Illustrators and Covid-19

There is a huge amount of information on the current Covid-19 situation. This page aims to pull together reliable public information, as well as signposting AOI plans.

It is a hugely complex and fast moving situation and we urge you all to focus on your physical and mental health during this time. We are working as hard as we can to support you as members, and as an industry and will continue to do so.

We have moved out of our offices, and cannot access our phones, so please email us.  Otherwise it’s pretty much business as usual (not usual) – the helpline is running, and we are working on new ways to deliver our member meet ups, events, and general support.

Our illustration community is, at the very best of times, hugely supportive, friendly and solution focussed.  Now more than ever that will come into it’s own. It is a privilege to be part of that.

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Championing you with Government

We have written to the Government about the financial support  of freelancers.

We have presented the evidence of the impact of Corona Virus on Illustrators, and urged the Government to offer remedial action, and ambitious, radical support going forward in our submission: Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors AOI Submission 19 June 2020

We have communicated the information from the survey to both the Treasury and the BEIS Inquiries. We have outlined both short and longer term support our industry needs here: Economic Impact of Corona Virus AOI Submission 27 May 2020

It is unacceptable for the SEISS scheme (supporting freelancers) not to be extended in line with the JRS scheme (supporting PAYE employees). You can read our letter of May 18 here: AOI re SEISS extension 18 May 2020

You can read our March submission here: Covid AOI response to Gov March 23 2020. And how we followed up here: Covid AOI response to Gov March 30 2020.

In all our submissions we work in partnership with other creator organisations, strengthening our position by speaking with one voice.

We will no longer update this page with our submissions.  You can read them all in our campaigning pages here.

Health Information

You will all know the importance of following credible health guidance – not social media or speculative sources. You can use these links to find out more.

World Health Organisation


Public Health England


It is vital that everyone focusses on their mental wellbeing during this time, and it is understandable that this may be hard. Feeling anxious is a normal response to this extraordinary situation.

While we all know deep down that it will end, and we will regain our sense of calm and perspective, it is hard to navigate in the moment. As general points of guidance you might want to consider;

  • Limiting your engagement with the news – there is no need to have a 24/7 feed. Make sure you take a break from it. If you are anxious about missing something important you could ask a friend to let you know relevant updates.
  • Don’t go down wormholes of chat rooms or general social media. Speak to friends and family – people whose opinion you trust and value.
  • Exercise! It might feel hard, but get moving for at least 30 minutes a day. There are some great apps for workouts from HIIT to yoga.
  • Set some goals. This is, oddly, a great time to do things that you never normally have time for. That online filing? Refreshing your Folio? Dusting down your business plan? Recognise each achievement.
  • Stay connected. Speak to friends and family. We are working on ways to connect members, and the wider illustration community.

You can read our mental health page which has links to relevant organisations and our mental health resource for creative freelancers.

The Government has issued advice regarding mental health and wellbeing here.

Mind have resources relating to Coronavirus and wellbeing.

Mental Health At Work have helpfully collated resources.

SEISS and Financial Support for freelancers

Details about the government’s financial support for freelancers is here.

The second round of Self Employment Support Scheme Grants is now open (August 2020).  You do not need to have claimed in the first round, and can claim in both rounds  check here for full information.  Applications must be made by 19 October 2020.

The Uk Government announced (29 May) an extension of the SEISS scheme to include one final grant capped at £6570.  More here.

Self Employment Support Scheme (SEISS) Key Points

Note this summary is taken from this Government page.

  • Eligible individuals can claim a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering three months’ worth of profit, and capped at £7,500 in total.
  • Applications for the first grant opened on 13 May 2020. Applications for the first grant will close on 13 July 2020.
  • Second and Final Grant Eligible individuals can claim a taxable grant worth 70% of their average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering three months’ worth of profit, and capped at £6,570 in total.
  • The eligibility criteria are the same for both grants, and individuals will need to confirm that their business has been adversely affected by coronavirus when applying for the second and final grant.
  • An individual does not need to have claimed the first grant in order to be eligible for the second and final grant.
  • Applications will open in August 2020. Further information on the second grant will be available on on 12 June 2020.

The Government has announced a new, Government backed Bounce Back Loan here.  Small to medium sized businesses (including sole traders) can borrow £2,000 – £50,000.  FAQ’s here.

The Government’s Business Support lays out the various financial options for businesses (ie not sole traders) here. Also read the section below for more.

Russell Smith, of Russell Smith Chartered Accountants is sharing a video each day responding to the fast moving guidance coming from government.  You can see these here.  Russell is one of the accountants that AOI members can access for a free hours’ consultation.  See more here.

Martin Lewis has a short film explaining the freelancer support available here.  This is regularly updated, so check back to see what is new.

We have written to the government (March 23) about the financial support  of freelancers.  You can read our submission here: Covid AOI responce to Gov March 23 2020. This is in line with other creator organisations, strengthening our position by speaking with one voice.

We have responded to the Government’s announcement on Monday 30 March asking for further support for our members.  You can read it here: Covid AOI responce to Gov March 30 2020.

Sick pay
If you are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (for example if you are employed) you can receive this from day 1 if you are sick or self isolating. You can read more here.  Some organisations will be able to reclaim this Statutory Sick Pay.

If you are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay may be entitled to the following Contributory Employment and Support Allowance (CESA) or Universal Credit.

IMPORTANT: You MUST take advice before you make an application, especially if you are already in receipt of government support. You can call the helpline on 0800 328 5644

Contributory Employment and Support Allowance (CESA)

CESA is also known as ‘New Style ESA.’ It is the state benefit that is paid to people who are unable to work due to ill health and covers basic living costs not including housing and council tax costs. Eligibility is based on your national insurance record. Find out more here.

If you are not entitled to CESA, you may be entitled to the equivalent support through Universal Credit – details here.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a means tested benefit and you are obliged to report any earnings or income that you have or receive on an on-going basis. There are deductions for any savings you have over £6,000. You may want to consider applying for this regardless of being sick or self isolating.

The government has announced (2020 Spring Budget) that it will be looking to relax the Minimum Income Floor for those who are deemed gainfully self-employed (GSE) as part of their Universal Credit claim. Find out more here.


If you are experiencing financial difficulties meeting your mortgage repayments because of COVID-19, you may be entitled to a mortgage or rental holiday for 3 months. You should contact your lender directly.

If you are a tenant experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19, the government will ensure you do not face the threat of eviction for at least 3 months. Read more here.

Hardship Fund 
There will be details released from The Ministry of Housing,
Communities & Local Government about the potential use of the Hardship fund to support council tax payments.

You are encouraged to contact your local authority for more information.

Bill Payments
The Financial Conduct Authority is asking lenders to use flexibility to support customers paying back loans or credit cards. See here.

Tax payments
All businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support through HMRC’s Time To Pay service.

These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities.
There is a dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559 or see here for more.


Authors Emergency Fund. You may be able to access funds through the Authors’s Emergency Fund – open to illustrators as well as authors.  You do not need to be a member of either SoA or AOI to apply.

Freelands Foundation Emergency Fund.  Open 7 May – 18 June with assessments for grants of up to £2,500 made weekly.  Details here.

a-n The Artists Information Company is offering bursaries to help support those whose livelihoods have been impacted by Covid-19. More here.

The Arts Council have announced a range of funding for organisations and individuals here.  The criteria will be clarified but we understand that individuals who have received public funding (not necessarily from ACE) can apply.

The Eaton Fund has funding for artists and arts students.  More here.

Facebook Small Business Grants.  Details being confirmed as to how cash grants will be distributed – read more here.

Support for Businesses

Of relevance to our agent members, and those operating as businesses.

The Government has announced a new, Government backed Bounce Back Loan here.  Small to medium sized businesses can borrow £2,000 – £50,000.  FAQ’s here.

The Government’s Business Support lays out the various financial options for businesses (ie not sole traders) here.

There is support for some businesses who pay varying amount of Business rates. See here, or contact your local authority.

The British Business bank will offer a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. It is unclear if this could be of benefit to our immediate industry. You can read more here, as info becomes available.

GLA The Mayor’s Culture at Risk Office is working to ensure those affected by the crisis get the support they need. Register your details and find out more.

Specific Support for Illustrators

We will be developing specific resources for illustrators over the coming weeks in response to Covid-19 challenges. We will make as many of these publicly available during this period for the benefit of the wider industry.

We have released a draft resource on mental health here

Read our public resource on including Kill Fees in contracts.

Should Illustrators work for free in Covid-19?

Running an Illustration career in Covid-19

StayInReachOut two week plan

Spotlight on series focusses on an illustrator a week to look at their work

DACS have extended their deadline for the Payback scheme. You can read more and either sign up or log in here.

Networks and Community

We are running our meet ups virtually! These will be listed on our events page.

Resources, links, ideas and inspiration from our Bristol meet up here: PIP Online #1

Arts Professional is making Covid-related news and resources available for free here.

Creative Boom have started a forum bringing creatives together – more here.

UK Covid 19 freelance artist resource.  A gazillion (ish) excellent resources from funding to mental health, software and education. Find it here.

Culture in Quarantine is a £250,000 fund launched on 25 March 2020 by ACE in partnership with the BBC. It is for established England-based artists of any discipline to produce new works in creative media – whether video, audio or interactive. Commissions do not need to be about the current emergency, but they do need to adhere imaginatively and lawfully to the principles of self-isolation. The programme will be managed by The Space and each work will be hosted by the BBC online and/or on-air. Please see visit The Space website for more details.

#ForgottenLtd calls for fairness and equality for small limited companies.

Should Illustrators work for free?

We all know we are in extraordinary times.  From the basics of getting groceries, to the new challenge of home-schooling children, life, for everyone is different.

But there are some things that don’t change.

We need to look after ourselves. Wellbeing is vital, and we have resources listed to support illustrators with that.  It can be hard to invest the time, and to focus, but please do.

We need to work.  This has not changed.  For some of our members there is the experience of some projects being cancelled.  For others commissions are rolling in. Illustration is germ free!  We (often) don’t need teams of people, shoots, or products that we can’t get any more. If ever there was an artform for a pandemic, it’s illustration.

You can read our article with some tips to reach out to commissioners during the Covid weeks.  If you have had projects pulled, don’t think that’s the end of it – wheels will turn, commissioners will be settling into their new Zoom-ed up normal.  Work will come.  Let them know you are ready.

We need to be paid. This is the most important thing that doesn’t change.  Our campaign Price It Right focuses on this point: by aiming to increase understanding and confidence in pricing illustration, valuing illustration and supporting business.

Illustration has value.  Your skill and creativity has value.  This has not changed.  There will be times that we want to donate our time and expertise to a cause, but this should always be on our terms.

We know many members are being asked to do things for free to support the pandemic.  Large, global organisations are asking for this as well as small ones.  In some instances you may choose to do this.  But it should not be the expectation.

Donating artwork to a for-profit organisation is not recommended, and you should only consider working for free if the goal is to ultimately benefit someone with less power/resources than yourself.

If you do choose to work for free – value your work. Always have a contract in place.  AOI members can use our Illustrator Commissioner Agreement – a simple, all-bases-covered agreement detailing usage, territory, duration, kill/cancellation fees, ownership of copyright etc.

Issue an invoice for the true value of the work.  If you are donating it, discount the amount payable by 100%.  The client will have this invoice and see the value of what they have received.  When they come back for more illustration there can be a fair negotiation for new work rather than working from the starting point of ‘free’.

This pandemic will end.  Life will return to normal.  We must make sure that when it does end illustration continues to be as valued as it was before by operating as the professionals that we are.

Illustration by Nishant Choksi

#StayInReachOut Two Week Plan

If you have more spare time than usual and you are looking for some structure, the AOI have created two-week plan for our members, to help you focus your energy. The goals of the #StayInReachOut Two Week Plan are:

  • To develop your online presence and self promotion, to help you attract more commissions.
  • To grow your knowledge around business essentials like copyright, finances and contracts.
  • To focus on your plan for when life goes back to normal, using the spare time you have now to set yourself up for future success.

Check out our #StayInReachOut resource page for more info on how to get started.

AOI Covid-19 Illustrators Survey

In May 2020 the AOI asked members to complete a survey about the impact of Covid-19 on membership.  Questions were the same or similar to other creator organizations, allowing a sharing of anonymized data.

Who responded?

132 respondents, which is about 5% of membership.  It reflects a spread of illustrators at various stages of their career – from starting out to being well established.  The majority (65%) have illustration as the main source of their income.

Impact on Finances

73% respondent’s income has decreased since the start of the pandemic.

While the picture is not clear on the longer term impact, 21% think their income will decrease by up to 50% and a further 18% consider that up to 75%.

The majority of respondents see their losses so far as between £1k – £3K, some cited losses of under £500, and other of over £15K.  The survey indicated that respondents had lost around £300K in the first two months of Covid-19.  If these figures are extrapolated our membership has lost six million pounds as a result of Covid-19 to date.

97% of respondents are in some way concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on their household finances.  46% are either highly or extremely concerned.

Impact on Job Opportunities

The majority of respondents cited a total or significant decrease in commissions.  Publishing, Editorial seem worst hit along with areas affected by the pandemic – hospitality, retail and music.

There is a significant impact on the loss of teaching (formal and informal) jobs, and a decrease in sales from online shops.

89% are in some way concerned about their ability to continue to work due to Covid-19.

Impact on Wellbeing

43% are highly or extremely concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on their wellbeing, and 91% are in some way concerned.

Overwhelmingly the impact on mental health was noted in a final open question.  Stress came from the financial impact, but also the uncertainty, challenging home environments and the juggle of work and childcare.

Support accessed through Covid-19

71% have not applied for a grant (4% were successful, and 9% were still waiting to hear.  14% thought they would apply in the future)

42% do not think they are eligible for the Government’s income support measures, with a further 27% not yet sure if they are.

62% do not think they will benefit from Universal Credit or the benefits system, with a further 27% not knowing if they are eligible.

60% do not feel the government is doing enough to support self-employed workers and the organisations they work with. Only 7% think they are doing enough.

The main concern of the Government support cited was for those who are not eligible for SEISS as at the start of their careers.  This was echoed by a despondency from those that do get financial support but are aware that others don’t.

The next most common complaint was the slowness of the scheme and the delay in payment being made.

There was concern about ltd companies and a general feeling of being second class citizens – despite paying taxes.

Long Term Impact

There was significant concern about the long-term impact of Covid-19 on the illustration industry.  This can be seen in two ways;

  1. Creative paralysis. Many spoke of being creatively paralyzed due to the situation.  Others articulated how the lack of commissions, or cancelled opportunities was stalling their careers, stopping them from taking the next step in their professional growth.
  2. Self-employed lag. It will take self-employed creatives longer than PAYE staff to rebuild their work and their resources.  Support must stay in place to support this rebuilding, but also proactively stimulate commissions being re-started.

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