Saturday, May 29, 2010

Money, Art, and You

The going rate for a burger flipper in California is $8.00 an hour. In Wyoming, the minimum wage is $5.15. It's $2.13 if you're a waitress, but then, a waitress gets tips on top of her hourly wage. And really, in cases like that, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 applies. In the US of A, while states get to determine the minimum wage, they must meet at least federal standards set in Washington by Congress.

Here's where paying attention to politics and the news helps you.

The minimum wage is the same for old people and young people, experienced and inexperienced alike. In fact, the more experience you have, the more you get paid. The minimum wage means just that, that's the minimum you get paid, regardless of your level of experience. Nobody walks into McDonald's and works for free hoping to get enough publicity to become the next Gordon Ramsay.

Yet for artists, it's a different story. If you're an artist, you'll often hear something similar to "there's no pay, but it's good experience and for your resume".

The 16-year old with no experience who applies to McDonald's gets experience, something for his resume, and the minimum wage.

There is no reason for us, as artists, to give our work away for free in hopes of gaining experience, publicity, or any other promises. Those of us who have experience can charge more than the minimum wage. But those without should be charging at least the minimum wage. If someone is making money off our drawings, it only makes sense we should too. After all, we drew it. If we don't value what we do, no one else will.

Further, your decision to work for free actually hurts commercial art as a profession making it more difficult not only for other artists but yourself to make a living doing what you love: drawing. Because when you start charging for what you do, the people seeking drawings will simply go to other artists who are willing to work for free. When you and every other artist starts charging for drawing, it becomes possible to make your passion a "real" job.

And if for some reason you feel compelled to work for free, draw for yourself. Work on your own comics, tattoos, and cartoons. At least if it takes off, you'll earn money from the sales directly, and you'll have final say in what the people see.

So now that you are charging for your work, be it $80/hour or $8/hour, how much do you charge for that tattoo your friend wants?

You figure out how long it will take you, in hours (15 minutes = .25 hours, 30 minutes = .5 hours, 45 minutes = .75 hours, etc) and multiply it by the rate you charge (minimum wage at least). That gives you a number. That number is what you charge.

So for that tattoo, including revisions (because everyone wants something that will be permanent to be as close to perfect as possible, whether or not they pay for it), lets make an educated guess that it will take you about 20 hours. That is, an hour or two to come up with several thumbnails (or super tiny, rough sketches of ideas), about 4-5 hours to come up with a big clean drawing of that thumbnail, another 2 hours or so to ink it, and another 2-3 hours to color it. That right there is 12 hours. Of course, your friend or client will want changes done. It sounds cynical, but it's a fact. Sometimes the changes will be small, sometimes they will be big. But changes, big or small, take time to make. Your time. And you deserve to be paid for your time.

You did not get anything wrong. It is impossible for you to read their mind. Communicating their vision is what you are paid for. Do not feel guilty for charging for revisions. Sometimes clients will see what you've done and get new ideas that they'll want you to incorporate. It's part of the process. It's natural. Sometimes frustrating. And always worthy of pay.

That said, you may finish the job in 15 hours. You may finish in 22 hours. Either way, 20 hours is a good guess that comes from experience. Do not be afraid to make mistakes in guessing how long a project will take. We all learn from our mistakes. But a good tip is overestimate to be safe. Any time you save, you can either choose to give the money back or keep as a bonus for working fast and efficiently. I tell all my clients that if it takes me less time than I say it will, I'll charge less. And if it takes me more time, I'll charge more at the same hourly rate. My quote is simply an estimate, like that of a mechanic.

Lets say that tattoo job for your friend took you 15 hours and 30 minutes. At $7.25 an hour (the federal minimum wage), that's $112.38 (15.5 X 7.25). See, paying attention in math class helps.

Of course, since it's a friend, you might do it for free, or as a birthday/Christmas present, or in exchange for a date with his cute sister, or trade for some beers or a few personal training sessions (imagine your friend is a gym rat). You might even charge $112.38 because if it was for a stranger, you might charge $465 (15.5hrs X $30). But the tattoo you do still has some worth, not only to your friend, but to you as well. And that worth is the time it takes you multiplied by your hourly rate.

For a recent gig, I was asked to storyboard and animate an intro for a corporate website.

I won't say how much I charged or was paid, but I will say that though I worked from home, I kept regular working hours: 9-5, Monday through Friday, saving weekends and evenings for friends, family, and my girlfriend. Yes, sometimes I put in overtime to finish by my deadline. And when I went past my 3-week deadline, I charged for the hours I went over. Because I charged for it, I was able to focus on doing it full time. I was able to put forth my best effort without having to worry about other sources of income to pay necessities like rent, food, clothing, etc. I would not have been able to do my best work at the time if I had not been able to focus. I would not have been able to focus if I was not paid for it. The hours and weekends I did not work on it allowed me to enjoy life and come back refreshed and with a renewed sense of dedication and passion. It kept me from hating my job and my employer.

Do your profession a favor. Charge for your work. Even if you have no experience, the least you deserve to get paid is the federal minimum wage. Your clients are willing to pay their mechanic, their doctor, and their barista. They need to pay you as well. And for the sake of having a future as a professional artist, you need to charge.

Never work for free.

Friday, May 28, 2010

To get better, draw what you like

It's no secret I love girls. Drawing them is nice too ;) In fact, I've drawn so many girls, that I have a whole section of my portfolio dedicated to them.

Here are some girly drawings from 2004, 2006, and 2010.

Not bad. And while I love the funky proportions in the first there is a clear progression of skill visible, illustrating a greating knowledge and control of form, proportion, and anatomy in my most recent work. I also think my understanding of design and composition principles is far greater now.

I show these not to congratulate myself. I still have a lot to learn. But I show these to illustrate a basic truth: that to get better at anything, you must love it more than anything else.

In drawing, for me, it's girls. For you, you may enjoy drawing anime, or Disney cartoons, or horses. And that's great. Draw them over and over again. In different styles and with different tools. And I guarantee, that within a month, that's 30 days, of continuous drawing, you will have become a better artist. That's because by drawing what you love, you hold yourself to a higher standard. You don't settle for anything less than your best, and you are your own worst critic when you fall short.

And the best part is, because you enjoy doing it, it won't feel like work.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Next Class on June 5th

I apologize for the mix up last week. I got the dates mixed up. Classes return June 5th. No class this Saturday either. I'll see you June 5th.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Copy to get better

If you want to get better at drawing: be it cartooning, comic books, or even painting realistic seascapes, the best way to learn is by copying those works by artists better than you.

Who is better than you? The same guys who are better than me, but a good starting point is any artist whose work you personally feel speaks to you. For me, that's fine artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Sheile, and Klimt. I also llike the works of illustrators and cartoonists like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Rod Scribner, Disney, Vernon Grant, Frank Frazetta, and Robert McGinnis. But what I like isn't necessarily what you will like.

And that's okay. Pick the artists you like.

But the trick isn't in who you copy but in how you copy. A method for taking apart and putting together those works of art is what will help you analyze and understand what that artist is doing and how he or she is doing it.

For that, I recommend two books. 1) Cartooning by Preston Blair, and 2) How to Draw the Marvel Way by John Buscema and Stan Lee.

If I had to add a third to the list, it would be this little known treasure: An Approach to Figure Painting for the Beginner by Howard K. Frosberg.

When copying, it is essential you don't just go through the motions and processes outlined in those books. It is imperative you do your best to copy exactly. After you finish, compare your final to the original. Make an effort to write down what is different between the two. It helps if you hold your drawing up in the mirror. After you notice your mistakes, fix them!

Everyone makes mistakes. Even the best. What separates the great from the good and bad is the great don't settle. They work hard. And that means fixing what is not right.

The Mickey Mouse drawing is thanks to a model sheet I found on this amazing website.

The first (and best edition) of Cartooning by Preston Blair can be downloaded for free from here: pt 1, pt 2.


Friday, May 21, 2010

No Class This Saturday

No class on Saturday 5/22. Apparently they have some sort of shindig and there's not enough space or silence for us to have a class. See you next Saturday!

Edit: Guess I won't see you next Saturday. There was a mix up, the shingdig is on the 29th. There is no class on the 29th. I'll see you the week after.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


My clients include:

- Eminem
- Mel Brooks
- Ivan Ives
- FIGS Ties
- Chocovivo
- The Buzz Lab
- Majicoo Clothing
- and more


My style is influenced by magazine illustrators from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s such as Andrew Loomis, Norman Rockwell, and Al Parker. I use a combination of real media and digital tools to create my work.

I'm available for select freelance illustration and animation assignments. For more info, please contact me at notrajeesh [at] or 310.692.4433.

It's pronounced Ra-jay-sh

So if I have a pet peeve, it's when people call me "Rajeesh". Hence my blog address. And email. And just about every other internet username I use.

I'll be posting info about any classes I teach here as well as random thoughts and drawings.

Here's a drawing I did for a local life drawing workshop. I was inspired by all those Andrew Loomis books.