, or hopefully will be in the future, thanks :)

I however agree with Daniel Combs and Sharon, while I understand that people working for peanuts makes companies pay peanuts what exactly would you have me/us do?

For instance if I was to charge £400 for many of my commissions (which is roughly what they are worth with this system… though I don’t personally know anyone who gets paid £45 an hour?) I would get 0 commissions; even if I was to take 75% off that and charge £100 I would get 0 commissions.

In fact I have to do 90% of my commissions for nothing just to get the ‘experience’ companies so much desire, and if I suggested a payment of the just minimum wage (as I have done) they would tell me they have found another artist, they have decide not to go forward with the commission, or I’d never hear from them again and they’d ignore any contact from me. The latter being the most frequent.

I don’t really understand how many of you are even getting work at the moment?
Is the answer to never undersell yourself and to hope that one day a someone will pay you properly? But even if that happens as often as 1/100 times £400 a year isn’t really any better.
Or is it that my work is just **** and everyone is too polite to tell me?

I must be missing something cause I just don’t get it.

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Comment by Aiki

January 17, 2012 @ 3:27 am

@Nick if you cant make a living off what you are charging it you shouldn’t be calling yourself a “professional”.

In fact by the sounds of things you would be better off just doing random illustrations of what you fancy and ebaying them as original art or sitting on the street and doing caricatures both of which have been done successfully by people I know.

The rule is never take a commission that doesn’t pay what you need your underselling yourself and the rest of us.

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Comment by Thais Linhares

January 21, 2012 @ 4:02 am

Good morning,

My base for pricing is always the “autorship rights” (copyrights), that is, the way the arts will be explored. Much more lucrative way of doing (and legal to).

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