Not all cartoonist work is created equal. There are many different styles of cartooning to consider and not all cartoonists have the skills to create different styles from their own.
Recently I was told “I want something like this but I want it better” and he showed me a cartoon map of sorts that was drawn in a sketchy amateurish style. The sample drawing showed a unique perspective on the scene that included a hotel, boat, plane, train, and lots of anatomically incorrectly drawn people running around. Okay, this may seem to be a conclusive directive when he said:
“I want something like this but I want it better”
But let’s explore that statement. “I want something like this” was the first part of his sentence. He further explained that he wanted a similar perspective of the sample map he showed me, but he wanted more people, a bigger hotel, and brighter colors.
The second part of his sentence was “but I want it better”. One would assume he had explained that by saying he wanted “more people, a bigger hotel, and brighter colors”. The client’s definition of the term “better” could be entirely different from the artist’s definition and thus, interpretation. “Better” could apply to different things; more detail, better drawing style, different drawing style, anatomically correct people, and so forth. The term “a bigger hotel” could mean to make the hotel in the center larger is size, or it could have meant he wanted it to have more rooms or floors. The misinterpretation or lack of communication (or explanation) at the time of an estimate could lead to an unhappy conclusion in cartoon style, quality or price…for you and the artist.
It helps to do a little homework prior to finding the cartoonist and communicating your expectations.
Find Reference Materials
The best practice is to find and provide some reference material that shows your subject matter. The more reference matter you can supply, the better the artist can see what you see in your mind’s eye.
If it is a map, landscape or scene, find something that shows the different elements involved or the layout you have in mind. Take for example a farm scene; there are many different types of barns, fencing, animals, and view ports (close-ups or distance).
If you want a character designed, find the reference materials that show the physical characteristics, age, gender, pose, and wardrobe or costume you want the character to wear. Take for example a Chef; there are many different types costuming like chef hats and aprons. The Italian chef might be fat and have a handle bar mustache. A matronly chef might look like Julia Childs.
Establish the Budget
You might think “how can I set a budget if I don’t know how much the art will take in terms of time or cost?” This is actually easier to narrow down than you might think by doing some math and analyzing a few items.
First think about the artist’s situation. If they work from a home office, then you know that they must cover the cost of all their bills each month for both personal and business expenses. They must also cover their estimated taxes each quarter. Let’s take an example of an artist that lives in California. You know that a home based business will need to make at a minimum of $4000 per month. So divide that by 4 weeks and you know they would need to make a minimum of $1000 per week to make that monthly goal. Breaking it down further, you know that they will probably work a minimum of 40 hours per week like most individuals. So dividing the $1000 weekly income by 40 hours per week, you know that the minimum hourly rate will have to be $25 per hour.
But don’t conclude that you can hire all artists at $25 per hour because that is a very low hourly rate for most professionals. And anyone in business knows that there are many duties that take their time and do not generate revenue but still must be done to order to keep their business functioning. So artists running their own home-based business must actually earn that $1000 in less than 40 hours per week. Taking all these factors into consideration, I would suggest an artist running a home-based business would need $35 to $50 per hour at a minimum.
If the artist’s business situation is that of running a business office with employees, you can expect to pay much more just because of the additional expense good employees cost to train and retain them. So artists running an office-based business with employees would need to pay “competitive salaries” to keep them in addition to the business overhead.
Art students are trying to begin their career. They must develop portfolios that show off all their best work. Without previous work samples to show, it would be difficult for them to get hired by most businesses. So their motivation would be to work cheaply at first in order to build their portfolios. Often they need a minimum of $10 to $15.
Young artists (not in terms of age, but more in terms of career duration to date) are sometimes referred to as Amateurs. Their motivations might be quite different. They may have a situation where they are not trying to build their careers while being a single income household. They may also be augmenting their day jobs with freelance work while continuing to build their portfolios and obtain clients with recurring needs. They often need a minimum of $20 to $25 per hour.
Another point to consider is “you”. If you are a professional, would you ask another professional to work for less of an hourly rate than you would or do? One mistake that many potential clients make is to assume that the artist should work for less of an hourly rate because they get to do what they love or “fun work”. For professional artists, illustrating is work. They may not hate what they do each day, but they must practice, practice, and practice some more to master their art. Therefore, having a passion for what they do is the driving force to keep them practicing endless hours throughout their careers. This continuing education costs the artist in both time and money to do.
Don’t Shop By Price Alone
The name of this section speaks volumes! Often when someone shops by price alone, they do not get a business marketing piece that works successfully for their business. They may get a cartoon illustration that they like but not necessarily one that speaks to your target audience and helps you reach your marketing goals.
You may have a limited budget, but there are usually choices you could make to extend the budget you have to work with. One obvious option would be to reduce the amount of detail you want in the final illustration. The more detail an illustration has, the more time it takes to illustrate that detail. You could reduce the detail of backgrounds or secondary elements in an illustration to save money. By doing so, you can afford a more talented professional illustrator as opposed to lots of detail from a lesser talented illustrator.
Another option to extend your budget is to design less and reuse more of what you can get. For example one client wanted custom cartoon characters designed and placed on Baseball Trading Cards. He was going to use them as product giveaways to customers purchasing the standard baseball trading cards his company sold. He wanted to have several to giveaway as many of his clients were repeat customers and he didn’t want them to receive the same cards each time they purchased. So to fit within his budget, we designed fewer characters than he originally wanted and then reused the characters we created without increasing his budget. We made two cards from each of six character designed; one a close-up of the character and the other was the character’s full body. And to extend his inventory further, we created each card in 5 different colors. The client was still able to stay within his budget and get many different trading cards without sacrificing illustration quality or increasing his budget.
About the Author
Malane Newman is a full-time freelance graphic designer, illustrator and cartoonist. Her lifelong career spans decades. Prior to starting her graphic design business in 2001, she worked in different art departments as a Lead Illustrator and Lead Graphic Designer. And in later years, as the Visual Communications Director for Accenture Corporation (previously named Andersen Consulting). She has supervised both artist employees and freelance contractors, and has worked with management and project management personnel, and large business and fortune 500 clients. She holds a CA teaching credential and has taught both privately and standup instruction in local Art Schools in cartooning styles among other creative and technical subjects.