A Cautionary Tale

Bill Mayer, a seasoned veteran illustrator, recently shared this cautionary tale. Innocently enough, he took on a cover illustration for an alternative weekly magazine with a very low budget because he loved the subject matter and thought that being an award-winning professional would earn him some creative freedom. Instead his best concepts were thrown out and his final illustration was micromanaged by the magazine’s advertisers. Then he was tarred and feathered by his peers for ever taking on the job.

Steve Brodner summed the whole thing up best:

One more thing I tell my students: if [clients] pay you like shit, they treat you like shit.

It might be a good time to review our tips on pricing technical illustration.

Have a similar horror story? Let us know if you can relate in the comments.

9 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale

  1. says

    A good read and from my experience it happens. I think there are times when you decide to take on work for the end result or the fun of it and not everything can be a huge payday. That being said the real story is all the self righteous comments on Bill’s blog. Although I do admire Bill’s style I just dont get many of the people on there who draw like a brain damaged child and think they are the keepers of the flame.

  2. Reading through the comments is just like the thoughts running through my head when I’m quoting on a project.

    I think the take-home is to base your rates on SOMETHING. If you’re going to take on a project just because it’s fun, make damn sure it’s going to be fun! Your terms & conditions can save you from a neverending revision nightmare.

  3. says

    Yea Jim, a couple of those people are pretty full of themselves, acting as if he just single handedly ruined the entire industry for everyone.

  4. says

    I hear you Clint. If YOU decided to illustrate an entire book for $300 I couldn’t care less, go have fun!

    That certain style group over there is very insular, myopic and angry it seems.

  5. It can be extremely frustrating, especially when just starting out in the world of technical illustration, when clients can’t even pay the minimum of what is considered fair compensation for time and work. I had a similar situation of a job that could have really helped me get into the field and have some nice portfolio work, but the amount of time and pay were unrealistic. I had a better pay if you were to figure it out hourly at my part time job where I get minimum wage! Even after showing the pricing guidelines to the client they wouldn’t do it.
    My instructor, while I was at AAU, always told us to let the guidelines do the negotiating for us- that way they are arguing with a book more than us- a book that is largely trusted by the arts community. Granted a lot of those prices can be “high”, but those guidelines are a great place to start and if a client won’t go with it- even when you are leaning toward the lower pricing end- then it is probably not worth taking the job.
    Recently I had another person wanting to use my work to print and sell and when I told them that we would need to figure out a fare fee they became offended that I wouldn’t give up my work for free! In my opinion, the vast majority of the non-art community could use some education on fair client-to-artist pricing and relationships.

  6. alan says


    Please don’t insult my brain damaged brother (yes he’s brain damaged, but not a child :-). Actually, I’d have never though he could have a career in illustration, but I took a look at some comments and portfolios, and I think I see what you mean.

    I’m not a freelancer out there making quotes on jobs, but I’m wondering, can individual illustrators’ attitudes have an affect on the field in general as well as the rates they demand apparently do? Their egos? Or maybe even the reverse then–lack of confidence?

  7. BH Schneider says

    If they don’t want to pay what you are asking, then they really don’t want or need what they are requesting of you. You don’t gain by giving away your talent and time. Be confident and unflinching when providing an estimate.

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