I decided I needed to answer that question after a recent thread on the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators Listserv hinted that there are many potential clients out there who may not fully understand the value of a professional illustrator. Almost everyone knows a budding artist or hobbyist willing to work for peanuts (or less), so why pony up the $ and hire a professional?
To those who may be considering “hiring” an amateur with promises of experience or exposure as “compensation,” I offer the following compelling reasons to work with a professional illustrator instead. These remarks would also apply to hiring other creative professionals, such as graphic designers, website designers, or photographers.
A professional illustrator has a portfolio of existing work by which you can judge her potential success with your project. While it’s true that every professional illustrator begins her career with little experience, she will still have a modest portfolio of work she’s created to demonstrate her capabilities. If you don’t see some competent existing work, you may end up wasting your time engaging the services of an amateur who is not serious about her career – or your project.
A professional illustrator works with you to give you the result you want by your deadline, expecting your feedback along the way. A paid professional has a reputation to maintain. If you find an amateur willing to work for free, she may have her own agenda and schedule and there’s nothing you can do about it.
A professional illustrator understands copyright law, which protects you from liability. I once found a small business website using some of my illustrations without my permission. Turns out the business owner had his son create the website, and since his son was not a professional web designer who knew or cared about copyright law, the business owner was liable for the copyright infringement. Considering the number of instances I’ve discovered such infringements of my own work, it’s clear that there are a lot of amateurs out there who don’t realize or don’t care that their client may pay dearly in the future. Avoid the perils of copyright infringement by hiring a professional!
A professional illustrator will be able to explain the different types of licensing arrangements available and offer one that best suits your needs for your budget. You should expect usage rights to be laid out in writing before you hire someone. You cannot expect an amateur to know about these things and it may be risky to make assumptions.
A professional illustrator knows the standards and conventions applicable to your project, or they at least know how to find out. Whether it’s how to count the scales on a fish, how to position a butterfly’s wings, or what file format and resolution are best, a professional is most likely to know what you need, even if you do not.
The bottom line is: The value a professional illustrator offers is well worth the fee she charges.