The Bad Client Diet

Nobody walks into Whole Foods and says:

“Wow, this organic grapefruit is pricey. I work for a non-profit so can I have it for free?”

Nobody walks into Jiffy Lube and says:

“I know an oil change is $30 but I don’t have the budget for that. How’s $5?”

Don’t Be A “McIllustrator.”

Your art has value, Artists.

The easiest way to unmask a bad client is to talk money. If the conversation gets weird, beware.

Bad clients offer low-pay or no-pay because they don’t respect the value of original, commissioned illustration.

“McIllustrators” work for Big Mac prices but constantly complain about how they’re exhausted, stressed and broke.

McIllustrators are desperate and bad clients take advantage of their desperation.

There are so many bad clients and so many desperate illustrators that this industry-destroying cycle will never end.

…unless we all do The Bad Client Diet and get our businesses back in shape.

What Do Bad Clients Look Like?

Many years ago, I was offered what sounded like a nice freelance gig.

An oil painting. A huge portrait of a couple that would be given to them as a gift.

The painting would have taken me about two weeks.

I quoted my hourly rate which was around $35/hr at the time.

2 weeks (80 hours)  x  $35/hr = $2800

If you ask me, for a huge double-portrait in fracking oil paint, 28-hundy is a legitimate steal.

But the man offering the job did not agree. In fact, he was shocked and offended. He had a much lower figure in mind…

He the offered me $25 for the portrait.

I asked him how much he got paid for his job and if it was higher than $12.50 a week.

…and that’s the end of that story.

Granted, the “$25 Portrait” example, although true, is ridiculous. No sane artist would accept that guy’s offer.

My point here is that bad clients usually look bad right from the beginning.

It’s desperation that blinds us.

It is our desperation that gives power to the bad clients.

Big Mac Budgets Will Kill Your Business:

There are plenty of places online where bad clients can buy royalty-free, stock-illustrations at Big Mac prices.

Send the bad clients to the stock sites and move on.

If they only have a Big Mac Budget, then they need to expect Big Mac Illustration.

Actual Big Macs are mass-produced, cheap and
unhealthy. Your art is none of those things.
[photo by Arugatse]

The stock-illustration sites are not your competition because you are not a McIllustrator.

So don’t try to compete with them.

When bad clients discover what a Big Mac Budget can’t buy, some of them will come back to you enlightened and ready to do business. With your help they might even become good clients.

You’ll have to just feel it out.

And what about those who don’t come back enlightened?

Let ‘em go.

Your art will never solve their business problems.

If the client isn’t successful or respectful enough to treat you fairly then he probably isn’t treating others fairly. And if he doesn’t treat others fairly, his whole entrepreneurial journey is doomed.

Don’t be a McIllustrator. Working for Big Mac prices will only slow your success.
-Tweet This Quote

If you’re currently doing business with bad clients, fire them as soon as possible.  Since they pay so little, you can probably just bow-out and move on with minimal pain.

…but if most of your clients are bringing you down, you need to seriously re-think your business. Consider a complete business overhaul and take a normal day-job (at Starbucks or wherever) to help ease the transition.

Don’t Mix Dreams and Desperation…

If you’re trying to start a freelance illustration business, keep your day job for as long as you have to.

As much as you might hate your day job, the steady paycheck gives you the power to say “No” to bad clients.

Hold on to the power of “No.”

If you quit your day job too soon you’ll mix your dreams with desperation.

And when you’re desperate, you forfeit the power to say “No” to bad clients.

And when you say “Yes” to bad clients, you say “No” to your dreams.

  • Don’t be a McIllustrator. Be proud of your work.
  • Don’t work for pennies. Prove yourself with your portfolio.
  • Don’t panic. Be patient. 

McIllustration is just inspiration-sucking frustration. 

Your time, energy and talent are better spent working on personal projects for your portfolio than on low-paying gigs for bad clients.

How About You? How Do YOU Handle Bad Clients?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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{ 155 comments… read them below or add one }

ryan adams

i got the same treatment for caricatures – i done 100 caricatures for a wedding and it worked out at £5 a caricature! I was desperate, so took it! I have learned my lesson and stick to my hourly rate – if they dont like it then i say i no

Thanks for the post Chris! it’s a good reminder to stay off the “Mcillustrator” path!

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Chris Oatley

Yikes!

Yeah, definitely not worth it.

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Billy O'Reilly

Hey Chris. I do agree good sir. Keeping a steady income is empowering when it comes to your own creative work. Great advice! Good Job!

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Billy. Glad you enjoyed the article.

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Adelaida

You’re right – having a steady job will make it easier for an artist to price one’s works better. I’m at that stage now. But 8-4 job also takes a lot of energy out of a person :(

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Chris Oatley
Aaron

I completely agree! I’m a freelance illustrator just starting out. I’ve had that exact scenario happen to me a bunch of times! I had the strength to not get on board with bad clients!

I have a question about starting out as a freelance illustrator.
Does it help to get an art agent to gain exposure and break into the industry ? Or is it better to do it on your own?

Thanks,
-Aaron

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David Wilson

It would be difficult to get an agent without experience. They generally want to see a track record of consistency before bringing you into their stable of artists. My suggestion, do 3-5 pieces that are for “virtual projects” you would want to be hired to do. Have fun making them! If you want an agent, let them know about your project so they can see your progress.

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Chris Oatley

Thanks for the input, David!

Way to stay strong, Aaron! Keep us posted on how things develop for you.

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Aaron

Awesome advice!!! Thanks!

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Tess

It’s even harder when it’s your best friend that BigMac’s you. The friend has a great vision for stories and you can see it, almost taste it, it’s so good, and so you want to feature that illustration in your portfolio. But the friend is broke or has a min-wage job, so you can’t charge what you’d like. Then comes the nitpicky revisions and you’re spending far more time on it than you can afford. Next comes frustration and then resentment. It can damage a friendship for sure, so I decided to withdraw from the project. Friendship is still intact, but I don’t let my friends ‘use’ me like that anymore.

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Chris Oatley

Tess, yeah, it can get tricky working with friends. And it’s not really anyone’s fault. Some friendships can only handle work and some friendships can only handle play. The friendships that can support both work and play are rare. I’m lucky to have found several.

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Tegan Clancy

Freelancers must remember you are a business, and your creative mind is valuable to corporates! One of my favorite freelance gigs was a workshop where I had to draw quick sketch ideas for brainstorming, and it was one of the best paid jobs, I was even paid for my travel time! It was just marker sketches but they were paying for my creativity and saw value. The best client! If you quote a cheap job, you are not seeing your value!

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Chris Oatley

Right on, Tegan.

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Kira

I know exactly what you are talking about, this past winter I worked with a lawyer and it was pure torture. I had to try and illustrate the position at which his client fell on a job site. It was a long process and took a lot out of me. We had communication problems and it took forever to hear back from him. Ultimately they settled out of court and didn’t need my drawing. I got paid regardless, but it felt like I went through all that for nothing.

Thanks for giving this advice though, it’s always well thought and useful.

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Kira. I’m so glad you got paid! Suing a lawyer doesn’t sound very fun. ;)

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Jules Rivera

As abrasive as it sounds, whenever I run into a client who wants me to work for peanuts, I’m reminded of Mike Monteiro’s words (also an old gangster mantra) “F- You, pay me.”

I’ve worked very hard to build up my skill set. And I place value on my skill set and I refuse to be bothered with anyone who won’t value my skill set like I do. Doing art as a business means I have to be a mercenary about it to survive. I worked a lousy day job for a long time just so I can retain the power of ‘no.’ So whenever some approaches me with a low-ball, lousy offer, I am (conveniently) unavailable to take on the task. The key is to stick to your guns. Pleasantly, but stick.

I’d like to add something to your bad clients list: a client who pays you fairly, but is overly demanding and impossible to please. I’ve been following this one writer who’s running what looks like a successful independent comic. Currently, this writer’s artist has moved on to other work and said writer is looking for a replacement. Seems innocent enough and the page rate looks solid, but when you get beneath the surface is where things look rotten.

This writer constantly complains about not being able to find an artist good enough to replace the old one. More shockingly, this writer also publicly burned the last artist in a recent article. I had entertained the thought of submitting my portfolio for the project, but not after that. Publicly burning your old collaborators is highly unprofessional behavior and sends the awful message to future collaborators that they could be next. I refuse to work for low pay, but I also refuse to work for badgering and low respect. You all should take note.

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Annamarie

I think that’s good advice for ANY work, not only artists. Unless you’re really desperate to put food on the table or pay your bills, I think it’s important to remember that NO job is worth demeaning yourself or your work for. The kind of work you take reflects how professional and confident you are in yourself. You need to respect yourself so you can collaborate with people who will also respect you.

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Chris Oatley

Great points, Jules & Annamarie.

Jules – What was the “clue” that triggered your investigation? Was it just your Spidey-sense? Whatever the case, it sounds like we have another PW Guest post in the queue!

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Jules Rivera

If this sounds like a future PW post, go ahead and let me know. I’d be glad to put one together for you.

What set off my “Spidey-sense” as you put it was the negative tone in this writer’s voice. I first followed this writer on social networks because I was excited about his project and wanted to find out more. He had a very successful crowd source funding campaign (at least more success than I could ever hope to experience with my work), he had a lot of comics journalism coverage on his project, and he seemed to be taking off. However, I noticed a lot of his personal posts were really negative about what seemed to be a really great thing. I mean, we all have bad days, and we all vent publicly, but this was a LOT of negativity. (I’m not the most optimistic person, so if you hear me say someone’s being negative, that’s saying something).

More following of this guy lead me to the news that he was looking for a new artist (At this point, I was already leery about throwing my portfolio at him), which was another red flag to me. Artists don’t leave successful projects unless something else is going on. Sometimes, they just get poached by a bigger publisher, or sometimes they want to pursue other personal projects, so I was willing to give the situation the benefit of the doubt. My web developer moved on from supporting my website, but that was because she wanted to dedicate time to starting her own freelance web design business. I’m sad to see her go, but I’m really happy for her in her new successes. She’s super talented and I believe she’ll go far.

And then I read the article where the writer publicly burned his artist, pretty much insulting him and leaving no question in anyone’s minds this was not an amiable split. That pretty much confirmed my suspicions this writer was not someone I wanted to work with. Even if you don’t split on amiable terms with a collaborator, you don’t drag it out in public. Whatever quarrel you have with someone should be kept between you and the other party. There are exceptions to this rule, but unless they did something flat out unethical, illegal, or dangerous, don’t air your dirty laundry in public. Even then, if you want to keep someone from working with a bad employer, talk to them one on one.

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josh

I agree on all points! I think it’s very important to have a figure in mind for your hourly rate. I think it’s also quite important that you keep that number to yourself and don’t break a quote down into hours for a client. There’s nothing wrong with telling a client how long a job will take, but as soon as you being associating a rate with that I think you’ll open the door for trouble.

Just my two cents.

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Annamarie

Just wondering (because honestly I don’t have a clue myself), but what kind of trouble could come from telling people your hourly rate?

I’m assuming it sort of has to do with getting maybe a bit too specific, because the final price quote may be a bit more or less depending on the actual detail and difficulty of the commissioned work.

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David Wilson

I see no problem with letting people know my rates per hr. Most clients prefer a per project cost or there is a cap to how many hours will be spent on a project, since you could spend endless hours polishing

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Chris Oatley

I bill a flat rate for “finished” illustrations and highly-rendered VisDev paintings. I bill hourly for exploratory concept art and character design because there’s no clear deliverable for exploratory work.

Does that make sense?

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Annamarie

Yeah, that makes sense. I’ll keep that in mind, Chris, thanks. :)

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Shawna JC Tenney

Aaron (above)- I know from the experience of many of my friends that it is very hard to get an agent during this time. And a lot of agents won’t take you on until you have some published work under your belt. For most illustrators now days, you will probably need to at least start out on your own- finding clients you want to work for and sending them your work.

Chris- This is so empowering to artists. Why do we as artists think that we should give our art away for free or so little. Maybe somehow it roots back to childhood when everyone gave their drawings away. But we’re not kids anymore and we have much bigger skills. It’s sad and weird that the world thinks that way when we have worked just as hard (or harder!!) to learn our trade. All people who want to work with artists need to read this article. Maybe I’ll just send them here every time. :) Thanks for the awesomeness.

And thank you for opening my eyes to the non-profit organization thing. It is different than helping a charity. I think it is okay to help charities with your artwork sometimes. A few years back I participated in “Roberts Snow” which is where illustrators painted wooden snowflakes to sell for cancer research. That is a completely different thing entirely than a non-profit organization.

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Chris Oatley

Unsurprisingly, you’ve made many good points here, Shawna.

Like anyone who wants to give back through charity, NPO’s, gifts etc., we work to pay bills and stay out of debt so that we can AFFORD to give back as much as possible. If we’re burdened with debt or not making our rent or whatever, it’ll be really difficult to find the time or resource to give.

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Andy

I recommend the 3rd way – quit your job and move back in with parents. Full time jobs DESTROY creativity and energy. I myself had tried that on and off and you just pass your life with very little to show for it – day work and night work.

Then, yes, do kick-ass portfolio work instead of low paid client work.

Then try to get a full time illustration type job and you have the best of both worlds! (with the aim of using that job to build up a client base/better portfolio)

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Annamarie

Agreed! My parents are really awesome and have told me that if I need to move back in after college, that is perfectly fine. Considering how the economy is right now, moving in with your parents right after college even IF you have a full-time job or part-time job is really smart, because it enables you to save money and plan your future (whatever it is you want to do) with one less worry on your plate.

The stigma of moving back with your parents being “lame” or somehow “shameful” is, honestly, really stupid. I mean, lazy freeloaders are one thing, but if you’re an honest worker, then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it until your financial and creative situation is more dependable and supportive.

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Chris Oatley

Yeah, I don’t think of familial support as being lame at all. There’s a big difference in freeloading and helping your family through a difficult season of life.

Not everyone has parents they can move in with or a lifestyle where that would work. But if you’re doing it to move FORWARD in life instead of just avoid life, go for it.

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Annamarie

Even as a young artist just starting to offer commissions, I’ve already run into this. I’ve sort of had to force myself to start thinking about my art in terms of what it is worth and that I can’t just draw free stuff for people anymore. I’ve had friends ask me if I can draw them something, and I have to remind myself to respond yes, but not for free. If they’re not willing to pay, I’m can’t draw for them. I’m a people-pleaser by nature, so this is actually really hard for me, but I know it’s good for my growing identity as an artist whose art is more than just a hobby.

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Chris Oatley

Yeah, Annamarie. If there’s a whiff of no-pay or low-pay in the air during a conversation with a potential client, I tell them that we’ll talk details after I send them a quote for the job. That usually clears everything right up.

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Rogerio Caetano

Great artcile, Chris! There are a bunch of McProfessionals all around the world. I want to ask if I could translation this article to portuguese and post in my site if you allowed me. Sure, give you the credits.

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Rogerio! I actually have a long-term Portuguese Plan! Email me and let’s talk!

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Scott Wiser

I don’t even go near these bad clients. A few months ago, I was offered 500 to animate on a month long project. I really considered it, but I realized the work wouldn’t enhance my reel as much as my personal projects. And I’d probably have to do overtime because he was asking for a wopping 45 seconds. I politely said no.

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Chris Oatley

You sure saved yourself some sanity there, Scott. ;)

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Winnie

I really enjoyed your article. I know from personal experience that some people will try to take advantage of my love for my craft and I had to put an end to it. I do it firmly, with a smile. I make cards and was actually asked why I quoted $5 a piece (I think that was a fair price at the time) and she offered me a dollar a piece. Now, when someone says things like that, I tell them I can’t help them, but they have cards for that price at Walmart or Dollar Tree. Thanks for the reminder!

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Chris Oatley

Yeah, Winnie. I think you’re right on. You can change the conversation by directing them somewhere they CAN find what they are looking for at the price they want. That way, things feel a little more positive than just telling them: “You must be crazy.” ;)

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Laurie

This is good! It’s becoming a very prevalent problem. Unfortunately, many of the illustrators you refer to are from India or such areas. This week was, oh, the 250th time I have been undercut by an artist in India who was willing to do the same amount and quality of work for 1/4 – 1/10th the price! Why? Because they can live on that amount. Screw charging what you’re worth when you can undercut everyone else in the industry, right?

I’m a comic book inker and colorist. I was recently offered 40$ PER COMPLETED PAGE (pencils, inks, and colors). I told the guy that I normally get paid 85$ per page just to INK it. I asked him if he realized how long it took to complete an entire pencilled, inked, and colored page. His reply:

He told me that he had illustrators working for him right now that could complete an entire page in 3 hours and accept 40$ per page. I told him that he was very lucky he had illustrators willing to work for slave wages and mentioned the India thing to him. He was happy to admit that 90% of his artists were from India.

Sad, huh?

So I’m out of work for another couple of weeks because I’m not willing to work for 2$-5$ per hour. Fabulous.

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Chris Oatley

Yeah, Laurie, it’s a problem. But it’s not the end of the world and it’s not the end of your career. You might need to re-think your business though. …which is wise for any service provider to do regularly.

So you have to figure out what sets you apart from the artists who are undercutting you and focus on perfecting and marketing that skill or skill set.

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Alyse S.

Thanks for another post full of sage advice! :) It’s always super tempting to go after whatever you can find, but as you said, in the end it’s almost never worth it because you produce work you (probably) don’t like in a quality that isn’t a good representative of your talent.

Unfortunately, I see a lot of these McIllustrators on sites like LinkedIn, and it’s really discouraging because not only are they supporting the low wage offers, but they oftentimes have years of experience. It makes it impossible for anyone just starting out when all the competition is offering McIllustrator prices and these track records. Quite a downer.

But this article definitely was not a downer. Thanks a lot for advice!! :)

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Chris Oatley

Right, but they’re killing themselves for the short-term gain of getting the Big Mac gigs.

That’s no way to live. You’re WAY smarter than that.

You’ll figure it out.

And I don’t mean that in a shallow way. I mean, you, Alyse, personally – I really believe you will figure it out.

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Jennifer Bower

I am still working my day job and patiently working on building a strong portfolio. My first time on this site. Love it! I am a new subscriber and fan. Thank you.

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Chris Oatley

Thank YOU, Jennifer! Welcome!

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Chucky

There are a lot of people who don’t understand art. They think that art magically appears, a sort of god given taken that no one homes or practices. As a result, they assume you wave a magic pencil over some paper and pictures appear. No sweat, no effort.
People pay you what they think your worth, if they think art is disposable they will offer you trashman wages (even less). Most times you will have to educate the potential client, ask for one third up front. Most professionals understand this system, if they resist DROP THEM ASAP.
If you dont know what to charge a client, use the hourly rate from your day job. Ask the client what thier budget is, if they say $50 and you make $10 an hour can you do what they ask in 5hrs? If not, walk away! I promise you it will save you so much stress in the long run.

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Chucky. I actually had a whole section on estimating the time the job will take but I cut it out for clarity. I made it into a draft for a future post. Thanks for the insight.

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Annamarie

That’s some really good advice, Chucky! I’ve always had problems figuring out what I should charge per hour, so your advice should help me. Thanks! :D

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Jen

That’s really clear and helpful! I shall try to practice that idea! People keep asking me for work and offering peanuts to nothing, because they think it doesn’t take any effort or time.

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SugarSnail

Great lesson Chris. I recently had an unpleasant experience with a client that disappeared. At first we agreed on a price because his offer was too low and he was ok with my proposal. I started working, him giving me the reference was needed and guides that were necessary to do the requested illustration. I finished the piece and sent him a low resolution screenshot saying that he will receive the finished piece after paying, unfortunately he was gone! I worked my hours, he approved the sketch and I thought it was ok but to my surprise I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth. What can I do in the future to assure my success and to avoid without getting framed?

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Chris Oatley

To avoid this, I require payment in installments. One third at the beginning. The second third after delivery of comps and the final installment after the final. Having to pay one third up-front scares off most bad clients. Again, money is the best way to figure out if someone is serious or not.

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Jande

Excellent article, Chris (as usual)! I really appreciate getting the notifications in my mailbox these days. :`)
Also as usual, the comments from people here are as engaging as the original post. Also kudos to Jules Rivera for bringing up in her comment the hard to please, badgering, disrespectful clients. Well said!
Here’s my take: Charge a by-the-project fee which includes two revisions, add to that cancellation and postponement* fees (*some clients will ask you to put a hold on the work and never get back to you, or, do get back after a long period after which you have to refresh your memory of where you were going with the project.), and then any further revisions are billed as a hourly fee.

As far as charging competitively goes, there will always be someone who is desperate enough to undercut others. I know this because I’ve been there. And because I’ve been there I wish them all the work they can get at any price. I don’t feel threatened by them, I feel empowered because my work is my own. Only I can give them my work. If they want my unique insight, experience, and artistic approach then they pay me what we both think it’s worth. If they want just a pretty picture then I beg them to find someone who needs the job, or as you pointed out above, stock-illustrations.

I will even rarely do work in exchange for products (like bound paper books of graphic novels for instance) or for causes/charities whose good works I wholeheartedly support, or guest art just for the fun of it. I feel in those cases that I’m paying myself for the work I do for them.

Remember the (urban legend?) story about Picasso shocking a woman for whom he’d just made a quick portrait sketch in about five seconds by charging her $5,000.00? “For five seconds of work, sir?!” He replied, “Madame, it took me my entire lifetime.” Never sell yourself short if you can help it.

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Chris Oatley

Great points.

And that’s a great tip about going hourly after the second set of changes.

Thanks, Jande!

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Niki

I love this article! It is so timely for me. Right now I’m at a cross roads as I am struggling to accept the low prices other artists are selling their work and prints for.
What do you do when others in the same niche are selling so low?

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Chris Oatley

Hi, Niki.

I think you should charge as much as people will pay. You need to set a price that is fair to both you and your fans. That’s what “fair” means, after all.

You’re right. Many artists don’t charge much at all but if you’re just starting out I think you need to charge the fair price. Not the undercutter’s price. You are building a business for the long term and although you will likely raise your prices over time, you need to get your fans used to the fair price and not the Big Mac prices.

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Niki

Thanks Chris, I want to get back to creating more originals which my fans don’t seem to be able to afford so maybe it’s time for some changes.
Tough to decide what to do.
Thanks.

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Chris Oatley

Keep us posted. Have you checked out Paper Wings? That site is a little more comic-focused and we have a lot more “business” stuff on the way…

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Niki

I will thanks Chris. Yes I am a fellow winger :-) Thanks for providing such great articles and podcasts.

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The Pencilneck

Art is SUPPOSED to be expensive!

Two big problems artists have are:
1) They don’t have a predetermined price in their heads so they end up winging it or shuffling their feet and saying things like “I dunno, what do you think?”. You need to have ut a little thought into it in advance, so when a client makes an inquiry they have a firm and authoritative answer at hand.

2) They can’t justify spending “that kind” of money on art, so they feel queasy about charging for it! I currently get over $12,000 for one of my original drawings, but I sure don’t have any $12,000 art on my walls…and I’m okay with that.

Remember: You are not your client.

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David R. Vallejo

Yeah! Preach it, brother!

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Chris Oatley

Wow, Owen. I just visited your site and I think it put a permanent smile on my face. So awesome. Just followed you on Twitter too.

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The Pencilneck

Thanks Chris! Nice of you to say!

On the same topic – and yes, I’m aware that I’m bragging a little :) I closed a commish deal today for $37,000, 50% non-refundable deposit upfront. We have some definite rules about how things work around here: there’s no client “pop-ins to see how it’s going”, no looking over my shoulder, etc. the clients sign off on a low res photoshop mock up of what they’re getting (I work in pencil, being a touch colorblind) so there’s no changes once I start drawing.

Looking at what I just wrote, it sounds a little harsh and snooty, but this is for the client’s ultimate satisfaction. It’s perfectly natural for them to WANT to see how things progress; they’ve likely never done anything like this and are kind of excited about the whole thing…but it’s folly to let them!

How I explain it is “It’s kind of like having a special birthday cake made; everyone’s champing at the bit and is excited to see what we come up with, and that’s great! However, if you open the oven door after 10 minutes, stick your finger in the cake and have a taste…well, you’re going to be disappointed. ‘I thought it would be something, I dunno…different.’

It colors their whole experience, doesn’t it?

Everyone’s happiest if you can let the cake do its thing, cool properly, let’s get the icing on, light the candles and start singing!”

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Rafael Rivera

Great article Chris. I have been preaching this for years, both in my freelance work and my work as a tattoo artist. Tattooing is super infected with cut throat artist in kahoots with bad clients:(

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Chris Oatley

Hmmm… Bargain Basement Tattoos? Sounds dangerous. Hang in there, Rafael and find every incentive to go with you over the cutthroats and make that very clear to your market.

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David R. Vallejo

Wow, good article! I’ve had the experience of working for very little and it’s not a good experience. Now I stick to my guns and if the what I quote is too much for the potential client, then that is that.
I am so thankful that my wife works full time and allows me to work at building my business. It would be very difficult to do it without her. So, like her, I really try to have people in my life that encourage me to be my best. That makes all the difference, and believe it or not, it often brings in the good clients.

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Niki

That is really encouraging, thanks David.

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Chris Oatley

Yeah, I have no idea what I’d do without my wife’s constant support. Amazing. Thanks for sharing, David.

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Cross

There’s this food truck in Jersey City called The Cinnamon Snail that offers vegan cuisine on a level that I’ve never tasted before. I’m not vegan but the food is so good and well thought out that you never mind it.
Recently, they sent out a newsletter about hope they’d we’re expanding their business by doing wedding cakes. I’ve tasted their pasties so I know the cake would be on point.
They had a client that took their offer. They negotiated pricing and agreed on the terms. On the day of the reception and the wedding, (and I wish I had pics of this cake) the gorgeous cake was wheeled in and all set up and the people in the reception were floored. When the groom and the bride came in, they saw the cake and went to their seats. When the husband and wife team of The Connamon Snail came to the new couple for their payment to meet another prospective client, the groom said to them that he wasn’t paying because he didn’t like the look of the cake and that it wasn’t what he asked for. This is a lie , of course, and he and his wife only said this in my opinion to get out of paying for the cake. And was willing to make a scene enough to embarrass the owners of that food truck to make his point. Instead of just taking the cake with them, which is what I would have done, because no pay means no cake even if the congregation of people at the reception were present, The food truck owners relented…. Let them have the cake and decided tha they were not doing cakes anymore and then changed their minds…. When they put that moment in their blog, they had a tidal wave of support and were a whole lot nicer about it than I would have been. In the future, great clients get the master sweet, the bad clients get box cake (Duncan Hines) in the form of master sweet. :)

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Chris Oatley

Wow. That is really upsetting. I hope they give it another shot.

And I would have done the same. No pay, no cake.

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Karen G

I make cards as a hobby, not a living. I sell my very simple cards for $1.00 each. Why? because I tried selling them for $2 for over 4 months, and no one bought a single card. I dropped the price to $1.00, and voila, I am selling enough to cover my table and extra at the last 4 craft fairs I’ve been at. However, I made the decision if I were to sell for $1.00 per card, my supplies were NOT to exceed $0.35.. so inexpensive, but decent cardstock for bases, a simple die cut or stamped image (I often die cut from scraps or use Kleenex boxes, so no cost there) and one ink for a simple sentiment. Yes, I’ve been told I should sell for more, but the truth of the matter is, the area that I’m in, is dollar store cards are king. I have no vehicle to take my stuff elsewhere to sell for more, but I am happy that people are willing to pay $1.00 for a card. I am still making about 100% profit on my supplies. As a crafter, I don’t charge for time, and besides, with very simple cards, a card is often under 10 minutes. I’d love some feedback on this :)

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Niki

Karen your rose cards and the butterfly ones are stunning.! I would pay more than $2 each for those.

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Chris Oatley

Karen, that sounds like a smart business you’re running. Way to go and good luck!

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Cris

@KarenG

Honestly? What you’re describing is the big difference between a hobbyist and someone who decides to do it for a living. If you opted to do it for a living, your approach would probably be very different, by necessity. You’re smart to keep your materials and time spent to a bare-bones minimum. It sounds like enjoyment is your primary goal, and in that respect, you’re succeeding beautifully! And your cards are quite sweet. :D

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Colleen

Crafters shouldn’t charge for time? Why not? You may not be working with oil paints, but you’re still making beautiful things that people want. Even people making assembly-line widgets for Wal-Mart get paid for their time!

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Jim

I have learned to sniff out the cheap clients early on. The price is something I find out with the first contact, that and deadline as well as details of the illustration. I can’t agree with you more that people need to reject these clients, if everyone boycotted them they would have to pay more realistic prices.

By the way, you will get a kick out of my website name, “Mcillustrator.com”… it is not because I’m a “Mcillustrator” but because my last name, McHugh. It’s a nickname my friends gave me! I like to think that people don’t associate the name with McDonalds, they did not invent “Mc”- it was around long before the golden arches. I am anti-McDonalds and everything that company has done to not only destroy the farms of our country but increase the obesity rate of people and like-minded corporations. If it’s fast and cheap it can not be good- it is The Designers Holy Triangle.

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Chris Oatley

Right there with you, Jim. Hilarious about the URL!

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Sly Eagle

One of the weird things I’ve run into is pressure from other artists to keep your prices low…so that they can afford them. And on top of that, most people who have commissioned me HAVE been other artists. I don’t quite understand it. I mean, if I want a piece of art…I make it. Why would I pay someone else to do something I can do myself?

But yeah, the McProfessionals definitely breed bad clients. If I had a nickle for every potential client who couldn’t understand why I was asking $100 for a fully realized and shaded graphite drawing because the guy at the table next to me was doing $5 sketches I wouldn’t need to take commissions at all.

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Annamarie

Being an artist that -has- commissioned others, I think there’s a multitude of reasons. The most forefront one I can think of is that I honestly love that person’s art and want to see something of mine drawn in their style. I love seeing other artists spinning their own ideas onto my characters (which is typically what I commission). But I definitely don’t ask them to lower their prices for me!

If you want someone’s art that badly, then you should be willing to pay their prices (which are more than likely fair).

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Keisha Okafor

I definitely have the problem of being a McProfessional! I have been getting asked by friends, family, or friends of friends to make logos for them. I never know what to charge and feel bad for asking for too much. I am also still a student so I don’t know if that goes into account of how much to charge.

This actually happened very recently. I made a logo for someone and got paid $40 for it, but I spent more time on it than expected, and they may use more than one logo. Now I am thinking that $40 was too cheap.

What is a good amount for an hourly rate? Especially if you are fairly new, or a student?

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Chris Oatley

Keisha – your hourly rate should be calculated in consideration of:

1.) The market value for someone at your level of expertise.
2.) Your level of skill.

In honest evaluation of both of those things, charge as much as good clients will pay you and raise your rate as you gain expertise without pricing yourself out of the market. (Unless there’s a higher market to jump into.)

Generally speaking, keep the price fair for everyone (including you) and you’ll do well.

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Chris Oatley

Oh, and just to be clear – I wouldn’t even worry about who is or isn’t a student. Student status is irrelevant. It’s expertise that people pay for. Good artists are, by nature, lifetime learners – lifetime students.

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Kevin Tan

I couldn’t agree more Chris. I’ve learned this lesson over and over again and even though I avoid it most of the time, sometimes the artist panic gets over you and you accept some low paying gig to calm you down a bit.

The big thing I learned about it though is that you are actually sacrificing your chance to land a big gig when you accept a small gig, like when you are already working on the small gig, another great project comes by and you can’t accept it or worse, you do those two projects at the same time, and both of them got done shabbily due to the pressure. So the big gig client won’t return, you’re so stressed out, and nobody is happy.

Patience is the key, and keep making stuff to attract clients. Better work will attract better clients. Anyway, love what you’re doing here Chris, keep up the awesome work!

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Chris Oatley

You nailed it, Kevin.

Nailed it.

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Aviaq

Ahaha oh wow. I wish I had listened to this advice a while back. People have constantly been asking me to do art for incredibly low prices. :C

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Chris Oatley

Stay strong, Aviaq! ;)

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Cris

My husband has been preaching this to me for years, and I never really got it until I bit the bullet and ‘fired’ my McClients. Lovely folks, all, but they wouldn’t pay for beans. I began to work fewer but better jobs, and have been getting far better exposure than I ever would have working the cheaper jobs.

Great article, Chris.

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Chris Oatley

…and MUCH less stress, I’m assuming? ;)

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Perry

Hi Chris,

Great Article, I really enjoyed reading it . I was expressing the same thoughts just recently. It’s a shame artist don’t get the respect we deserve for all the hard work we do. Your article highlights the very traps we all need to avoid , it’s to bad they don’t get teach this in school. Thanks again Chris and keep up the great work.

Stay Fresh ,
Perry

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Perry! Hopefully, word will get out and more schools will start teaching this.

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Fransisca

You don’t know how many Bad Client in my country, Chris.
Its kinda sadden me, mostly client in my country still not appreciate artist, every artist job like even something like Graphic Design.
So that why we seek outside job, and some of us got trapped in Bad Client to survived. We getting “killed” in our own country :(

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Chris Oatley

Fransisca, well, look on the bright side. You’re a creative person and you can just rely more on your creativity to overcome that challenge. Focus on building a stellar portfolio and a website and you’re no longer limited to your own country. Stay strong.

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Zeech

Quote them an astronomical price and move on.

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Chris Oatley

I’ve done that before. It might be quicker just to cut the astronomical price and just get right to the moving on. ;)

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john

Thanks for this! I have a question how much will i charge people who wants to pay per illustration and how much will i charge people who wants to be charge on a hour rate. Because i’m just a newbie about freelance illustration work. I’m also curious how does hour rate work if your client doesn’t really record your time doing the job.

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Chris Oatley

Hi, John. I’m re-posting my response to Keisha since she had a similar question (above).

Your hourly rate should be calculated in consideration of:

1.) The market value for someone at your level of expertise.
2.) Your level of skill.

In honest evaluation of both of those things, charge as much as good clients will pay you and raise your rate as you gain expertise without pricing yourself out of the market. (Unless there’s a higher market to jump into.)

Generally speaking, keep the price fair for everyone (including you) and you’ll do well.

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Nick

I know it’s tempting to consider jobs on these sites but i really think that the only way to deal with them is to not entertain them. Then hopefully they will all shrivel up and die. You need to pretend that this sector does not exist.
If you are truly a great illustrator, concept artist or comic artist you don’t need them.
There’s only one real route to work and that’s to create a portfolio and get a job at a proper studio. This is the only real way to make sure you get paid properly and get treated like a professional by professionals.
It may take a while to create the portfolio but eventually if you have the talent it will get you a job. If you combine your talent with useful info available on the net from cool people like Chris you will win in the end.
There are also alternate routes to acheiving goals such as learning 3d and becoming a modeller on games. Once on this career path it is possible to switch to concept artist etc if thats where your strengths lie. Many concept artists start out as modellers as there are more positions available at a junior level.
Also when negotiating salary or an hourly rate if you are asking too much they will tell you what they can offer you but if you ask too little they won’t say they will pay you more.
Doing Mcjobs will not get you a foot in the door anywhere.

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Jules Rivera

Doing Mcjobs will not get you a foot in the door anywhere.

This. Sadly, this.

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Chris Oatley

Yeah. Great stuff, Nick!

Bullseye.

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David Szilagyi

Anyone else have the clandestine moment of just saying screw it, doing ridiculous artwork that you love to do, and getting more recognition out of that than the “portfolio-y” work you spend weeks on?

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Nick

I’m not sure about ridiculus artwork but i just did the artwork i wanted to do and put that in my portfolio and thats what got me my current job, so it does pay to do what you love to do. I think Chris has said this previously.

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Eric

I did the same thing right out of college. A bi coastal company got me to come up with two totally different logos in several different color schemes, all for the McStupid price of $100. Of course, there were promises to send more work my way (none has ever come). When I looked at the Ethical and Pricing Guidelines, they suggested various prices depending on the company reach, but I should have charged at least $1000 for my services.
Today, I’m burdened by outrageous student loan debt, working an entry level day job that exhausts me. I’m far too old to move back in with my mom until the economy improves. I’ve made several poor decisions that haven’t paid off in any way, but the one thing I know I can control is the price for which I sell my art. I’m willing to hold onto it instead of giving it away.

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Chris Oatley

And that pride counts for a LOT, Eric. Stay strong. That’s inspiring.

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Jen

Eric I am in the same predicament. I have the soul-sucking day job and I’m too old (and attached) to move back home. I have a mortgage to pay, a spouse to back up, and a household to maintain. It can be hard.
There are days where I have to remind him that this art stuff is work and that he should allow me time to do work. Often I get dragged out of the house to run errands, shop, shovel the walk, help fix appliances, do the dishes, keep the place tidy, etc.
Plus, my spouse is self-employed. While his income is greater than mine, it isn’t as steady. Sometimes there are slow spots in the calendar. He gets uncomfortable when I talk about becoming a freelance artist. And, since he is a fitness professional and not an artist, he doesn’t fully understand everything I try to tell him about the field. He does his best to encourage me, but sometimes I feel like I’m very much on my own. I have to learn my own stuff, study, and practice on my own. When I try to sit down to do art, it’s always met with, “you can do that later, we have important stuff to do”, and so my monitor stares at me from down the hall, saying “you promised”. :(

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Claudio Curvelo

Hey Chris, I am from Brazil and I love your articles.

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Chris Oatley

Thank you, Claudio!
I LOVE the artists of Brazil!

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David Szilagyi

Client’s are like girlfriends. Get the boundaries set fast, and call them out when they’re crossed. Dat legally binding contract, so good.

Mmmmmm god and there’s seriously nothing better than telling a horribad client “You have three options, we do it my way and we’re done, we do it your way and you pay me double, or I walk.”

More importantly though, awesome clients are just awesome by comparison. But everyone knows that :D

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Chris Oatley

I’ve been fortunate enough to have many awesome clients. I am so grateful for them…

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Kevin Cameron

Part of my own personal conflict in this matter is the only ones who even consider me are the ones offering McIllustrator prices. Combined with the fact that the day job just barely keeps me afloat (and sometimes not even that), I don’t know how else to cope.

It’s either, do this low paying job, or do nothing and maybe not have the gas money to get to the 9-5. Not to mention that the prospect of growing my business in terms of going to conventions, self-publishing, getting better hardware/supplies is all costs that I can’t even meet, save for, or anticipate.

So sometimes it does feel desperate…but that’s because the best situation I find myself in is someone offering McIllustration work. It’s that or nothing, and that’s the best experience I’ve had in the past 3 years. If there’s a way around it, I know I’ll find it. Yet I don’t feel much closer today than I did when my work ended up this way.

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Chris Oatley

You’re so good, KC. Your work is awesome. Hang in there.

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Thanks for this Chris!!!

Whoa…It has been a while since I sat down and actually looked at the situation/numbers this way. I have been burying myself in personal projects and forgotten about how I was charing for my freelance.

I havent done a huge amount of it but when I do, its mostly on either a “portfolio/networking/no pay” bases or a bartering one. I am more than happy to trade value for value but I am getting to the point where the dollar is needed more than the item. I have dreams of paying off my school loans (sitting at around $42,000 right now) and then hitting the industry hard to improve my family situations and our potentials for an even more awesome life.

I am currently in that battle of trying to build up to a new job transition into a different company but still as a designer, just one with more growth potential. The wall I am facing is figuring out how I can price myself to make the profit I need without pricing myself into “replaceable” status. I want to be a value they are willing to pay for. Its just that in a society with a “WalMart” mentality, its hard to push a profitable value.

Great stuff to think of! Thanks again!

Dutz!

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Chris Oatley

You are anything but a creative Wal-Mart, Derrick Utz.

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Thanks Chris, i am really working hard to be more of an individual and valuable in that respect too. Thank you so much for helping me become more in so many ways.

Much love to ya

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Nate Hallinan

Great article Chris,

I’m personally going through a bit of a rough patch and it was nice to read this as a reminder. I’ve recently made the move to California to find some ‘more stable’ work and staying with some very generous extended family. On top of the search, I’m doing freelance work to stay afloat and help pay bills with my wife back home. I need to make money and it can be hard to turn away when it’s staring you in the face but doing so not only benefits me in the long run, it benefits everyone else too.

Thanks again,

Nate

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Nate. I have a couple of friends in a similar situation. Their hard work and focus has really started to pay off for both of them. Good luck!

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Kenton Sweckard

Hey Chris,

One of the best articles I have seen in a while ! We have a freelance artist group on Facebook and blog we just started to go along with it. I found your article off of Mike Dunhams page he has great stuff as always and this is just another place he has helped me find that is awesome ! Consider your site bookmarked and made to a regular read off just one single post ! I am hooked, and if I was a fish I gulped it down sinker and all ! People just do not get the time and effort that a good artist puts into the work they create. My mother was a promoter of art shows and festivals for years … I grew up around and lived in the art world. People often just do not get that even though artists have talent it was developed just as any other skill. You have more then just one skill as you are a great writer as well, this was a great read!

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ChrisOatley

Thank you so much, Kenton. I really appreciate your kind words. So glad you’ve found the site useful and inspiring. Much more to come!

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Kenton Sweckard

Chris,
Ohh yeah forgot to say and I know that you have mentioned it even though not here in this article I bet money you have in another …. I do not care if the client is the queen of England … I will never ever do a job cheap to get more jobs later if you do one for next to nothing … why would a client pay more next time ? Sites like 99 d I will not finish that name because they do not need the advertisement. It is a boon to our industry … It is as you said mccheap is just a person looking for something for nothing. I have seen many of the freelance sites where the clients are telling the artists to design and item and they will give the full job to the best of all the people bidding … nothing makes me madder because there is 10 to 20 people going along with it … They need to tell these people to look at my portfolio and either you want o use me or you do not.

Linking to you and sharing this article with my groups and freelance artists pages bro ! You Rock !

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ChrisOatley

Thank you so much for the links and word of mouth, Kenton. Links and social shares are the lifeblood of my site.

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Jet

A McIllustrator Client website should see the live e.g. http://www.mcillustratorclients.com (still available). A site where each registered illustrator can list all clients that dare to ask to work for very low rates or free. Guidelines for illustrator fees per country per task (concept, illustrative, books, comics, etc…).

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ChrisOatley

Well, not all clients who offer low pay are bad clients. Some of them just don’t understand and they’ll be happy to pay what you’re worth after they understand. Hence, the “enlightenment” statement in the article above.

The fastest way to expose a bad client is to talk money. All you have to do is have that conversation with them. The good clients who simply don’t know what to offer will work with you. The bad clients just get weird.

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Sean Nicholes

HI! id like to focus my input here on something you know well-concept art. I was like most conceptors totally naive about it until i landed an “intern” position at a small studio a few states over. It was so thrilling to be in the place i had dreamed of for so long while working at gamestop, now i was making games! After some time i realized of course the truth behind the veil. People were rude, and acted like they were extremely important and busy, yet they still maintained the idea of an “indy” studio, and if theyre so busy, why didnt their work get done? I felt like i was living in the movie Grandmas boy. On a side note i have eschewed my bills and social life to move in w my grandma to learn more on art. So after a bit of investigating after multiple complaints from the programmers bout work not getting done ( i did mine, even beta tested too) i found most of the team were just lazy even wanting me to represent them at conventions and do work there and with crowdfunder, but wouldnt give me a team member status? This is where the Bad client is finally revealed: The whole studio is un-funded depending on interns to do the work and the team members getting paid. The crowdfunder incident caused me to write a “why arent interns listed as team members, im under (VERY tight) contract” e-mail that threw everyones status into question and gave me some very nasty e-mails at which point i quit. I felt this incident was important to mention for the fact that interns often get a job from their internship, but very often they dont. I didnt learn one thing about art from my internship. I only learned that i do NOT want to make video games. Ive seen the ugly truth behind the making AND sale (Gamestop is an awful place to work, and my god their ripping you off) of them.

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ChrisOatley

So sorry to hear about this, Sean.

Thank you for sharing.

Yes, it is so important to do a “background check” on a studio before we go to work for them. That’s not always possible (with upstarts etc.) but still – gather as much information as possible. If they are secretive or have covered their tracks in the past, it’s likely they are hiding something…

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Kendall

I’ve had the BigMac problem with family multiple times. I spent half of a Christmas vacation doing a children’s book for my sister on behalf of my dad who wrote it and asked me to do 15 pages of illustration… for free. I didn’t leave the house for days so I could get it done in a week’s time. Guess what ended up on the floor on Christmas Eve after about a 5 minute read through? Yeah, my book.
Instead of “Do it for free because you love me,” now it’s “Pay me the honest cost because you want me to afford groceries.”

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Chris Oatley

Yeah, Kendall.

The “art for family” scenario is different for every artist.

But I think clear boundaries are absolutely necessary in any situation where family and profession intersect.

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Emily

Such a great post Chris. This is very applicable in the music business. So many Venues expect musicians to play for pennies (or for free). I find that saying no to the bad clients, let’s me focus my time and attention to the good ones…. (They’re out there!)

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Chris Oatley

Exactly, Emily. In most of those situations you’d probably be better off writing songs or rehearsing…

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Ange

Hi! This is is a wonderful post, but I have my concerns. What happens when a family member comes to you with a project they want illustrated? My Aunt came to me with a idea for a children’s book, but she expected me to do it for free; whats frustrating is that my family will pull the “We’re your family” card, which automatically means I /should/ do it. Should artists work for free for family members? If not how do you suggest telling family members that you can’t work for free? How can artists make others learn that art is a long process and can’t be done just on a whim? Thanks, I hope I didn’t ask too much of you!

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ChrisOatley

Hi, Ange. Yeah, that’s tough. I do illustrations as gifts for friends and family but that’s not quite the same as having a friend or family member come to me and demand something for free. I’ve never had that happen.

But if I were you, I would just politely explain that for one, that’s not how the children’s publishing industry works. Step one is selling the manuscript to a publisher and THEY are the ones who will pick the illustrator. You can check out Dani Jones’ site for some more insight about that. Of course, she might have it in mind to self-publish in which case, this point is moot.

If she thinks she’s going to self-publish then you can just explain that you simply can’t take the job because it will leave no time for you to actually pay the bills. Children’s books are incredibly time-consuming. Many take a year or more to finish. So the problem is really that she doesn’t understand how much she’s actually asking of you.

I always ask the person how they would feel if I asked them to do their job for free for that amount of time. In this case, a year. What would your aunt think about doing her job for an entire year for free?

Hope that helps!

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Ange

Thank you so much for replying to me! And for teaching me a little bit about how children books work. I’m derailing from the topic, but do publishers ALWAYS pick an artist for someone for a manuscript?

I think what is also frustrating is that my Mom also chimes in without understanding how art really works. I want them to be proud of me, but at the same time, I can’t just simply dish out silly drawings for everyone, especially when I’m also working and going to school… I’ve tried to explain it to them from that perspective but it doesn’t really work.

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Chris Oatley

Hey, Ange. I refer all artists with questions about children’s books to my friend Dani Jones at http://danidraws.com

Dani is amazing and she has some great resources about how that whole industry works.

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Nat Alt

Chris this is a really nice, concise capture of the general sentiment surrounding illustration pricing/value.

I would just add that there are a good number of illustrators/designers who quote on a job-by-job basis, especially when they start out, and I think it’s a huge mistake and can lead to taking on bad clients. If you take care to calculate your daily/hourly rate and keep a basic accounts spreadsheet you’ll soon see why those jobs aren’t worth it. Then you can quote jobs professionally and matter-of-factly instead of plucking a number out of the air. Sometimes it’s not what you quote but the confidence with which you quote that can be the difference between an acceptance and a long, boring conversation about why x costs y.

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Chris Oatley

That is a GREAT tip, Nat! Thanks!

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Bryan D.

Thank you! Some of your comments, Chris, were straight out of my head. I was starting to wonder if I was starting to go crazy or if I was just getting a little pompous with payment.

I’ve been freelance storyboarding for the last year or so, and man, talk about the wealth of frustrating clients. You hit the nail on the head. Now I’ve had some good work with good clients that pay my (usually quite reasonable) rate, and so I know what it’s like to get fair pay for fair work. Typically a week’s worth of week equating out to around 1K.

Not even accounting for all the free and $25 dollar job offers I’ve gotten, I’ve even had a legitimate studio ask for something like 40-50 B&W boards with a 48hr turnaround, and 2 revisions included, all for the price of $150. It was at least a solid day’s work, maybe two, and it was basically minimum wage they were offering.

Drives me nuts sometimes, and I always feel weird saying “No”, but I would much rather spend my time working on my own projects then stress myself for peanuts.

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Reynante M. Martinez

I remember around 4 or 5 years ago where I worked ‘desperately’ just to have a constant source of ‘freelance income’, I had to accept almost ANY offer, regardless of how puny and little the pay was. It was the experience-gaining momentum I was really after, but after a while, I eventually became too desperate and stressed that the quality of my work and my personality as an artist suffered.

I even had a book illustration gig once, did almost 5 books if I can remember it right, and NEVER got paid in the end! That was one big mistake on my part to give all the final output without negotiating with down-payments and what not. At least I learned my lesson.

I’m glad I have a steady job now, so far, but always willing on trekking new and greener opportunities.

Thank you so much for sharing, Chris! :)

-Reyn

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leo

What is your opinion on fiverr.?

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josh l

Avoid it at all costs. If you are doing work on fiverr, you are undercutting real professionals and giving potential clients the false impression that artists should be paid less than minimum wage.

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Kevin Cameron

This one is an oldie & goodie – glad you post it time to time to remind us about standing by principle, understanding our worth, and knowing when (and how) to say no if it comes to it.

Although there was one thing that interests me – right now my freelance is the only form of income. I understand the notion of holding a day job so you can say no to bad offers. However good offers also have catches. For example, what I’m doing now, while there is no set space of time, there is a chunk of time (X hours per week) needed to get work done. I’ve also experienced stricter time demands in the past – clients who need you to be in their place of business, during their hours, etc. These jobs, at least in my experience, were decent in pay and only as demanding as any other gig.

So what I’m still sussing out is the juggle between having the availability for those kind of jobs, vs. a steady paycheck that closes me out of those kinds of opportunities. Any kind of experience you folks have with that conundrum would be great to hear.

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Andy Bauer

This article is timely in my life. I needed this right now. I do value my talent and I do think I’m worth it. Definitely retweeting this to help other illustrators who might be considering taking a job for too low of pay. Thank you!

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Jose

I will right away take hold of your rss feed as I can not find your e-mail subscription hyperlink or newsletter service.
Do you have any? Please let me realize so that I may just subscribe.
Thanks.

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JJ Chalupnik

I’m fairly new to this industry as a professional, and I’m also fairly new to your posts, but I love every single one of them. I work as a 3D artist/Generalist and Video Editor for a boutique post house in Phoenix AZ. This post could not be any more true. Thank you for such an honest post about something that goes unnoticed by many artists in this state. I think we perpetuate the misery by giving these bad clients any power at all. I’ve worked with several Big Mac Clients (a metaphor I now enjoy) and I’m finally starting to get in a position where I can say no to projects like that. One thing this article didn’t cover as well is the paradox that occurs from some of your other posts about taking on projects and building/maintaining relationships with contacts in the industry. I have a producer friend in LA who is doing very well. He has offered me “favor” jobs that could get my foot in the door to that market but I would have to work for free doing advanced 3D modeling, texturing, animation, and compositing. I told him no and that I was a bit too busy with other projects. This was true, I was busy with other projects, but he hasn’t called back since. I know the door is still open, but it is a hard balance to keep your pocketbook balanced, your belly full, your creative thirst quenched, and build your reputation all at the same time. I’m still working on a film from my graduation that I truly believe has emotional visual storytelling, but finding time between work and other projects feels nearly impossible.

Anyway, Thanks for the wonderful articles. Always a great read, and always the right kind of inspiration. You got yourself another loyal reader! :D
Cheers,
-JJ

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James Cory Webster

Thank you for writing this article.

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Zyandric Jones

I so needed this right now.
Thanks Chris

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josh Lockwood

Bravo Chris! Such a great metaphor. A very well thought out and memorable way to explain the problem. Client education is a necessary step to combat the problem, and I do believe that mcclients can be reformed once they realize that they are damaging the profession. Someone needs to put together a YouTube video based on this article. Really, this needs to be spread and shared big time. Thanks for writing this!

Josh

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kathy

Good article. Even if you’re desperate those 25$ and wasted time isn’t going to help much. Better to say no and keep searching for something better. And improve own portfolio meanwhile.

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Cliff Roth

The one caveat to having the job for steady income is to not treat the art income as ‘extra’. That can lead to you accepting lower pay since it is only supplemental and you don’t need it to live on. That psychological hurdle is what I am overcoming.

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Jeshields

So where does the mentality of ‘I would rather be doing art for minimum wage than serving coffee at minimum wage’ fit into this? Would you consider it true of that one still has to earn his way in freelance? Much like the company’s new employee may be worth more but still starts lower until he earns his way? I ask because I jumped into full-time freelance when I knew practically nothing. I started relatively low because I was just getting in and had (and still have currently) a lower cost of living. I am now to the point where I am aiming at twice as much from where I started less than a year ago and have even had someone think my art was worth $40 an hour. Now, I have yet to get work at that high of a rate, nor steady work at my current aim, but I have been slowly growing. I know I could go out and get a ‘normal’ job and get paid more, but I know I wouldn’t have time (with a wife, 4 kids, church, and school to add to my schedule) to work on art, my growth comes through most of my clients. Now, I am not advocating working at less than your cost of living, but I do feel that I don’t work at what I think my art is worth because I haven’t built up enough clients or make the right contacts or whatever my current failing is in this industry to get the right type of clients. However, I’d much rather be doing this for an affordable (note: affordable, not ideal) living than most anything else. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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MisatoSensei

Hello! I have to admit that right now I’m a MacIllustrator. But, what can I do? I need money, and its charging $15 per illustration or I can’t win nothing. I’m charging the third part I have to charge, but, its that, or working in MacDonalds .

A year ago I think like you, I had the idea of not acepting bad clients and in a year I have 0 clients. What can any can do with this situation? I know I’m not a huge talented artist, but I want to work of my studies UU.

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Jen

So….. I guess I can lump Bad Clients into the family category too… I’ve had family members demand (yes, demand) art or designs from me for FREE, because they’re family.
In the occasion I’ve volunteered to do a piece for free, they’ve had the audacity to tell me how to make it, how it should look, etc. I’m the creative here, not you. Hands off. I’m donating my services for this one project. I didn’t have to.
Nothing against my family, but they don’t know anything about art except what pleases their eye, and they don’t fully understand my skill set. Very frustrating.
Since those episodes, I’ve stopped doing art for family and friends, unless the price is right. :/
I hate to be that way, but like the above article states, it has to be worth my time and effort expenditure.

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Dean Bowen

Thanks for writing this, Chris. It has really helped me focus on the bigger picture.

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Atiya Karim

Wow, great article. I agree with everything in this. I’ve done a few freelance gigs most of which where traditional illustrations. I found when I started doing these gigs I was nervous about pricing. I didn’t know how to rate my work and didn’t want an extremely high or low price. I was so stupid I could’ve just looked it up or something to get an idea of a rate but it never came to mind -rofl-.
In the end I considered my materials used, time spent, and size of the illustration(s) to determine my prices. Luckily every client I had was nice enough to pay me more than the original price I offered.

I’m currently doing a freelance gig for the cover of a food truck. I just started using Adobe illustrator -it’s a pain in the neck- so I’m now coloring it PScc using some techniques I’ve learned from Magic Box!!

One question: How should you rate digital art and traditional freelance gigs???

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Lars-Erik Robinson

Where do I start, first of Chris thanks for this blog post, and I appreciate they way you care for other artist! I have 20 years under my belt and I have for the first 1/2 a year tried to do my art business full time, with no luck! I started out drawing Portraits at a seafood restaurant I served tables and cooked at called Leverocks. I know am very proud of how my work is and have a children’s book I am working on, but then I still get other jobs that come in. For illustration I try to say for thumbnails are $50 and sketch is $150, and then I $70 an hour after that to finish. So if I get a budget of $750 for editorial job (usually due the next day) 7-9 hours is my allowed time. That does not always work out more like 18-20 hours spent on a piece I am happy with, so I should really shoot for $1500, but the client usually tells me there budget! Hard but we all want to be published, and there get to paint and draw more! Caricatures on the other hand is a monster to convince for studio work, most people think of the quick $10 sketch, but then when I get a photo or phone to draw from I tell them $20 more for retail or studio is $150-1500 for a painting per person. They are usually very surprised but I am not budging anymore!

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Zach Gracia

I totally am guilty of this sometimes but I have to say I learned my lesson after two REALLY bad clients asking for work that would leave me at a $5 an hour rate. Thankfully there are resources out there, like this podcast, that help young artists like myself keep the power of “no.” Thanks for the guidance and advice!

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Autumn

Oof! I learned the hard way to say no to these offers. My solution was to open a store and sell prints. I get to work on my skills, build up my portfolio, and make a few bucks. No lost friendships, no resentment.
Saying no was a turning point in my work. I swear I can’t see the difference between before and after “no”. There’s something powerful in the moment one decides “I’m worth this risk. I can do this.” It’s committing to a higher standard. It’s respecting yourself and the work.
I always enjoy the frankness of your posts; you’ve really been spot on with addressing issues for artists! Thank you!

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Monkatopaints

I have a story to encourage you young freelancers.

I had a client when I was a newcomer and really eager to break into game concept design. The gig was to do ten grey scale concepts and two illustrations utilizing the characters created for a total of $225 within ten days. I was thrilled and since I was really fast I thought it I would be okay if I utilized my speed to even out the pay scale. I treated this client super good as if I was working under a big name art director and put out my best work. My client was amazed at the concept art he got and was also very happy with my professionalism. The work was done and we went our separate ways. He was happy to get great work for a ridiculously cheap price and I was happy to get my first video game concept art job! (I was also very proud of myself for doing so well.)

Soon afterwords I was picked up by an engineering firm to design ATV aftermarket parts because they saw my game concept art and liked it very much. I was also approached by another small but known game studio to do work as well. Things were looking great!

Out of the blue the old client sent me an email requesting work for a low price but suddenly now I’m used to what engineering firms would pay for an artist. I couldn’t work anymore for $225 even if it were one illustration. Later, I also received work offers from him again for a reasonable wage but kindly declined. He was nice, never treating me bad and so I declined the offer professionally. To this day, I still remember this and use this experience to teach or share with other artists.

If you are new to freelancing do your absolute best on your work even if it were for a “bad client”. Be talented, professional and nice. It will take you to heights you never dreamed of. If you’re a winner then your work will speak it. Everyone wants a winner on their team. Clients will always come back to the best artists they worked with and possibly with a renewed mindset.

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josh l

Guys and Gals. I hear some numbers being thrown around that are really not right.
I’ve heard someone saying that they shouldn’t charge the client 5$ an hour, they should charge 10!.. I started out charging 50$ an hour. I charge more than that now, I also know artists that charge 100+ an hour. Seriously – get some confidence, get with legit clients and have a business plan. That is all.

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Alexis Lopez

Hey Chris! Thanks for this little article! I recently was contacted by a past client from hell asking me to give them my rights to my illustrations for ten years, not for pay, but for free publicity! Yay me, right?! I was looking for a nice and professional way to explain to them that I, as a professional artist, have respect for my skill and that no way in hell will I be letting them suck my soul more than they already have, especially without further compensation. This little article will be included in my response to them. Thanks again dude!

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