Stock illustration– your thoughts?
March 1, 2007
Earlier in the week a fellow named Jamie Tucker wrote me with some concerns, and I figured I’d address it here and find out what you think. He writes:
“My colleagues and I recently graduated from the Illustration course at Sheridan College two years ago. I have found many of them now keeping a profile at istockphoto.com and selling stock illustration for like 5 dollars or something like that. They sell a lot of it and are making approx. 400-500 dollars a month. This has led more people from my circle of friends to join up. I’m really against what they’re doing and have heated arguments with them over it. My one friend justifies it to himself by creating a different persona and illustration style for this work.
My personal view is that places like these are killing the industry. Because why would someone want to pay 600 dollars for an illustration when they can get one or a dozen for 10 dollars each. My friends are just saturating the market with their wares. They are talented people so its not like they’re churning out garbage. So people are getting quality work for pennies.
The allure to them is they think it is quick easy money. And it is a very strong pull, especially for strarving illustrators who don’t want to work full time at a 9-5 and Illustrate on the side. (which is what I’m doing)”
I’m torn how to feel on this subject to be fair. On one hand, I really don’t like stock illustration because yes, it does devalue the work that goes into it in some way, even though you do get the opportunity to use an illustration more than once and then get paid for it. But on the other hand, it seems to me that it doesn’t entirely kill the industry– it serves a different purpose. There are some art directors who treat illustration and photography as just another element to pretty up a page– it’s like picking out a font treatment. Or their topics are so common that a very typical image could personify it. Or their budgets don’t allow to hire an illustrator (although this last idea is more wishful thinking– I’ve done my fair share of work for alternative newsweeklies and they on a whole don’t have big budgets). But could we use stock illustration for everything? I don’t think so. Moreover, I think other art directors dislike the idea of stock illustration and then as a result go and commission illustrators to make an image. I may have a pretty close-minded view of the field I admit– I only have been doing this a couple of years, so I suspect there are some veterans out there with a better idea of how it actually works… But I think while I am not a fan of stock illustration and probably wouldn’t do something like sign up with a site like that, it serves its own purpose. I don’t like it, but fortunately illustration has expanded in enough ways that there are still people who want custom illustrations, whose purposes aren’t served by your every day stock illo.
Anyway, I’m curious of your thoughts as well– I guess I have a different view than some, much as I do on the whole ‘illustration is a dying animal’ topic. It doesn’t seem dead to me, but then again I’m not old enough to know how it used to be? But anyway, feel free to comment with your thoughts about stock illustration– do you like it? Hate it? Why? I guess if you can bang out a ton of stock illustration without a lot of effort, perhaps it’s worth it– but the way I work, it’d be pretty useless.