Friday, September 30, 2011

"If you love what you do you wouldn't charge money to do it."

by Aidana WillowRaven

I had planned on continuing the What does the Art Director mean by “I need you to clean-up your work for print”. But, I've decided to continue that next week while a pet peeve of mine is on my mind.

promotional illo for Aldric & Anneliese
Social networking has changed a multitude of things for the freelance illustrator/artist/designer (as well as any type of freelance career). It has broadened our exposure and our job prospects. This is a good thing. But as with every good, there is a bad. It also means you going to run into more of those types of "clients" that think you should work for them for free proclaiming that if you love what you did you'd do it for free. 

I encountered another such wanna-be-client this morning on Twitter. Check out the two day exchange (it started last night):

(anonymous): Bro Do You Use Illustration? Are You Proficient?. My Brother (anonymous) Need Some People For a Project

*Being very familiar with Twitter lingo, I immediately got the vibe it's most likely a CD cover or something of that nature*

WillowRaven: I'm an illustrator if they are looking at several people ...

(anonymous): @WillowRaven You Chargin?

WillowRaven: Lol. Of course. I am a pro and it's how I make a living. Don't you charge when you work?

(anonymous): @WillowRaven Not If You Love What You Do.. :-p lol.. Could You Just Work With Him And See Where It Takes You... It'd Be Helpful

(anonymous): @WillowRaven I Actually Don't Charge

WillowRaven: i'm willing 2 negotiate a fair rate w/ him, but I cnt volunteer my time, supplies & years of training & experience.

WillowRaven: Loving wht I do doesn't feed my kid ... lol. I luv wht I do enough 2 protect my industry & charge 4 illustration/design.

How many times do you see this kind of exchange on Twitter or Facebook? Somebody requesting free or almost free art work in exchange for nothing more than "credit".

Being an artist of any tradition, whether it be illustration, design, animation, fine art, or crafts (whether it's digital or traditional) has rather high expenses high time consumption. It takes years of training &/or practice to gain proficiency. Requesting someone to work for free, though, is highly unprofessional and should be unacceptable. Especially when the requester actually has the audacity to condemn or insult the pro for expecting compensation.
Working pro bono is fine if the return is just as beneficial, or more so, than what a fee would have given you (I've done so on several occasions for various reasons). But we need to be aware and careful about what spec projects we accept.
Another way people will profit from you working for free will be to announce a "contest". Oh, there are legitimate and prestigious contests that the winning artists get a great deal of exposure and acclaim, and most of them you have to not only submit free work, but also pay an entry fee. Those are fine too, if you can afford them. But the ones you need to look out for, however, are the ones where the contest host will benefit personally (like a book cover or T-Shirt design). Those are just ploys for someone to benefit from your skills and abilities without having to pay for them.

If you are a newbie or trying to expand into a new style or genre, it is understandable that you may have to "pay some dues" and do a few projects purely for portfolio and publicity building. Just make sure those dues don't hurt you or your industry. Try to remember that every time you take on a spec project, that it lessens the value of the industry as a whole and people begin to expect that low rate more and more, making it tougher to raise your rates and expectancy later. 

Always make sure the "client" understands the value of what he/she is getting and that your willingness to work for less than standard rate "this time" is because it benefits you in whatever way, but it at least educates them as to what is standard and expected in the future.

Of course, there are always those who will chastise you for "pushing your opinion on them" (another Twitter exchange response when I pointed out how shamefully the free work was being requested), but those are the ones you want to avoid anyway if you ever hope to make a livelihood out of doing what you love, rather than only enjoying it as a hobby. After all, shouldn't we love our work?

Art Director & VP of Operation


  1. I so agree with you. Most people actually expect a paycheck when they work. Why shouldn't you? Illustrating is WORK. The for free enjoyment is for yourself only.



  2. Thanks, Viv.

    I really encourage all artists, writers, an freelancers in general to encourage those who want their services to acknowledge and honor the value of their work, and to do so monetarily.

  3. You've seen this, I hope:

    Amazingly, Harlan Ellison gets a lot of flack for that. I give him a virtual fist-bump. You, too.

  4. lol ... That is sooooo what I'm talking about ... lol.

  5. Well, personally I refer to pay for everything that people do for me. I hate that word "FREE". Freedom is not completely has a price. Not just on the internet, people wanting free is the same everywhere. A publisher once approached me to write short stories and comprehension passages for a text book he would make millions of money from...and I blew him away!

  6. Thanks for the support, O. I understand that people are desperate to be seen or noticed, but offering services for free does nothing for the industry. I just wish freelancers would learn that.

    Thanks for commenting.