How to earn more as an illustrator

In another article I showed you why you should ask for referrals from your clients.

To quickly recap: getting referrals is where you have your happy clients open their professional networks to you. Sending your multiple referrals that will lead to more work.

Ultimately, this eliminates the initial hustle of having to introduce yourself to 20 potential clients every week for ETERNITY.

When you’re asking for referrals, your illustration clients are doing the work of getting clients for you.

What’s next?

Getting more clients?

Not necessarily.

We think we need more illustration clients.

It’s easy math.

If I’m making $500 per client, and I get 10 more clients, I make an extra $5,000.

But that’s not the only way to make more money as an illustrator.

In fact, it’s not even the easiest way.

Getting 10 clients can be hard work.

It’s not as hard if you are getting consistent referrals, but it’s still a lot of work.

What if instead, you just made an extra $500-$1,000 every year from one client Without doing any additional work?

That’s a whole lot easier.

This is my 2nd secret weapon, and it’s negotiating “usage rights”. Otherwise known as art licensing.

For example, instead of just settling at $500 per client, you can negotiate licensing terms in the initial stages of the project. Billing up front an additional $500 or $2,000 extra for “usage rights”.

Usage rights are where you defining how your client is to use the final illustrations. Including in what geographic area, for how long, and number of uses.

For example, if your illustrations are going on an actual product that is being sold. Such as books, puzzles, clothing, or anything else, you can negotiate a percentage of the sales as well.

Think about it…

As long as your client is profiting from your work, so should you.

Usage rights and licensing works for EVERY kind of illustration project.

Your illustrations help your client make money.

This is exactly why “usage rights” should be included in how you charge for your illustrations.

For example, if an online publication or brand hired you to illustrate 12 illustration for their website. Charge them for the custom work AND the usage rights to use your work in a specific way, place, and area for one year.

After the year is up, if they want to keep your illustration on their site, you can renegotiate another year or two.

Here is what “usage rights” look like in a proposal and a contract.


  • Project Rate
    12 black and white spot illustrations for $500 each
  • Usage Rights
    $250 per illustration for one year of exclusive, non-transferable and non-assignable use of the artwork for the purpose of application on [URL].


Do you see how “usage rights” and helpful?


NEVER give up your your ownership of copyright to a client.

A lot of illustrators do this without even knowing.


By signing a contract stating they’re an “employee” or a “work for hire”. If you do, you’re giving up ALL of your copyright ownership.

Just because someone paid you to make illustrations doesn’t mean they own the copyright to your image.

UNLESS, you agreed to adopt a “work-for-hire” or “employee” status instead of an “independent contractor” status.

For example, when you work for an animation studio or advertising agency as an “employee”, you will sign an employment agreement categorizing you as a “work-for-hire”. This means all the copyrights for everything you create at work is owned by your employer.

But even freelance illustration clients will try to give you their contract with the same “employee” and “work for hire” wording.

Instead, you want to classify yourself as an “independent contractor” in your contract. This legally separates you from company.

You should NEVER sign anything that asks you to adopt a “work-for-hire” or “employee” status if you want to retain your copyrights.

If your potential illustration client requests you change “independent contractor” to “work-for- hire” in your contract… RUN.