Véronique Vienne on illustration in 1998

Véronique Vienne on the difficulties faced by illustrators in 1998:

“Today, illustrators take for granted that they are lucky to eke out a living. But it was not always that way. In the 1930s, in the middle of the Depression, a cover by the likes of Norman Rockwell fetched $8,000. A full-page illustration was $2,000 – enough money to put a down payment on a house. Today, more than 60 years later, the going rate is half as much, not taking devaluation into account. Illustrators are victims of one of the worst wage depreciations in history. Yet all they feel, at least in public, is polite outrage…

‘There are too many kids willing to work for free,’ says illustrator Mirk Ilic, who used to art direct the New York Times Op-Ed page. ‘But it’s our fault. We don’t educate young people to stand up for their rights. We painted ourselves in a corner – and corporate America was much too happy to provide the paint.’

One of the most lucrative illustration assignments in the editorial world is the cover for Time magazine – with fees up to $5,000. But you must do it overnight. Gone are the days when artists were given a six-week lead time and a successful illustrator did 20 illustrations a year. ‘Today, working more is the only way to make more money,’ says illustrator Tim O’Brien. His yearly average? Sixty paintings: five major illustrations a month, no time off.

Recently, the Graphic Artists Guild and the Society of Illustrators came together to create a joint ethics committee to examine the situation, monitor abusive contracts, and educate illustrators on their rights. [But] their approach is conciliatory – they are not about to bite the increasingly-stingy hand that feeds them.”

She also looks at the rise of stock illustration in the 90s:

“‘Stock illustration is helping to destroy illustration,’ says Ilic, who sees it as the ultimate evil – the commodification of creativity.

Marie-Christine Matter, who runs the Stock Illustration Source, probably the biggest stock illustration agency in the world with a big share of the market in Europe and the United States, says: ‘It takes a special person to create what I call a universal style.’ That special person, most people agree, is a bad illustrator.

In the SIS catalogue, more than 15,000 illustrations are indexed with more than 40,000 key words. Every month, all around the world, illustrators who imitate the technique of Brad Holland, Michel Falon, or Henrik Drescher get fat checks from stock houses. ‘Brad Holland is probably the most copied illustrator in the world,’ says Mark Helfin, director of the American Illustration annuals. ‘It really hurts him.’ Anyone can get a badly designed, fake Brad Holland for a fraction of what he would actually charge.

But there are no regulations, and stock illustration is here to stay.”

— (via Graphis #316)