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Useful Advice for Aspiring Artists

Useful Advice for Aspiring Artists

Grant Friedman

I am often asked to give advice to aspiring designers hoping to make it in the industry. I have always found this to be an awkward question for me to answer because even after 10 years, I still feel like I’m an aspiring designer myself. So when I’m asked that question I tend to think back to my early days; I try to think about the mistakes I’ve made, the successes that I’ve had, the good times and the bad. I try to think about all the experiences that made me the designer that I am today. I even try to take into consideration advice that I’ve received from others, but it seems that no matter how long I think about it, I tend to dwell on one piece of advice; a designer should NEVER undervalue themselves.

I’ve interviewed a lot of designers. I always ask the interviewee to give tips on how to make it in the industry. The answers tend to vary but a reoccurring theme always tends to revolve around education; that in order to succeed, designers need to learn art and design, they need to learn the software and techniques that are used in the industry and that they should enjoy their work. While I agree with this piece of advice 100%, I’ve always felt that it doesn’t quite prepare a young designer for the reality of the workplace. Yes, it is important to have an education in art and design. Yes, it is important know industry standard software and; yes, it is important to enjoy their work but none of that means a thing however unless you can earn a living from it.

Creatively Motivated

I’ve found that most designers that I have met genuinely love their job. I’m not surprised by this at all. Design can be a truly fulfilling profession. The problem is however that many designers feel so fulfilled that they don’t charge as much for their services as they actually should, or worse, they do the job for free. Some designers design as a hobby, some design professionally but don’t feel like their work is worth much; whatever the reason I’ve found that many designers, especially young ones undercut themselves and simply don’t charge a price that justifies the time they spent on the job.

Now we could argue about the quality of one’s work and how that relates to a project’s cost but I don’t want to get into that. It’s not the point of this article. If you’re a young designer and you’re reading this article, I want you to understand that YES, your work IS worth something and you should charge accordingly.

Starting Out

When I started off, I did a lot of work for free. This is sort of standard practice in the industry. Businesses or organizations convince you that because you’re young and new to the industry that your time is worth nothing, that the experience that you gain will be worth more than any money that they could pay you. Everyone, let’s be clear, this is simply not true. While the experience you gain from these early projects is important, your time is worth something and you should be compensated by more than just a pat on the back. Ask any designer who has fallen into this trap about whether or not it was worth it. They might tell you that the experience was helpful but they will also tell you that it took months, if not years to get past the stigma of being a designer who will work for free.

Do the Math

At this point you’re probably thinking to yourself, if working for free isn’t an option, then how much should I charge? Well, I can’t answer this question for you but I can point you in the right direction. To help you decide, let’s do a little math. How much money did you spend on your computer? How much money did you spend on software? Adobe Creative Suite costs a fortune but what about other software such as Microsoft Office or any third party plug-ins that you own? Do you have a big screen monitor? What about a pen tablet? And let’s not even forget the cost of your education. As I am sure that you know the cost of becoming a designer is enormous and at some point you will have to start making all the money you spent back. Working for free or for cheap will never help you succeed in that.

At this point in the article I hope that I have convinced you to start charging a price that justifies the time and expense that you have invested in the project that you’re working on. Agreeing upon a price for a project can be one of the toughest aspects of the design process and can be uncomfortable for many of us. Just remember that this is your business, this is your livelihood. At the end of the day, you have to pay your bills and you simply can’t be working for some one who has no interest in paying you. Don’t be afraid to turn down a project. Remember, it’s not personal, it’s business. Stick to your guns. Don’t undervalue yourself and eventually it will pay off.


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