The Cost of Being an Illustrator

Another wordy article today, this time written as a guest-post over at PACT. I talked a lot about PACT last year, but after a successful fundraiser, it is now live and active and growing and useful. They're putting together a great series of articles primarily for illustrators, but some of which are interesting to fans as well, such as a multi-part career retrospective by long-time illustrator Fred Fields.

Uba Mask artist proof sketch  , pencil This post needed some art, right?

Uba Mask artist proof sketch, pencil
This post needed some art, right?

Though I was a part of the public face of PACT during its inception, it should be stated that since the fundraiser, the actual hard work of getting it built and maintained has essentially all fallen back to Jim Pavelec, who deserves all the credit now. But I'm very glad to dip my toe back into the PACT waters through this article contribution.

For non-members, there are a limited number of articles one can read before the paywall comes up. So most if not all of you should be able to read the article just fine.

Not an illustrator but you'd like to support the good work PACT is doing? There's no reason you can't sign up as a member just for moral support.

Otherwise, come learn about some of the financial realities behind being a full-time illustrator in this week's article, which has ended up being quite popular.

Read it now, on the PACT website.

Ninja Mountain Podcast, Ep.121

Do you like hearing me talk incessantly? Maybe you've listened to the PACT podcast multiple times now because you are amazed at my fast-talking ways. Well, fellow PACT advisor Aaron Miller (with a voice that should be DJing a late-night Jazz station) and I spent an hour and a half with the folks at Ninja Mountain Podcast. The first 45 minutes goes into more detail on this whole PACT thing. The next 45 have us joining in on some general illustration-related conversation. If you make art or hope to, you should definitely check it out. If you just find a peek behind the curtain interesting, give a listen.

Listen in here!

The Professional Artist / Client Toolkit


The following crowd-funding project was FUNDED successfully. There were some update blog posts which were time-specific, and have been deleted. I'll leave this one here for the overall message and historical purposes. Thank you to everyone who contributed!

Back in November, I participated in a panel discussion regarding working in the fantasy illustration market. Boring, right?

Not so! Joined by some esteemed illustrator colleagues including the master Todd Lockwood, and with over 60 years of combined illustration experience between us (and not all of them Todd's!), there was a lot to talk about. Add to it an audience that had a number of notable veterans adding their thoughts and there was a lot to learn. It wasn't the rosiest of talks, but it was candid and it was deeply appreciated by most of those who attended, primarily the younger and aspiring illustrators. From that panel discussion was born PACT: the Professional Artist / Client Toolkit.

The first half of the talk is a state-of-the-industry discussion. The second half was a proposed solution to the problems mentioned. That solution was to be a website that would serve as an information aggregator for illustrators. There's quite a bit to it. Probably you should listen to the conversation.

Why spend an hour of your time doing so? I am going to make an appeal based on who you are.

You are an illustrator or an aspiring illustrator

(If you are a fan of this kind of art and concerned that it continue to thrive, skip ahead to the next section)

If you are an illustrator you know this industry is incredibly difficult to survive in, financially. Wage stagnation or deflation, aggressive copyright buyouts for decreasing pay, late or never-paying clients. This is a lot of what's happening. Learn more about why and what can be done via PACT

If you are an aspiring illustrator you MUST know what you're about to face--if you are studying or intend to study in a general illustration program and then hope to work in the related fields of fantasy gaming, publishing, comics and the like, much of what you learn there will not prepare you for the business side of things out in this corner of the field.

Spearheaded by Jim Pavelec, PACT has moved forward in a few ways. Firstly, through a Facebook Page where the PACT team has been sharing news about nefarious business practices, industry trends and so on. We've educated, and had conversations to help clarify why we illustrators are in the plight we're in. Minimally you should be paying attention to this page, though it is not the end-game by any stretch.

During that time, Jim has been consulting with lawyers and web developers to get the website built as an official thing. That thing is ready to be built. Paying lawyers and web developers costs money--they haven't deflated their industries the way we have. So, it's time to raise money. PACT is attempting to fund development via Indiegogo. This is an all-or-nothing venture. At the end of it PACT will either get built, or it won't and we'll move on.

Once you've listened, if you think this is the sort of thing the industry needs then you owe it to yourself to at least snag a discounted pre-order membership. If you'd like to skip time you can jump ahead to the appeal.

You are a fan who loves this kind of art and wants it to thrive

If you are a fan, and have ever appreciated the art of any artist who over time kinda disappeared or shifted industries, it might be interesting learning why that happened. I can name dozens of illustrators who were working about the time I started who just disappeared--many of them quite good. Every year illustrators abandon the field.

It's all fun and games to the end-user (literally), but back here in our studios there are lives to lead, rents to pay (not many will ever afford mortgages), and heaven forbid children to raise. You probably don't realize it, but many of the illustrators you've known and loved, even on big name games like Magic, don't earn a living wage--it takes more than Magic work to earn a living, and most clients don't pay even what Magic does. Think of all that amazing art they create, the years of training and practice to be able to do it, and how it adds to the media you consume. Yeah. That's not your fault, largely it's our own fault. We're all lone wolves, many uneducated as to what's possible, and we race to the bottom because we think that's the only strategy to get work at all.

PACT is potentially a great tool to "teach artists how to fish." You like fish right? So:

The Ask

We're not asking for charity here.

If you're in the industry, buy a discounted pre-order membership at the least. It's $29, but there are cool art goodies you can get by pledging again. If this thing works half as well as we hope, you will earn it back by just avoiding one client who would've stiffed you, or by working for a better client than you might have because you learned about them and their good reputation. If PACT can't give you $15 of benefit a year for two years, then it failed and you should not renew. But seriously, you probably spend more than $29 on any number of frivolous things all the time which will never advance your career--put some towards this.

If you love this art, and would like to see the talent in it thrive and create for years to come, I ask you to help us organize these brilliant talents into a knowledgeable and savvy industry of self-respecting professionals. We value each other so much as artists, but we rarely value ourselves as much. Obviously you don't need a membership. So we've stocked the fundraiser with all sorts of art-related goodies. Go get some, knowing that most of the product being offered is either being donated outright or wholesaled so that PACT gets development funds from it.

Most of you who come here are in the latter camp--you appreciate my art and art in general. Thank you. Over the coming weeks I'll be posting more about PACT. In particular I'll be highlighting some of the offers and talking about them.

Thanks as always for your time, interest and support.

If you can't spare us anything, then share it on social media (there are even goodies for those who do so)