What Level Does Your Portfolio Reflect?

I totally neglected to prepare this blog post earlier because of a deadline and a huge move across the country, but I guess late is better than never?

I want to talk about something that relates directly to me lately. I’ve been commissioned by a well known company to do multiple illustrations. The company is infamous for its low paying commissions (they have amazing Art Directors though). I’ve caught a bit of crap for this from some, and I wanted to blather on about it for a little bit.

As you may already be aware by my name-dropping, sappy-love post-con blog post, I attended IlluxCon in September. During the Artist Bootcamp series put on my Lauren Panepinto and Marc Scheff, the topic of lower paying jobs came up. Putting the personal ethics of whether or not to even take these types of jobs aside (that’ll be another blog post), I want to discuss behavior after I’ve agreed to the job and signed the contract.

I have struggled with whether to do the job I’m being paid for, or whether to go above and beyond. I’ve been given advice by others to do what you’re getting paid, otherwise you’re doing harder work for less pay. I can see the logic in that advice, and generally, I would agree.

My main hangup with this is exactly what Lauren pointed out in the bootcamp… that whatever work I do is what will be in my portfolio. If I’m taking a job painting things I love to paint, and I want to show that I’ve done professional work, would I want to show potential clients and Art Directors work in which I only put just enough effort into?

If my portfolio is full of illustrations I painted just to the point of being “worth” $100, that’s what I have to show. So, if I want to be hired for $500 jobs, shouldn’t my portfolio reflect work that looks like it’s worth $500?

It can be extremely frustrating to put hours and hours into a painting for which I’m getting paid peanuts (wait, what? I love peanuts). However, if I’ve already taken the job and signed a contract, there’s no way I am going to basically waste my time wasting my time. Every piece I paint is supposed to push me to improve in some kind of way, regardless if it’s a paid job or a personal piece. So the pay might be low, yes, but if I’ll be painting during that time anyway, why not use that as an opportunity to have another stellar portfolio piece to show?? Also, depending on the company, I have the chance to show how professional I am and possibly build a great working relationship with the AD, who will then talk to the other ADs he or she knows. And yes, they all talk to each other. 

For myself, I will not complain about the pay and I will try my damnedest to make my work worth more than what I’m being paid for. Better paying clients will come, if your work shows your worth paying more for! Maybe my work isn’t there yet, but it will be.

Everybody got their start somewhere. Everybody started out taking extremely low paying jobs. I don’t know of one artist who can flip their hair and say they started out being paid $1500 by Wizards for their work. Every single industry has a ladder to climb, and every single industry has shamefully low paying jobs at the bottom of that ladder. The key is to make sure you’re pushing yourself with each new painting so that you climb that ladder and don’t get stuck dangling from the bottom rung forever. If you keep producing $100 work for that $100 pay, that’s where you’ll stay.


To all my readers, thank you for returning and reading my blog posts. To you, I say this:


2 thoughts on “What Level Does Your Portfolio Reflect?

  1. I do believe some artists wait and do personal art and get started at a higher point in the ladder…its just not an option for many. However, I asked Marc and Lauren at Spectrum about this subject (somewhat about this subject)- If you don’t HAVE to take low paying work, is it better to work on your portfolio for yourself or get some street cred working for trusted ADs for low pay? They both felt the latter, so you go girl. (For the record though, I also asked John Schindehette, who disagreed with them).

    • Yeah, I think it’s definitely one of those “gut feeling judgment calls” an artist has to make as to whether or not to even take that low paying job. I took these because of the subject matter and the AD in particular! Everyone has their own path 🙂

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