Has anyone tried to get art jobs by doing free work?

  • SVS OG

    I had this idea today where I could offer my illustration services for free for one job at the hope of getting a paid one next time.

    I have used this tactic before doing oil portraits and it worked a treat, will it work with childrens books though?

    I might give it a try and see what happens. 🙂

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @jason-bowen I find it difficult to recommend this. You will certainly find someone willing to let you illustrate their manuscript for free. But the chances that it is a reputable publisher are minimal. More likely you'll get interest from an author who thinks they need to have an illustrated manuscript before submitting to a publisher, or someone who is going one of the self-publishing routes.

    The trouble with this is that you will be in exactly the same position after doing the free work as before -- that is, the reputable publishers who actually have an industry standard budget still won't know who you are. And the likelihood that the collection of art and words actually coalescing into the form of a physical book are low.

    If you are going to illustrate a book for free I would instead recommend that you work on a story that you wrote, or pick a public domain story and illustrate that.

    My first book came from submitting two original dummies to various publishers local to the city I was living in (if you live in an especially rural area pick the next closest city). One was a public domain story and the other was a story I'd written. The editor didn't care for my writing (in hindsight not a big shocker) but really liked the artwork. Via those dummies I'd shown that I could handle creating a full picture book. It was a very small publisher at the time (since acquired by Simon and Schuster) and the advance against royalties was quite low, but steady sales generated royalties over the life of the book.

    All this is to say that if you work for "free" on your own book and submit it then you at least have the chance to have it picked up by a publisher and you'll generate income from it. If it doesn't get picked up you are no worse off than before, alternatively by showing that same book to publishers with budgets you may be picked up for a completely different project that could generate income.

    By contrast if you work for free on a picture book you will DEFINITELY make no income AND the work may never be seen by the kind of clients you would want to see it.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    agree with @davidhohn here 100%. Avoid doing this, it hurts the whole industry.

  • SVS OG

    @davidhohn I didn't think of it like that. I will have a crack at my own book and see what happens. (I do live in a rural area good guess)

    @Lee-White I doubt if I did a free job it would hurt the whole industry, bit dramatic. I did a portrait for someone for free and got too many commissions that i could paint from doing one for free. I'm just thinking outside the box a bit to get experience. That being said I think what @davidhohn said makes sense.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @jason-bowen It's not being overly dramatic. Sure, your one job may not hurt the industry, but the way I see it is that we are a reflection of the industry as a whole. Sometimes we have to educate clients. If you offer your services to a client for free, that client will have an unrealistic sense of what it means to work with an illustrator. Then, when they go to the next illustrator for a job, maybe they offer him a deal to work for free in exchange for future work. Then the cycle moves along like that.

    One little thing doesn't make a difference if you look at it in isolation, but there are ramifications that may be unintended that we would never know about. We already have a hard time getting a legit pay scale from clients. I consider it our job to educate the clients when they are low balling or trying to get artists to work for free. Many times they aren't even aware of what they are doing. Things like offering "exposure" in exchange for work, etc. is unacceptable. I don't to give them any more reasons to try to lowball an artist or try to get work for free.

    If we are all on the same page (we don't work for exposure or for free) or give up rights that we are entitled to, then that works it's way through to clients. And they come to understand how to work with us and how to pay us fairly.

    So, that is what I mean when I say it hurts the industry as a whole. I hope that makes sense.

  • SVS OG

    @Lee-White I will stay on the fence here because it has worked for me in the past in different industries. I don't disagree with what you're saying mind you.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    i hear ya. Last thing I will add is that I do think it will work. Any client will always pick a free artist over one they have to pay. But it will come at a cost (even though it is hidden) as I mentioned before.

    Just need to weigh what that means to you.

    Good luck! I appreciate you thinking outside the box and testing ideas out.

  • you get to choose who you work for free for, like charity for example. but keep in mind that with more artists working for free, instead of getting the usual:"I know someone who will charge less" we'll get: "I know someone who'll do it for free".

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @heidigfx this is a good point about charity work. Pro bono work has a long history and a lot of good things have come from that. I need to chat with david a bit to see where I land with that. But my gut reaction is that pro bono work is ok as long as its a charity and no money will be made (as profit) by the company.

  • SVS OG

    two points.
    1- When I do work for free I sometimes say to myself "it's good enough for government work." My husband did an unpaid internship in law school with the DA's office. He learned that phrase there from the people that actually worked there. In comparison to plaintiffs work, they get paid a lot less. (He didn't go into criminal law at all.) It kinda stuck. It's hard to really keep the quality of work when you aren't getting paid. I would think especially on extremely long projects like a book. The result is a half done project that may not even be your best work.
    2- If you compare it to a different job it a really hard pill to swallow. Illustrating an entire book would be like building a house. Doing a portrait is like doing tile work, a backsplash, in the kitchen. The common person likes a portrait. It is pretty easy to get referral work from portraits. That's happened to me quite a lot when that was my main focus. I don't like portraits anymore. They are a one trick pony. No print value in that. How many reputable publishers will actually would take notice of your free book? If they are attracted to the fact they can get you for cheap, then you are getting less than you really deserve for your work.

    You can always let them down easy. Tell them that you have reevaluated you time and don't fell like you can sacrifice the time it would take to complete the book away from other paying work. You could offer some character designs. Even do a few spreads that you were super excited about. Those are for sure portfolio pieces. At that point, maybe they will pay you for your work to complete the book.

    Do a backsplash, not a house. or build your own house! Like your own story or public domain story like David Hohn said. Don't put your time into a floor plan that may be bad.

    But good luck!

  • @Jason-Bowen As a fellow fine artist delving into this crazy world of illustration, I see where you are coming from, but I think it's really different. I have definitely had good returns on a strategically donated piece. That being said, I can't imagine putting the kind of energy and time into a HUGE project like a book and not being paid (doing it for a charitable cause is an exception--but I think even that would be tough). I like @Whitney-Simms analogy. Doing massive amounts of artwork for a client for nothing devalues your time, your work, and art in general. (But @davidhohn 's suggestion of doing your own book from a story you wrote is great. I've watched some of your YouTube stories, and they're hilarious. Lots of material there!!)

  • SVS OG

    @eli Yeah it was an idea but I have got a pretty big lead on a paid job now with a massive company I will hear more Friday and see what comes of it. I feel more confident now I seem to do better with a kind of not caring confident approach haha. See what happens. 🙂

  • @jason-bowen That's awesome!! Keeping my fingers crossed for you!

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