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Britt Griswold <[log in to unmask]>
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SciArt-L Discussion List-for Natural Science Illustration- <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 20 Oct 1999 16:23:05 -0400
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I got a little heat here from somone who will remain anonymous about some
of the rather broad statments I made in the article I wrote about pricing
artwork.  We both though it would be good to pass this on to the group to
get some dicussion going.

>Hi, Britt - a very good and interesting article -  except for the first
>paragraph which oversimplifies a complex and rather inflammatory issue.  I
>would either delete it, expand it or rewrite it.  The issues are much bigger
>(and more interesting) than what appears here.

>      Just to add fuel to the fire---------How do you know that the you
>advice you propose is nothing more than an attempt by the experienced
>freelancers  to shut out the new competition by demanding they ask high
>prices (disguised as a hint to help them make more money)?  Obviously, if
>clients must spend equal amounts of money for a project, they will go with
>experience, reputation, PLUS "final product" rather than just "final
>product".  It's a much better deal.  Do you really think that years of
>experience provide nothing more than a "warm and fuzzy feeling"?


Here is the paragrah in question:

The first thing to consider in freelance art is:  If you can do the job as
well as the next artist, you should make as much as any illustrator able to
do the job.  In a standard employment situation, inexperience and lack of
knowledge make you an entry level worker that your employer will have to
invest in.  But in freelancing you are selling a product to a customer.
Only results (quality, accuracy, speed and price) matter to your client...
I take that back - your years of experience may give your client some warm
fuzzy feelings of security (milk it for all its worth!!!). But it won't be
worth much to a client who will judge you on your art samples, knowledge of
the subject matter (less supervision required), professionalism
(presentation and self-assurance), and price. You have invested in yourself
and gotten where you are, either quickly or slowly. (*"But Professor, she
only got out of school yesterday!" *"Who cares Whipple, she can dissect and
draw nematodes with the best of them. Get her a contract!")
Britt Replies:

I will admit I tried to draw a fairly broad and strong image with the first
paragraph of this article.  How is this for expending on this first
paragraph?  It may be a bit long winded however.

If you are ushered into a room and presented with 3 pieces of art, which
one will you choose?  Does the background of the artist enter into your
decision at all? No.  Will it enter into your decision if you are buying an
unseen object that is yet to be created? Yes.  How big a factor is it?
What makes up that "background" factor?  The end product will be the same
from both freelancers (theoretically) so the worth of both is the same
(theoretically).  How does a young freelancer minimize the "background"
factor and get as much for their art (which has equal intrinsic worth) as
the experienced freelancer?  I am speaking theoretically.  There are hardly
two people alive that have exactly the same characteristics (but does the
client realize it?) Clients are free to pay what they want and freelancers
are free to say "I can't live on that (for very long)".

Art is a profession, Freelancing is a business.  My article is a business
article.  I see the article as asking new freelancers to take a hard,
realistic look at the expenses they will incur and not under price
themselves out of business before they even start.  This is something I
never really did accurately when I started, and it may have hurt my career
(God knows it hurt my bank account).  I gained a lot of experience, which
was good, but at some point you are not gaining experience fast enough to
make up for very poor pay.  There is a formula in the article that offers
the freelancer an opportunity to set the amount of take home pay they need
to live their lives with.  Young freelancers may find they can live on
less, and are free to enter a lower number.  My final figures are all based
on the formula, and thus should be considered an example, not the minimum.
So theoretically, I expect the young freelancer to charge as much as I do.
But you are correct, all other things being equal (Quality & Price)
Reputation will win the day.  So a young freelancer must endevor to
maximize the quality of their Reputation.

Experience = knowledge of the subject matter (less supervision required),
reputation = professionalism (presentation and self-assurance).  These are
both factors I mentioned in that first paragraph and they both really
amount to Reputation.  Since most beginners lack these qualities to some
degree, then a reduced rate of compensation is a *possible* outcome.  But
actual "Years of experience" don't mean a thing if you haven't progressed
in your abilities. And reputation doesn't mean a thing to your client if
you fumble the current job.

If after a short time an artist is demonstrating experience (knowledge) and
reputation (professionalism), then it is hard to justify taking less money.
Demonstrating that they have these abilities is harder for a young artist,
but that does not mean they do not have them.  These abilities are worth
more money, but only if they effect the final product in some way, or offer
an advantage to the customer in some fashion.  If the product is done
quicker, has better accuracy or style, or is in some other way superior to
that produced by a person with fewer years in the profession, then the pay
will be higher. If, like an insurance policy, the choice of a particular
artist gives the client the feeling of guarantee that the job will get done
exactly as needed, that is worth money. If the artist is offering to pass
on some of their hard won knowledge on how to do things better, then this
is a commodity that will improve the price of a job, but only if the
customer wants it.  The reputation or history of an artist's work with a
particular client (that was the warm fuzzy factor) is where I think you are
most concerned with the slant of my article. The surest method of gaining a
good reputation with a client is to work with them successfully for a
number of years.  But is it the only way?  That is the rub.  If an artist
can find a way to get a good reputation more quickly, is it wrong to bypass
the person who spent years proving they have a good reputation, by just
doing the work?  That is a logistical and a moral question, that I don't
know the answer to.  Must elders always be given first place? Must
experience and reputation always track with longevity?

In the end a customer has the product in their hand.  A customer will want
to give only the minimum amount of weight required to all other factors
other than the final product in hand, so the young freelancer should be
*trying* to get as much as an experienced freelancer, giving the minimum
amount of weight required to other factors as well.  Granted the weight
given to the factor of reputation/experience by clients can be great. So it
can not be ignored when pricing your art. If the difference in reputation
can be minimized in the Quality/Price/Reputation then the prices of two
artists should be the same. When all is said and done, the results are the
same, a piece of art in the clients hand.  So the question is how long does
it take to get a great Reputation? The answer is different for each client
you service.

I think paying one's "dues" at a lower pay rate can only be justified if
the artist is receiving some other non-monetary value in addition.  This
might be called the opportunity factor - doing interesting work or breaking
in to the profession to get a portfolio started. Can a young person live
with fewer expenses to keep their rate down?  Sure. Do they have to do that
to succeed?  Not if they have gained Reputation.  How long does it take to
reach the point where your work is as good as someone who has been in the
business for years?

The standard idea of starting in a career job for less pay is appropriate
when you are hired by an employer to produce work for them.  They expect
less from the new person than a more "experienced" person.  They know they
will have to invest in this young person to make them a more profitable
commodity. This is the "overhead" in a business.  If they hire someone who
is incredibility talented at an early age, they have won the lottery.  But
they will very soon find they need to pay more in salary, more quickly than
average, or offer some other great non-monetary compensation to retain this
great person. They have gained their Reputation early.

This standard idea of employment can not be transfered directly to the
freelancer because they are the company that the customer is hiring, and
must have overhead money to invest in themselves to become that superior,
more profitable (for themselves) commodity.  It will not add to reputation
and experience if an artist makes art at too low a price and then can not
complete it accurately or on time because they don't have enough money to
live on, and are looking elsewhere for cash when they should be focusing on
the art. An experienced company makes more money by finding a way to be
more prolific while not increasing the price of their work (so they remain
competative).  If they increase the quality of the work they can also
charge more.  But neither of these factors correlates directly to "years of
experience".  A companies' Reputation does not need to take a life time to
reach its maximum potential.


Anonymous replies:

YES!  Your new article is MUCH better.  Use that (there are a few typos
still, I'm sure you know).  It is an important topic and your new piece was
NOT too long.  Even if it means the $ section of the article has to be
printed the next month.  I think it will work better to present all these
interesting thoughts and perspectives.  And it is also an interesting moral
problem.  Do you divorce your wife because a competetive younger model comes
along?  How much loyalty does any company owe it's employees?  Many
companies DO lay off older, more expensive workers and hire new ones who are
recently trained in the newest whatever.......
    The difference between choosing the piece on the wall and hiring the
artist, is that the piece on the wall IS done and you know what you are
getting, you know it is on time, and that you won't be spending any of your
own valuable time to get where you need to be.  When you hire an artist it
is very different.   Nothing is there, you don't know when the art is going
to show up, and you haven't any idea how many laborious hours you may have
to spend of your own valuable time to get where you need to be.  And those
are only a few of the many things that experience, and reputation bring that
soothe a poor client's frazzeled nerves.
    But I think you are right -- a newcomer can prove themselves and move up
quickly, just as a good person in a company does -

Any one want to comment?  Any good stories of the one that got away or was
caught?  How does one work at increasing trust and reputation with a new


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Britt Griswold
Science Insights Inc.
P. O. Box 973
Ben Franklin Station
Washington, DC  20044
(410) 757-8379

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