Illustrators’ Survey 2019/2020 reveals continued financial struggle of profession

The results of the annual survey conducted by Ben The Illustrator show that more than half of illustrators are not earning more than £20k annually.

The results of the 2019/2020 Illustrator’s Survey have been released, this year demonstrating a continued financial strain on the profession.

The annual survey, conducted by Ben The Illustrator, seeks to provide a snapshot of the industry for those working within it. This year’s results build on previous years, suggesting money and fees sit at the top of illustrator’s worries.

Confidence with fees

“In general, I’m afraid to say nothing has changed in 3 years,” says Ben The Illustrator, real name Ben O’Brien. “We’re still not overly confident with money, but we need to be.”

According to the survey, 55% of illustrators do not feel confident giving clients initial price estimates, and a further 54% do not feel confident negotiating their fees. These numbers remain largely unchanged from last year’s survey.

Elsewhere, in an experience that mirrors that felt by the wider graphic design industry, almost one in five illustrators said the majority of their commissions were paid late and one in three were often asked to work for free.

“Knowing your worth”

Intensifying illustrator’s lack of confidence even further is a vast section of commissioners who don’t understand the profession.

According to the survey, a huge 81% of illustrators believe their commissioners do not understand how illustration pricing works. This misunderstanding has led, in part, to over half of illustrators working mainly on commissions under £500, and a further quarter working on projects worth under £1,000.

The result of this is that 60% of full-time illustrators do not earn more than £20,000 a year. This is an amount that the Association of Illustrators (AOI), one of the organisations involved in the curation of this year’s questions, says should be the bare minimum earned.

“[I am] very disappointed to find out how many illustrators are working on such small commissions with fees that would never cover the time spent on it, let alone your skills and talents,” says O’Brien. “Know your worth, seek bigger opportunities, you’re worth more.”

The importance of a diverse community

An open question on the positives of working in the industry largely returned answers celebrating its community. According to the survey, many illustrators find (predominantly online) support from their fellow workers, in the form of advice and knowledgeable experience.

But damning numbers were reported in terms of the profession’s diversity, with an overwhelming 79% of respondents identifying as white. Additionally, two thirds feel those with LGBTQ+, black, Asian or minority ethnic identities and women are unfairly represented in the industry and that not enough is being done to change this.

“This year the biggest issue is perhaps diversity,” says O’Brien. “How can we bring more people into the industry to build their own sustainable careers, without a university education or financial support? How can we ensure all artists of any gender, ethnic origin or background can be seen, heard or given a stage, be nominated for awards and offered teaching positions?”

Cause for positivity

Despite this year’s results again demonstrating the financial and diversity issues that permeate the profession, illustrators do have cause for optimism.

The vast majority (97%) are proud to be in the industry and around 90% of illustrators are actively pursuing new tools and techniques, something that O’Brien says is “great to see”.

Two thirds also report feeling supported in their profession, and over half of illustrators have repeat clients that bring in steady work.

Overall, O’Brien says, the year ahead should have a particular focus on how illustrators can work together.

“We can help each other, we have great connections between peers at the same stage of their journey, but we need to keep making connections from the new graduates to the experienced artists.”


Banner image: The Illustrators’ Survey/Ben The Illustrator

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  • Neil Littman February 19, 2020 at 9:25 am

    I wasn’t surprised at this article but one factor not mentioned which I think has affected illustrators is the vast amount of material available on image websites which has provided a low cost shortcut for many designers including myself. I will admit to using many stock illustrations over the years repurposed in instances to fit a brief and generally providing a solution at a fraction of the cost of a commissioned piece. Obviously there is no substitute for commissioning conceptual editorial work which is much more specific but I think about 50% of the market has gone that way.

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