An article from Illustrator's Partnership of America

A Man of Unlimited Income

by Gerald Rogers
May 2001

I love my job. To me, this is the beautiful thing about being a freelance illustrator. I am a man of unlimited income! It's true. For better or for worse, I have absolutely no idea how much money I will make next month. To some, that is an unnerving concept, but for me — that's the point of the game.

There are reasons why we chose to be illustrators. We are a breed of creators, problem-solvers, and in general, visually-obsessed people. We enjoy being able to recreate the world we see in our own way, with our own hands. As kids we loved the smell of crayons, the taste of pastels, and the feel of finger-paints as we oozed them across the paper. As adults, we still do. We love the process of watching a canvas be filled with the strokes of our brushes. To us this is power.

We also love being able to explore for ourselves the roads that lead to our future and the opportunity to define our own success. As an illustrator, there are no artificial boundaries to what I can create or how much I can earn. I truly am a man of unlimited income.

These are the things that lead me to leap into the world of freelance illustration when I graduated from BYU two years ago. I knew that with illustration, anything was possible. I thrive on the idea of a career that gives me endless opportunities to develop as my art and the world around me change. For me, it's the idea of not knowing what lies around the turn that makes me keep walking. In front of me is nothing but a beautiful blank horizon, like a fresh, gleaming white canvas waiting to be filled. Life runs on change, it is our only constant. As freelancers we must always be capable of responding to that change.

Among some, there is a deeply imbedded skepticism regarding the present and future health of our industry. I understand that there are dangers, and enemies, and endless uncertainties that face us as illustrators. Illustration is a much different world than it was even five or ten years ago. But despite those differences, I am among those who believe that there are more opportunities for illustrators than ever before. More money is available, and more outlets for our talents are emerging. But to find them, we first must understand the limitless potential of the work that we create.

We need to seek and be open to new opportunities. There is a need for illustration in places beyond just magazines, books and advertising. The entire world is filled with the creations of illustrators, artists and designers. There are no limits to where our work can be sold. In illustration, one road will often lead to another that we had never expected. New doors are always there if we keep our minds open enough to find them.

In my brief career, I've been amazed at the variety of opportunities I've had. In addition to the standard editorial and advertising work, I've found myself designing a hot air balloon, creating murals for a restaurant, and developing artwork for neckties. I've created posters for the home decor market, published several children's books, and done character design for an e-learning website. Perhaps it is because it's still early in my career that the portfolio of work that I've done is so eclectic, but to me that is indicative of the opportunities which lie waiting for all of us.

As illustrators our greatest success will come as we develop a unique style and create our own niche in the market. Having a niche, however, does not prevent us from seeking new outlets for our talents. For example, I know of an illustrator whose work led him to also explore photography and then film, and soon he found himself art directing music videos. Another illustrator found his work was suitable to a niche in the apparel industry and was able to form a lucrative business in that market. Yet another illustrator who was doing editorial work for years found an opportunity to develop characters and do layouts for a film studio on a freelance basis. There are thousands of similar examples. To grasp more of our unlimited income we must learn to reach beyond the box of conventional illustration. We need to view ourselves as more than just illustrators, but as visual creatives. We must never be too timid to explore.

Beyond this, we can also consider the potentials of having residual income from our work. It is a beautiful concept that I can create something today and be paid for it for months or years to come. This includes, of course, both working on a royalties basis and capitalizing on the re-use of images as stock. In both instances, if we are careful in our protection of the rights and uses of our images, they will continue to work for us long after we create them.

One example of this lies in the gift and novelty market. I know of a woman who created an illustration for a magazine then sold it for use as a greeting card. In turn she sold the image to make paper plates and napkins, and then with a slight modification also sold rights to another company who created a balloon, and so on. Each time, on a royalty basis with an advance, limiting the usage rights for the companies producing her work, and thus maximizing the ability to earn more by selling other rights in other markets. In the end, she made over $10,000 on an assignment that originally only paid $800.

Continuing revenue from our work is also possible as we sell our old images as stock. I have no interest in delving into the issues of stock and stock houses, nor do I think I need to because of the debate that it has undergone for years. If nothing else this debate has brought to our awareness that even our old work has a residual value and potential for us. Hopefully, the IPA will succeed in it's efforts to create an artist friendly resource for marketing our previously created work.

There are so many possibilities that it would overwhelm both you and me to list them all. Contrary to the perception of some, illustration is not a dying industry. In my opinion, it's not even sick. It's just changing. Perhaps it's a lot different than we would want it to be, but the opportunities to succeed are more prevalent than ever. The world will always need creative people. And hopefully, we will always be there to fill that need. In doing so, why not claim our unlimited income.

An extremely positive outlook on the Illustration industry, by Gerald Rogers.

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