Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Where Are My Freelance Jobs?
I have been blessed with many connections in the illustration world and many more since I started this blog a few years back and those connections seem to be growing. Every day I get asked questions related to the freelance illustration markets -from how to improve the craft of illustration to how to find markets and clients and I spend a fair amount of my time answering them. I enjoy this time each day.
I made a series of youtube videos on the subject I'm about to discuss a few weeks ago.
In the past month I have been offered three different freelance projects for publishing companies all of which I turned down due to the lack of budgets. I don't want to seem ungrateful - beyond the fact that it's flattering to be wanted - I realize that I'm in a different position than many illustrators since I've been at this a while and have spread out my income streams. I defend the right of our clients to offer what's in their own best interest as we must decide to accept or reject based on our best interests. Some people complain about the price of a water bottle at the gas station...but they don't have to buy it.
But it's the latest offering that I wanted to discuss. If you've gone through an illustration program on a University or art school level you know that illustration rates have either stayed the same over the last 100 years or gone down. The offering I received this week was half of what I used to get paid from this client. This made it very easy to turn down but that's not the point. The point is that what I've been saying (please watch my youtube video if you haven't already - all 3 parts!) is coming true. Prices that have at least "held" for decades are now going the other direction. We are competing on a global scale at many levels. With the ability for individual artists to publish their own music, books, videos, etc the big companies are having to adapt to the competition. It's one reason entertainers like Jimmy Kimmel are releasing anonymous videos on youtube (twerking girl catches on fire) to generate traffic back to his show. Our clients - the people we want to hire us are suffering from the noise just like we are - they are competing with us when we release our own products.
If you look at every potential consumer of your products as having a finite amount of attention per day - in other words in my case a mother will only read a certain number of books or story apps for x amount of time each day to their child. Every quality product that is released has the potential of sucking a certain amount of time out of the pool of consumers. As a result publishers have been going through massive layoffs. Some of this could be due to the recession and slow recovery but I believe that our industry has been hit by a "perfect storm" if you will. The internet is allowing artists and publishers all over the world to work together and compete, technology making creation faster and delivery quicker, a recession, and the ability for anyone to publish cheaply and in many cases - free.
AND education is getting cheaper for illustrators with online options - like our own SVS, Folio Academy, Chris Oatley's classes, Justin Gerard and Cory Godbey's Lamp Post Guild, and many others. This isn't going to go back to the way it was. The number of good and great illustrators is only going to grow. BUT guess what? I think it's wonderful!
I'm doing the best work of my life and getting fewer good paying gigs than ever and I hear this over and over from friends and acquaintances. Why do I think it's awesome? Because I believe illustration is going to become more honest and pure leaving only room for the truly dedicated and passionate artists. The artists that are willing to risk it all for a chance to engage their audiences with emotionally provocative art. Taking on mind numbing, politically correct, predictable, risk free, follow the leader, anemic, cookie cutter, tasteless, agenda driven, thoughtless projects are getting really expensive to produce - because nobody is buying them. I'm up for the challenge - bring it on!
Last year I filled in as an adjunct teacher for a neighboring University to UVU. I was asked to teach the business class for illustration majors. I decided to toss out the playbook we used 15 years ago (put your ad here - generate a mailing list - send out post cards - the end) in favor of teaching the type of ideas I share in my youtube videos about developing your own projects and testing them in the market. It was appreciated by some and rejected by others. It really bothered me that some of the students were unhappy with what I was sharing. They asked, "Where are our Freelance Jobs?" "We want you to tell us how to get work." I probably got more pissed off than I should have - after all - they did everything they were supposed to. They worked hard in the first school - got great grades in the second school and were promised a bright future if they got good grades in the third school which they did - top of their classes. Then they met me in the business class at college where I told them - no - it's all different - it's about what value you can create in a product - that you create on your own time with your own money- and there's no guarantees. Who would want to hear that after being promised a job.
I emailed 20 of the who's who in editorial illustration (I'm talking society of illustrators award winners) asking them if what I was attempting to teach was misleading and false. 17 wrote back telling me (and them) that my advice was spot on and that they have had to make many alterations in their freelance careers in the last decade to stay viable. One said, "I lay awake at night trying to figure out my next moves...what am I missing?" Only one said that business has never been better. We read their letters in class - you could have heard a pin drop. The editorial market has probably suffered the worst with hundreds of magazines and newspapers shutting down or going online only and cutting much of their art budgets.
Where are your freelance jobs? For some there will be nice opportunities but for the majority you're going to have to afford yourself the time to do what you love and if you're dedicated, passionate, and smart enough to make the right products that change people emotionally - you'll do just fine. Just a decade ago the idea of creating your own animation, books, games, recordings, HD video, used to be next to impossible without a middleman. Now it's like there's a yellow brick road leading to your DIY projects. The tools have been created for you - hardware, software, websites, etc. The question is really up to you...how bad do you want it?