Frequently Asked Questions
Who are you?
We are a collective of professional illustrators and cartoonists and other commercial visual artists who believe we need to make dramatic changes to our working conditions in order to be properly compensated for our labor and live full, healthy, creative lives.
What is wage transparency? Why is it important?
Wage transparency is the idea that every person working in our industry should know what our peers are being paid. It’s important in any industry; wage transparency helps combat disparity in pay due to race or gender or favoritism, and creates a more even career landscape. In freelance it is especially important. Freelancers are totally siloed away from their peers and have to guess what rates to charge, or survey people they know privately, thus only getting an incomplete view. We need to know what our peers are being paid in order to create fair industry-wide rates for all and reduce disparity in pay.
Why should workers set rates? It’s annoying when my art director doesn’t send me rates!
Many other contracted workers set the rates for being hired. This is based on expertise, materials, time and effort. When companies are the ones largely dictating rates, we see what we have now– historically low fees, and a decades long freeze on raising rates. We’re being paid less than previous illustrators for more and more work. We need to be able to set rates that provide a living wage– and that can only be done by us, the workers, as companies will always try to cut our pay to increase their personal profits. Currently, it is the correct etiquette for an art director to approach us with a job’s budget upfront. Freelancers are at a disadvantage when companies come to us without disclosing their budget, as we have no idea if they are wildly underpaying us what they could afford. Our hope is as our movement grows stronger we’ll be able to start enforcing fair pay across the board, and be able to enforce fair rates by setting them ourselves.
What’s wrong with doing work for exposure/spec work/competitions?
Companies make money off of our work. That’s why they want our work to use. When we work for exposure, we are allowing them to profit off of our labor without receiving anything in return. Companies will do anything to increase their own profits– if we allow working for exposure to become the norm, we allow for the continued exploitation of our work and the devaluation of our labor. Competitions requiring finished pieces and unpaid spec work allow companies to receive a glut of free labor and only pay for a fraction of it, all while dangling the promise of potential pay in front of us. These are exploitative practices– companies should pay for all work they commission, used or unused.
But I do love what I do! Why are you so mad about it?
Many people find fulfillment in their work, and many do not. A level of enjoyment within a job should never dictate whether you are paid a living wage or have to suffer through terrible working conditions. In these commercial creative fields we are constantly told because this is what we love to do, we must accept less pay, more hours working, less benefits, more instability, because aren’t we passionate about this? Wouldn’t we be doing this in our free time? Isn’t it the dream? The reality is many of us would choose very different projects if we weren’t working for clients. The work we do is in service of a commercial entity– it is not our dream, it is our job, and like any worker we deserve stability, fair pay, and benefits.
Why is it important to work with art directors specifically?
Art direction is an important skill. To be able to communicate within the visual language clearly and to view an image and be able to dissect what is working and what isn’t is a learned skill, and to be able to direct a publications visual voice is deeply important to the overall quality of the publication. Publications have routinely cut the job of art director in order to save money and freelance illustrators have to work with editors. This is not to disparage editors, but to understand that they do not often have the skill set in order to work with illustrators, and makes our working relationship and the final product suffer.
Why should I join a union?
There is only so much one individual can do, especially as a freelancer. We risk losing jobs by speaking out. It’s easy to blacklist one individual– but they can’t fire all of us. Working relationships are by nature imbalanced. The boss or the person hiring us has all the power, and we are at the whims of their decisions. A union of collective power addresses this power imbalance. It provides a way to advocate for our interests and challenge exploitative practices with real power. The past few decades have shown there is no way to advocate for our interests as individuals— we can only win when we act as a union.
You can read the Freelance Solidarity Project FAQ here.
I work mostly in another field and only occasionally do freelance visual work- why should I care?
Even if you work part time, you deserve the same amount of pay and benefits as someone who does this for most of their income. We recognize the patchwork income many of us have– sometimes we’re freelancing full time, sometimes only once every couple of months. It should not make a difference. If someone is willing to pay you for your labor, you deserve fair wages.
I’m a new illustrator and I was told to accept any job to build my portfolio- what should I do?
We recognize the difficulty of breaking into this industry. The internet has revolutionized access to art directors and a commercial career, but it is easy to get lost in the crowd, especially when starting out. We’re told the only way to build a portfolio is to work for free for a bit, until we can showcase a portfolio of not just self directed work. This means younger, more inexperienced artists have their work exploited the most, and the industry skews towards those who can afford to work for free. We don’t have a clear solution to this at this exact moment. But if we continue to fight for fair wages and practices, we can demand an end to the idea that any of us must be required to work for free.
I’m an old grump and think that young artists should pay their dues- why should they get help when I didn’t?
Generally, if we get punched in the face, we don’t find someone who didn’t get punched in the face and then punch them in order to feel better. We can apply the same principles of basic compassion here.
What’s the use of trying to change the industry? Isn’t it full of selfish competitive assholes?
Capitalism wins when we fight with each other and view each other as our main antagonist to getting paid. The reality is there are more jobs than ever for illustrators, but we are being paid historically low rates due to the greed and mismanagement of media company CEOs and bosses. Collective organizing works. The reason we have weekends, overtime pay, minimum wages, the 8 hour day and the outlawing of child labor is because of collective power. The only way to make things better for all of us is to work together. We believe that the self interest of all of us visual workers aligns, and that self interest bonds us together, and when we work together, we win.
Frequently Asked Questions