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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Guest Poster James Shields discusses Artist Transparency

Tonight we have a guest post by +James Shields where he breaks down the factors that go into the rates for his art. I think it is eye opening and factors in aspects that are often missed by many. A version of this post was shared on G+ by James but we are hoping it will get a wider audience with this post. Without further ado...

It's the thing people want to know but nobody wants to talk about it. Sometimes rates seem to be pulled out of the air or determined mostly by what an artist thinks a client will be willing to pay.

I don't want this to be me.

I want to have integrity in what I do. I hope you do to. So, let me talk about my process and my rates openly. Maybe this will help you.

First, determine what hourly rate you need where you are.
As a husband and father of four, I need around $20 an hour to adequately provide for my family.

As a freelancer, you need to know how much of your work week is spent on administrative (non-paying) duties. These may be things like client conferences, advertising your services, updating products, additional training, etc.

I spend at least 25% of my work week on these activities.

Would you like to take an occasional vacation? Want to be able to afford some sickness? If you do, these need to be factored into your rates.

I personally take the standard 14 days of vacation and 7 sick days.
That means out of 260 working days (52 weeks x 5 days), I work about 92% of them.

If we take the above information and factor it into an equation, it would look something like:

[$20 an hour] divided by [75% of actual paid work activities] divided by [92% of actual days of work] = An adjust hourly rate of $29

This is my personal adjusted hourly rate. Yours may look differently.
But the math doesn't end there.

I have a project tracker to record how much time I spend individually on:
References, Sketches, Inks, Colors, Etc

This gives me a much better idea of how much time your project will take me to complete.

I then multiply my adjusted hourly rate by the average time spent on a given project, factor in supply fees (variable), tax (8%), copyright license fees (variable), and transaction fees (3% + $0.30) for a final total which is then adjusted (usually down a few dollars) to a more palatable cost for sales. (Example: $63.21 would become $59)

[Side Note about License Fees: I charge no additional fee for Non-Exclusive contracts. The client gets the ability to use the artwork for their one specific purpose indefinitely. I charge an additional 25% for All Rights for a Limited Purpose. My current Work for Hire contracts are set at an additional 50%. Copyrights have value. Don't give them away. Client aren't letting you 'keep' copyrights. They are already YOURS. Therefore, value your work and charge for your copyright licenses.]

Lastly, we are in a commercial industry that includes supply and demand. The above does not include determining your personal value from the base rate where you start with this system. So, let's assume you begin using this approach and consistently have enough clients and work for months at a time. At some point, you may begin turning work away. At that point, there is more demand than there is supply. Therefore, increase your hourly rate some, which of course, will affect the flat rate you charge per piece.

(In the reverse and I hope it's not the case, but if you aren't getting enough work, evaluate your promotional time and efforts, and if need be, lower your hourly rate until you grow and improve more and demand catches up with your supply.)

So... that is my entire rate calculation process. Take it, use it, and adjust it for your needs. Finally, be proud of your rates and stand by them.

If you have any questions/comments, don't hesitate.
If you are a freelancer and feel like all of the above makes sense but have a hard time applying it, I urge you to use my Client Queue and Rate Calculator - https://gumroad.com/l/KfthF. It's the document I use to track time on various types of projects. Put in $0 and download it for free.

I'm attaching my Rate Matrix for you to see the results of my personal calculations. Hopefully, its complexity makes it clear why I use a Client Rate Calculator on my site - http://jeshields.com/wp/rates/


  1. I've been a technical illustrator for about 30 years and ran a techart studio where I employed subcontractors, everything up there in the post is well thought out and reasonable.

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  3. Great post - and I'll add one more thing worth considering. The value the art brings to the project. This goes beyond just considering the time spent on the piece. For example, an illustration made for WotC should demand more money than an OSR project. Not just because WotC's budget is bigger, but because the market it reaches is much wider. A WotC cover is going to be seen by many more people (who in return potentially buy the book, making more money for WotC). Get to know the market you're creating for, and adjust rates accordingly.

    1. Once did a mock up of a book cover for a math workbook, the client bought it straight out for several hundred dollars. I had to sneak in a slightly better version to one of the editors because the mock up was a bit too crude but I didn't want to embarass the person who approved the mock-up as the final item. It was so long ago it fit on a floppy.

    2. Michael Clarke, I would agree with you, but where it would fit into my calculations is in the License Fees. My license fee percentages listed in the article are specifically for the indie RPG industry.

    3. The trouble with your logic Michael is WOTC could actually pay artists less for the exact reasons you mention. People will line up to get their 'work' seen by the masses. In a lot of instances it's a race to the bottom unless you're talking about Jeff Easley or someone of that stature (an artist a company would go out of its way to hire). A lot of up and coming artists will work for free basically if they could get some major book cover thinking that there will be future rewards from it. Also, to be fair, major publications often introduce artists to consumers. Some little known artist does a Game of Thrones book cover or something does not mean he's selling more GoT novels.

  4. Great post. I've been wondering, since I've been considering making some comissions - The lack of transparency on fees has held me back so far. Very helpful elucidation.

  5. i think these rates very reasonable - i was taught in 1999 to charge at least 50 an hour and get it - i do better with workshops, murals and live art than comisions which can be very painful - i usually ask $100 for quick jobs with no changes - for mot i include variations and other designs - actually finding harder to get well paid commissions as ppl working for peanuts or free or for "exposure" have gobbled up lots of work