Public Speaking

Conference Rules, Part 2

MARCH 21, 2008

Are you nervous? Good. You should be. Anxiety means you are taking the enterprise seriously and your adrenalin is flowing. Without adrenalin you will be a boring speaker.

But too much anxiety will get in the way of what you have to do; too much adrenalin, and you will not think straight.

The purpose of the following rules on presenting a paper at a scholarly conference is to enable you to embrace your anxieties and put them to work — both for you and, just as important, for the arguments you have to make and the stories you have to tell.

Dorothy Kenyon, a great feminist and civil-rights activist who spent much of her time speaking in public, once observed that a public talk must “always seem to be improvised, but it must never be improvised.” If you want to hold your audience, you must plan ahead, and plan carefully.

Rule No. 1: Observe time limits scrupulously. The usual rule of thumb is that a typewritten page holds 250 words. It should take a minimum of two minutes to say 250 words out loud. If you have 20 minutes to speak, your paper can be no longer than 10 to 12 pages. Begin with a paper that is 10 pages long.

Another time limit is the date on which you are supposed to deliver the paper to the scholar who will comment on it at the conference. Sending in that paper on time is a courtesy that gives the commentator time to read and reflect on your paper. Your own selfish interest dictates that you want the most thoughtful comments you can get, not comments that have been hastily thrown together. You will be greatly embarrassed should an annoyed commentator begin by announcing, as some have done, that the paper arrived too late to formulate any substantive thoughts about it.

Rule No. 2: Write for your real audience. A paper written for the ears to hear must be substantially different from a paper written for the eyes to read.

That principle is undermined by the practice of giving the paper in advance to a commentator, who will be the first to read it and will then stand up in public and criticize it. The temptation is to write for the commentator. Ignore that temptation.

Instead write for the people who will be listening. Go through your final draft, looking for dependent clauses. Turn complex sentences into simple, declarative statements. Although a sentence linked by semicolons, or constructed with one or more dependent clauses, may be perfectly clear on paper, it is very hard to understand when it floats into the air. The listener cannot hang on to the subject until the object heaves into view three clauses later.

Use quotations and examples judiciously. Listeners have difficulty absorbing abstraction after abstraction; they need to be grounded in lived experience. Think about the ratio between example and argument as your paper develops.

Devote a sentence or two to explaining — briefly — the research base that sustains your arguments. A reader will see footnotes but listeners cannot. Establish your authority.

Rule No. 3: Rehearse your talk. Jay Fliegelman, the late Stanford University literary scholar, discerned that some of Thomas Jefferson’s own copies of the Declaration of Independence are mysteriously marked as though for a singer, with indications of where the reader is to take a breath. The next time you are at a conference, notice how often speakers run out of breath before the end of a sentence, undermining the force of what they are trying to convey.

Plan ahead so that you do not run out of breath. The first step is what I mentioned under Rule No. 2: writing clear, declarative sentences.

The second, very important step is to read your paper out loud to yourself, listening to yourself speak and noticing when you run out of breath. Watch yourself in the mirror if you can stand it. Take a deep breath at the beginning of each long sentence or group of short sentences. (You will hear yourself breathe, but remember that your audience won’t.) If you do not have enough breath to finish a sentence strongly, break it up into smaller pieces. Read it out loud again.

Then mark your copy to remind yourself when to take a deep breath. If Thomas Jefferson could do that, so can you.

Now read your copy aloud to someone else. Find a friend before whom you do not fear looking like a fool.

Print out your paper in large type (try 14-point or even 16-point) so that you do not need to squint to see it when you are standing at a podium. Find a room approximately the size of the room you will use at the conference. Position your friend at the back of the room. Stand at the front with a lectern and read the paper out loud.

If you are following the rules about breathing, your friend should be able to hear you clearly. Your friend will also be able to tell you whether you are talking too fast — or, in the rare case, too slowly. Your friend may also be able to comment on whether the argument sounds persuasive; sometimes in all the revising and cutting, one leaves out a significant piece of evidence or step in the argument.

Note: None of those rules change if you are speaking into a microphone. All a microphone helps with is volume. It cannot give you breath.

Now rehearse one last time, making sure that your performance is smooth: No tripping over pronounciations, no wrong intonation. If you are using technologyoverhead projections, slides, video clipspractice your talk with it.

Stop fidgeting. The attention of your listeners should be on your words. Avoid anything that draws their attention away from your words. Among the classic distractions:

  • Your hands, waving around in the air. It is true that many of us normally use our hands to emphasize what we have to say. Some of us use our hands as accompaniment all the time. But conversation is different from performance. Except for an occasional gesture that you intend to make, hands are not part of your performance. They should be as invisible as possible, generally at your side or resting on the lectern. If necessary, grab the lectern and cling to it and do not budge. If you have uncontrollable urges to put your hands in your pockets, sew up your pockets.
  • Your hands, fiddling with paper clips or a pen. Never hold anything in your hands when you are speaking in public except when sliding a page of your talk out of the way. Note “sliding.” See next paragraph.
  • The paper on which your words are written. Do not wave the paper around. Do not pick up each page of the paper and turn it over so that you end with a stack in the order in which you began. Slide the pages across so the audience wont see them and you end with a stack in reverse order. The advantage is that you also have two pages in front of you at all times and you can see where you are headed.
  • Your fingers. The only way to indicate a shift from your own words to quoted ones is by the tone of your voice, or by the simple word “said.” Don’t say, “quote … unquote.” Never wiggle your fingers in the air in an attempt to indicate quotation marks.
  • Your head. Normally at conferences, you stand to read your paper. The advantage of standing at a lectern is that you do not need to move your head much to read the paper and then look out at the audience. The difference in movement is much greater when you are sitting down. (Try it). When you are reading a paper aloud from a sitting position, it is almost impossible to have eye contact with the audience unless you interrupt the flow of what you are saying. You cannot take as deep a breath, or project your voice as powerfully, as when you are standing. (Why do you think opera singers stand when they belt out an aria?)

Rule No. 5: Check out the room in advance. If there is no lectern, ask for one. If you are short, be sure you can be seen over it, or ask for a box. Be polite but insistent. Plead nearsightedness. Go in search of one in a nearby room. Do not give up, even if it feels like you are making a pest of yourself.

Make sure there is water at the podium. It’s not a bad idea to bring your own bottle of water and plastic cup as insurance. (You will need a cup; you cannot “swig” from a bottle without distracting an audience.) If you are breathing properly you probably will not need water, but that’s impossible to predict and depends a great deal on the room conditions.

Test out the technology you plan to use in the room ahead of time. Make sure you are comfortable with using it and are prepared to improvise should something go wrong, as it often will. If it does, the time spent making adjustments comes out of your total allocation. Moreover, watching you struggle creates an air of anxiety that infuses the room, distracts your audience, and makes you look inept.

Rule No. 6: Don’t improvise too much. The better you know what you are going to say, the less dependent you will be on your written text, and the more your planned talk will give the impression of informality and improvisation. (See Kenyon Principle, above.) The more you improvise during a formal paper, the greater the dangers of rambling. Save your improvisational skill for the question period, when you will need it.

Be prepared for a “2-minute warning” from the moderator. Sometimes you may get it earlier than you expected through no fault of your own (for example, if one of the earlier speakers ran over time or if the entire panel got started late). At that point, you must cut to the chase. If you have ever played a musical instrument, think about sight-reading with a group of musicians, or accompanying a singer, in which you can omit any number of notes so long as you keep the beat steady and the major chords on time. At the two-minute warning, cut to your topic sentences and then to your well-crafted conclusion. Then stop.

Rule No. 7: Remember, you are among friends. At the beginning of the second act of Hair, the cast members come on the stage naked. In some productions, they run down the aisles, close to the audience. During the original production, a reporter asked the actors how they brought themselves to do that. One actor’s response was that during the intermission they spent some time thinking “the people out there are our friends. They love us. I love them. They are terrific folks. It’s OK to take your clothes off with your friends — like in a locker room. No problem.”

To give a conference paper is to make yourself vulnerable; it’s the intellectual equivalent of stripping naked. You are taking your ideas out to strangers, so you are vulnerable to their criticism. Of course you are anxious; you would be foolish not to be.

So spend an hour before the panel quietly, alone, not talking. Look over your marked-up paper. And think about the panelists and the audience as your friends. After all, despite the competition of other panels and other things the listeners could be doing, they have chosen to come hear you. They are obviously people of good taste and judgment; they are your friends. You are enthusiastically looking forward to meeting them.

Yes, in the aftermath, they may judge you, but put that aside. At the outset, they have come in good faith, and you owe them a welcome in good faith. They are entitled to your welcome. If you are frozen with anxiety, that’s neither fair nor courteous to the people who have come to hear what you have to say.

When you walk out into the room, the thought in your head must be how happy you are to be there, what fabulous people are sitting out in the audience. That holds whether there are five people there or 500. The good vibes will be catching.

Linda K. Kerber is a professor of history and a lecturer in law at the University of Iowa, and recently finished a term as president of the American Historical Association. In Part 1 of this series, she looked at rules for introducing speakers and running a panel discussion.

Pricing (Size-based?)

Help! How do I Price My Paintings?

A few months ago I started sharing snapshots of works in progress on social media. Not long afterwards, someone I know on Facebook asked if my work was for sale, because she wanted to buy a particular piece I was working on.

It gets better: turns out she was interested not just in purchasing the canvas-in-process; she also wanted me to create a second, “sister canvas” to go with it.

Just from posting my process pics on Facebook, I had a buyer for not one, but twopaintings! Great!

The only problem? Now I was going to have to come up with a price…


I am convinced that pricing is always the hardest thing I do as an artist. How the heck do we decide what to charge? Pricing just feels like a big, black void, and one with a lot of pressure: charge too much, and they’ll run away; charge too little, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Ultimately, this spontaneous Facebook commission made me determined to set an entirepricing structure for my work, rather than just grabbing a number out of the air every time I create a new piece. Here are some of the “ground rules” I followed, and some tips that I hope will help you confidently set pricing for your own art.

Pricing Ground Rules for Painters

1) Remember: your pricing gets to change.

If, like my story above, you’ve got a client waiting to hear back about a price, know that as you become more established, you’ll be able to command higher prices. You may even raise your prices on your very next sale.

In other words, whatever you charge this one client is not set in stone, so don’t stress too much about it. Keep in mind, though, that it’s always a better business move to raise your prices than to lower them, so leave yourself some room for growth.

2) Never undercharge.

That said, leaving no room for growth is not actually most artists’ problem — most of us have the opposite issue: charging too little. Once I brought art to be juried into a show, and was horrified that one of my fellow artists was charging less for her work than it had cost her to frame it!

Needless to say, this is a big no-no. Always make sure your pricing covers your actual costs (canvas, paint, framing, shipping if applicable — unless you’re going to charge a separate, additional amount for shipping/packaging).

You also want to take into consideration how much time you put into creating your work. Emerging artists may not be able to command high enough prices to pay themselves fantastically for their actual time spent, but that’s definitely the goal for the long term!

If you’re lucky enough to work fast and loose, you can get away with charging less, because each piece just doesn’t take long to produce. However, if your style is very detail-oriented and meticulous, what another artist could sell happily for $500 might mean you’d be earning pennies per hour, which is not sustainable. Your choice, then, is to grit your teeth and charge a lot more, and/or to figure out how to offer less-expensive work (smaller and/or looser originals, prints, etc.)

Not sure if you’re undercharging? As I wrote in this post on 5 Pricing Lessons Learned the Hard Way, I have a practically foolproof gauge: resentment. If I notice myself feeling resentment about a sale, it’s a good bet I need to raise my price!

On the other hand, if my prices don’t make me feel at least a little uncomfortable that I’m charging too much, I’m probably undercharging!

Your mileage may vary with this: start to pay attention to whether you tend to undervalue or overvalue your work, and adjust accordingly.

Seasons of Yes by Melissa Dinwiddie

3) Be clear and consistent.

Of course your goal is to be paid well for your time, but the truth is, some of your pieces probably take a lot longer to create than others.

You know how much work went into each piece, but customers don’t know (and don’t usually care) how long a piece took you to create. Charging by the hour is likely to result in a lot of confusion as potential customers look at two pieces of the same size and wonder why piece A is so much more expensive than piece B.

Customers who are confused do not buy, which is why I’m a believer in clarity and consistency.

Size-Based Pricing

If you’re a painter, one way to ensure you’re clear and consistent is by using size-based pricing — either by the square inch (h x w) or by the linear inch (h + w). This makes your pricing easy for potential clients to understand, and it prevents you from charging more for pieces you’re particularly fond of, which makes your pricing seem random and confusing (and remember, customers who are confused do not buy).

With size-based pricing, you simply need to determine your current multiplier (the number you multiply by the canvas size) in order to immediately know the price for any given piece (okay, possibly with the help of a calculator…) .

If you create in a lot of different sizes, you may find linear inch pricing more sensible than square inch pricing. Why? When you charge by the square inch, the price difference between a small painting and a larger one can become astronomical.

Here, for example, is square inch pricing, using a multiplier of 2.5 (ie, $2.50 per square inch):

4×4 inches = 16 square inches x 2.5 = $40

8×8 inches = 64 square inches x 2.5 = $160

16×16 inches = 256 square inches x 2.5 = $640

24×24 inches = 576 square inches x 2.5 = $1,440

32×32 inches = 1,024 square inches x 2.5 = $2,560

I don’t know about you, but $40 seems awfully small price for a painting by someone who commands $2,560 for a 32×32 canvas.

Here are the same canvas sizes using linear inch pricing, using a multiplier of 20 (ie, $20.00 per linear inch) — as you can see, the difference in price feels a lot less out-of whack:

4+4 inches = 8 linear inches x 20 = $160

8+8 inches = 16 linear inches x 20 = $320

16+16 inches = 32 linear inches x 20 = $640

24+24 inches = 48 linear inches x 20 = $960

32+32 inches = 64 linear inches x 20 = $1,280

Neither of these pricing methods is “right” or “wrong,” but once you determine your method and your multiplier, charging by size can be a very helpful way to eliminate the guesswork, and feel confident about your pricing.

Different Pricing for Different Media?

One possible modifier to your size-based pricing structure is the media you paint with. If you only paint watercolors, or only paint oils, there’s no problem, but if you paint both on canvas and on paper, as I do, it gets a little tricky.

For whatever reason, paintings on paper tend to sell for less than paintings on canvas — even though they require framing, which is an added expense. In my case, if I were to pay to have a piece framed, my costs become much higher for a work on paper than for a canvas painting! What’s an artist to do?

I don’t have a final answer to this question, except to refer you to the item below…

4) Do your research.

It can be useful to look around at what other artists are charging for their work: artists in your local area, and especially artists at a similar stage in their careers.

What are people charging for framed works on paper? For unframed works on paper? For stretched canvases?

The challenge here, though, is that what other people charge is likely to be all over the map. So when you do your research, be sure to take into consideration how you want to brand yourself: do you pride yourself on making “art for everyone,” at “everyman” prices? Or do you want to make your mark as a high-end, premium-pricing artist?

When artist Matt LeBlanc was deciding what to price, he looked at what kinds of art were available in his area and noticed the low-end and high-end of the market were rather saturated. The mid-range, though, didn’t have a lot of competition, so that’s the price range he decided to set on his paintings — at the time of this writing, Matt has work for sale from $50 to $900.

This kind of research worked well for Matt: he went from selling no art, to being featured on HGTV, and being one of the hottest selling artists in his area.

5) State your price, then shut up.

My most expensive moment as an artist was several years ago, when a couple flew out to California from Philadelphia to meet with me about commissioning a ketubah for their anniversary.

I’d already told them my price range, which at the time was something like “from $1,500 to $5,000” (mistake #1: never put an upper limit on your pricing!), and when they told me what they were looking for, I realized it was going to be one of the most time-intensive pieces I’d ever made.

In other words, this was a top-of-the pricing scale commission.

However, I’d never yet commanded $5,000 for a piece, and I was afraid this number, which felt so big to me, would scare them off! So when it came time to give them an estimate, I hemmed and hawed, and said something like, “Well, what you’re looking for is at the top of my price range.”

Then, instead of keeping my mouth shut and seeing how they responded, I stupidly barreled ahead to say, “…but if $5,000 is too much for your budget, I can always scale back the design to make it less expensive.”


The husband said, “$3,000, $4,000, $5,000 — it’s all the same to me. But I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of guy, so let’s go with the middle price — $4,000.”

Yep — because I couldn’t just state my price and shut up, I lost a thousand dollars in a heartbeat. (And “scaling back the design” is a myth. It never happens!) Lesson learned.

This one is important, so I’ll say it again: state your price, then shut up. Period. Do not explain, do not apologize.

(I’ve done that too — gotten defensive about my pricing — and oh, the pain! Now I’ve learned to say, “If you like my work, this is the price. If you don’t want to pay that, you don’t have to buy it.”)

If you’re sending an email to a potential customer, “state your price and shut up” might look something like:

“For this painting, the price is $X [plus shipping/packaging, if you’re charging for shipping separately].”


“I charge $Y per linear inch, and this painting is 24×30, which is 54 linear inches, so the price is $(Yx54).”


“If you’d like to purchase it, just let me know and I’ll send you a link to a payment page where you can pay either with a credit card or your PayPal account [or whatever payment method you use]. Once I receive your payment and shipping address, I’ll ship your painting to you via [shipping service].”

[Be sure to indicate when you’ll ship — a day? a week? does the painting need to cure first? does it need to be varnished first?]”

Summing Up

The really challenging thing about pricing is that there are no hard and fast rules. Everything depends on you, your work, where you live, where you are in your career — there are so many variables it can drive us nutty!

The tips I’ve shared here have helped me get more confident with my own pricing. I won’t lie to you, pricing my work is still really, really hard, but hopefully these ground rules will help light your path as you negotiate this trickiest of areas for artists.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

My grad school application essay

This is my personal essay that I wrote to apply to Alfred University for the Sculpture/Dimensional Studies program in 2011.  


Shortly after receiving my undergraduate degree in photography, I felt limited by the photographic medium and sought to explore more conceptual topics that I felt photography simply could not convey.  Real experiences- tactile and visceral sensory perceptions- became important to me, and I began experimenting with performance, sculpture, and interactive art.   In my recent work, themes of perception, time, movement, and physicality combine with my interest in life’s minutia and the American vernacular.  Nothing is simple or straightforward.  Everything we come into contact with- whether it is the thoughts we are thinking or the objects that surround us- has a complex history.  I make whimsical works that challenge the viewer to examine that which we overlook or take for granted, and ultimately leave them with questions regarding the ways in which human beings perceive and construct reality. 

I’m intent on testing the boundaries of contemporary art.  The fact that I am interested in real, tactile experiences, yet wish to create sculpture involving digital technologies to convey these experiences, is a compelling contrast that I wish to further explore.  Coming of age in a time when the internet and cell phones did not permeate every facet of one’s life, I am hesitant when it comes to embracing new technologies, as I value a clarity and a connectedness that I believe is being eradicated by today’s fast-paced, media-saturated world.  However, rather than simply denounce technology for it’s role in dehumanizing humanity, I’d like to investigate this matter further, and become better informed about issues related to technology and media and the role they play in society. Can I use technology to help people become more aware of the real and physical world around them? And what does this say about myself and about current trends in our culture?

Now that I have become committed to more experimental art practices, I’d like to recognize this commitment through a formal graduate education.  Because of my undergraduate study in photography, I lack a solid foundation in the mediums in which I would like to be working.  Being immersed in a creative and energetic community of artists and thinkers, receiving feedback and guidance from advisors and peers, having dedicated time to commit to a rigorous studio practice– all of these factors would help establish the confidence and connectedness that I am currently lacking in my new chosen mediums, as well as help me achieve my goal of becoming a working artist.

To be in an environment that encourages the exploration of often disparate ideas and interests is extremely important to me.  Alfred’s interdisciplinary nature and eclectic variety of course offerings convinced me that this is where I want to be.   I’m interested in challenging the role of the artist as “lone creator” and exploring ideas that involve the public in art or art making.  I embrace collaboration as a way to produce an artwork that expands beyond my original intentions, allowing it to grow and develop through the collaborative process to become a stronger, more solid piece than when it first began.  I’m enthusiastic about meeting other graduate students to collaborate with, and in the process continue to challenge my own ideas about what art is, what art can be, and where it can be seen. 

I am eager to attend the Sculpture / Dimensional Studies program at Alfred University, and I thank you for considering me for a position in the program.

Artist Talk / Final Package

Artist Talk / Oral Presentation 

The final presentation is a role playing situation where the student presents herself or himself as if in pursuit of a specific career goal.  This will include a slide presentation of their portfolio.  Students will need to make sure that their work is carefully photographed.  A final portfolio of at least 10 original pieces that form a cohesive body of work will be presented during the final presentation.

In order to present a focused presentation, students must choose a very specific goal for the sake of the presentation.  If you have not been able to commit to a specific career goal, you can still make a very focused hypothetical presentation. You can also opt to do a traditional Artist’s Talk.

The presentation must be well-edited.  You are not being graded on the quality of the artwork, but of the quality of the documentation of the artwork and the presentation of the material.  Try to convince the audience that you deserve this particular opportunity.  In addition to your own work, you might discuss your background, your influences, material processes, or why you are a good fit for this opportunity.

Presentations should run 10-15 minutes in length.

Due April 19: Last Name beginning with A – G

Due April 26: Last Name beginning with H – N

Due May 3: Last Name beginning with P – Z


Final Professional Package

Inside a folder (any kind of folder with pockets- it doesn’t have to be fancy), please include final versions of the following:

  1. Cover Letter ( for a hypothetical opportunity- can be for a job, or reaching out to a gallery or publication, etc)
  2. CV
  3. Artist Statement
  4. Bio
  5. 5-10 Printed Images of you work with Image List
  6. Promotional Leave Behind (Postcard or Business Card)

This means you have to PRINT OUT all of these materials.  Keep in mind, 72dpi (low resolution) images are not adequate for printing out.  Use 300 dpi (high resolution) images. Keep the design coherent throughout all the materials.


Illustration Contract

Having a contract is essential for any illustration assignment. But what should go into that contract can oftentimes be confusing and downright scary, particularly for those of us who are more artistic-minded rather than business-minded. In this post, we’ll take a look at a great resource to help with your contracts and discuss the different things that should go into a standard one and the reasons why.

Every illustration contract is going to be different depending on the industry it’s for. A book publishing contract, for instance, is going to have different needs than an editorial contract or a licensing contract. And contracts that you generate yourself are often going to have different language than contracts supplied to you by the client (and will usually be better for you). The goal of this post is to just discuss the standard boilerplate things an illustrator should be aware of.

So, where do we start? Well, if you’ve never drawn up your own contract or seen one before, there’s a fantastic resource available for under $30. I’m referring, of course, to Tad Crawford’s Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators.

An invaluable resource for any illustrator.

Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators has sample contracts for everything an illustrator might need, as well as a nice explanation of all the terms those contracts use. Forms include things like agency contracts, book publishing contracts, lecture agreements, model release forms, and even a nondisclosure agreement. For those of you out there who still have CD drives, the book even comes with a CD preloaded with all the forms already on it that can easily be put into your own Word doc or InDesign file to tweak to your heart’s content. Quite simply, it’s a resource that every illustrator should own and I encourage everyone to go out and buy it.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to Tad’s Confirmation of Assignmentform. Mr. Crawford himself was gracious enough to allow me to reproduce it for the educational purposes of this discussion. (And, please note, it’s not for reproduction. If you’d like to use it, please purchase Mr. Crawford’s well-deserving book.) Using this form, I’m going to go through point-by-point to explain what each of these things mean, why they’re important, and suggest some additions and tweaks that I think should be added for a basic, working contract. So let’s examine the form below and try to make sense of it all:

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.43.01 PM.png


Every contract needs an introduction that lists the date the agreement is being entered into, who the different parties are that are agreeing to it, and where they’re located. This form shows a great example of that language.

1. Description

This clause outlines a description of the work that’s being done. This is important because it will cover the full scope of the project. You don’t want to commit to doing twelve illustrations for a certain fee, only to have the client later add three more and expect you to do it for the same price. Having a clear understanding of what the project covers is vital to avoid misunderstandings and ensure the assignment stays within the agreed-upon parameters.

2. Due Date

It’s essential to have due dates clearly written for both sketches and final art, as well as any other important target dates that need to be met. While I agree with the substance of this clause, I do, however, suggest a different way of wording it. In my professional experience, I’ve never had amorphous dates about things being due a certain number of days after a contract is signed. In fact, due to the haste that the business operates in, it’s not uncommon for jobs to have already begun while the finer points of the contract are still being worked out. So I would suggest putting something simpler like:

Sketches will be delivered by _____. Final art will be delivered by _____.

Additionally, I also like to add an extra point here because sometimes art directors sit on your sketches for a long time. What happens if you deliver sketches on a Monday, expecting four days to get to work on the final art that’s due on Friday, but the art direct doesn’t give you approval to go to final until Thursday evening? That could be quite problematic. So I like to add something like this:

In order for the final art due date to be met, sketches must be approved in a reasonable amount of time. If they’re not, a new final art due date must be negotiated or an additional rush fee will be added.

That way it ensures you can do your best work without having to pull an unneeded all-nighter. Or, if you’re still expected to, at least get paid for the hassle.

3. Grant of Rights

As an illustrator, you’re not actually selling art, but the rights of reproduction. It’s in your best interest to limit the client’s rights as much as possible and retain the bulk of them for yourself. A clause indicating what rights are actually being purchased is essential and that’s what this example does. It identifies how the illustration will be used, in what territories (for instance, North America; North America and Canada; English language; World; etc.), the time period (1st printing; 4 months; 10 years; in perpetuity; etc.), and any other limitations on the rights. Additionally it also talks about exclusivity vs. non-exclusivity. As with most illustration-related issues, it’s best to limit exclusivity whenever possible, though most clients will want it while the work exists in the purchased time period so as not to have any conflicts. Electronic rights should also be more money, but these days it’s a hard fight since most clients will also expect to have some kind of web rights or e-device rights. Good luck if you can get extra cash for it, though!

I’d also add something in here about granting of rights only be given if the payment is made in full. That way, if the client fails to pay you, then your legal options are greater because you actually haven’t granted the rights. Something to the effect of:

Any grant of rights is contingent upon payment in full.

4. Reservation of Rights

This is just a simple clause to say that, if it ain’t in the contract, you ain’t giving it away. This contract shows a great example of the kind of language you’d want to use.

5. Fee

This one’s a no-brainer. Even the most basic contracts need to mention the agreed-upon fee. A note about sales tax, though: sales tax applies to goods bought and sold. As an illustrator, you’re selling reproduction rights, not the actual art itself so sales tax is rarely billed. It would only be charged if you were selling that actual art as well as the rights of reproduction.

6. Additional Usage

A standard clause should be added in all contracts to say that the client can only use your work the way it was intended. If they decide to use it for anything else, they need to come back to you and negotiate a new fee for that additional usage.

7. Expenses

Some illustrators have bonafide expenses that may be incurred with the work, outside of just the standard materials. For instance, you may need to pay for model fees if you’re a photorealistic painter, or travel expenses if you’re doing some kind of reportage work, or even font purchases if you’ll be incorporating typography into your work. If you have those kind of costs and the client has agreed to cover them, you’ll want to add a similar clause.

8. Payment

A clause like this is essential because it covers how and when your payment will occur. Standard payments are typically due within 30 days after receiving final art. It’s important to make sure that payment is due upon delivery and never due upon publication. The reason being: what happens if the publication gets delayed? For instance, you’re doing a book cover, but the author get sick and has to postpone the book a year? You could be waiting quite a long time to receive your money then. Or, even worse, the author dies and the book never gets published? Who knows if you’ll ever even get paid if you’ve agreed to an on-publication payment. Additionally, there’s also a point in here about late payments and charging a percentage fee. This is usually 1-2% and accounts for any interest you would have gained if you were able to put that money into a savings account. It’s important because the money rightfully should be yours and insolvent clients will typically try to delay payment so they can earn interest off of it. Something like that sentence guarantees against that happening.

9. Advances

For illustrations where you may get an advance fee, it’s important to have that information in the contract. Advances are particularly helpful if it’s a longterm project and you need cash upfront to keep you afloat while you work on it, or if you’re concerned about the client’s ability to pay, this can be a great assurance to make sure you at least get a good portion of the money should anything catastrophic happen.

10. Revisions

In a contract, it’s vital to ensure that you have the first opportunity to make any revisions to your art. One of the worst feelings is seeing your art published and realizing that the art director did all kinds of horrible things to it without your permission or consultation. Having a clause like this should (theoretically) prevent that.

11. Copyright Notice

Of course, you’ll want to have your copyright notice indicated somewhere near your art and a clause like this guarantees that the client does this. This helps protect you and makes sure no one infringes on your work by saying they didn’t know it was copyrighted.

12. Authorship Credit

Like the copyright notice above, it’s important to be given credit for the work you’ve done. That way, other people will know you were the person who created it and, hopefully, it will lead to more work.

13. Cancellation

Otherwise known as a “kill fee”, a cancellation clause is one of the most important things you can have in a contract. This covers the “what if” variables that come up that may cause a project to be abandoned. In a contract, it’s crucial to state the different percentages that are expected to be paid at different levels of completion should the assignment go belly-up. Usually, for final art that’s been turned in, it’s customary to be paid 100% of the fee, regardless of whether or not the client uses it in the end. Sometimes there may be a smaller percentage if the client is unhappy with the final art, but I’ve never found that to be the case, personally, as most instances of projects being killed arise from far less interesting reasons (a story being delayed because of ground-breaking news, sales and design not seeing eye to eye, etc.). If a job is killed before final art is turned in, I suggest charging anywhere from 33% – 75%, depending on the stage it’s killed. Even if you haven’t begun actual work on the assignment, taking on a job might mean you have to turn down other work in order to clear your schedule for the assignment. If the job gets killed before you start, then that means you’ve lost out on that gig, plus whatever you turned down, so you need to remember that when determining your kill fee. Additionally, as most illustrators will tell you, sketching often takes far more work than the actual final piece, so that’s something else to remember when evaluating that.

14. Ownership and Return of Artwork

Another important clause to have in a contract is one that specifies that the ownership of the artwork you produce remains with you. Remember, when selling an illustration, you’re selling the rights of reproduction, not the art itself. A clause like this also covers what happens in the event that the client damages or destroys your art by accident and specifies its value. The value given should be arealistic value and not some fantasy number.

15. Permissions and Releases

A clause like this is good to have because it ensures you don’t get into any legal hot water based on something the client asked you to use in your art that they said they had permission for, but might not have actually had. For instance, let’s say a client gave you a reference photo to include in your art and told you they had the rights to it, but it turned out they didn’t? You couldn’t be held responsible. In a lot of contracts supplied to you by clients, they’ll have almost identical language but in reverse, claiming they can’t be held responsible for anything you put into your art.

16. Arbitration

You’ll, of course, want a clause in your contracts to cover what happens should things get to a point that the legal system needs to get involved. Depending on your situation and preference, you may want things to go through arbitration or the court system. Different lawyers will have different opinions about that. Additionally, disputes that are worth less than what can be sued for in small claims court typically will not be part of this provision. It’s far easier and cheaper to sue there as you don’t need to involve lawyers or pay exorbitant court costs.

17. Miscellany

The last clause is a standard one that’s included in all contracts that covers which state laws it’s governed by and that anything that’s not in the agreement is not covered by the contract. If something is to be added or changed, it must be done so by a writing instrument (meaning, not verbal), unless it’s small potatoes stuff like revisions or expenses.


Finally, all contracts end with a space for the parties to sign and date, indicating that they’ve agreed to all the terms set forth above.

Extra things

While the above contract is great, there are a couple of other things I’d also recommend having when drawing up your own:

Tear sheets

I’d suggest putting a clause in here to guarantee that the client gives you a minimum of three tear sheets in the case of printed work. It’s good form for them to do so and looks a lot better than computer printouts in your portfolio.

Number of rounds

I’d also suggest adding a clause limiting the number of rounds for sketches and revisions, or else an additional fee will get added. This prevents certain clients from abusing you by making you do endless changes.

Final thoughts

Contracts can be very scary, but, once you know what actually should go in them, they’re not that bad. If you don’t know legal language, don’t try to use it as certain words may have legal ramifications that you may not be aware of. Instead, just use plain language and strive for clarity. Or, better yet, invest $30 and buy Tad Crawford’s book, Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators, and use that as a starting point for your own contracts.

Speaking of which, a huge thank you to Tad for granting me the right to reproduce his form on this blog for the purposes of our discussion. That was incredibly gracious of him and I (and I’m sure all my readers) am really grateful.

Now that you know what should go into your contracts and where to buy a great resource to help with them, you have no excuse to not work with them anymore!

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Neil Swaab is a freelance illustrator, art director, author, and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s an instructor at Parsons the New School for Design and the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling book Middle School: My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou. His new authored and illustrated book, The Secrets to Ruling School: Class Election, comes out this September from Amulet Books.

Photography Print Pricing

This article is all about the mechanics of pricing, and in particular how to price your physical products. At, our mantra is to be specific, direct and share concrete business ideas. Therefore, to accompany the discussion here in this article, I am going to use the example of an 8×10 print to illustrate the concepts. This discussion could be adapted to any physical product, however, so please feel free to use the ideas here and apply them to your own product offerings.

Some photographers pick their prices arbitrarily without real reason. They simply feel that they should be charging a certain amount, and so they just pick that number. This isn’t the best way to set yourself up for a successful career as a photographer though, as you can’t really be sure that your “out of the air” prices are realistic, profitable, or appropriate. Also, when you arbitrarily choose pricing, it also doesn’t give you any measurable or repeatable way to establish pricing for other items in your product line. You end up with inconsistent pricing that is all over the place without logic or reason.

Pricing: Influencing Factors

There are five main factors that should influence your pricing. They are as follows:

  1. The quality of your work and your finished product
  2. Your perceived value in the marketplace and the perceived value of your products
  3. How confident you are as a photographer
  4. What your competitors are charging and what the market will bear
  5. Your cost-of-goods

When looking at these very basic factors, the first three (quality, perceived value,confidence) are all intangibles and therefore slightly subjective. You can offer the best quality, present your work beautifully and be entirely confident in your ability, but all this doesn’t help you come up with a price. At best, it gives you a self-focused approach to pricing, which says “this is what I think I’m worth”, but that isn’t enough.

The fourth influencing factor on pricing (competition) is an important one to note. Of course it wouldn’t be smart to copy your competition’s pricing, but I feel it’s important to at least be aware what your local market will bear and keep that in the back of your head as your establish your own price structure. You don’t want to be so far off the line that you are looked at as being unrealistic.

While we’re on the topic of relevancy, creating a pricing structure that your local market will bear is important. As I mentioned in the article, there are so many great educational resources available to us as photographers, but you must to be realistic and relevant to your local market when making business decisions. For example, just because an established photographer from Southern California tells you in a workshop that he charges $165 for an 8×10 print doesn’t mean that you should, too. You need to be realistically priced for your area otherwise you’ll price yourself completely out of the local market.

Measurable Pricing

While there are five influencing factors on pricing (above), it’s clear to see that the only real measurable way to establish your pricing is by using the fifth factor, which takes into account your cost-of-goods. Before we go too deep into the mechanics here, I’d like to explore the concept of cost-of-goods for a minute. If we’re using an 8×10 print as our example product here, the cost-of-goods does not mean just the cost of the print from your lab. Many photographers make this mistake and don’t factor in the real costs of a product. Cost-of-goods for a product is so much more.

Cost-of-Goods is defined as the direct costs involved in producing a product or service which usually includes labor and materials.

It’s important to note that cost-of-goods includes labor. Many photographers don’t factor in their time when establishing their pricing, and that is a sure way to notmake a living with your photography business.

What does an 8×10 print cost?

Let’s go back to our example of an 8×10 print.  Let’s walk through the process of producing an 8×10 print for a client, from start to finish, and see what is really involved:

  • First you spend 10 minutes retouching the image in Photoshop to make sure it’s perfect.
  • You spend a quick minute cropping and sharpening the image for the size of print (8×10) ordered by your client.
  • Now that the image is ready, you spend 3 minutes to order the print from your lab via the ROES software, choosing the right paper stock, finish, shipping option, and so on.
  • The print costs $3.50 from your lab.
  • The shipping charge to get the print from your lab to your doorstep is $6.50.
  • When you get the print in to your studio, you spend 3 minutes unpacking it and inspecting it.
  • You package up the print in a museum-quality arrival sleeve, a beautiful box with tissue paper, a “caring for your print” card and wrap it up with ribbon and a beautiful bow. All of this goes into a custom-printed tote bag with more tissue paper. The cost of your packaging is about $5.00 and it takes you roughly 5 minutes to package it up.
  • You spend a quick minute writing the e-mail to your client, letting them know that their print is in and ready for pick up, and you propose a time for them to come in.
  • When your client comes to pick up the print, you spend 10 minutes chatting with them, making sure they’re happy with the print and talking about their next session.

That sounds fairly average, right? I don’t think that this is an unrealistic workflow. If anything, it may be underestimating some of the time calculations, but let’s go with it for now. Let’s calculate what actually went into the print.

Labour and material costs of an 8×10 print:
33 minutes total time and $15 total hard cost

If you’re a full-time professional photographer and are hoping to make a sustainable living from your business, let’s put your annual salary at $60,000, which I think is more than fair. We have 50 weeks of work (2 weeks vacation) and 40 hours per week, which calculates out to $0.50 per minute, calculated as such:

$60,000 annual wage
÷ 50 working weeks
÷ 40 hours per week
÷ 60 minutes per hour
= $0.50 per minute wage

If our per-minute wage is $0.50, and we put a total of 33 minutes into the 8×10 print, then that means our labour cost of the print was $16.50. Add to that the $15 hard cost, this brings our total cost of the 8×10 print to be $31.50.


So far we haven’t taken into consideration any other ongoing fixed expenses such as utilities, taxes, equipment, education, and so on. The PPA benchmark surveyrecommends that a home-based studio operates a business model of 35% cost-of-goods, meaning that your variable expenses (cost-of-goods) should be 35% of your total revenue. The remaining 65% is eaten up by fixed costs and business profit.

Therefore, if we’re operating under a 35% cost-of-goods model, we must mark-up our costs by 2.85 (100 ÷ 35 = 2.85) to arrive at a final product price that:

  1. Covers our hard costs
  2. Pays for the time that went into creating the finished product
  3. Leaves room (65%) for overhead expenses and business profit

This means that we need to multiply our 8×10 cost of $31.50 by 2.85, which gives us a final product price for an 8×10 print of $89.78.

Let’s stop there for a minute. Many of you may be saying that $90 for an 8×10 print is outrageous and that you couldn’t sell a piece of paper for that much in your area. That’s ok. You’ve just hit on the other “influencing factors” that we discussed earlier:

  • Confidence – you don’t think it would go over
  • Perceived value – you feel that it’s just a piece of paper
  • Competition/Market – your area wouldn’t support prices that high

These are important discussions to have. Maybe with these three influencing factors, you have come to the conclusion that somewhere in the $65 price range is more appropriate and realistic for your 8×10 print price, and that’s ok. That just means that you need to price other similar products in your line-up (i.e. 16×24 prints) to have a higher mark-up so that it’s balanced with the lower mark-up on this product (8×10 prints).

There still ends up being some guess-work with using the factors of confidence, perceived value and quality to adjust your prices, but at least using the cost-of-goods pricing model, you have a foundation to start off with.

Action item:

First, calculate what your per-minute wage is (annual salary ÷ 50 weeks ÷ 40 hours per week ÷ 60 minutes per hour).

Determine your labour costs by recording how much time goes into the production of the finished product and multiply that time by your per-minute wage (above).

Determine your material costs by adding up the hard costs associated with the product (printing, shipping, packaging).

Add the labour costs to the material costs to determine your total cost of a product.

Multiply your total costs by your mark-up of 2.85.

Adjust your price if necessary to be in line with your quality, confidence, perceived value and local market area.

This process might seem tedious, but it is crucial to the long-term success of your photography business. Repeat this process for each and every one of your products and services. If you don’t want to do it manually, we’ve designed a great pricing calculator here that will do it all automatically for you.