Deciding not to pay an artist

As some of you may know, I’m a photo manipulator artist, and have been since 2007 – I’ve done many commissions throughout my artistic career, and am happily employed at Three Worlds Production as a book cover artist since April.

Now, throughout my freelancing, I’ve had mostly ups in the experiences, and I’ve really loved working with all my clients! 🙂 When I show them the final product sample, just reading how much they love the cover – it’s my greatest payment. As a writer myself, I know just how much the stories we write are special to us, so my goal is always to have a cover they can love as much as they love their stories.

Then again, I can’t live off client satisfaction alone (if I could, I would!), so I do require payment. I mean, it’s never a surprise either, there’s always an email that involves pricing and all those details (explaining the costs, stuff like that), and I often try to make it as low as I can when people need it (or payment plans, depending on the situations). I had talked to many artists on DeviantArt since it was the website that really got me into art and challenged me, and eventually, I started charging what pretty much all book cover artists were charging, only my hourly rate was lower.

Toward the end of March 2015, I got an email for a novel commission from someone who had started watching me on Twitter (we’ll call this client Jane Doe). She’d be publishing under a pen name because it was an Erotic Fantasy and wanted to keep her identity hidden, and so we started with the emails back and forth. My prices were all on my blog, which I sent her a link to (it even gave an example of a scenario so that there wouldn’t be any confusions), and once everything was good to go, I started looking for stocks (FIY, while I look for stock and send options out, I don’t charge – I only start charging once I start doing the actual cover art!).

Again, I always enjoy working with clients – every single one is unique and bring their own ideas to the table, and while some have a very specific image of what they want their cover to look like, some are a little ‘looser’. Jane Doe had a very specific idea of what her three characters looked like, and by the time I finally found three model stocks she liked, almost a week had past (again, I didn’t charge for this). She wanted a lot of the stock models changed though (hair, skin color, etc.) so after I got the go ahead to start the actual artwork, I worked on the models. I recorded my progress and often sent samples of the models to make sure they were looking like she wanted them to. Finally, after almost two weeks of back and forth with the three models, I got them to look exactly as she wanted them to look, and she was happy.

I continued working another week on the actual artwork – again, very specific about the background, night time, buildings – and as I was nearing the end, I asked her about the payment. The total amount had gone up high with all the weeks and weeks of back and forth, the hours and hours I spent working on it (and neglecting my midterm studying), so I thought it best to ask for half now, and the other half once the artwork was finalized. Jane Doe asked if she could pay half now, and the other half on the 10th of the month because her budget would be tight since she had something about her daughter needing something or rent, and I decided to agree (despite it being almost two weeks later). This would mean that I’d be in the red for my own rent (and I get charged by my bank for going in the red), but being a single mom, I guess I felt sympathetic, plus I knew the payment would be coming in and I’d be able to pay things back.

Now, my first big mistake was that I started to count on what was owed too much – though, this being a source of income, I shouldn’t have had to not depend on it, wanting to think most people are honest – and I started paying back some loans and debts. I even told my son we might be able to do something special for his birthday and my own since they’re two months apart.

Well, after I sent the first invoice for half the payment, Jane Doe replied and asked if that was half of the payment. I replied it was, and that she could still pay the other half on the 10th like we agreed on. Then, silence. Time past, and I started getting worried because I wasn’t receiving the first of the payment. I emailed her, and offered that if it was too much, we could make plans for installments or something. Still, silence. I thought maybe she wasn’t receiving my emails or something (I have problems with gmail at times) so I went on Twitter to send her a DM (Direct Message)…her account was deleted. I emailed her a few days later saying she could pay half only and never mind the cover artwork (which was basically finished). Silence.

Well, you can imagine how much trouble I was in now – I payed back loans and debts thinking I had more coming in (which, by the way, I only had university loans and bursaries to live off ), had rent, groceries, put myself in the red, and now had to tell my son we weren’t doing anything special for our birthdays, let alone even being able to buy him a birthday gift. My degree is in criminology, and through classes and guest speakers, I met many lawyers. I approached a few friends of mine with what had happened, and all three said that I could bring Jane Doe to civil court since I had the email message thread, knew her full name, etc. I decided to try one last time with the client, and basically sent her an email saying that if she didn’t pay at least half of the payment (the first invoice I sent), I would seek legal action. Silent followed, of course, and with time, I decided to put that aside for now since I can’t deal with this situation right now.

So with that experience, I learned that not everyone is honest, and that instead of just saying it went much higher than she’d expected (again, even though the pricing was on my blog), she decided to delete her Twitter account and probably block me on gmail (or delete her gmail account, whichever). I’m still scrounging from this setback, and it’s been pretty difficult (especially now that I’m moving). Right now, I’m trying to widen my portfolio when it comes to book covers, but I’ve also put it at a low cost because any little amount helps at this point.

All in all, from now on I’ll know that it’s better to have a set price and get half up front – I may end up losing money this way, but on the other hand, there’s less chances of leaving me with absolutely nothing, and a child who couldn’t have a gift on his birthday.


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