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Illustrators are gaining more work but still not earning enough: Ben the Illustrator releases his annual survey


Ben the Illustrator: Illustrator’s Survey

Ben the Illustrator has released his second Illustrator’s Survey, collating 1443 responses from illustrators globally. The results reflect the inner workings of the industry in detail, compare 2019’s results to last year’s and highlight both the positive and negative feelings of practitioners working today. While it’s a broad look at the industry and some results are worryingly negative, Ben’s motivation is hopeful, looking for illustrators to use the findings, put together with Hire An Illustrator, “to build a better career”.

Split into four sections, the survey first discusses who is working in the industry currently. It notes that 57 per cent of illustrators who responded to the survey are female, 42 per cent are between the age bracket of 18-30 and 83 per cent work at home. It also points out how 51 per cent of illustrators are working mostly in a digital capacity and 43 per cent studied a different creative subject to illustration in comparison to 38 per cent who did. The survey also notes that the results in this section remain very similar to last year’s findings – considering most responders were under 40 and studied at university – but Ben notes how “with 43 per cent of us studying a different creative subject, can we use those varied learnings to broaden the scope of our illustration work?”

The second section focuses more on the actual work output of illustrators. For instance, 48 per cent of the contributors are full-time illustrators and 29 per cent of people work in a creative role and complete illustration work on the side. The survey also points out how illustration work has increased since last year, with 52 per cent of illustrators having a higher workload in 2018 compared to 2017. The majority of illustrators are also finding commissions from publishing clients at 27 per cent, while editorial work is at 15 per cent, and advertising at 12 per cent. Interestingly here, most illustrators are currently receiving commissions from the USA and Canada at 44 per cent, in comparison to 35 per cent from the UK and 14 per cent from European countries. The survey also points out how 71 per cent of illustrators who responded have clients in the same country as they are based in and 82 per cent don’t work with an agent currently. 53 per cent of illustrators also say they have previously worked for free but never will again, with Ben adding: “Well, here’s the facts folks, 53 per cent of people proving why we should never be duped into working for free!”

Within the third section, the survey provides helpful information when it comes down to money, whether it’s feeling confident in estimating fees, using hourly or day rates, and whether illustrators are earning enough to live sustainably. Unfortunately, 57 per cent of illustrators feel under-confident when pricing their work, but as Ben evaluates: “There’s a change coming, a trend towards talking more openly about fee pricing between ourselves and this is leading to more people developing services to help us reach the correct fee for us and our clients. Keep talking.” Most alarmingly in this section is the fact that only 27 per cent of illustrators are earning enough to live sustainably, which has increased from last year’s findings and 41 per cent of illustrators earned less than £9999 gross annual income in 2018.

The final section discusses the work/life balances of illustrators, with the results for balancing client and commercial work being exactly the same as last year. 52 per cent of illustrators find they don’t balance client and personal work, which leads Ben to ask “do you want to be doing more personal work? How can you make that extra time in the day?” Community with this section also seems to be a helpful aid to being an illustrator, with 28 per cent finding it helpful to meet up regularly with other illustrators and 60 per cent wishing they did. The section also highlights areas within the creative industry that should be discussed and tackled more often in illustration. 59 per cent of responses want to hear more about mental health support regarding self-confidence issues and 54 per cent want discussion around mental health support regarding financial issues.

In publishing the results for the second year in a row, Ben tells It’s Nice That he’s already “starting to see a handful of very strong benefits”. And although the survey does highlight some harsh truths about how difficult it can be to be an illustrator, he hopes it urges companies and creatives to “step up and look for solutions… The world (and the illustration industry) is full of people who want to make a better place”. Looking to the future, Ben hopes it’s not just creative resources who have these discussions but “the clients, the businesses and design studios who are commissioning, only then can we really initiate positive changes throughout the industry,” he points out.

But for now, the survey at the very least should provide reassurance for illustrators at any point in their career. “However once they’re over being reassured and hopefully feeling less doubtful, I would love to know that illustrators are using the results to step back and look at their own business," adds Ben, “or simply give them the boost to join more communities in the real world and understand the benefits of having a support network around you in, what can be, a tricky career to navigate.”

You can read the full results of the Illustrator’s Survey here.


Ben the Illustrator: Illustrator’s Survey


Ben the Illustrator: Illustrator’s Survey


Ben the Illustrator: Illustrator’s Survey