Low incomes possibly to blame for huge drop-off in number of working artists as they get older.
Thanks to Japan’s extremely robust animation, comic, and video game industries, you’ll find plenty of budding artists who aspire to become professional illustrators. Among the educators ready to help them on that path is Kohei Nishino, a character design professor in the Faculty of Manga at Kyoto’s Seika University.
But while it’s his job to nurture the talents of his pupils, Nishino also wants them to be aware of some of the tough realities of trying to make a living as an artist. In a recent interview with Wired, the professor relayed some startling statistics regarding how little many professional illustrators earn in Japan.
According to Nishino, he was told by guest lecturer and colleague Ashito Oyari that a study by the Japan illustrators’ Association found that 53 percent of professional illustrators make less than one million yen (US$9,700) a year. Another 25 percent fall in the one-to-million yen range, meaning that more than three quarters of the artists surveyed earn less than two million yen a year.
Nishino gave the breakdown as:
● Less than 1 million yen: 53 percent of illustrators
● 1-2 million: 25 percent
● 2-3.5 million: 13 percent
● 3.5-6 million: 7 percent
● 6-12 million: 2 percent
● 12-50 million: 1 percent
No matter how good you are at economizing, it’s pretty hard to maintain anything resembling a comfortable lifestyle in Japan while taking in less than two million yen annually. While most illustrators are drawn to their work more out of artistic passion than economic incentive, the lack of financial reward seems to grind many of them down, as there’s a remarkable drop-off in the number of people working as illustrators after turning 40. According to Nishino, though 41 percent of pros are between the ages of 20 and 29, and 39 percent are between 30 and 39, illustrators in the 40-49 age demographic make up only 13 percent of the field’s workforce.
It should be pointed out that Nishino didn’t specify what exactly makes an illustrator a “professional.” As a class of work with informal, often project-by-project employment, many artists go through a period where they can only obtain sporadic work as an illustrator, and so take on different jobs in more stable sectors to supplement their income. This is particularly common for new artists who are in the midst of building a portfolio or name for themselves.
Nishino doesn’t say if the illustrators’ income figures he references are inclusive of non-illustration earnings or not, which makes it hard to pin down whether the individuals in question are full-fledged, full-time artists or in the understandably non-lucrative cusp of transitioning from amateurs to paid professionals. He also mentions that the study was carried out a few years ago, which means that there’s at least a possibility that things have changed since.
Still, based on other tales we’ve heard of life as an artist in Japan, it sounds like building up some sort of savings would be a good idea before jumping into the world of illustration with both feet.
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