If you’ve found this article then you know how hard it is to find information on illustrators in Kenya, especially concerning their pay. I encountered the same problem writing this and it’s like finding breadcrumbs in a desert. So I did the heavy lifting for you. Here’s what I found crawling the Kenyan web and engaging some of my contacts.
An incredible majority of illustrators in Kenya work freelance and a few work in-house in studios and corporate. And in government, it’s unheard of. Illustrators in studios with a regular salary earn about the same as graphic designers (read more here) who with 1-4 years of experience earn KSh 40,000 per month on average or approximately KSh 480,000 annually. One with 5-9 years of experience will earn a minimum of KSh 42,000 per month or KSh 508,000 annually. Again, most salary calculator sites (one of which gives a monthly average of KSh 106,000) seem widely off from what is apparent on the ground. They also group graphic designers, illustrators and fine artists into one mega-band which is not ideal for answering our question. So what does it look like in the industry?
To understand the different pay groups, it’s important to understand the scope of the field. With many illustrators working as freelancers, with about 3 years of experience myself, I’ll break this down in terms of the types of projects illustrators tend to do. Illustration is an incredibly wide field, with many areas of specialization. Some of the common ones are, editorial illustration (book and magazine illustration, cartooning, caricature and book cover design), animation related (storyboarding, background art and character designs), web illustrations (website and app backgrounds, icons, illustrated banners, mascots, stickers, illustrated social media profiles and banners). Other common fields are fashion and packaging illustrations. *takes deep breath* As you can see, it’s pretty wide. And all this fall under two major categories, digital illustration and traditional illustration. So back to matters money, to keep from digressing I’ll further break it down as Long-term projects, one-off-projects, and salaried employment.
One-off-projects are projects where a client needs a freelance illustrator to create a single artwork or a small pack that will take from a day to two weeks to complete. This could be a poster illustration, book/album cover, mascot or character, wine bottle packaging art, etc. The illustrator will often be paid a fixed amount for the project which they themselves will calculate depending on how long it will take and cost it per hour or per day.
Kenyan illustrators charge a minimum of KSh 500 per hour, an average of Ksh 1000 per hour, and top illustrators will charge up to Ksh 5000 per hour. Of course, the client often doesn’t necessarily know this figure, just the total for the project. So if Mwangi needs a poster for his restaurant’s Mugithi night and wants the featuring musicians drawn, he’ll approach Otis the Illustrator with a 5-day deadline. Otis believes he can do it and whispers to himself that it will take about 12 hours of continuous work to complete it. He usually charges KSh 500 per hour but he considers the short deadline (he has other clients) and that Mwangi wants 10 musicians’ faces in the poster, adding to its complexity, so he pushes it to Ksh 1000 per hour and the total is Ksh 12,000. Mwangi cries hard pandemic times and bargains down to Ksh 10,000 and Otis agrees. This illustrates the multiple variables that freelance work and its costs involve, and therefore a fixed amount for every project with every client is difficult. It’s like baking cakes, multiple flavors and fillings, weights and tiers, and different clients for different occasions.
The client’s brief and the illustrator’s resource inputs must meet, starting from a chaotic tango to a smooth ballet where both parties are happy and no one’s stepping on another’s toes. Speaking of feet stamping, illustrators like many other freelancers will need a deposit before work begins, from around 20%-50% of the total amount, for protection (no one wastes anyone’s time) and as a sign of commitment from the client. This is not out of individual mistrust, but rather it’s standard practice. So yes, simply it all depends on the two parties coming to an agreement and amount that they are both content with.
Long term projects are those that require a large number of artworks like storybooks, animation storyboards, backgrounds and character designs e.t.c Illustrators will often sign contracts that last from a month to 6 months or even more. With things like storyboarding, the illustrator will be paid per hour since it is hard to pay per artwork produced because there’ll be so many drafts, changes and concepts which all have to be calculated in. They’ll likely also be working in-house at a studio where it’s easier to fix the number of hours per day and factor in overtimes. They could then be paid per month for the number of months they’ll work.
Small studios in Kenya will often pay this way while larger ones like Fatboy animations (of Faiba ads) will prefer to have a permanent salaried artist, earning from Kshs 40,000 per month and above. However, with jobs like Background illustration (line art and colorists) will usually be paid per image completed. Line artists will usually get slightly more, but both start from Ksh 1,000 per scene background. It’s a struggle out here, man. Not to discourage anyone, there are well-paying jobs in Kenya and with the internet, there are limitless opportunities you just need to improve your craft, work hard, be patient and attract a little bit of luck.
Speaking of this wide web, if you’re an illustrator, Kenyan or not, and have looked for work online, you’ve come across competition sites like 99designs, Fiverr and Design hill. These are sites that bring together clients and designers through a competition format. The client posts a brief, “ I need a drawing of my pet hamster”, states the amount and illustrators get working, post their art when they’re done within the time limit and the client chooses their favorite. The briefs start from $50 and some projects go well into the thousands in the payout. The losers, get nothing. It’s Sparta out there and you’ll find some competitions with even 1000 artists competing. I’m not here to discredit the sites or the artists competing and many will attest to making a regular income there. You’ll find Kenyans there…Americans, Indians, Nigerians and every other nationality. As you might figure, majority of the artists will make very little, or nothing like me in my short spell on one of those sites, but that’s a story for another day. They also have ranking systems with amateur and expert ranks etc depending on how many competitions you win. Again, I’m not discouraging anyone. It doesn’t hurt to try if you are looking for some work online.
Permanent illustration work is scarce. Publishing houses like Longhorn, Oxford Press etc will have just one illustrator in-house. Many of them actually still source for freelancers. If you’ve studied in Kenyan 844 system you’ve read set books like Damu Nyeusi and When the Sun goes down. The anthologies often seemed illustrated by just one illustrator because they likely were, doing the covers and the narrative illustrations.
Fashion houses like Samantha’s bridal could also have a fashion illustrator in-house to better conceptualize the designers’ sketches. But, again many fashion illustrators will work freelance and be paid per illustration, their rates varying on complexity, medium, etc
Cartoonists are a staple in every popular newspaper, most of them permanent, in-house, or with long Contracts. Cartoonists for the Daily Nation, The Standard and The Star like Gado, Stano, Munene, Gathara and Victor Ndula are top tier and get paid accordingly. One thing with Kenyans, they’ll never tell you how much they earn, but this group walks home with at least KSh 10,000 per illustration. And that’s top-secret insider information *wink*. Some are salaried, while others work on a pay-per-fulfillment basis.
There’s also illustrators who do comic strips that feature in magazines like the famous Andy Capp (not Kenyan) comic strip that appears in the Daily Nation and other magazines worldwide. These type of comic strips are bought by the publications through a license or subscription from a syndicate (distributor) and the artist gets their cut. Any illustrator with that kind of deal is definitely in the uppermost 1 percent. Andy Capp for instance continues to rake it in, even after the demise of the artist Reg Smythe. An illustrator can only dream. There’s some inspiration to close off this article.
To summarise, salaried in-house illustrators in Kenya make about the same as graphic designers averaging Ksh 40,000 a month. However, most illustrators work freelance making it harder to find an average amount they earn and the scant research and data doesn’t help. If you have any more leads or saucy data on how much Kenyan Illustrators earn feel free to contact me through the social buttons or the contact page here.