I haven’t been in the art industry for that long. I don’t claim to be an industry veteran. But a pressing issue within the industry has become apparent to me over the last few years, and that is artists who do this as a hobby and charge very low rates.
Here are 7 reasons why it is bad to undercharge for art
1. It Undermines & Damages the art industry
There is a common theme I see very often on websites such as Reddit and Deviantart, where artists offer their services at extremely low rates. So common, in fact, that I have just visited Reddit to find an artist offering ‘character sheets’ and ‘headshots’ for $12. It was literally the 3rd post down. The worst bit is that they are a good artist too!
This causes harm to the freelance art industry, because potential clients catch on to their low rates and believe that is the going rate for all art. So professional artists that have been around for a long time charging a certain rate start seeing a decline in work. Or, they start getting potential clients emailing them stating they’re willing to pay an incredibly low rate, which personally I find insulting (more on that later).
These artists charging low rates are often ‘hobbyists’ meaning it doesn’t effect them in the way it would effect a professional, like myself, who uses this as their sole income.
I have only been working professionally for just over 3 years, but even in that time I have seen this becoming more of an issue.
2. It shows that you do not believe in the value of your work
Now this is an important one. Showing that you have faith in your ability is huge when seeking potential clients. Whilst you are more than likely to end up with hundreds of clients and back to back work, personally I don’t see how you will get any big name clients.
I say this because when a company is looking to hire new talent (I hate that word but it makes sense here) they are taking a risk. They are taking a risk because they don’t know you, they don’t know the work you can do other than what they have seen in your portfolio, and ultimately they might be wasting their money. Now, if they find someone who has a strong portfolio, but also the confidence of a professional which is reflected in their rates, then the company, who ever that might be, they are more likely to feel confident in hiring you.
3. Raising you rates can be incredibly difficult
Say I went to somebody to buy an apple. The apple cost me 10pence. I was really happy with the apple so I went back to buy another, only to find it was now 50pence, I would be unhappy with the price going up, and I may not buy from them again. However, if it had always been 50pence I wouldn’t think twice about paying the same price again. Even if I found out somebody else was selling an apple for 40pence, I am already confident in the first sellers ability to sell a good apple.
I know, strange analogy, but the same applies here. It is very difficult to get repeat business if your prices all of a sudden go up. So you discover that you are undercharging massively so you bump your prices up. Now your clients aren’t going to be happy with that, and may go somewhere else.
4. It can also damage your self-esteem
This one ties into the last point pretty closely, because if you always get paid a low rate, yet you get way better at painting or drawing or whatever, you are going to start feeling pretty low on yourself because you can’t get paid what your art is worth.
For example I have always charged the same rate since I started, and my art skills have improved a lot since then. However, the amount I do charge I feel is a reasonable rate and ensures I am able to survive with this as my only income.
5. Lowering the value of your art lowers the perceived quality of your work
I’m going to refer back to the Reddit post I talked about in point 1. Like I said, I was surprised that they were a good artist. Before I saw the quality of their work, I almost straight away assumed they were an amateur, and that is the way that other people will see your work too if you charge very little for it. Obviously you don’t want to over charge either, because you will just be seen as arrogant!
6. Clients may take advantage of your low rates
I know, sounds like quite an obvious one really, but it needs to be in here with the rest. If I was making a large investment into some art, I am more likely to trust the artist in their decision-making, and make fewer requests of them. But if they are charging me very little, I would feel way more ok with asking for tonnes of changes, because the extra time isn’t going to cost me a whole bunch more, so why not?
The worst thing is an art piece that never has an end.
7. Ultimately you will be over worked and underpaid
At the end of the day, you will become over worked and underpaid. Just like the title says.
Whilst I believe art shouldn’t be about the money, it is important to have an income that supports you. Perhaps you have children you need to support as well, like I do. You will end up with very little money for the work you are doing, and that is never a good thing. Not only are you being paid for your time, sometimes your supplies, and your effort, you are also being paid for the years, sometimes decades, that you have spent training to be at your skill level.
You may well end up working day and night and still not making ends meet, which is never a good thing for anyone!
More artists should talk about money
Money is a difficult subject to talk about when talking about art, and I believe that is because there is some kind of stigma around it. But being a freelance artist also means being a businessperson, and that means talking about money.
I honestly believe that if more artists talked about money, were open about their rates and engaged in the conversation of business, this would be an even more exciting industry to be a part of. In an attempt to get people talking, I am more than happy to go first with discussing my rates. I charge a rate of £25 an hour, with the average illustration working out around £400ish. Obviously it changes a lot depending on how long it takes me, but that gives an idea. I hope this might spur more artists into being open about money.
I absolutely love talking business, so if anyone wants to reach out to me please feel free to do so.
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