Should A Freelancer Ever Negotiate His Rates?

After reading my recent two-part post entitled “How To Bid Out A Project” (Part 1 and Part 2), artist Mike Dashow emailed me with a question. He writes:

I really enjoyed your blog post on bidding out a project….Once you have spoken with a client about needs, time-line, rights for image reuse, etcetera, you generally have a good idea of what you think the value of a job it. Do you then tell them that’s what the job will cost and hold firm on that? Or do you inflate the price more, leaving yourself room to negotiate down when they make a counter-offer? Or does it depend on the client?

A great question. Here’s my response:

My personal approach is to just give a straight-up, reasonable cost of what I really think a project is worth. I don’t think it’s fair or respectful for me to “jack up” a price estimate unnecessarily with the expectation that the client will try to talk me down. In fact, if a client wants to haggle it often indicates that they don’t have much respect for my time, effort, and skills—they just want to find a bargain. That’s not the type of client I want to work with.

A funny thing about human nature is that the more we pay for something, the more we value it. When I was starting out as a freelancer I was surprised to find that the clients with the lowest budgets were sometimes the most difficult to deal with (slow to give feedback, asking for endless revisions, etc.). From my perspective I was doing them a favor by cutting my rate, but from their perspective they weren’t paying much for the artwork anyway, why not tinker around with it?

Of course not every low-budget client is difficult—I’ve worked with some terrific ones who were absolutely wonderful. But in general my experience has been that the lower the budget, the less likely it is that the project will be smooth sailing. So I’ve taken the attitude that a fair price is a fair price, and either they can afford it or they can’t.

However, I want to point out that there is a huge difference between the haggling client and a respectful client who just happens to have a smaller budget. The respectful client’s attitude is not “how much artwork can I get for cheap”, but rather, “how much quality artwork can I afford?”. There’s a world of difference between the two. For such clients I will try to find a pleasing compromise that will fit their budget without slashing my rates.

For instance, if a magazine wants a spot illustration and a half-page illustration for only X amount of dollars, I might suggest doing two quarter-page illustrations instead. Other ways you can negotiate working for a lower fee might include extending the deadline, simplifying the artwork, cutting the number of illustrations, keeping more rights to the art, or requesting a higher royalty. Never lower your price just to satisfy a client’s desire to land a bargain. There should always be a fair trade-off.

“3-2-1 Penguins!” Character Designs

On Saturday morning NBC aired another episode of “3-2-1 Penguins!” which I was fortunate enough to work on. For much of the series my job was to design various aliens which the Penguins would encounter as they hopped from planet to planet. If the script called for a prop or gag that would change a character’s appearance, it was also my job to do a concept sketch and/or turnaround drawings so that the modelers and animators could replicate it correctly.

This particular episode (“Practical Hoax”) didn’t require any new characters. However, the script called for several “photographs” of various characters and it was my job to illustrate the “photos”. I’ll show you those tomorrow. In the mean time, here’s a few of the concept sketches I did for this episode:

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This episode featured several practical jokes. Here Zidgel, the ships science officer, gets hit in the face with a pie.

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Midgel gets stuck in some glue.

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For another practical joke, someone puts guacamole in Captain Zidgel’s hair gel. I did a few sketches to experiment with how that might look.

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Ultimately the director chose version A.

Tomorrow: Cartoon “photos”!

Perspective “Cheat Sheets” for Comic Book Artists

One of the wonderful things about drawing is that it allows you to create the illusion of a three-dimensional space on a flat, two-dimensonal piece of paper. But pulling this off is not as easy as it looks. It is not uncommon for artists to struggle when attempting to create a convincing sense of depth (or “perspective”) in a drawing. When I was in art school, I knew more than a few art students who wore berets only to cover the bald patches in their scalps that resulted from them pulling their hair out every time they tried to draw something in perspective.

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Artist David Chelsea wrote a book called Perspective! For Comic Book Artists that I’ve found to be helpful. In addition to explaining the concepts of the vanishing point, one-point perspective, two-point perspective, three-point perspective, and foreshortening, the book includes some great “cheat sheets” in the back. Chelsea has gone to the trouble of drawing seven detailed diagrams for artists to use when figuring out the perspective of, say, a series of skyscrapers or the interior of a room. There are two charts each for one-, two-, and three-point perspective, and one chart that shows a series of circles receding into the background. These diagrams alone are worth the price of the book.

Being a busy freelancer with tight deadlines, on more than one occasion I’ve used the diagrams to give me fast and accurate perspective. In my pre-computer days I enlarged each diagram onto an 11×17 sheet of paper and taped it onto my light table, then taped my drawing over the top. Now that I draw digitally, I’ve scanned each diagram into Photoshop and when I need them I just paste them into my drawing, enlarging/cropping them as needed. Then I sketch over them on another layer.

If you do a lot of perspective drawing, especially with crazy camera angles, seven perspective charts may not be enough to cover all your needs. But if you only draw in perspective occasionally, they can be a terrific time saver. You can buy Perspective! for Comic Book Artists at Amazon.com.

How To Bid Out A Project (Part 2)

Continuing yesterday’s post on tips for pricing your freelance services….

7. Talk about money at the very beginning. You may be tempted to put off talking about money, perhaps with hopes that the client will eventually bring it up or that you can just figure out a price when the project is over. This is a huge mistake, and very unprofessional. The sooner you can negotiate a price, the better. The worst thing you can do is keep a client guessing about what the project will cost them. Discussing the price up front will help you to appear more confident and professional, it will keep you from potentially wasting valuable time on a dead-end project, and it will help you weed out clients who have tiny budgets or who simply want to take advantage of you.

Under no circumstances should you begin doing work without having first negotiated a price.Read More

How To Bid Out A Project (Part 1)

Recently I was approached by a potential client to illustrate a coloring book. The artist she had originally chosen had backed out, so the deadline was now very tight. Since I was already committed to several projects I wasn’t available to help, but I gave her the name of a talented, up-and-coming illustrator whom I happened to know was in-between jobs.

A few days later, I received an email from the illustrator asking for advice. He had started writing up ideas for each page of the coloring book, and even did a few thumbnail sketches. The client liked his work and decided to hire him, but said she could only pay $10 per page! (A laughable sum, considering it would take the artist several hours to illustrate each page. She was essentially asking a skilled professional to work on a rush job for a fraction of minimum wage.) The artist was understandably upset and asked me what he should do.

I felt awful for having handed him a lemon, but decided the whole experience would make a nice springboard for a blog post. It’s an extreme example, but it illustrates the difficulty many artists have (especially those just starting out) when negotiating a freelance project.

Read More

Interview With Illustration Instructor Marshall Vandruff

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Fanboy Radio is a weekly radio show/podcast devoted to comic books. I don’t really read comic books anymore, but the industry has some amazing artists whose work I enjoy following. Fanboy Radio interviews a lot of them, and it can be inspirational to hear the various creators talk about the industry and their work.

A few months ago Fanboy Radio did something a little different: they interviewed an art instructor. Marshall Vandruff is a gifted educator, and his classes on illustration, comics, and storyboarding are quite popular. Several of his students have gone on to make a big splash in the industry.

I listened to this interview on my iPod during a recent drive to Kansas City. I didn’t think an interview with an art teacher could be all that fascinating, but I was wrong. There is something about the way Marshall Vandruff talks that really inspires you and makes you want to strive to be a better artist. (He had some thoughts about skill versus talent that I thought were especially insightful). I can see why his classes are so popular. If I didn’t live halfway across the country I would definitely sign up for one.

You can listen to the interview on the Fanboy Radio website, or through this iTunes link (look for episode #395).

For more information about Marshall Vandruff, visit www.marshallart.com.