For some time now there has been a trend among greeting card publishers and gift  manufacturers to grow their in-house design teams and to try to produce as much artwork for product as possible through internal resources. At some point it became an attractive way of working and one that no doubt appealed to tighter budgets. However this trend has been to the great detriment of freelance artists, design agencies and the ancillary services that sustain them.

Since 2011 Pure Illustration has seen an unprecedented drop in licensing to our card publishing customers across the world. We don’t mind admitting that this has been a very difficult time for our artists, our employees and our business as a whole and the market for artwork from freelance sources does not appear to be improving very quickly. Despite this downturn there is a huge increase in the amount of products using illustration and the profits from well designed products seem to be on the rise. Pure currently represent over 75 artists and in the years since 2011 the average income each freelance artist could expect from their art has dropped by almost 40%. This change has forced many incredibly talented and versatile artists to flee the vagaries of the design world to more stable but less appealing careers.

We feel that the financial arguments for operating a large in-house art team no longer stack up. A simple calculation will tell you that an artist employed on the national average wage will cost a UK publisher over £30,000 a year including holiday pay, sick pay, pensions and other benefits. That would buy in almost 130 freelance designs at today’s rates. Not taking into account the need to progress each artists pay, to manage their employment and development and to successfully vary their output enough to make their work look new and fresh, there seems to be many burdens that an employer carries. Then multiply these costs by the number of in-house designers they might need to fulfill their design needs and the figures start to grow alarmingly. We can be sure that the accountants will be looking at this very closely in the coming years. These could be avoided if publishers used freelance artists and illustrators more often and we feel that it is only a matter of time before the burden of costs outweigh the benefits of in-house management.

Freelance Artists and illustrators make up the core of the creative industry. Who else designs the graphics on computer games, the cartoon in your newspaper, or the banner for your website’s spring sale? Their work is the reason a product sells. Freelance artists and illustrators work professionally and with the same intense desire to create something beautifully suited to it’s needs. They may work from home, but that freedom allows them to be on the cusp of trends, of social issues and to fulfill their primary goal of developing a recognisable look and following. They do not need to be couped up in an office to create great work.

We urge all publishers and manufacturers to take another look at sourcing more artwork from freelance artists. In the end we believe that this is the best way for them to stay relevant in their market and to find a sustainable financial model for their business.

Pure Illustration – the agency for artists and illustrators working in art markets worldwide –