Do you ever do art for free?

  • SVS OG

    So here is something I have been dealing with lately, and since most around this forum are around the same place as me career-wise I thought I would ask your thoughts.

    Do you ever do art for someone else for free?
    If not, why not?
    If you sometimes do art for free, what kind of situations will you do it for? Or do you just say yes to everything?
    Have you ever done a piece for free and then regretted it?
    Have you done something for free and felt that you really gained a lot from it, either in experience or exposure or something else?

    I am not looking for a client complaints type of discussion, just thoughts on your policies, if that makes sense.

    To answer my own questions, I have done free work once in awhile, but I generally avoid it. When someone I am close to has needed an image (immediate family or very close friends), I don't usually charge. There have also been just a couple projects that just sounded interesting to me that I did because I wanted a piece for my portfolio. But if someone I am not close to approaches me about doing artwork, I usually ask to be paid. (And often they are scared off.)

    What about you?

  • Yes, every month I do the cover for a very small online children's magazine and sometimes I will illustrate something for a poem. The Halloween witch I have up on the art section is for the October cover. I enjoy doing it and it helps keep me motivated and improving my skills and I sometimes have a piece for my portfolio. I hope that it will lead me to some work someday and if not I receive a great deal in giving to others.

  • not yet but hey I will do it for free for people I love. I agree with you Sarah I would not do it for people that i'm not close to but would volunteer to help creating work that can bring awareness to bad things that happen in our society.

  • If the art is for a good cause or family/friend. I'm sure others would agree that being generous at times always feels good and usually comes back to you in some way.

  • SVS OG

    I try and look at it this way - we are providing a service. Would you expect to be able to walk into a salon and get your hair cut for free? And take your car in for repair and not have to pay for it? No of course not. So then folks should not reach out to us and just expect our artwork to be free.

    There are times I have been more than happy to do something for a friend or family member just because I wanted to do it and I never asked them for anything. But to me this is totally different than the business side of being an artist.

    But as I have gotten into this more and more as my living - I realize that if I want to keep doing this as my career I can not keep pricing myself below an amount than I can afford to live on or give away my service/time to everyone who may approach me.

    And there are folks who may not choose to move further with you on a project once you give them a quote but you need to ask yourself if that is really a project you would have wanted to do then anyway? If you are going to regret saying yes or have a hard time working on the project or resent the person you are doing this for - it certainly is not worth it.

    I have also found that I need to be cautious of folks looking for me to "donate" my work for this and that charity/fundraiser/event. If it is a cause I believe in and it makes me happy perhaps I will do it. But if it is not something that holds close personal meaning - I have learned not to be lured in with "it will give you exposure" or "we can put your name on the list of sponsors" etc. As those have not led me to future work, sales or opportunities.

    So I would say you are a very talented artist, your work/time has value and if someone does not see that - they are not the right client for you, and they did you a favor by walking away!

  • I completely agree with @Rich-Green... the only free work I'll do is for a family member/friend, and I consider it more as a gift than work (and it's only been single pieces here and there). My cousin once asked me to illustrate an entire children's book for her that she wrote and I said no. That's way too much work and time to do for free.

    The problem with doing free work as a professional service is that it devalues our work and more and more people will EXPECT to get it for free, because so-and-so did it for free. So if you take on free work, you're not only hurting yourself, you're hurting ALL illustrators and I personally take offence to other artists doing it because you ARE inadvertently affecting me and my chances of getting paid work.

    If you do decide to do charity work for a non-profit then there is merit to that. HOWEVER, I think there's two things you need to do: first, you need to tell them how much you would charge normally if it weren't for a good cause. This tells them that you are DONATING that exact amount to their charity, not just doing it as if it were something you'd do for anyone. So if, by word of mouth, someone at that charity brags about your work to someone who's looking for illustration services, they don't come knocking on your door expecting you do it for free for anyone. Second, at least get a tax break out of it. Have a contract with the charity that you'll do it "for free" but that you'll invoice them for the usual amount you would charge, they'll have to cut you a cheque in that amount, but then you immediately will write them a cheque for that same amount right back as a donation and they'll need to give you a receipt for that donation, which you can claim on taxes.

    I think regardless of your reasoning for doing free work for someone, always tell them how much you should be paid for that work (but that you'll do it for such-and-such a reason) so that this idea that's "out there" that illustrators don't deserve to be paid is squashed.

  • SVS OG

    I'm glad everyone seems to mostly agree with me--its kind of what I expected, but I still thought I would ask. Its just that a few people in a row have asked me for work expecting something for free and they keep acting surprised when I ask them to pay and I keep thinking, is this not normal? What are they expecting? MAYBE I'M AS BAD AS THEY THINK I AM.

    So, thanks for reassuring me.

    My theory of why people think art should be free or cheap comes down to 2 things (though maybe there are more):

    First, everyone (especially aspiring artists) is TOLD when growing up that artists make no money. So people figure that that must mean they work for free.

    Second is that I think people have no real concept of how much time goes into an illustration--they see street artists, or people drawing in sketchbooks, or videos of Bob Ross, or they go to the local paint-a-masterpiece-in-less-than-2-hours class, and they think, hey, artists must be able to throw these together really quick! If I can do a painting in 2 hours at this class, an experienced person should be able to do it in like 20 minutes!

    Just my theories. Feel free to disagree or suggest your own. You can probably tell I've been thinking about this a lot.

    @DanetteDraws, I had never thought of that check exchange sort of thing for charities for a tax break--that is a very good idea.

  • Hey, even a Bob Ross painting will cost you something 😉

    I agree with @Rich Green and @DanetteDraws, I typically don't do work for free. I value my skills as an artist, and I value myself as a professional, whether or not I've gotten paid work. If someone likes your art but says they aren't willing to compensate you, I think that speaks a lot more about how they value your time and skills.

    There are a lot of other articles, blog posts, and books written out there by people who can better articulate why working for free is so damaging to both your career and the illustration industry as a whole. (I can hunt down some links for anyone interested in that stuff)

    And really, why work on someone else's passion project when you can work on your own? Personal projects can really help build your skills, your portfolio, and possibly get you noticed.

    Speaking from experience, I did some freelance work for a low wage (making less than MW in the end). It was stressful and not really worth the pay, and I did feel put out and devalued quite often. I've also had people ask if they could use previously finished images for various projects, and I've always turned them down. Again, I won't work for OR give away my work for free.

    I do make some exceptions. I sometimes do gift art for family and friends, but mainly it's of my own desire and not because I was asked. If they did come to me for free work I would most likely turn them down if it wasn't something I really wanted to do. Also, I'd be willing to do something "for free" if it was a project or collaboration I was really interested in. So, along the lines of doing a piece for a comic anthology, working with an artist/writer that I really like, or a show that really peeks my fancy. But again, it would have to be something I was passionate about and not just because someone asked.

    Sorry this post was so long, but it's one of those things I feel strongly about.

  • I certainly hope that I haven't given any of you the impression that I give my work to just anyone for free. I am just starting out and wanted a way to get something to put on my resume. My intention was to just do it for a while until I started feeling like my work was good enough to pursue jobs with self publishers. I know when I start getting work I probably won't have time to do the covers, but she has been encouraging and given me several monetary gifts because she does very much value what I do.

  • @Thrace-Shirley-Mears Don't worry, you haven't given me that impression.

    I hope that my comment didn't come off as an attack on people that DO do art for free. We all have our own philosophies and ways of working. I think that if it's a project you want to support and it makes you happy, go for it.

    But I also don't want people to think that they should do stuff for free until "They're good enough to get paid". That's a terrible way of thinking, it only hurts you as an artist. If they want your work already, it means your good enough to get paid. If you still need to work up your skills, do personal projects, or things that you are interested in and make you happy.

  • SVS OG

    I agree. I think that if you're working for free, you might as well be working for yourself doing projects that YOU like. However, once in awhile there be a project someone else is putting together that you WANT to be involved in. If you WANT to do it, that fits under the category of "working for yourself" in my book.

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