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?

22 comments:

  1. Will Terry you are a man much wiser than your age. You could not be more right about the times we live in and what we each as both artists and businessmen must do to earn our share of the profits out there.

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  2. I just watched you youtube video on the same subject today. This worked as a confirmation that the move I am working on in my head is on the track. :-)

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  3. This is exactly what I needed to hear this morning! Thanks for writing this.

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  4. Scary and exciting. I can't wait to get started. Thank you Will!

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  5. Thanks for knowing the industry and sharing how it works with every one!

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  6. It's such a breath of fresh air to hear from a fellow illustrator about where our industry has been and where it is going in honest terms. We have to be PASSIONATE about the work we do and should always raise the bar as well as raise the budgets for the work we do. Global competition is forcing us all to improve our game and it's also weeding out the people who are not serious or ready for a career with all it's dips and bumps in the road. Illustration as an industry is changing from year to year now when for many decades in the 20th century the process remained the same. Change is difficult, but it can be very rewarding if we hang in there and stick with it. Thanks for writing your blog and this post, Will!

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    1. I'm copy/pasting this from facebook with Joe's consent:


      I have seen clients lose their jobs and companies fold or diminish since 2008 mostly, and like many illustrators, the work I used to do for 2 to 3 times the budget comes in very irregularly and I'm asked to work twice as fast because the deadline to complete an illustration is tighter than ever. If I work for a newspaper the deadline is now measured in a few hours from concept to sketch to finish. And when you work for a magazine the payment can take up to 90 days after it's been published to reach you. I used to have regular clients for many years, some more than a decade, but those are all gone and I know few fellow illustrators who do have regulars anymore. Editorial work is just so fragile. Most illustrators I know all teach now as their primary source of base income and for stability when paying mortgages on time. But, I've been forging ahead for work designing Apps and interactive books. The people who call me are in different parts of the globe and their budgets are what I would consider low, considering they request animation and original character design, backgrounds, storyboards etc. And done quickly! I cannot afford to say no and since 2008 I've had to work a full-time job as an art director for a product I'm not always excited about in a radically different style from my own. I get up early and go to bed late trying to make sure I can still keep my freelance clients happy and juggle an art direction job outside of my studio. Still, I'm glad to be working, and I have always thought that a global market would help competition to be stronger. I only wish we could get budgets to rise to something reasonable and livable. I've tried to get budgets to go up with the clients who call me, but am always presented with a "The budget is final!" type of response. I'm in this for life and I have paid my dues since College and well beyond. I've seen good times as an illustrator, but the bad times have lasted far too long. My theory has been that we would see a Renaissance in illustration and design, much like what is happening in the Golden Age of Television currently. Once people are working in different sectors of the economy and the tablet industry has evolved more, I cannot imagine that the work wouldn't become more interesting and plentiful and then healthy budgets would understandably follow. Why would anybody want to be an illustrator if they weren't passionate about it? You truly have to love it...and I do.
      17 minutes ago ·

      -Joe Rocco

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  7. Great from you and Joe, soon we will be seeing you publish a book :). I just want to mention that I wrote you months ago about the price I offered for illustrating children books, and I can tell it was fairly low, but my competition offered even lower price but they chose me because of quality, and for that I was satisfied just not to stay without doing anything, even thou what I got was just for paying the rent.

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    1. I've done quite a few jobs just for the money - just to keep the lights on - there's nothing wrong with that! We all hope to be able to find a large enough audience to support our dreams :)

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  8. Will,
    Great video series. I also grew up before there was an Internet, so I think it is more amazing than younger people do. I started using it in 1991 when it was little more than a few websites. I used it as a way to create online documentation for my Companie's products. I guess the bottom line to your message is as NIKE used to say, "Just Do It". There used to be a saying, "Do what you love and the money will come".

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  9. Thanks Will! Always good to hear the realism and optimism that you generate sir!

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  10. Nice points you make Will. I'm in the same business and have been for a long time and have seen the changes you talk about. Publishing is in a state of flux right now, the old ways and the new ways are sloshing about trying to find an even level, if that makes sense. Electronic publishing in terms of kids picture books at least, hasn't found it's proper place or medium imho - right now, apps are 'CD ROM 2' as far as i am concerned,(remember them?) they seem too tied up with gimmicks and not concerned enough with narrative. This will change as artists and writers dig a bit deeper and actually use the possibilities to find out what works and what doesn't.

    Picture books are still perfectly viable. Electronic publishing has just underlined how nice an actual book is as an object, and as something to share with your kids. It's 'bookness' is it's saving grace I think.
    There is still mileage there. My publisher is an independent and he has bought back the rights of some projects from the big publishers he was in co-production deals with, when they were being taken out of print, and reprinted successfully under his own imprint. It comes down to knowing your market and seeing the possibilities, whatever medium you are working in.
    Keep up the good work. I might have to make a youtube vid myself ;-)
    Jon

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    1. Good observations - yeah "state of flux" is probably accurate. Change is good though - it keeps us on our toes - makes us question...usually a good thing :)

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  11. Excellent perspective and points. I have watched your videos on freelance and appreciated your honesty - it is hard to get good gigs, you have to constantly put yourself out there, listen to your peers, educate yourself... and oh yeah leave time to hone your craft and draw. ;)
    But like you, I do enjoy a challenge and am sticking with what I love to do.

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  12. Terrifying yet invigorating! I love your positive perspective and bravery to face and embrace change. Thanks for passing that on to us. Now off to check out those YouTube videos.

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  13. Thank you very much for sharing all these methods, most of them new to me

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  14. Will, truly great post and videos. I graduated with a BFA in Illustration in 2005 and promptly got a job doing graphic design and sales. Unsatisfied, I quit my job to pursue an MFA in animation at UCLA, which lead into a career working for a VFX studio in Los Angeles. The visual effects industry has been struggling for several years and the jobs that were in LA are disappearing, including the one I had. Lately, I've been debating whether art was the right choice, or if I had been better off picking something safe, or perhaps giving up on art now and going into a more "stable" field. I ask the same question, "Where are my freelance jobs?" Thanks for your advice - I believe part of the answer is to choose myself and make the art that I want to give to the world.

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  15. This is going to sound really bad but I'll ask anyway...I'm honestly scared for your answer if you can get around to it...

    I've never been to art school or ever taken an art class unless when I was 7 and 9 doing random things in little programs counts as an art class, I'm self taught and I can draw using the computer and on paper and canvas, I won't say I'm pro because I don't know what counts for pro but I don't wanna think I'm bad. xD

    I wanna know if I have a chance? I don't have the money nor the ability to go to school and knowing how schools are from watching many students on youtube the schools seem closed minded anyway, do I have a chance at all? I'm 18 so I'm still a young sprout with plenty of time but I want to know should I bother? I often look at my stuff and sure I think it's nice and others who are also in to art think I'm good, but I don't know if I have a chance or people are just being nice to me...

    If you need to look at my work to answer you can look here: http://thefactoidfirefly.blogspot.com/p/drawing-archive.html

    Art is the only thing I'm "good" at as in I know I can do something with it and I really want to know if I have a chance or if I don't...I know my art has lots of room for improvement (like drawing hands...puft!!!) and backgrounds I feel aren't my calling lol but even if I got better...I think you get the drift, of my feeling.

    Thanks! (even if you can't respond)

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    1. Dear Factoid Firefly. I hear you. I think I know what Will might say to you because your question sounds like something he and Chris Oatley discuss in Chris's podcast once. it's basically my favorite Oatley podcast ever, and there have been a ton of great ones. Listen and see if it helps... (link below)

      http://chrisoatley.com/will-terry/

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