Charge what its worth! 5 things artists NEED to know.

Let’s face it, doing 3D modeling, Sculpting, making movies….. ITS FUN!! So, I’m supposed to charge for this?

This stuff is so much fun in fact that I’ve said on many occasions: “If I was independently wealthy and all my bills were paid, I would still do 3D…. I would do it for free right now if room and board were covered”. I do it for myself: because I love to create art, I love to learn, and I love to share my knowledge with the world. Here’s the cold hard facts: Nobody REALLY has the luxury of just sitting around all day creating artwork for free without a care in the world. Ok, so there may be the few wealthy kids out there who are afforded a few years after grad school to “Find themselves” by doing whatever they want for a couple years before they have to grow up and uphold the family name (ie: get a job and pay their own bills). But that’s not reality, at least not for most of us. Artwork, and especially GCI/Animation, is all around us. We see it every single day no matter where we look. It’s not just the multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbusters and video games. It’s in everything from the Zoloft commercials on TV to the wallpaper on your cell phone to the new iPhone billboard and the IKEA catalog (Seriously, 75% of the “photos” in the ikea catalog are CGI now). It’s so intertwined in our daily lives that we don’t even notice it anymore. But what so many up-and-coming artists fail to realize is that art is actually worth something. This is a big deal, it’s huge, and nobody seems to REALLY get it.

1. Art costs the artist more than it costs the viewer.

What does it take to create great art? What does it REALLY take? I could go into tons of technical jargon about color theory, composition, proportion, perspective, blah blah blah…. Now, while all those things are in fact, very import, it’s not the point I’m making here. Art costs time, lots of it. I’ve personally invested over 15 years of my life studying art and studying modeling, texturing, etc, etc. Let’s think about that for a minute. 15 years? Big whoop, Speilberg has been at it for almost 50. I’m only 27. This passion has COST me over half of my life. Let’s put that into dollars. Over the past 15 years I’ve probably averaged 40+ hours a week learning, honing my skills or doing something that has directly impacted my skill set as an artist. That’s time I theoretically could have spent working a dead end job. Even at the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hr), that’s over $225,000. I’ve sacrificed (read: paid) over a quarter of million dollars to get where I am today as an artist. So that 45 seconds of animation that I charged $3200 for, cost ME $225,000 to get to the point that I could actually do it.

2. Giving art away is bank robbery for artists around the world.

Every time somebody does work for free for a client that could pay for it might as well be stealing cash out of my wallet. Ok so giving a sketch on a napkin to your girlfriend isn’t going to bankrupt the art industry. But, so many of us rely on the income we get from our work. On several occasions I have personally lost jobs because somebody else was willing to do the job for free. These aren’t broke mom-and-pop companies scrounging pennies to get an add in the local newspaper, these are big clients with real money I’m talking about! Hey pal, not only did YOU not get paid for your hard work, you stole somebody elses opportunity to get paid too! I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, seen, or heard about “so-and-so company” reaching out to an artist and having the audacity to ask them “hey, so I’ve got this [whatever] I need made up. Think you could do me/us a favor and do it for free?”. The problem is they just don’t get it. They think it’s just a hobby, no real value there, you do it because you love it right? They have no idea how much time you’ve invested to get to where you’re at as an artist. The BIGGER problem is that so many artists say YES!! If you walked into a hospital with a broken arm, walked up to the doc and said “Hey, so I’ve got this broken arm I need fixed up. Think you could do me a favor and do it for free?”, how do you think they would react? They get paid to do what they do because they know how, and they’re good at it. Whether they like what they do or not has nothing to do with their paycheck. Period. So why should it be any different for artists? Every time you do a piece for free, you’re telling the person “Art isn’t worth anything”. So, if art isn’t worth anything, why should anybody pay for it? So-and-so got it for free so I’m not paying more than he did, it just wouldn’t be fair! One last thing to ponder: If they’re making money off of your artwork, shouldn’t you?

3. Who you are doesn’t matter.

You’re not Rick Baker? So what? The client isn’t paying you for your name (Unless you are Rick Baker). They’re paying you for your artwork. Art is worth what art is worth. What I mean by that is, whether you do it, I do it, or anybody else in the world does it, a given piece of artwork is worth what it’s worth based solely on it’s quality, and nothing else. Even the best of the best in the world are bound by this. Look at Steven Spielberg. He’s currently worth about 3.6 billion dollars. He’s good! There’s no denying that. But there’s a reason that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) grossed over $100 million at the box office, while The Adventures of Tintin (2011) didn’t even come close with it’s measly $9 million (Note that both were produced by the same studio as well). There’s a reason for that, as the numbers show: Indiana Jones was a “Better movie”. Budget played a role in that though. Indiana Jones’ budget was $185 million, while Tintin was a little less at $135 million. Now I personally liked both of them but lets face it, one outsold the other literally 10 to 1! Even the huge cult following behind Indiana Jones can’t have THAT much sway. Even Spielberg has his good works and, not as good works. The subject and quality of the work dictate it’s value, period.

4. Don’t charge by the hour, ever.

Ok so that’s not entirely true, but your client doesn’t need to know that. They’re paying for a product, and that product has a value. If the Dial soap company upgrades their manufacturing facility to make more bars of soap faster, do they discount them because they make them faster? No! A bar of soap costs $3 whether they make 100 per day or 100 million per day. The value is in the product, not how long (or fast) it takes to make it. Value and time are not directly related (unless you’re working retail). Sure, it wouldn’t be smart to take a job that would take you 30 hours but only paid $100. But as you get better, you’ll get faster too. So why would it make sense to charge $900 for a particular project that would take you 15 hours now, but charge $300 for the same project in 3 years when you could do it in 5 hours? How does it make sense to get paid less for being a better artist? If the piece is worth $900, it’s worth $900. It doesn’t matter if it takes you 20 hours or 1. That’s why you have to figure out “YOUR” rate. This isn’t really a “I charge $x/hr”, it’s more of a measure of your value as an artist so to speak. As you get better, you’ll know when to raise “your” rate. Keep a constant throughout your career, a guide on what a piece is worth, that will determine the hourly rate you set for yourself. If a piece is worth $900 today and it’ll take you 45 hours, your rate is $20/hr. In 5 years that same piece is still worth $900, but now it’ll only take you 15 hours because you’ve gotten better. So then “your” rate has grown to $60/hr. If you absolutely must provide an hourly rate, tell them explicitly: how long it will take, and what the total cost is. Never, ever, blindly say “I charge $x/hr”. That is the fastest way to lose work (unless you’re competing with India at $3/hr).

Client: “We need these 3 shots animated, what’s your hourly / daily rate?”
You: “I charge $400 per 8 hour day and I can complete those shots in 2 days each for a total cost of $2400”

Tell them outright what it will really cost! “$400 per day, cool. So, how many days will it take you?….. Ok let me add that up and I’ll get back to you.”. NO! They really don’t care how much you charge per hour / per day, they want to know how much their product is going to cost. If they like the $2400, you’ll get a contract that says $2400. Not $400/day. Not $50/hr. $2400. This will make you stand out for the better. Clients LOVE fixed bids, and fixed bids are usually GREAT for artists! They know exactly what they’re paying up front, and you know exactly what you’re getting paid. You shouldn’t get paid less for completing a project faster than expected, and the client will love you if it gets completed early anyways.

5. Can you change this / add that?

Yes, it’s going to take me another day and that will be an additional $300. Do not be afraid to charge for changes! Changes take time. Who’s time? Your time, and time is money. I’m not talking about revisions here. At least one or two revisions should be expected and included in your bid. Changes are changes, not tweaks. If the client asked for the guy to be running then they ask for him to be running faster, that’s a tweak. If they decide, “No, he shouldn’t be running, lets try him walking with his hands in his pockets”. Was that what you bid for? No? Then it’s a change. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a revision or tweak and a change request. Every one of these is up to your best judgement to decide which it is, then discuss it with your client. I’ve worked with clients who have a lot of ‘tweaks’ and, after a there’s been enough of them, I inform the client that I can’t make any more tweaks without an expansion on the budget. At that point they either leave it as it is or they expand the budget. That’s for them to decide though, not you. I recently worked on a video that the approved budget was $1500. At the final review, the client decided they wanted a total overhaul of the visual style. I take no offense in this, the client changed their mind and that’s OK. I told them I could make the changes, that I would need an additional week, and it would cost an additional $600. It was approved and off I went. Any client worth working with is willing to pay for changes when they’re needed.

In closing: If you want to do this stuff for free, by all means, do it. But, do it for yourself, because you love doing it. Don’t let anybody take advantage of your passions. If anybody asks you to do this for them, they’re indebted to you and they need to respect the hard work you’ve put into getting to where you are. Sure, I’ll ask my grandma to help me make scarves for my kids for Christmas. She loves my boys and seeing their smiles is payment enough for her time. But when I asked my uncle to help me swap out the engine in my car? You can rest assured I asked him what he would charge and he’ll be paid exactly what he quoted me for his hard labor, knowledge and time.

If you learned anything here, please share this and get the word out there. We don’t have to be starving artists anymore. The world is hungry for art, and we can give them that! But not at the expense of the food on our own tables. We do this because we love it, because we want the world to be a more beautiful place, to get people excited, to free our imaginations and create worlds that can’t be seen any other way. We are artists.

  • Charles Guillory

    so…you’re basically asking people to stop giving you competition because you want to live cushy? haha

  • David Radford

    Cushy? I don’t understand how you got that. I have yet to even come close to the US Median income so I wouldn’t exactly say I’m living “cushy” by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not saying I don’t want competition either. Competition is good for everybody for lots of reasons. I’m just saying don’t sell yourself short.