Buyers of commercial art should understand that time plays a relatively minor role in how it is priced. Yes, time and money are related in my overall fee structure, but I do not price a job based solely on the time it will take. In fact, time is sometimes so minuscule a factor it should almost be ignored. There are some (but not many) jobs for which I get paid hundreds of dollars that I complete within an hour. Does that mean I make hundreds of dollars an hour? No. When somebody pays me to make art for them, they are paying for the art. They are paying for the art and everything that comes with that package: my unique approach, the process by which the art is made, my time researching and sketching, and for every instance in which the final art will appear. I may spend a long time or a little bit of time making an image, but that image may spend a lot more time making my client money.
What is the value of my illustration to your magazine, book, package, website, menu, or whatever? How easily is what I do replicated? How valuable is my perspective and style to you? How can I help your thing, whatever it is, stand out or feel a certain way? If you’re honest with yourself, after answering this question, you might find it easier to walk away and use a stock image or take the job in house. That’s okay. I want to work with people who truly need me, or at least, who really want what I do. These are the kinds of clients that motivate and inspire me. If this sounds entitled, in a way it is. I’ve worked hard to develop my art and craft, and that is part of my value. If my fees include what I mentioned above, they also include my years of experience and hard work. Am I entitled to asking for more? As long as I'm in demand, the answer is yes*. Am I entitled to expect more every time? Probably not. There will be times that I need to accept jobs that frankly undervalue my work, but that’s business. A highly controversial feature of the rideshare program Über is surge pricing. While I do not jack my prices higher when I get busier, I do make compromises when things are slow. The value of what I do rises and falls with the market. I think that’s fair. To deny even low paying jobs during slow times would be hubris. To not ask for what I'm worth when times are good would be undercutting myself and my peers.
There is a lot of talk about our rights as commercial artists, whether designers, illustrators, or whatever. Rights to fair pricing, rights to ownership and control of our original art and intellectual property, rights to our “trade dress”, etc. I’m not deriding the notion of rights, but I think we can get all fired up about our rights and forget the real issue: what is our work worth? What we are worth is an entirely different question! Everybody has the same rights, but not everybody has the same value. I worry less about fighting for my rights as a creative, and worry more about having actual value and making sure it is understood and respected.
Some of my larger clients require that I sign a contract. A typical clause will indicate that my relationship to them is that of an independent contractor and not as an employee. (This means I pay the taxes and do not collect company benefits.) I couldn’t be any happier about this arrangement. I am not an employee of any company, and as such, I do not work by the hour. Whether a job is easy or complex, the company pays me to create something that helps them meet a business objective. Yes, if a job requires me to stipple a giant mural, time will naturally increase in importance in the quoting process. Or if it requires that I spend time planning a curriculum or being onsite, then there is a clear relationship of time to value. Similarly, if a job is killed and the image will not end up being used, then my time must be compensated in a kill fee. But ultimately, I add value to a client’s project by doing what I do best: offering my perspective and applying my creative voice to their business problem or objective. Excited to help and affirmed by a fair agreement for payment, I can start putting in the time. But my time is not my product. Time does not equal money.
* A healthy sense of entitlement on one hand, and gratitude on the other, should not be mutually exclusive. I always try to uphold the highest regard for my clients and work my butt off for them regardless of their budget.