Earn more as an illustrator

Increasing your income from illustration isn't just down to talent, or hard work. Garrick Webster brings you several practical ways of getting paid what your work is worth.

Advertising, publishing and the media - they're all big businesses involving plenty of money. For freelance illustrators in this milieu it can be scary. Confidence is the key. Belief in your ability to create unique work, charging what it's worth and not being intimidated by big businesses: this is the way forward.

The number one thing an illustrator can do to earn more is to get an agent. Some might say they're parasitic, but that's a na¯ve perspective. Illustrators with agents make more money. "When I joined Thorogood Illustration in 2003 I certainly began to get larger commissions," says illustrator Andy Potts. "My income did take a welcome boost from this, and I began to understand fee structure more and apply that knowledge to my commissions."

It's not magic. Illustration agencies have contacts reaching deep into the advertising, publishing and media industries. They'll put your portfolio in front of creative directors that the majority of freelancers would never have access to normally. When an advertising company needs an illustration, they will contact an agent, who will in turn put relevant artists forward for the job. While typically charging around 25-30 per cent commission, the more money an agent manages to negotiate for a job, the more they earn as well.

"Agents have a lot more experience at negotiating than most artists, and so can work out what kind of client it is, how much negotiating room there is, where to start the ball rolling and when to dig their heels in or call the client's bluff," explains Charlotte Berens at NB Illustration. "Some clients relish the negotiation part and it is often what they are paid for, whereas other clients will listen to the first price you give, and will either take that price or go elsewhere. It is up to an agent to work out what type of negotiation each particular client feels comfortable with. Also, it is a lot easier to be cheeky and ask for more money when it is not your own work."

Even if you don't have an agent, there's a lot you can learn from them when it comes to pricing work. Take your time when giving a quote or accepting an offer. "I never give an immediate quote when asked over the phone or in person as I will need the time to go away and weigh up the job requirements. I will generally ask for more than I'm willing to accept, as that way you can comfortably negotiate down if you have to," says Potts.

Some factors in pricing jobs are obvious. How long the work is likely to take you and how tight the deadline is form a fundamental basis. But you also need to know your rights and apply them. If the work is important to you, and to the client, you should ensure that you have a contract outlining some critical points. One is copyright. Watch for the word 'Assignment' in the contract. If you are assigning copyright to the client they will own the work entirely and can use it however they choose, forever. You won't even be allowed to put the work in your online portfolio unless you have their permission. Seek a higher fee whenever you are assigning rights.

If you are licensing your work you generally keep copyright, but a range of other factors come into play. Check which territories are covered - in the UK, Europe, worldwide? Is it an exclusive licence? If it is, you might not be able to use the work for anything else over a set period of time, or forever. How long does the licence last - six months, one year, five years, perpetuity? What about usages? It might be used in print, or digitally. Enquire about print runs and web traffic before putting pen to paper. If it's being published, is it a front cover, double page spread, full page or incidental piece? The more they get from you, the more you should be paid.

The Association of Illustrators has excellent services for freelancers. Membership costs £132 annually plus a £24 one-off joining fee, and in return you get a package that includes free contract advice. "Some clients warehouse rights that they are unlikely to be able to exploit," says the AOI's Nicolette Hamilton. "TV, film and merchandising rights could be very lucrative, especially for character designs. By gaining these rights the client ensures no one else can exploit them, which is not good for the illustrator."

The AOI's pricing database can earn you many times its annual fee each time it prices a job. If a major alcohol company offers £3,000 for 13 illustrations to be used on beermats, stickers and posters in pubs across Britain, don't buy them a drink! Previously, £5,000-£6,000 has been paid for the same job. But if an ad agency stumps up £3,000 for a one-year licence for six illustrations to use on posters, online and leaflets, the AOI database says that's fair money.

How does money for nothing sound? If it appeals, head over to www.dacs.org.uk and you could be onto some. The Design and Artists Copyright Society is a collective licensing body that secures money for usages of your work beyond the original job itself. If you illustrate a book that goes into a library with photocopiers, you could be due some money. Maybe you painted an illustration that's on a tourist bus that is clearly seen in a BBC drama. A little more could be coming your way. If you own copyright in the work, just fill in a DACS Payback form, which can be found at the site, and they'll do the rest.

"The average payment to a UK artist in 2007 was £252," says Joanne Milmoe, DACS communications officer. "Payback 2007 was our most successful campaign to date, with over 12,500 artists and visual creators sharing more than £3 million in royalties."

Another place to go is www.plr.uk.com. Public Lending Right was set up by the Government in 1979, giving authors and illustrators the right to a small payment each time a book is borrowed from a public library. For 2007, it was 5.98p per lend. You don't need to own the copyright - just ensure that you are credited as the illustrator on the title page. "We paid out £6.66 million to 23,942 writers, illustrators, photographers, editors and translators in our annual payments in February," says James Parker at the PLR. "Average payment was £278."

Not everybody illustrates books, but for those who do PLR is a welcome source of extra revenue. Debi Gliori is a children's book illustrator: "Last time, I was paid the full amount possible - several thousands, actually. Since the notification of this amount comes in January when it's the end of my tax year and I'm feeling somewhat broke, the arrival of the PLR envelope is always to be celebrated. It's also an indication of how each of my books is doing. At a glance I can see the borrowing figures for each title across the UK's libraries. This kind of information is absolutely priceless."

Another way illustrators are earning more money is off their own bat - prints, postcards, T-shirts, toys and more. Illustrator Nathan Jurevicius has a unique style that he's transferred from his commissioned illustration work over to the art world. At his current exhibition in Toronto, his paintings are fetching up to $3,200, and he earns $100-$1,300 for prints. He's also known for his Scary Girl range of toys, and his resin statues for MTV change hands at $90 each.

"Earning-wise, the prints provide a nice regular trickle of income, though I don't generally look after sales so it's a surprise when I get a cheque in the mail," he explains. "I'm doing far fewer prints than I used to and like to limit the edition size," he adds. "It feels to me like it's a lot more special this way."

In very niche markets selling prints is the way to go. Gary Goddard illustrates classic Porsche and VW vehicles and sells the prints. Investing £500 in an Epson Pro 4000 on eBay and buying some paper, he now does his own prints, and offers the service cheaply to fellow artists. He'll also sell them and post them to your customers. The service began on the Computer Arts forum but now lives at www.citizenart.com.

"It's appealing to the artist because their artwork only needs to be submitted once and then it's there as a passive source of income for evermore. Every print is priced exactly the same, at a modest £25 for A2 and £15 for A3, which includes postage and packaging. The artist will also get just over a third of each sale. It's early days yet, so I can't really say if it's a success or not but it's had a lot of interest and some truly inspiring submissions from supremely talented artists."