Mind Your Business: Erase The Starving Artist Myth and Earn More

In this month's "Mind Your Business," Mark Simon busts the starving artist myth and spares more than a dime for the working animator.

Brother artist, can you spare a dime? Images courtesy of Mark Simon.

Brother artist, can you spare a dime? You should be able to spare a lot more than that! There is no excuse not to make decent money as an artist.

Let's start to thrive as artists by using better terms. The term "Starving Artist" is only a myth that is mostly used by unsupportive families and artists unwilling to work for a better income.

I prefer the term Thriving Artist. Every artist can thrive!

Myth Buster: "There aren't enough jobs for artists."

Actually, there are more jobs for artists than for any other career.

Think about it. There is nothing in our lives that artists have not touched. No other career can say that.

Let's use a chair for an example. An artist designed the chair. Another artist designed the fabric on the chair. Another artist designed the packaging for the chair. Another artist designed the ads to sell the chair. Another artist storyboarded the commercial to sell the chair. All those artists to sell just one chair. Multiply that by the millions of items in the world and you will realize how many artists are needed. Even the manure we buy at Home Depot had an artist design the bag it's delivered in.

Myth Buster: "Artists don't make much money."

Artists can make lots of money. Many animators make anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500 per week. Artists who don't make much money don't know the value of their work.

One way an artist can help himself thrive is by knowing his or her worth. Research rates for the services you provide. Don't guess, because you will probably guess too low. Many artists make the mistake of undervaluing their work. This hurts not only their own income, but it lowers expectations of clients and thus lowers the income of other artists. Asking for a low rate can also cost you in other ways.

The Thriving Artist: Make Over $100,000 per Year as an Artist.

Most of you probably remember the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. I was up for the storyboarding position on the movie. I was a big fan of Jim Carrey and had not storyboarded a movie yet. I really wanted that job. I got along great with the director during the interview and he loved my samples and we started negotiating rates. Like many people do when they are negotiating for something they really, really want, I offered a very low rate to try to land the gig. The director looked at me and groaned in response to my rate, "Ooooh, that's too bad. I thought you had more experience than that. I guess you're not ready for a movie like this."

That hurt. I hadn't researched the storyboarding rate well enough to ask for the proper amount. Don't let this happen to you.

Read through the Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing & Ethical Guidelines (www.GAG.org) to see a range of rates for what you provide. Talk to other seasoned and successful artists about what they charge. They don't want you undercharging either.

Don't be afraid to ask for a fair and decent rate. Many artists are their own worst enemy and talk themselves out of asking for a high rate. If you don't ask, you will never get. Very seldom will a client ever say, "Gee Bob, that's nice of you to say you'll do the job for $150, but I'd rather give you $2,500."

Remember, rate negotiations always go down from your initial offer, not up. Give yourself room to negotiate and still make a good living.

Of course being a Thriving Artist is not only about money. It's about thriving in life, enjoying life. There's an old saying, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." I've always been an artist. Getting up early every morning is easy. I'm excited to start working each day, because I "get" to draw every day. This isn't work because I would do the same thing every day whether I'm getting paid or not. (Just don't tell my clients that.)

But you have to be offered jobs to ask for a good wage.

You may be the best artist in the world, but if no one knows you they won't offer you any jobs. You have to get involved and meet people and tell everyone you meet what you do.

Myth Buster: "I can sit in my room and e-mail out my résumé and I'll get a job offer."

This doesn't happen. Many people in all careers think that the Internet has made getting jobs easier. It hasn't. The Internet has made research opportunities, researching rates and researching employers easier, but it won't get you a job. People hire people they know and trust.

Go to industry events, offer to assist at the event and talk to others. Standing quietly in a corner at a local SIGGRAPH event and not meeting people won't get you an offer. But offering to design elements for the group's website might.

Families can often be a big hindrance to artists feeling like they can thrive. How to deal with unsupportive families will vary from situation to situation, but the more you know about how many careers are available for artists, the more you know about how much successful artists earn, the more success stories of artists you know, the better you will be able to argue against negative comments.

So stop using the term "Starving Artist." Replace it with "Thriving Artist" and encourage others around you to do the same and you will soon have more than just a dime to spare.

Mark Simon's The Thriving Artist: Make Over $100,000 per Year as an Artist three-CD audio set offers insider secrets help artists achieve greater success. Learn about three career mistakes most artists make, how to earn 25% more money without doing more work, negotiating and much more. Cover art by Mark Simon and Travis Blaise. Mark may be reached at MarkSimonBooks@yahoo.com.

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