Glen Oomen Illustration

Questions & Answers

You have questions about medical or scientific illustration, I have a lot of the answers.

Questions & Answers

The nature of the work I do in science and healthcare means that many of my clients are unaccustomed to working with freelance creatives. I've listed a few common Q&A's below that might help you in working with me or other creatives. Part of my job is bridging the gap between science and artwork to enhance the work my clients do, adding value, impact and citations to their publications.  

1. How much does illustration cost?

By far the most popular question, even if it isn't very popular at all! Since nobody likes to talk about money, we'll get this over with. Firstly, as a freelancer, I work for clients all over the world so I quote and work in your currency. Secondly, I do politely decline projects costing less than 200 €/$/£. There is no illustrative, artistic, or design job that will take me or anyone I may hire to help less than two hours to do. That leads me to the third thing: I tend to estimate at around 100 (insert your currency) per hour, which means I tend not to work for less than 200€/$/£. But I don't base my pricing strictly on hours estimated or worked, I tend to hybridize my pricing. Read #2.

2. is there a going rate for different types of illustration?

There actually is. Every year or two the Graphic Artists Guild (GAG) in the U.S. produces a Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Practise. It's a fantastic guide to trade practise and pricing if you're a buyer, and to help you stay alive with a roof over your head if you're a creator. The GAG Handbook has a good range of prices for different types of images in different contexts. Marketing vs scientific literature, for example, command vastly different prices, as do size, colour and complexity. I tend to use the GAG handbook to make sure my per-hour quote is within the trade range, thus the per-hour / trade-practise pricing hybrids.

4. Do I ever work for free?

I do! Part of my personal challenge as a scientific illustrator and designer is to make science - heck, the world! - better. That means I want to enhance the literature and the body of scientific knowledge, I want to make the world more beautiful, more accountable, easier to understand and use. Sometimes a project comes up that I'll work on because I think my contribution will make an enormous difference to it, and in turn it will make an enormous difference to others. I once illustrated an entire book for a 96 year-old general surgeon, a pioneer in kidney transplants. It was the last thing he wanted to complete in his life. It was a great experience for both of us. So yeah, tell me your story and pitch me a project that will make the world a better place and we'll chat!

{What I don't accept is the "This is groundbreaking work / we're saving lives with this so you should WANT to work on this project for free" reasoning. I once got that from a prominent stem cell researcher whom I watched pull up to work in his exotic car. Pretty sure he wasn't doing his work for free.}

3. Why are there different prices for different types of illustration?

'Complexity' is the short answer, but this can be looked at from a few angles. In the first, how complex is the image you want? Is it a black & white line drawing, no shading, more schematic than it is realistic - almost like a flow chart? That's not a very complex image to look at. That same 'simple' image might actually be fairly complex to make, though. Great data visualization or even great flow charts with a lot of components usually evolve over many iterations. Plus the creator needs to really understand the content to get it right, which means they probably needed to spend a substantial period of time and energy learning about the process or topic. Complex background: simple image.

5. Who has Copyright?

Short answer: I do. If I create the image, I have copyright unless there is a written or witnessed verbal agreement to explicitly transfer those rights. Art Directors know all about this stuff. However, when dealing with academic work meant to communicate a scientific idea, I realize that without your commission I would not produce what I do.  So I maintain copyright but infer some ownership to you. This means that the work can be used in lectures and publications, and even used by colleagues. If I see it used for something I don't think either of us intended, I will defend the image. What it does not mean is that the work I produce can be sold, or have the rights appropriated subservient to any publishing agreement. In English: no journal or publishing body that you submit my images to may automatically appropriate the ownership, regardless of what their publishing agreement or contract says. Scientific journals try to do this too often. Authors pay me to produce artwork for them - artwork that should become part of their academic and scientific portfolios - then they pay the journal to publish their article, and the journal takes the nice new images as their own. Not fair to the author or the creative.   

Complex background: complex images. Another example might be a full colour sequence of surgical steps for a rare procedure that might be done once or twice a year. This is both a complex image and a complex background. The creative needs to know everything that goes into that image: clamp size; scalpel number; catheter diameter; brand of gadget being used; where is the surgeon is standing; who the audience is; what's the pathology; what's the anatomy; what's the approach; what gauge suture was used for that one step midway through; how was it sutured; what's important to show and what doesn't need to be there? The images themselves require extensive rough work, research and a great deal of back-and-forth with the author. Plus, the full colour and full detail illustration takes years of education, intrinsic knowledge and talent to produce competently. 

Complex process. Still another facet might be the tools needed to generate the image. While the work almost always starts on paper (or napkin) with a pencil or pen, everything ultimately goes through the computer. Specialized software, plugins, online services and the hardware needed to run them all are costly, and require experience and expertise to produce good results with. 

Complex Market. Different images have different values. An excellent image for a major consumer advertising campaign that will be seen in a variety of media all over the world has a commensurate monetary value regardless of how simple the image is. An image in a small but well respected scientific journal, while probably very valuable to those doing research in that field, has almost no monetary value beyond the work and time required to do it.