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Business of Art & Design: Recognizing Value in Your Work

Greetings Schmitty’s Toonsters! It’s been a while; I’ve been thinking a lot about some new projects I’d like to work on this year and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you! January unfortunately whizzed by and I haven’t found the time to make a new blog entry until now!

For my first blog post of 2017, I would like to talk a little more about business. The topic of this post is something I have personally struggled with throughout my whole artistic career: recognizing value in your own artwork.

Recently, I completed a drawing for my friend Gertie. She is a wonderful person and I have known her for several years. She has always appreciated my artwork. One day a few years ago, she asked me to draw a cartoony portrait of her and her late husband. Drawing portraits is not something I particularly enjoy, so I originally said ‘no’ and drew her a Mickey Mouse instead. She continued to ask me several more times and a few months later, I finally agreed.

The drawing is finally complete after all this time and I’m fairly happy with how it turned out:gertie.jpgNow that the drawing is complete though, I am kicking myself. Why? Because I didn’t have the guts to ask her to pay me for it, just because she is a person I know. This is my craft, my skill, my livelihood.

I like her a lot and we are friends, but we are not that close of friends. There have been so many times in the past when somebody asked me to draw something or another for them and I did it, just because I knew them. I felt guilty asking them for money or sharing my pricing with them. Hobble on over to my Services page and you will see that I typically charge $750 for a digital rendering like the one I made for Gert, or for an original pencil sketch (which would have probably been about $125).

This may seem expensive, but if I were to break down the costs, the total amount of work amounts to about 2-3 days of work, or $25/hr.

Where do you draw the line? Is it okay to charge a friend for doing work? I’m sure it is, but when it comes to art, most people view it as a hobby and not a career. If you had a friend who is a great chef, would you ask him to cook dinner one night without any sort of compensation for his efforts? Like food and cooking utensils, art supplies are also expensive and your time is valuable.

For some reason or another, people do not look at art the same as they look at other skill sets. A carpenter working on your house will charge you for every bit of material, tool, or labor that his work requires. Artists should do the same.

I once had a start-up non-profit organization approach me about creating a logo for them. The cause was very close to my heart and born out of a very tragic event. I agreed to make the logo at no charge. Several years later, the non-profit had taken off and was doing very well. They had annual events and raise a lot of money, enough for them to make a career for themselves out of it by now.

The person I originally did the work for later requested me to update the logo to reflect a new direction that the organization was going in. They offered me a ‘donation receipt’ in lieu of money for the work and said I could write it off on my taxes. I was offended. The fact that their business (non-profits are businesses too) was doing well, in part to the original logo I created for them, and that they just assumed I would do it again for free was insulting. I turned the work down.

My employer also undervalues what he creates. He often will give our clients stuff for free or do additional work to ‘go the extra mile’, which ends up costing the company more money in the end and affecting our bottom line. Thankfully he has a great team behind him that consistently reminds him of the value of his art.

Throw-it-Away-and-Draw-Another-One Mentality:

I think part of the reason I have trouble assigning value to my own artwork is because I have always thought like an animator. In animation, you have to draw several hundred drawings just to get just a few seconds of animation and you never focus on one drawing longer than a blink of an eye. If one drawing is bad, you throw it away and do another one. This ‘throw it away’ mentality is partially what I think causes my own problem in viewing my art as valuable – I can always draw another one.

I saw a Facebook post from a Disney animator friend of mine, Tom Bancroft, who did this too. While working on Mulan, he did a very rough sketch of Mushu’s anatomy to help an apprentice animator understand how Mushu worked on the inside and help animate him better. This drawing, which was of no value to the artist who drew it, was sold on eBay by somebody else for $99!

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In other words, if you don’t assign value to your own artwork, somebody else will and they will profit off of you!

As I continue to grow in my career, I recognize that I need to be better at assigning value to my artwork. Creating my Services page was one of the first steps towards this and it helped establish an idea of what I should charge if someone asks. I should not feeling guilty about asking people for money for providing them with a service. After all, if I am unable to make money at it, I need to move on to another career that pays better!

Do all artists have this problem? In the comments, I would like to hear about how other creative people assign value to their work and overcome some of these challenges. How do you discuss the topic of money with your client, particularly if your request is from a friend or a relative?

Schmitty out.