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Submitted on
February 21, 2013


36 (who?)
Every time artists are invited to work for free, or for exposure, or for the chance to be part of something very special and wonderful (ahem), people like to defend the offer of, well, nothing, by comparing it to other things, which it is not comparable to.  Here are a few of them, for easy reference:

Working for free is not like...submitting to the Spectrum annual (and similar publications).

Why not?  Because these publications really ARE used by creative directors looking for fresh talent.  I've been hired based on appearances in Spectrum, and so have plenty of people I know.  Submitting to annuals is a reasonable investment.  I know, I know, I haven't submitted to Spectrum in ages, but that's not because it didn't help.  It's because I was miffed about not getting my copies, but that's just me being curmudgeonly, and cutting off my nose to spite my face.  There IS value in annuals.

Working for free is not like...internships, student-teaching, apprenticeships, and similar on-the-job training programmes.

Why not?  Because many jobs REQUIRE on-the-job training, before you're allowed to do them by yourself.  On-the-job training is part of your education, not your working life.  You're there to learn, and if your placement is a good one, it can be incredibly instructive.  Furthermore, a good reference from an internship or training programme can be valuable, in the job market.  Sometimes, you may even be asked to stay on in a paid capacity, when your training or internship is complete.

Working for free is not like...collaborating with other artists and writers on projects you're passionate about, with no guarantee of compensation.

Why not?  Because when you're asked to contribute to a commercial project of any sort, someone is profiting from your work.  And it's not you.  When you collaborate with other artists and writers for the fun of it, or with a view to turning a profit eventually, either nobody profits or EVERYBODY profits.  Why on earth would you want to line someone else's pocket, while yours goes empty?  And why would anyone want to put you in that position?

Working for free FOR A LARGE COMPANY, OR FOR AN INDIVIDUAL is not like...submitting to small zines, which pay in copies.

Why not?  Because most small zines don't make a profit, or if they do, it's very slim.  They're pretty much labours of love.  They can't afford to give you much, if anything.  But choose your zine carefully:  some of them are widely respected, and can get you seen by the right people.  Others...well, let's just say they can't help you, and leave it at that.  If you're considering submitting to a publication that pays little or nothing, check out some back issues.  See if anyone famous is in there, or anyone you respect.  Google that publication, and see who's talking about it, and for what reasons.  Also, when you submit to a zine, you can often submit something you've already done, rather than creating something new:  that is to say, you can get legitimate exposure to the right people, for no extra effort, beyond the time it takes to submit.  Not a bad deal.

Working for free is not like...doing something you'd do anyway, for fun, and getting some added exposure for it.

Why not?  Because when you do that same thing for fun, nobody else gets to profit from it.  You don't have to give up any rights to your work, or allow it to be associated with somebody else's brand; you can save it for later, and maybe profit from it, yourself.  "Exposure" is a misleading currency.  Even if the project soliciting free work has a famous face or a large corporation attached to it, there's no guarantee your work will be widely circulated.  Even if it is, the bulk of the attention will not be on you or your work, but on whatever company, product, or famous face is being spotlighted. This is the age of social media.  If we want exposure, we can...ha, ha, ha...expose ourselves.  Let's flash the world, guys!  Yes, it takes work to get heavy circulation, but when you put in the time to advertise yourself properly, you can make sure the focus is on YOU.  And you can target that advertising to people who can help you, or people who'd appreciate what you do, or to whatever audience your heart desires.

Working for free is not like...cheese bites in grocery shops.

Why not?  (Are you serious, with that?  Well, yes; somebody was, at one point, which is why I'm including it here.)  Because the value of a cheese sample is, what, half a cent?  A cheese bite is not an entire meal.  It is not satisfying.  You eat a cheese bite, and you want a whole sandwich.  But to get at the sandwich, you need to buy cheese.  And bread.  And veg.  And whatever else you like on your sarnie.  Basically, a cheese bite is a teaser that costs next to nothing, and whets your appetite for a whole lot more than just cheese.  If even one person likes their cheese bite, and buys sandwich stuff, the promotion's a success.  If not, who cares?  Nothing of particular value was lost.  A free illustration, however, is worth quite a bit.  At least a couple of hundred dollars, in most cases.  And it IS an entire meal.  It IS satisfying.  The customer has what they want.  Maybe they'll come back for more, later--in fifteen years of professional illustration, I've seen this happen exactly ONCE, and most of the "paid" work given out as a result of free work was never, in fact, paid for, as the company went under shortly thereafter--but probably, they won't.  If you want to hand out free samples, they need to be equivalent to cheese bites, so, I don't know, send Christmas cards to your favourite clients, or something.  Include free doodles when you sign autographs.  But don't give out sandwiches.  ;-)

Added 24/02 - Working for free is not like...lawyers (for example) doing pro bono work.

Why not?  First, let me explain the term.  It's short for "pro bono publico" -- for the public good.  It doesn't really mean "free."  Pro bono work CAN be free, or it can involve a reduced rate.  The idea behind pro bono work is to allow people who can't normally afford professional services to benefit from them, nonetheless.  There are also a variety of less altruistic reasons for performing pro bono work (good press, for example).  Many law firms require employees to perform a certain number of pro bono hours per year.  But when you provide free artwork to an entity that CAN afford to pay for it, and chooses not to--a corporation, for example--you are not working pro bono publico.  You're working pro bono cheapo.  (Providing free art to a charity, a school, a library, or any number of deserving beneficiaries, however, could certainly fall under the pro bono umbrella.)

Also, a note to all artists who believe they have to work for free, or for exposure, just to get a toe in the door:  cracking into the illustration world is difficult, but not THAT difficult.  I promise you, you don't need to do that.  You really, really don't.  You might have to brace yourself for a spot of rejection, but if you keep approaching companies which regularly commission art that's similar to yours--that is to say, companies which are buying what you're selling--sooner or later, you'll be hired.  In the meantime, keep expanding that portfolio, and use social media to spread the word.  And keep your self-esteem up.  If other artists can become successful without coughing up free work, why not you?  Are you worse than they are?  Are you too lazy to promote yourself?  Of course not.  Be proud of what you do--and if you want to do it for free, at some point, make sure you're doing it for a good reason.  Charity springs to mind, or, y'know, a present for your mum.
  • Listening to: birds
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stephensilver Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2013
Fantastic article, do you mind if I share it on my facebook page.
Ranasp Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2013
Your excellent "rant" reminded me a bit of the "fuck you, pay me" discussion found here: [link] He touches a bit on getting paid what you're worth, most of it focuses on the importance of a binding contract. I've been burned a few times without them, I have to say.
SethFitts Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Great journal entry. Many of the points you made express what I have not been able to define to those who have these misconceptions of "benefits" of working for free.

I am curious about your experience with Spectrum Magazine.
socar Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you! :-)

In fact, my experiences with Spectrum were MOSTLY good (I got accepted both times, and I received offers of work both times). It was very good advertising. There were just two problems I had, which should not discourage anyone from submitting:

1) I never received a copy of either edition I was in. It was my understanding that contributors got one copy each, and that was one of the reasons I submitted, so I was disappointed.

2) The second time I submitted, instead of listing the medium of my work as "digital," they listed it as "blow." I don't know why this happened, but apparently, the same issue has cropped up for other artists. I guess they use "blow" as a placeholder, and they forgot to replace it with the actual medium, on mine. I got a few e-mails asking if I used "blow" so I could stay up all night and finish the piece (obviously, they were just pulling my leg, not seriously suggesting I did that!)--otherwise, I'd never have known.

I will probably not submit to Spectrum again, as they seem to focus mostly on fantasy & sci-fi, and those are not the markets I'm interested in, for the most part. But for anyone who does want to use those markets, I would absolutely recommend Spectrum, especially if you're just getting started, and need to pick up new clients. That was when I submitted, when nobody had really heard of me yet, and it was very helpful.

I will probably try Society of Illustrators, instead, one day, but they are quite pricey, so I am waiting till I have more money to throw around.
SethFitts Featured By Owner Mar 6, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my inquiry. I have missed the deadline for Spectrum this time mainly because I was not sure if my work would fit in their genre of focus.
Since I graduated in 2003 from college I do not know if I am still considered to be early in my art career. The reasons for submitting to Spectrum were exactly to advertise my work and hope for commissions and to share my work.
Again, great work. Ian enjoying it.
StudioSpectre Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2013  Professional General Artist
Well Said Well Said!
H-e-n-r-i Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2013  Student General Artist
Thank youuuu!!
I really needed to read this.

I usually hear or get told one extreme or the other: "never work for free!" and "your art isn't worth any amount of money!".
This is sensible. Well explained. I can definitely follow this! Haha.

You should write a handbook for common sense for artists. Really. It would be... priceless?
socar Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Such a handbook exists is called the Graphic Artists' Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines.... ;-) Ha, ha; just pulling your leg. (Well, I mean, it DOES exist, but I'm not REALLY being so dreadfully supercilious.) Seriously, thanks.
H-e-n-r-i Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2013  Student General Artist
Haha. I have that!
Although I feel it is more-so on conducting business and pricings rather than just... common sense guidelines for the little things in between. XD
You're welcome!
socar Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
That's true, it is. I just felt the need to add a little levity to my happens. ;-)
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