June 16, 2015
When you should work for free as an artist
Everyone asks artists to work for free. I'm not exactly sure why, as I can't imagine even asking the kid down the street to mow your lawn for free, but it happens all of the time. So, if you're an artist, whether you draw, paint, create music, or whatever, you can expect people to ask for you to do your work for free. Although usually the payment is expressed as "exposure".
Now waitaminute, exposure can be valuable when you're starting out. I volunteered for my high school yearbook. That not only exposed me to the world of creating commercial art, it gave me a feel for how much time things took, how to deal with deadlines, that sort of thing. So when I started charging real money my art and design, a few years later, I was ready.
Once you're established as an artist who has been paid for their work, you should still expect people to ask for you to work for free. Of course, since I've been a Graphic Designer, and Illustrator, for over twenty years, I really don't need more exposure. But that doesn't stop people from asking me to "draw up a few ideas" or "jot down a few sketches" before any mention of payment is made. But as a commercial artist, I will ask for something in return, sometimes with a formal quote, sometimes with a suggestion for lunch (if it's for a friend of mine). If it's for a charity that I care about, I will do it with the same level of professionalism that I use when doing anything else. I will work on assignment, I will meet deadlines, and I will work for free. Professionalism is the only way that I know how to work.
So there you go. If you're new to the world of commercial art, go ahead and take on a job for free. Learn what it feels like to work with a client, to make deadlines, to make revisions. It can be quite a challenge, and many people can't do it, despite their talent at art. Once you've done work for free, take the time to learn more about the business of doing business. Take some business classes, learn some basic sales skills.
I've made a nice living doing, and teaching, Graphic Design and Illustration. It's hard work, but I just love it. And though getting paid is part of it, getting started is the most important thing.
Posted by Brad Hall