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Unless you’ve made it to the top (if so, congrats. No, really, I’m not bitter), it’s hard being a designer. Not least because the industry is riddled with unscrupulous business people willing to exploit those who love what they do in the name of ‘exposure’, or a promise of ‘being paid later once we’ve made a bit of dosh ourselves’. Once you drift away from the realm of the amateur Joe ‘I just want to see my artwork on a t-shirt’, and into the mind-set of ‘I love what I do, but I need to pay my bills just like everyone else, and rent is kinda high right now’, you see that the design industry is riddled with predators, spoilt for choice in a highly saturated market.
It’s hard being a designer. Not least because the industry is riddled with unscrupulous business people willing to exploit those who love what they do.
In a recent phone call to my mother, she informed me that her friend who is also a designer found this great website called Vida, and I should really check it out. Upon glancing at the website I was confronted with a comforting ethos:
‘We provide literacy programs to our makers.
They learn to read, write, and do basic math and build a better life for generations to come.’
‘How nice.’ I thought. ‘This seems like a company that I’d like to contribute to.’ But the cynic inside me was stirring. So, I signed up to Vida, curious to know more – however, I found all I needed to know by reading their terms and conditions.
As a designer, you receive 10% commission, which may seem generous at first, but when you consider that Vida is a POD (print on demand) service that demands an exclusive rights grab and no upfront compensation, along with various other niceties, like the ability to alter your designs and not credit you for your work, things don’t seem quite as lovely as that glowing first impression.
It’s damn hard for most people to make a living solely off of their design, but it can be done.
So, as an artist, what should I expect? Firstly, being granted exclusive rights (where not even the original artist is allowed to sell their own design) is a major privilege. Companies that value you and your work will always pay you upfront for an exclusive license, and if they expect to make money off your artwork, it’s only fair. For example, as a member of the Association of Illustrators (or Aoi, as it’s abbreviated to), I have been quoted that the standard compensation for a greeting card is £300 plus a small percentage of each card sold. An artist also has the right to be credited with authorship of their own work, amongst other moral rights. Remember, this is your livelihood. It’s damn hard for most people to make a living solely off of their design, but it can be done. It’s a profession, not a hobby, and so should be treated and respected as such.
The main thing to take away from this is to always read the terms and conditions of any website where money and copyright are concerned. For more reading on how bad Vida’s ts&cs are, Kiffanie Stahle has written an excellent blog post on the subject.
Maddy is a freelance illustrator who lives in Glasgow. She's recently graduated and is working hard to make ends meet. Self-employed? Read Maddy's experiences here.