Friday, April 22, 2011

Working for Nada!

I just wanted to draw your attention to this brilliant post by the very talented (and smart-talking) Sheena Dempsey. It's on illustrators working for free, and in turn, it references some very good, very funny, very gall-making articles and vids that are definitely worth a watch too.

My take can be summed up like this, 'If I were a dentist, would you ask me to work for free?'

However, you know I'll never be able to leave it at that, so in addition to what Sheena's said...

My advice to people serious about breaking into illustration is, never work for free. 'Good exposure' is the reason the client will give, but here's how I see it, the only time you might, might, might get good exposure out of something is if it's a huge campaign for Coca-Cola or Mars- someone astronomically mega huge like that... And if that's the case, do we really think they can't afford to pay you???

The arguement I hear from illustrators is, isn't it better to be working for free than not to be working at all? Short answer is; No. My gut, heart, and every fibre of being adds, HELLLLLLL NO!!!!

If you don't have work, it's better to work on honing your technique/developing your portfolio than to work for free. Working on technique and portfolio development is work that's never finished, and has more chance in benefitting your overall career, and getting you the sorts of paid work you would like to do. Far better than doing a brief that's not 100% you... for nothing.

Any contact that won't pay is not worth having.

I might also add that the smaller the job, often the bigger the stress from the client. And why should this not be true. They've already proved they don't value you by asking you to work for free, haven't they???

Work on spec is *slightly* different. I've been asked by a number of publishers to provide character sketches or work up an idea more before they commit. As the equally lovely, Faye Hanson, remarks (in reply to Sheena's post) we deal in idea's, and sometimes it's often necessary to provide tangible evidence that you not only get a brief, but that you're also 'the man' for the job. Often times in publishing, even if your editor/art director believes in you, the project will be passed by folk who don't know you or your work (and who may not even be hugely visual) before it gets the yay or nay. Working on spec i.e. for free is part of the process of getting commissioned (unless you're Quentin Blake, I'd imagine...?)

Although I recognise working 'on spec' as a part of the process, I recommend exercising caution. And this is where things get slightly hazy. There's a big difference between doing a couple of quick character studies, or marking up a clear storyboard, and doing months of work for free. However, you do have to set your own limits a little.

When I start to worry a line is being crossed, I ask myself two questions;

1. Do I think the client is being reasonable i.e. did I deviate from brief in what I offered/was I not clear enough with what I produced? etc. or do I think they're taking the p*ss?!

2. Am I doing work I'd be able to use to send out to other clients/put in my portfolio, or do I essentially feel I'm going around in circles without creating anything new or useful?

I feel I should point out that the designer/editor you're working with often does not deal with the money end of the situation... or they've been working on other things and haven't realised how long you've been deligently slogging for nada. They're not all ogres!!! But, whatever the reason, particularly if points 1 and/or 2 have been overstepped, you should NEVER feel bad, gently raising the issue of cash. In fact, you should never feel bad about raising the issue of cash period!!!

So, how does work on spec differ from regular work? Work on spec is preparatory or sample work used to gain a commission. Never do work on spec for a client you suspect has no intention of offering you a fair package at the end (if, for example, they've taken other people you know for a ride). If this spec work is not used, you have every right to take it to other clients. Regular work is producing a final project for a client. Once it's done, it's done. Let the regretting begin!

I'm not glossing over how hard it can be to stick to your guns. Especially when you're living one lot of beans on toast to the next and desperate for work, but I am BEGGING with you to consider these things. And never be fooled by anyone into thinking working for free will fast track your career.

We all want to make a living doing what we love. What would happen if none of us charged?

And don't even get me started on copyright...

I strongly advise anyone who's starting out (and doesn't have someone experienced to ask) to get a membership to The AOI. And I know the AOI will HATE me saying this, but even if you get one membership between a couple of you to begin with, it's better than not seeking good advice at all. I know it costs money, but the information you'll be able to gain will pay for itself, monetarily as the jobs mount up.

Also, if you're a fab artist, but too bashful to get your head around the business side, DO get yourself a good agent.

And....are the above couple; bad clients, or initial character sketches of an evil aunt and doting circus master from the book I'm attempting to write....?

Err, anyway, if any of this read's like a complete rant you can blame Sheena!!!


Paul Jon Milne said...

Good bit of writing, Cass!

I try not to work for free, but as is pointed out in the comments section of the post you linked to, as an illustrator, I have no heid for business, and am terrible at asking people for money.

I'm due some small cash amounts from people but am terrible at chasing them up due to the guilt, and the worry that maybe the pictures I provided for them are no good, so why do I deserve actual money for them, anyway, let alone actually hassle the people for it?

I do the odd bit of free work, but luckily that's only recently been for a friend, and a publication I respect and am proud to be involved with, and I definitely don't just accept any old shitty 'exposure' job, like I might have done in the past.

I realise working for free does devalue the profession, but I'm too meek to 'put myself out there' and get paid work. Grrrngh. Luckily, my rad girlfriend seems to want to act as some sort of agent for me, so maybe things will start to work out, eh?

cassia said...

Paul, so glad to hear things are going well.

You're one of the most uniquely voiced and talented illustrators I know and you're worth your weight in gold. So pleased your lovely lady realises this and is prepared to kick butt for you. Hope you realise it too one day! :0) xxx

Sheena said...

Brilliant Cass, you're so clued in and don't take shit from anyone and dead right! Thanks so much for the link. I really agree with everything you've said, I feel so strongly about it but I definitely see the distinction between just working for free and doing spec work, which is often necessary, as Faye pointed out, when we are in the business of ideas. I have been guilty of doing a couple of free projects myself, but I swear...Never Again!

Thomas Taylor said...

Cass, it's so important to make that distinction between working on spec (an investment) and working for free (simply not being paid for your work). Also, I completely agree that only the biggest clients can offer sufficient exposure to compensate for working for free, but why would you work for THEM for free? Excellent post.

Teresa Robertson, illustrator said...

Good post, Cassia! a 'starting out' illustrator came round to talk to me recently and I did some research to help him and found this (long) but very helpful blog from an American illustrator (American's are much better at being business-like than us shy English!) which helped hone my thinking.
The main things I agree with him are: 1. finding who might employ you for pictures (don't just rely on publishers. I work for the British Council, Unicef, local authorities, individual clients). 2. Setting an hourly rate. Paul Mirocha comes to the magic figure of $65.00 (£40.00) an hour to cover a basic salary (£24,000), expenses, and a tiny bit of profit. If you're not getting that, you'll need part-time other work to keep the bills paid and food on the table.

cassia said...

sheena, it's been a while since I've been fired up, so thanks for that. Your post was fab.

Thomas, you're right. Before writing the post, I hadn't really thought of the difference myself, and I'm not 100% I really explained it that well for anyone not 'in the know.' I hope so though, as it IS really important to understand there is a difference.

thanks, teresa. I'll check that out. Sounds useful, as I really don't know much about working for different kinds of clients myself. Must get more clued up in that respect.

Jan said...

As a graphic designer, if I was to commission illustration, photography or anything else I wouldn't expect you to do it for free and I would feel suspicious of anyone that did. I'd like to feel you had confidence in your abilities/ professionalism and expect to be paid for it.

Also, take it from me, any agency who is offering you 'exposure' for doing a freebie is effectively pulling a swift one. Either the job doesn't have that much 'exposure' as it's little job with no budget therefore not worth doing. Or they obviously have it in their budget buy ad space, print or whatever so why not pay the talent??

cassia said...

Hear, hear, Jan!

Moona said...

Oh, I am so glad that I came across this blog. I was offered an unpaid "internship" by an online jewelry store to do all their illustrations and graphic work, in exchange I would get the experience and exposure. I did 6 illustrations for them, and quite spontaneously came to a screeching halt, with a "what the hell am I doing!??" I am happy to say that I backed out before sending my work over to them, and feel so much better. I have done free work for start ups wayyy too long (I even did unpaid illustrations for 3 local magazines in Zurich over 20 years ago,thinking it was going to get me something and it never did. So thank you so much for confirming what I already had a bad feeling about (working for free).