Majority of illustrators don’t earn enough to live from, new survey shows

Ben the Illustrator

A majority of illustrators say they don’t earn a suitable salary to live 'sustainably', and some said their commissions were paid late in 2017, according to a new survey conducted and published by Ben O’Brien, aka Ben the Illustrator.

Ben the Illustrator has been self-employed in the creative industry for almost 20 years. We’ve featured his work in the past – he’s even written some tips for us – but this time, instead of producing clean, vector-based artwork, he’s conducted a survey into the business and personal lives of illustrators, with snippets of his personal summary to work alongside the interesting findings.

Curious to hear from other fellow illustrators about the highs and lows of freelancing, (such as working in the same place as you live, as 81 percent of respondents said they do) the Illustrator’s Survey 2017 was born.

After getting in touch with 1,261 illustrators worldwide – with an almost even split between men ( 44 percent) and women (53 percent) – Ben’s survey reveals that 24 percent of them say publishing is the sector in which most of their work has been for, and the workload in 2017 has been more than previous years. But yet almost 70 percent said they still didn't earn enough money to live sustainably from.

The survey also found that while 45 percent of the surveyed illustrators worked in illustration full-time, 33 percent found self-promotion brought the most work in 2017, compared with a low 9 percent who said it came from illustration agents. This may be due to the fact that 53 percent said Instagram has been the best social media platform for business, and their own personal website (instead of, for example, Behance or Squarespace). It seems illustrators are carving their own success.

Ben the Illustrator

Encouragingly, most illustrators said they read a client contract and sought help if required, even if it was only to check the pay, and almost 30 percent said none of their commissions were paid late in 2017. However, 21 percent said more than half of commission payments were paid late, and 16 percent said exactly half were. This led to the survey question: Do you feel that you earn a suitable amount to live sustainably from illustration?, with 69 percent answering no, and 31 percent yes.

As well as interesting finds in the area of running a business, the survey also touched on the work/life balance of an illustrator – usually a downside to working freelance is making sure you’re not stuck at home all day. Just over half found that they didn’t successfully balance personal and client work, and that something like more exercise or more social time would benefit them and their work.

Ben the Illustrator

Also interestingly, almost 80 percent of the illustrators surveyed felt that had anxiety or confidence issues that affected their careers, prompting us to wonder whether mental health is an issue illustrators should be touching on or discussing more.

But, not to get too discouraged, as part of the open questions section, just under 700 illustrators said they chose illustration because it was a passion – they love to create art. Most said they didn’t grow up knowing much about illustration, but often fell into it from graphic design, fine arts or animation.

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