Welcome to the Artists’ Field Guide! Here, I share a few resources that I’ve found helpful or interesting that I think can be of use to other creatives. Today, in honor of May Day at the beginning of this month, we’re taking a look at 10 labor resources for artists– plus one bonus one 😄
These websites are a mix of discussing business details such as pay rates and contract terms, legal assistance, unions and worker cooperatives, and other resources all designed to support you in your labor such as continuing education and skill and professional development or workshops where you can ask questions to industry professionals.
Let’s get started!
Who This Is For: All working illustrators, cartoonists, and animators
How to Use It: Use Litebox to check what others have been paid for similar work, compare terms, and more before accepting work
Why Use It: Collective empowerment is good for us all; knowing what others are being paid and what terms are being offered gives you leverage in negotiations
Litebox is a place where visual artists can report the rates they’ve been paid or offered for jobs and see what others have been offered for similar gigs. The idea is to create transparency around pay rates in the community to improve our collective bargaining power for higher pay. They also have a Resources page with other helpful sources to check out.
“Capitalism wins when we fight with each other and view each other as our main antagonist to getting paid. The reality is there are more jobs than ever for illustrators, but we are being paid historically low rates due to the greed and mismanagement of media company CEOs and bosses. Collective organizing works. The reason we have weekends, overtime pay, minimum wages, the 8 hour day and the outlawing of child labor is because of collective power. The only way to make things better for all of us is to work together. We believe that the self interest of all of us visual workers aligns, and that self interest bonds us together, and when we work together, we win.”
Who This Is For: Anyone contemplating spec work or anyone looking to understand or explain what spec work is and how it harms artists
How to Use It: Head over to the website to read informative articles about the harms of spec work on artists and the industry as a whole
Why Use It: To protect yourself against unpaid labor disguised as opportunity
Just Say No! to Spec Work is a great resource for artists talking about the many negatives of speculative (spec) work and why you should just say no if asked to do it. Spec work can come in the form of art contests, movie poster or t-shirt design contests, logo design contests, and so on.
No!Spec defines spec work as “any kind of creative work, either partial or completed, submitted by designers to prospective clients before designers secure both their work and equitable fees. Under these conditions, designers will often be asked to submit work in the guise of a contest or an entry exam on existing jobs as a ‘test’ of their skill. In addition, designers normally lose all rights to their creative work because they failed to protect themselves with a contract or agreement. The clients often use this freely-gained work as they see fit without fear of legal repercussion.”
Another great source discussing this topic is a comic called Say No to Spec Work by Maki Naro. He helps break down the information about spec work in a visual format. Karla Ortiz also has a helpful twitter thread going through some examples of contract terms that exploit artists.
Graphic Artists Guild (GAG)
Cost: Free resources on their site
Free and paid events
Annual membership to join the guild is $200 USD (or $19.95 USD a month)
The GAG Handbook is about $50 USD retail
Who This Is For: Illustrators, animators, graphic designers, interactive designers, web programmers and developers
How to Use It: Check out their website for articles, workshops, and events (free and paid) or head over to your local bookstore to pick up the latest copy of their GAG Handbook with details about contract terms, pay rates, common industry terms, and other industry standards
Why Use It: The GAG Handbook alone is a very helpful resource for people new to pricing their work and drawing up contracts; it’s a great resource for making sure you don’t undervalue your work and protecting your rights as a creator
The Graphic Artists Guild (GAG) is an organization dedicated to sharing information and resources for illustrators, animators, graphic and interactive designers, and web programmers and developers to maximize their contracts and pay rates within the industry. They’re probably best known for their handbook titled The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, updated roughly every three years to include the latest information on pay rates and standard terms, agreements, and working conditions for artists.
“The purpose of the Graphic Artists Guild is to promote and protect the social, economic and professional interests of its members.
We are committed to welcoming, serving and improving conditions for graphic artists at all skill levels while raising standards for the entire industry. In addition to creative professionals, our members include educators, intellectual property lawyers, artist representatives, and others in related and supporting industries.”
Who This Is For: Artists living and working in the Global South
How to Use It: Head over to their website for some helpful resources on terms, contracts, pricing, and more; join their Discord server to get in touch with community and support each other’s work and share resources
Why Use It: Collective empowerment is good for us all, and having access to accurate information about rates and terms is vital for negotiations
Third Eye Collective is a volunteer group of artists from the Global South organizing for better rates, contracts, and more. They offer artists from Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, Pacific Islands, and others access to community through Discord and social media, working together to empower one another while dealing with the Western-centric industry. They have a dedicated FAQ page that discusses topics such as commissions, selling prints, contracts, freelancing, and how to get paid internationally and a Resource page that links to tons of other resources such as contract creation, BIPoC agents, art education, references and assets, and so much more.
“We are a collective of Third World artists. Our Goal is to help each other navigate the artistic industry that is centered in USA, Canada, Western Europe, and Japan in which we are at a strategic, economic and social disadvantage.”
Who This Is For: Freelancers in the US from all backgrounds and industries, including small business owners
How to Use It: Head over to their website to check out their free resources, online events, and more; you can also join in on monthly meetings in your area
Why Use It: Knowing how to draw up a contract, price your work, and advocate for yourself will help you negotiate for the best terms for you
The Freelancers Union is a union representing freelancers of all backgrounds and industries, including artists, writers, graphic designers, dancers, and much more. It’s free to join, and they offer free educational workshops (virtual and in person in NYC) on a range of topics, including finances, business set up, legal clinics, and much more, through their Freelancers Hub. They have lots more resources, too.
A word of caution, though: while their resources look pretty helpful, I’d recommend due diligence if you decide to get their insurance. I haven’t personally tried it, but there are many complaints online about it. I’m also displeased to see them recommending and working with cryptocurrency. Crypto is ridiculously harmful to the planet, and its use with NFTs has been very harmful to artists and exploitative of our work. So keep that in mind when perusing their website.
“Since 1995, Freelancers Union has been on a mission to advocate for and support independent workers. We know that freelancers are a unique workforce with a unique set of challenges that are largely misunderstood by the rest of the world. We fight to make sure independent workers have everything they need to do their work on their terms, giving our 500,000+ members a powerful voice through policy advocacy, resources, and community.
Membership provides you with access to a full-service support system we have designed to help you succeed as an independent worker. Becoming a member is free and open to all freelancers in the U.S. of all backgrounds and experience, from graphic designers and contractors to entrepreneurs and moonlighters.”
Cost: Dues range from $150 to $400 USD
Who This Is For: All media workers, including artists, writers, video and audio producers, social media producers, and more, open internationally
How to Use It: Once you sign up and pay your member dues, you can access their member benefits
Why Use It: Collective bargaining empowers us all and helps us gain better rates and terms for our labor, and there are a lot of benefits that come from having an interconnected group of professionals willing to help each other out
Freelance Solidarity Project, a division of the National Writers Union, is a union for freelance media workers, including illustrators, writers, editors, photographers, videographers, social media producers, graphic designers, audio producers, other media workers, and creatives in any medium. They offer their members benefits such as advocacy, insurance plans, free lodging assistance while touring for promotion, business and legal advice, webinars, and more.
“Our Mission: To improve the lives of freelance digital media workers by improving their working conditions. As the industry becomes increasingly unstable, we must build a community to protect each other, fight isolation and alienation, and experience the gains of collective bargaining.”
Cost: Annual membership ranges from $80 to $185 USD
Who This Is For: Low income artists in New York in need of legal services related to their work
How to Use It: Head over to their FAQ page to check for the answer that best suits your needs on where to get started
Why Use It: To protect your rights and your work as a low income artist in NY
Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts is a non-profit organization of volunteer lawyers who assist low income artists in New York pro bono with legal issues related to art such as copyright infringement, contracts, and more. There is an annual membership fee required to cover administrative costs, but the service provided by the volunteer lawyer is pro bono. They offer reduced cost or free membership to senior artists, as well as a reduced membership fee for full time student artists.
“VLA assists low-income artists with their arts-related legal issues. “Artist” includes almost any artistic discipline, including, but not limited to, visual arts, design, dance, theater, film, and music. VLA assists artists with “arts-related legal issues,” meaning legal issues arising as a result of artistic work. For example, intellectual property issues, contracts, application for an artist visa, or incorporation of arts-related businesses and non-profits, among others.”
Who This Is For: Illustrators looking to increase their knowledge about the business side of illustration
How to Use It: Head over to the website and check out the abundance of free articles discussing a range of topics
Why Use It: To improve your ability to advocate for yourself and negotiate better terms and rates
Business of Illustration is a website run by Neil Swaab that shares helpful information about, well, the business of illustration lol He offers up examples of how to draw up an illustration contract, what to do if you haven’t been paid, book royalty rates for illustrators, pricing your work, and more. He doesn’t seem to update the website anymore, but the information still available on it is solid, especially if you can’t get your hands on a copy of the GAG Handbook.
“Business of Illustration is a website and blog by Neil Swaab dedicated to instructing new and aspiring artists on how best to navigate this challenging field.”
Cost: $95 USD for the first year, $80 USD for subsequent years
Some free to low cost virtual events
Who This Is For: Anyone involved in children’s literature: illustrators, authors, librarians, and more
How to Use It: Check out their Regional Virtual Events page for free to low cost webinars or sign up for a membership and access a lot of them for free or reduced cost; you can also check their blog for free articles or their youtube channel for free webinar recordings
Why Use It: Ongoing education is vital for ensuring you have up to date information when you go to the bargaining table, and networking with other professionals in your industry can help you a great deal
SCBWI is an international organization for kidlit authors, illustrators, translators, librarians, publishers, and more. They offer professional development workshops such as portfolio audits and critiques, host virtual and in person events, and other, regional educational workshops. (The virtual regional events are open to all, regardless of where you live.) They also regularly offer pitch events.
“We believe there can never be too many good children’s books, and this simple belief guides everything we do. We are committed to breaking down barriers and opening doors for everyone with a story to tell. By harnessing the collective power of this vibrant global community, we make the children’s publishing industry more inclusive and elevate the art of children’s literature.”
Who This Is For: Comic creators
How to Use It: Head over to the website and start digging into all that helpful information!
Why Use It: Making comics is a wonderful and exhausting labor of love, and Creator Resource is here to help you become more efficient, aware of your rights, and empowered
Last but not least, we have Creator Resource, a wonderful website dedicated to sharing resources for freelance comic book creators. Run by a small, but dedicated team of five, Creator Resource shares everything from literary agents who represent graphic novels to page rates, printing comics, social media tips, finance advice for freelancers, self care, and much more! They even include an archive of their Freelancer’s Cookbook, a series all about tasty foods on a budget and making sure you eat.
“Creator Resource is a site dedicated to providing comic book freelancers with as much information about the industry as possible. On Creator Resource, you’ll find information on the latest rates that creators are being paid, and resources to help you navigate comic book contracts, copyrights, trademarks, and more. Our team is dedicated to trying to provide creators at any level with information that can help with managing and sustaining a career in the comic book industry.”
If you’d like to check out even more labor resources for artists, head over to my Creative Resources page and scroll down to the Labor Unions, Worker Solidarity, and Other Resources section.
What do you think of today’s resources? Do you have any experience with these? Are there things you would add on or challenge? Let me know in the comments!
If you liked this article, you might also be interested in my series Behind the Design where I share about the process and tools I used for a featured piece, or perhaps my monthly comics release lists where I share some comics coming out each month that have caught my eye.