idontworkforfree_template_main idontworkforfree_template_main
Artist RightsBusiness

Here’s How To Tell People You Can’t Create Free Artwork

One of the inconvenient truths of being a creative person, whether you’re an artist, filmmaker, musician, or writer, is that non-creative types rarely appreciate the fact that you’ve spent years developing and refining your skills in the same way that doctors, lawyers, and scientists do.

As a result, you’ll be asked to create plenty of free work — sometimes by people who simply don’t know any better, but also by legitimate companies that know exactly what they’re doing and will never pass up an opportunity to save a dime on a project.

So, what’s the best way to explain to all of these people that you don’t work for free? Lily Williams, a visual development artist at Sony Pictures Animation, came up with this simple template that lets artists deliver the message in a good-humored way, while educating others about why your creativity has value:

idontworkforfree_template

Here’s how she filled out her template:idontworkforfree_c

Here’s another one filled out by DreamWorks artist Samantha Kallis: idontworkforfree_b

How would you fill out yours?

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  • That’s a clever and genius way of letting people know why you charge services for your creative skills. As the Joker said in The Dark Knight, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”

    As more people continue to explore their gifts and talents, I do see them being more honest that their services must be paid for the time spent to work on the projects.

  • Lexie

    But…but…they promised to give me exposure once their project becomes the next big thing.

    • Alan Groening

      people DIE from Exposure.

    • Marc Hendry

      if you are doing any kind of visual presentation, then YOU are the one giving THEM exposure

  • Lexie

    But…but…they promised to give me exposure once their project becomes the next big thing.

  • I personally have no problem working for things that aren’t money, which many people see as working “for free.” The most meaningful projects I’ve ever done have had zero monetary return. In fact, some have even cost me money to do. I’d do them again, and with much more enthusiasm than a single project I’ve ever taken on in exchange for a paycheck. So I guess my boxes would be left blank, and I’d cross out the words and write “Tell me about your project and let’s see if we’re a good fit to make it happen.”

    I’ve found it’s amazing what you can experience and create when you keep an open mind and have real conversations with people. By all means, explain that what you do has value if you believe it does, and explain it by having a real discussion so that both sides can learn and better understand each other. But putting yourself in a closed little box by saying you “don’t work for free?” Why limit yourself, and the projects you’ll explore? The crusade against “working for free” is really sad to me, because it makes art a commodity instead of the creative, poetry-esque, world-changing force of nature it can truly be. It bends art and forces it to bow down to dollars and numbers, instead of being totally brilliant and outside of such restrictive boxes.

    I am aware that’s a very unpopular opinion. It is what it is. Life has taught me the real value art has, and it goes far beyond dollars and cents. The projects I’ve done in spite of someone having no money to pay me have lead to things I could have never dreamed, and relationships I am grateful to be part of ever day. If you walked up and offered me a check to erase those relationships, I’d politely and adamantly decline.

    As far as businesses “taking advantage or artists who love what they do to save a dime” I say let them. If that’s what they value – saving a dime – that’s their business. What I value is up to me. They don’t determine my value, I do. If I work for zero dollars, my worth is not zero dollars set by some company. My worth is far beyond any number. I know my worth, and no other human being gets to decide it for me.

    Just my thoughts on the whole “never work for free” thing that is going around the art community at the moment. I find “never” is a big enemy of creativity in general.

    I appreciate the opportunity to chat about this topic yet again! I think I will write a blog post about it, because clearly there’s a lot of passion about the subject on both sides. :)

    • RS

      Your freedom to work for free, on projects of your choosing, is missing the part where you have some other source of income and support giving you the ability to take on no-pay projects on the side. Maybe you’re employed full-time elsewhere, covering your rent/bills/food/social expenses. Maybe you are supported by a spouse. Or your parents. Or a trust fund.

      Point is, if your art is your SOLE source of income, and you work from project to project to get by, then giving away any block of time in your life to DO A JOB and receive no benefit or support for your life in return is not only insulting, but often impossible.

      I appreciate your sentiment. I just think you’re leaving out an important part of the puzzle.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful response. You’re very right, the freedom does come from a number of other sources. Art is not my sole source of income. I also write, fix houses, have a spouse who works, have invested during my younger years, and try to live very simply without requiring much money or “stuff.” I don’t think any of these things are exclusive to me, either. And that allows for a ton of freedom. Now, if someone doesn’t WANT the freedom that comes from things like that, I’m not going to tell them not to be inside the standard box that many people seem to consider the American Dream. Some people are happy with a 9-5 job that is only traded for a paycheck. However I think a lot of people think they have to follow this standard path (and are unhappy and stressed) because so many other people do. And as a result, the idea of “never work for free” becomes a mantra. Yes, never working for free is a requirement for the in-the-box method much of society drudges through. I don’t think, personally, that’s the best way, though. I think using creativity to think outside of those sorts of boxes allows for the very freedom you’re describing.

        Example: There are a bunch of shows on TV now about “tiny houses.” When I first saw one of these, a woman living in a yurt and doing freelance music therapy, I thought that was rather crazy. Only later did I realize how limiting I was making my own thoughts. That’s not crazy, that makes sense for her. And it could make sense for me, too. I don’t live in a yurt, but I can see the unbelievable amount of freedom that could come from owning a home that was not hundreds of thousands of dollars. By recognizing that as a possibility (instead of what society would say is “crazy”) I opened up the chances for a lot more meaning in my life. I continued to break free from that mold society says you need to fit in. Molds created by ideas like “never work for free.” The concept stuffs you into a box, and says “never go outside this box.” Well I’m not much for boxes, personally. :)

        I would disagree that trading your time for no “living wage” return is an insult. You determine what insults you, no one else. If you choose not to be insulted, then you will never be insulted. That sort of thing is all in our heads. “Never work for free” certainly teaches you to be insulted, but I find life to be much more pleasant when I stopped being offended and insulted by other people. Again, they don’t decide my value.

        You do make a great point, though. I didn’t acknowledge the part of the puzzle that is a requirement if art is your sole source of income. I’d never recommend anything be a sole source of income, to be honest, especially something as finicky as art. “Putting all eggs in one basket” has been generally taught a bad idea for thousands of years. And now we have more freedom than ever to not go that route. The trade of freedom to pursue meaning and purpose in exchange for only a paycheck seems too steep to me. I understand others are okay with it, though. Everyone has to determine their priorities, and then hopefully be content with what they’ve chosen to put at the top of the pedestal. :)

        • Henrik Sahlstrom

          So you write? Do it for free. You fix houses? Do it for free. Your spouse works to bring in money to the household? Tell her/him to work for free instead. If you guys start doing your work for free how will you pay for the bills and the food? You seem to have this philosophical romanticized view of art and that it should rise above monetary value unlike anything else. Fuck that, it´s work. There is no difference spending 8 hours making coffee for someone in a café and spending 8 hours drawing something someone else tells you to draw. It´s time spent producing something for someone else. Sure I like to draw and paint, otherwise I wouldn´t have picked it as a career, but I´m sure the mechanic loves working on cars, motorcycles and machinery as well and nobody takes it for granted that he or she would spend time working for free for them. “Aw come on, fix my car. It´ll be fun for you and we´ll get to know each other and there´ll be some personal growth on your part”, give me a break. I´m sure the barista meets interesting and nice people and sometimes develops great relationships on the job but the truth is they spend their time doing something for someone else and should therefor be paid. Not to mention that the time spent away from their personal time might actually prevent other relationships from developing or it might even deteriorate already established relationships. If you don´t get paid by the clients it´s better to work on your own projects that you actually retain the rights too or developing something with someone else where your share rights. If you want to keep working for free you are entitled to do so but I wouldn´t recommend it since it´s not how you run a business, unless you want to run it into the ground. Just don´t think you´re going outside of some box while you´re doing your free work because you´re just stuck in a different but still very much boxed mindset of thinking it should have a higher meaning and value than just money and being a business. Also, the more time spent on doing something the better you get at it so recommending artists to not put all their eggs in one basket and actually take time away from doing what they want to be better at is pretty much telling them to strip away their training time and development time to go earn money somewhere else just to be able to on their own time do free work for other people.

        • Retch

          Harlan Ellison — Pay the Writer

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE

    • Alan Groening

      JK -taking art trades is NOT working “for free” –you are getting something in return for your art…
      Doing “pro-bono” work is acceptable IF you agree to take the pro-bono work it must be on YOUR terms and conditions. I’m assuming you’ve done work for local charities, schools (which really should not be pro-bono anyway) or the local church that YOU attend… but not other churches.
      i love how you say that this “never work for free” thing is “going around the art community at the moment”… uh, no… its VERY real and this “never work for free” thing has been around since the dawn of time. You can chose to believe its a new thing that just reared its ugly head but uh, were you selling art to clients in the 50’s, 60’s 70’s 80s and 90s? hmm… you do know this was a hot button issue since before the birth of FaceBook right? Before the birth of the internet?

      i do see some of what you’re saying, “never” is a horrible word, i get it, I understand how Pro-Bono jobs work and so should you… I understand that taking Art trades is an acceptable form of payment if its for equal value… (even at tax time you can count that as payment!)

      I think what you’re describing is where the artist draws for himself. for fun.

      We’re describing an artist working for an art client… two entirely different beasts, when you work for yourself there are no deadlines, and art is creative and fun and makes the world a more creative place, yes I get that… when you work for an art client, you are drawing what they want, and its for money, the bottom line IS the bottom dollar period.

      This is NOT what you’re describing above.

      if you work for a client and he pays you zero dollars and you GIVE him the work for nothing… um, yeah, thats is the value of your self worth and your art is then valued at zero dollars unless its pro-bono and its clear to the client they aren’t walking all over you.
      its true your worth is far beyond any number, but for a client, you have to assign it a dollar amount. no other human being decides what you’re worth but consider this, if you constantly work for free because you chose to work for free (not taking trades) that devalues other artists around you in your area doesn’t it?

      • You make some fantastic points, Alan. Firstly, I apologize for not being aware this is an ongoing movement in the art world. I must admit, I’ve not come across it up until the past decade or so. Perhaps it’s thanks to the Internet that the issue has become a little more public. The Internet seems to have a way to make a lot of issues very public, and sometimes take over other discussions! I think it’s also connected many more artists to jobs, which means many more opportunities for work. Certainly a lot has changed.

        “I’m assuming you’ve done work for local charities, schools (which really should not be pro-bono anyway)”

        Why do you feel it should not be anyway? I guess I’m not sure I see the reason for not doing this sort of work pro-bono. I think the public good (or good in general) is a great reason to do things. It’s certainly made my life a lot more joyful than when I only worked for money in my younger days! I’m happier, healthier, and less stressed than I was when I was focused on myself. I also look out and see a lot of artists (and people in general) who still keep money at the top of their priorities list, and in my limited experience many of them are extremely stressed and unhappy. Obviously I can’t attribute this entirely to personal pursuits, but I think it does play a big part. I’ve done a lot of research on the subject, and found a large number of people who focus on the public good and others. These people, I’ve found, are extremely pleased with how they’re spending their lives.

        “when you work for an art client, you are drawing what they want, and its for money, the bottom line IS the bottom dollar period.”

        Wants are a funny thing, really. You’re right, if what they want doesn’t line up with what you want, it can be a chore. I’ve certainly had such projects, and I fully admit they have been the least meaningful and passion-driven of my life. Which I think is my entire point. :) By taking these non-meaningful jobs that only align with what the client wants, you set yourself up for unhappiness in many ways. Is it necessary? Well, I can see the argument for that sometimes. Bills do indeed need paid. All the time, though? Seems unlikely. Especially since, as I mentioned above, the Internet now allows so many artists to be paired with the people that make a good fit for them. I myself have zero interest in creating My Little Pony animations, for example, but a friend of mine adores it. On the other hand, he might not want to do the graphic design work I do for a local homeless shelter (for free) and that’s okay, because we’re both finding jobs that fit us well. I’m certainly not arguing “only EVER work for free!” so much as I am concerned over the idea of “never work for free.” Indeed reason and balance rarely lies in any extreme, and I see “never” as an extreme.

        I certainly see the validity in your last point, too. Is my working for no money devaluing other artists? Truthfully the longer I live, the more I see how interconnected everything is. So it’s quite possible. That being said, I have never found an instance where I had run out of things to do. The world is enormous, and there is no shortage of good work to be done. It would very much surprise me to discover that a job I took to help someone with a passion-project animated film directly devalued another artist. Especially since my own art is vastly inferior to so many much more skilled craftsmen. Does doing Zelda fan-art detract from the tremendous job Nintendo does with the art in their Legend of Zelda games? I must admit, I don’t know for sure. I do know that I feel called to do good works and help people, in exchange of money or not. And when I listen and do those things, it seems to really help a lot of people. And, as I mentioned, my life also feels a lot less burdened, even with a very low bank account.

        Hopefully that clarifies things a bit more, and my apologies if anything I’m trying to say isn’t coming across the way I intended! Communication, especially in text form, can be a very tricky thing sometimes. Hope you’re having a great day! :)

        • Alan Groening

          JK – your work for the homeless shelter is pro-bono, you made the decision and thats great, tthere is nothing wrong with doing charity work pro-bono. That is the same as me doing Pro-bono work for my church too.
          working Pro-bono is fine as long as its your decision, and it sounds like it is so keep at it.
          this is one of the rare opportunities that an artist has to make something truly wonderful for this world.

          you mention My Little Pony animations, someone who isn’t your friend approaches you to do a free animation or draw them a pony sketch… would you do it? again, its ultimately your decision.

    • Ferdinand Engländer

      I think we have talked about this before and I do understand and respect your point of view, but I really think you are seeing this from a very philosophical and idealistic level the world might not be ready for. That’s not a bad thing, because we as humanity should all strive for a better more social world, but… at least I don’t think this works.. yet.
      I agree money and value are different things and you can value another persons work with things other than money. But in my experiences only money pays the bills.
      Sure, it would be nice to live in a society where just those relationships are the core of life and replace some of the stuff that costs money. An additional problem for art is that this valuing is often one way, just because people don’t understand that it’s hard and draining work. My landlord might say: “Hey you can draw well, why don’t you do all designs for my company for free.”, but I doubt he would then let me live in his apartment for free, because “oh drawing is no real work, it’s just fun and also not really needed… a person at McDonalds is more important than an animator because at least they are making something real”. This is a very big problem. If there would be equal favors on both sides this would be an entirely different story…

      The very practical problem with working for free is that it effects people who really would have needed that money to buy food. Let’s say we compete for the same job (I know we are often not in the market for the same thing, but it could happen) without knowing it. Who will the customer choose? You who does it for free or me who tells him he needs some money to buy groceries and pay bills? The CEO doesn’t have to be a bad person to say, “well they are equally good so we might as well take the cheaper option”. This is not me saying anything out of passion JK. If too many people work for free, I need to get another job… and I would rather not, especially because there actually is enough demand (all the 24h TV has to come from somewhere).
      I agree that you shouldn’t say “never” work for free. When the favor to favor scales are balanced that is totally acceptable. In this case it actually comes down to the definition of “free”, because technically you getting something you value in return – even if it’s just good times (if you can afford it financially).

      Maybe the sentence should be “Never work unless you get something of some kind of value in return and keep in mind that you have to pay food and rent at the end of the month and don’t forget that if you always work on favor basis, this gets people in trouble who really need the money to pay their bills, so do that responsibly.”

      • ” I really think you are seeing this from a very philosophical and
        idealistic level the world might not be ready for. That’s not a bad
        thing, because we as humanity should all strive for a better more social
        world, but… at least I don’t think this works.. yet.”

        Oh yes, I live very philosophically and idealistically. And you and I both know many people don’t appreciate that difference about me. That being said, I only have this one life to live, so why not live it idealistically? Why not be philosophical? One life, Ferdinand! Then it’s on to what’s next, no matter how much money I made here.

        You’re right, though, this DOESN’T quite work yet. And it’s useful to ask ourselves why. Why doesn’t it work yet? I think it’s because people aren’t doing it. We’re playing by the world’s rules. We’re saying “Well, that’s just the way it is… for now.” As you said, we’ve talked about it before. You and I both dream of running a studio where we care about the employees and don’t just make it about the bottom line, right? Well why not now, Ferdinand? Why don’t we start now? Otherwise, it won’t change. Do you think Galileo sat at his telescope and said “Boy, the world isn’t ready for this stuff yet.” Can you imagine our world if he had?!

        Bills need paid, no way around that. Yet how often do we GO to our landlords and ask to trade our skill for their shelter? People don’t, because that’s “weird.” But it’s weird because we don’t do it! I lived for several years in a house on trade for my skills of fixing up that house. It worked. It worked beautifully. And it let us save for a house of our own. Was it hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Was it weird? Not after we were in the middle of doing it! But before that, you bet it was weird. (Also weird is that for much of human existence, trade and barter was the only way.)

        Let’s be weird. Let’s break those crummy molds the world keeps trying to shove us in! One life, Ferdinand! That’s all we’ve got! :)

        In defense of free labor, I will say this. I once accepted a small job animating for this total stranger I had never met. Guy emailed me out of the blue, it was super weird. Fast forwarding a few years, he’s one of my best friends, we work together all the time, and he even let me come stay with he and his wife on another continent for a while. Vacationed together, too, his family and mine. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade that relationship for all the money you could dump on my doorstep. Honest, I wouldn’t. It’s too valuable of a relationship to me. Imagine my life if I had turned down that stranger… I sure didn’t see what value I might get in return at the time, that’s for certain. Because I didn’t worry about that value, I took a leap and did something weird. Sure am glad I did. :)

        • Ferdinand Engländer

          As I said before, I understand your point, but I highly doubt that trading art for living costs will work because it’s such an abstract thing. True I haven’t tried it, but the way so many customers try to lower the wage gives me very little hope. Fixing a house for living in one is easier to compare with a more objective, easier-to-comprehend value. I mean we animators even have this problem amongst us, some don’t accept anime or a beautifully animated Peanuts movie as quality work.

          And I understand what you are going for with the way how we met, but I think that is the kind of work the article doesn’t even mean. A student or passion project where no one is making money from is something different from making an ad for a rich insurance company that would neither want to pay right nor return a favor of equal value. Although they could – they don’t just because capitalism works that way, there are enough people who would do it out of desperation and it’s too impersonal of a machinery. We can change that, yes, but as long as this world is spinning around money fair pay or fair favors are mandatory for people who don’t have savings or other security to rely on.
          I think it’s really vital to this discussion to exclude personal favors and projects you do out of passion, because that is not a problem. What is a problem is people working on a high-grossing Hollywood blockbuster and not getting paid for it proportionally (or not at all), although the filthy rich CEOs could. Changing a whole society to a favor based economy seems further away to me than saying “the public would see transformers 7, sales are good, this is a lot of work that’s not anyone’s most favorite, so pay me accordingly”. This step could even lead to people having more safety to do “free” personal and passion projects because they have a reliable income.

        • KW

          Its not weird to ask a landlord to let you stay for a few months in trade of a service, but people dont ask it because its not something people usually go for. Again, giving my services doesnt necessarily pay the landlords bills either. Especially if your landlord isnt the owner of the building like mine.
          You have too idealistic of a view of all of this and as great as it sounds its never going to happen in our life time.

    • There is a type of art I can do for free no matter what: for pro bono causes I firmly believe in, or sales pitch material for my own cause/business. Truth is, creating any piece of artwork costs time and effort, and both translate into money in the economy we live in. I wish I could afford the freedom to create and not worry where or when the next paycheck is going to come from (yay freelance life), or being able to barter my artwork for rent or food, but alas that’s not the case for me nor for the majority of people I know. However as you posted later art is not the only thing you do for a living, so you can certainly afford to look at it that way and well, more power to you.

      • “I wish I could afford the freedom to create and not worry where or when the next paycheck is going to come from or being able to barter my artwork for rent or food”

        Wishing won’t get you there, but my own experience has taught me that you can achieve such things if you make it your goal. It’s a lot of work and you have to go outside society’s norms and comfort zones, but worth it. Of course, many people decide they don’t want to go that route, and that’s understandable too. Good luck with it, whatever you decide! :)

    • Netko

      Art IS a commodity. It’s not all creative rainbows and roses. It’s work. When I get hired to illustrate something, I’m hired purely for my skills so that I can make someone else’s (usually crappy) ideas come true. If there was some project that I really liked and believed in that I could have an equal say in and I had some other dignified way of putting food on the table, I might entertain the idea of working for free. Charity, friends and family are also special cases. Random people looking for free stuff are neither of these things. “Exposure” is a pathetic lie invented by stingy people.

      For plenty of us, art is a job that we’ve devoted years and years of our life to. It’s not some hobby we do in spare time that’s nice to pay off once in a while. It’s work. Sometimes it’s work that’s worthwhile, usually it’s work like any other. I’m going to make a wild guess here that you’re one of those hobby artists who haven’t devoted much time to developing your skills because art is beyond such trivialities. Thing is, you don’t learn anatomy by playing around with paint. You do it by sitting down and practising it. You do it by working, and working for years. And no matter how magical you try to make art be, fact is stuff needs illustrating, designs need to be made, animations need to be cleaned up and the more gullible artists there are who will do work for free or for miserable pay, the more people will have the idea that as an artist, you should be happy to work for free because art is so special that getting paid for it devalues it, by some logic. I still can’t find a single reason why I’d devote myself to other people’s ideas in my free time instead of trying to make my own ideas come to life. They’re certainly more worthwhile than the rubbish projects that have been suggested to me.

      As for “your worth being beyond any number”, maybe your bills are also beyond any number? Maybe your food is beyond any number? Your education? Time? If someone doesn’t care about paying for all of the work that you put into art (assuming you put in a significant amount), then sorry to say but this person believes your art is worthless and is just trying to use you to get free stuff. I’m not going to respect someone who cares so little about my work that they’re not going to even entertain the idea that I might want to get paid and live off of it. They can freely piss off and go to their little cousin who’s so talented at Photoshop to get a crappy design done for free.

      I’m great at what I do. I’m great because I ‘worked’ to get there. I don’t want to hold other jobs because even if it’s purely work-drawing, it’s still preferable to any other annoying job because at least I’m drawing. Nor do I see why I should go and have a job I’m not good at. I really don’t see how the concept of wanting to live off of your work is so difficult for people to grasp nowadays, but that’s why there is a “crusade against working for free”. So people can get rid of this condescending and modern idea of art being something that’s so above this wordly life and necessities that it shouldn’t be measured as work it is. Michelangelo didn’t get paid for the Sistine Chapel in “exposure”.

      • “Charity, friends and family are also special cases. Random people looking for free stuff are neither of these things.”

        Well I guess I prefer to live life looking at strangers as friends I’ve not yet met. :) It makes my life happier to do that than the alternative, usually. And in the end, the way we look at the world dramatically affects the kind of life we wind up living.

        “If someone doesn’t care about paying for all of the work that you put
        into art (assuming you put in a significant amount), then sorry to say
        but this person believes your art is worthless and is just trying to use
        you to get free stuff.”

        And that, of course, is their choice to be made. Again, it doesn’t devalue my work, because I am in charge of setting the value of my work, not them. Likewise they are in charge of setting the value of their work. If I think what they do is worthless, who cares? I’m nobody. :)

        It’s similar to your comment of guessing I’m a “hobbyist artist who didn’t spend much time developing my skills.” I can take a comment like that and become quickly offended, believing your assessment and making my own value what you describe. Or I can step back and look at the truth, which is that I’ve been a professional artist for more than a decade and attended several schools for it, often working at the craft daily full-time in an effort to improve, and know what you’re saying there isn’t accurate. Therefore why believe that assessment? Why accept that version as my value? To me, that would be a waste of time and energy. I know the truth, and no one else is going to define that for me. So no offense is taken, why would it be?

        You mention you’re great at what you do. Terrific. If that’s the case, no other person’s perspective, or what number they put as a value on your time and skill, defines you. :) Therefor there’s no need to refuse to work for free, because again, YOU know what the value of the work you’re doing is, and it will never be set by another person who says you’re worth more or less. Letting someone else define your value doesn’t make much sense to me. If you work for free but value your work, your work has value. If you work for $70,000 an hour, that $70,000 doesn’t define you either. It’s your call, no one else’s.

        “I really don’t see how the concept of wanting to live off of your work is so difficult for people to grasp nowadays”

        I’m not sure who is arguing against living off the work you do. Working for reasons other than money is hardly against people desiring to live. I’ve never argued that a person should die for their art, that’s unreasonably melodramatic. My argument has always been that refusing jobs based solely on if they pay money dramatically limits what you might accomplish in this world, and that, to me, is sad. As I said in my original comment “By all means, explain that what you do has value if you believe it does, and explain it by having a real discussion so that both sides can learn and better understand each other.” Discussions can lead to possibilities. Putting up “I don’t work for free” walls simply shuts down opportunities before they could ever happen.

        As always, the choice is yours. I myself like more opportunities and possibilities for life and creative works, rather than less. :)

        • Netko

          I don’t get insulted by a small dog barking because I didn’t give it my shoe. But I also don’t give it my shoe on a chance that the dog might calm down and allow me to pet it. I just go and find a friendly dog who isn’t only interested in taking stuff from me.
          You should also consider that if you’re an artist with any sort of prestige and skill, you’ll be spammed with requests for free work on a daily basis. Putting up “I don’t work for free” filters out the selfish stingy “offers” from actual clients who respect your work enough to pay you for it.

          Whether I make money with art or not, I will draw because drawing is what I love. However there’s a huge difference between me having to work a crappy job and only having the time and nerves for a few relaxing sketches and me being able to put food on the table with art. If you’re satisfied with only legitimately working on art once a week or so, more power to you. But you probably shouldn’t be giving advice to people who want a real career in art.

          When I said you’re probably an unskilled hobbyist, I wasn’t trying to insult you. Not at all. I have no real knowledge or personal investment in your art, or you as a person. The thing is, good art takes time and effort. It takes time to learn and it takes time to do. If you are giving these things away freely and you still have time and nerves to hold some other job, not to mention your ideas that art is something magical and unmeasurable instead of being 90% work that it is, I can only assume your own art isn’t something you’ve worked or are working on enough to understand its value. Or rather you do understand its value, which is why you are giving it away for free. Because I’ve seen people like you at my art college and when I look at their art and the kind of time and effort they put into it, I completely understand how they can give it away for free. To them, their art is special and priceless because they didn’t work on it, on the things that require boring and soulless practice to get it to the point where it looks impressive. So they can afford themselves to not see it as work. To them it’s more akin to a game. And that’s all fine and dandy for that kind of artist, but they’re not something that’s meant to go professional and have a full-time job in art.

          Most people need to get money themselves and they want to do it with art because they invested so much time into it and they don’t have 48 hours in a day nor the nerves to go around working other jobs that don’t interest them. The fact that so many people think art is something the artist should be honoured to make for them IS insulting and calling out assholes for being assholes has nothing to do with your art’s value. It has everything to do with people having harmful views that lead to artists being underpaid and unable to live off of their work.

    • KW

      The problem i have with someone working for free is that it not only devalues your services, it devalues the services of all the other artists around you.
      Why would Acme Corp pay me or any other artist out there for our work when you’re willing to do it for free because you think art shouldn’t be a commodity? The only time I would do anything for free is if it was a project I was in control of, doing for myself on my own time. Thats when I can do all that free thinking creative stuff.

      You can create and explore all you want, and if you chose to do that on time you’re putting into someone else’s project, then by all means do that. But not all of us can afford that luxury, we have to eat and therefore charge for the time and skills that we have.

    • BlkWmnAnimator

      I understand your viewpoint, but in reading all of your responses, it seems like you’re saying, well, why doesn’t everyone just do it like me? But if everyone was the same, that wouldn’t make for an interesting world. Some people prefer to pay for services with money as opposed to bartering. Because that’s not the way you ideally see it, does it make it a bad thing? If so, why? If someone would rather dedicate all of their time to their art, their family and any of their other interests and not learn how to fix up a house or sacrifice to live in a “tiny house”, that’s their prerogative. Just like it’s your choice to not see the big deal in working for free; it’s other people’s choice to have different views and think about the value of their work differently. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

  • I personally have no problem working for things that aren’t money, which many people see as working “for free.” The most meaningful projects I’ve ever done have had zero monetary return. In fact, some have even cost me money to do. I’d do them again, and with much more enthusiasm than a single project I’ve ever taken on in exchange for a paycheck. So I guess my boxes would be left blank, and I’d cross out the words and write “Tell me about your project and let’s see if we’re a good fit to make it happen.”

    I’ve found it’s amazing what you can experience and create when you keep an open mind and have real conversations with people. By all means, explain that what you do has value if you believe it does, and explain it by having a real discussion so that both sides can learn and better understand each other. But putting yourself in a closed little box by saying you “don’t work for free?” Why limit yourself, and the projects you’ll explore? The crusade against “working for free” is really sad to me, because it makes art a commodity instead of the creative, poetry-esque, world-changing force of nature it can truly be. It bends art and forces it to bow down to dollars and numbers, instead of being totally brilliant and outside of such restrictive boxes.

    I am aware that’s a very unpopular opinion. It is what it is. Life has taught me the real value art has, and it goes far beyond dollars and cents. The projects I’ve done in spite of someone having no money to pay me have lead to things I could have never dreamed, and relationships I am grateful to be part of ever day. If you walked up and offered me a check to erase those relationships, I’d politely and adamantly decline.

    As far as businesses “taking advantage or artists who love what they do to save a dime” I say let them. If that’s what they value – saving a dime – that’s their business. What I value is up to me. They don’t determine my value, I do. If I work for zero dollars, my worth is not zero dollars set by some company. My worth is far beyond any number. I know my worth, and no other human being gets to decide it for me.

    Just my thoughts on the whole “never work for free” thing that is going around the art community at the moment. I find “never” is a big enemy of creativity in general.

    I appreciate the opportunity to chat about this topic yet again! I think I will write a blog post about it, because clearly there’s a lot of passion about the subject on both sides. :)

  • Alan Groening

    this stupid ass recession has driven the “stupid” up a full 4 notches for people… i will use the term “clients” extremely loosely, i have seen the highs and lows of supposed “art clientele” not all of them are bad (read cheap) and not all of them are stupid, some are clever little shits that abuse and torment artists for their own personal satisfaction while others like to dictate how YOU (artist) should run your own business.
    Thats laughable at best, when “clients” object to paying deposits, or want to make payments on a deposit that is $100 or less (really?) when clients want the final artwork submitted on their own deadline but the job hasn’t been paid in full yet.

    When a client feels that their work takes priority over another clients work but one pays less than the other… a LOT less.

    When a client feels that they need to hover over you and make corrections to corrections to corrections that you cannot even get them to approve any of the pencil sketches, let alone get permission to move ahead on finished inks and heaven forbid the color approvals that they are the ones intentionally forcing you to miss your deadlines by being dickheads.

    When a client seems to think all your art jobs “minimum payment” should be lower, and refuses to pay the remaining balance and still asks where his artwork is.

    When a clients wife starts making changes and alterations to your artwork after the client has approved your pencils?

    When a client feels that your minimum price for a T-Shirt design should also include the printing, setup and color separation costs too.

    When a client objects to your minimum T-shirt price by $400.00… and your minimum T-shirt design starts at $500.00 for black and white T-shirts.

    When a client reveals after the job is finalized and paid for, that they fully intend on taking your artwork and putting it on coffee mugs, T-shirts, company letterheads, envelopes, stationary, logos and everything else that you should have been paid a lot more for your artwork… after you agreed to ONE item of merchandise.

    When the client reveals that you’re “not up to their expected level of artistic quality, they’ll just go find another art student at the local Junior College to do the job at a lower price than you bid”

    Seriously? I’ve heard it ALL from wannabee “art clients”. everybody is a critic… even those jackasses that cant draw for shit.

  • Alan Groening

    well I usually laugh and walk away quickly… you dont want that type as clients.

  • Marc Hendry

    Requests for free work come from people who literally don’t value your work. Why humor these requests at all? It’s blatantly insulting.
    The only reason to work for free is on a passion project or to help out another artist you admire. NOT the commercial interests of somebody you don’t know.

    • The interesting thing about insults are they can only be insulting if you let them be. :)

  • Federico D’Alessandro

    It all depends on your perspective and where the artist is in their career. In the early days of my career I took free jobs so I could build up my portfolio and make contacts in the industry. In other words, the client was using me and I was using them. Believe me, I could have really used the money back then, too…but I saw the pro bono jobs as training, and valuable practice working with clients. After a bunch of free work, I had a portfolio and resume that helped me get actual paying jobs. So, for artists looking to get a foothold in whatever field they’re going for, working for free doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

    That being said, if someone asked me to work for free now, I’d tell them to take a long walk off a short pier.

  • Mightyflog

    While I do not agree with working for free I also think this “I will not work for free attitude” also causes a lot less collaboration. I see to many artists who could work together and actually build a revenue stream aside from just working for someone but because a lack of collaboration. I mean check out someone like The Asylum who makes cheap movies and makes money out of it. How come there has not been several artists get together, make their own movie and make some money like the Asylum?. The talent is there but they do not get together because of this fear.

    • Netko

      I think the issue here is that when you have a group of artists, it’s hard to decide who’s the “leader”, the one who’ll put their foot down and decide “No, this is what we’re doing”. In paying jobs, it’s simple. The person giving you money is paying you to bring their idea to life so it’s fair that they call the shots, even if you don’t fully agree or understand where you’re going with all this. In friendly collaborations? Whose idea will be our next project? Yours? Hers? What makes your idea so special that we’d all devote years to developing it? Who decides what works and what doesn’t? Is your concept really better than mine? Whose name will be the most prominent? I’m not sure I like where this is going, I don’t want to devote my free time to this anymore etc. etc.

      It’s easier to let the person with money call the shots than a friend. People get an irrational fear when they are to be dominated by someone they perceive as their equal. It takes a group willing to recognize each other’s strength and work within a self-imposed hierarchy and a lot of people just aren’t up for that.

      • Mightyflog

        Well that is the thing. There are people with tons of different types of talents. Utilize those talents.
        What idea to choose? There are a ton of writers with great scripts ready to be made into something. All you got to do is read them. There are also a ton of creators with great ideas. That is the fun part.
        Next project? Draw straws from the team. Simple as that. Then next, then next. Solidify the idea among the group and act professionally.
        Years developing? Why does it have to take years? That is the one I don’t get. Does it really have to take years?
        I’m more on the CG side of things and doing 3d animation. I dabble with celshading, simple animations, etc and if you had a small team it would not take years to create something. Maybe 1 year.
        For example here a few independent creators.
        MDotStrange, Jeff Lew, Terrence Walker, Mohd Fikree to name a few. They are lone wolf creators who have all created feature length animations in record time. Not years.
        For example Jeff Lew did his animation in 3 years but if it was 3 guys instead of just him they could have done it in 1. If it was 10 guys working together maybe months.
        I remember Thurist from Plankton INvasion used to make his 3d series, 3 minutes of good quality animation every month. Multiply that by 10 and you are looking at 30 minutes.
        I know there are many factors but it gives you a mathmatical idea.
        I just think if people worked together a bit and even streamlined the process they could create a revenue stream and not have to be reliant on always looking for that next job. I’ve seen many projects that end up getting a lot bigger once something is created. For example that Plankton INvasion was animated by one person. That series ended up being a tv series.
        Here is a simple idea or two for the possibilities.

        1) Create a children’s animation for youtube. Nursery Rhymes. Have you seen how many hits and how little competition you have for animated nursery rhymes on Youtube? Look it up and you will see about 3 groups doing those. Each video having 1 million to 1 billion views. That is money my friend. And the videos are not even that well animated. Get a group together and make some nursery rhymes. Release each one and then a compilation. Connect with a product creator an affiliate at clickbank or create your own creative product like “The boy who forgot his name” books. Divide the money based on percentage of work. Put the rest away for another project.

        2) Go the Asylum route and create a movie and take the revenue and fund another movie.

        3) Create a series with an advertisment for your own product.

        But I digress as there are many creative artists but that doesnt make them businessmen or investors so they scoff many times at the idea guys. I just think if they were not afraid and worked together they would not need to be as reliant on the guy with all the money.

  • theBlipp

    How does this even need explanation, right? Just tell them you’re out of budget for free work.

  • Victor Ingrassia

    I love when someone says, “This really shouldn’t take very long to do.”

    • mick

      my favourite ‘well they’re only pictures’

    • KW

      That reminds me of a client that had a project me and a friend we’re going to work on together. Everything was set to go, and then they told us they wanted the dragon in their small commercial to look like Smaug from the Hobbit. They dropped the entire commercial when we told them how impossible that was.

  • Alan Groening

    i think though that we’re confusing “artists free will” with the ability to get paid on all jobs.
    lets switch the dynamic and say that its 100% up the artist on whether they want to accept free pro-bono jobs, and say that the art client should know better than to ask an artist to draw for him for free.
    JK let me tell you of something that happened on facebook, I’m in a facebook group that posts random photos every day that we all draw.. personal self enrichment, there are 300+ artists all drawing the same photo and we all put our own unique spin on it and we’re posting them for all to see… all good.
    one day a gentleman comes into our group and posts a picture of his sister and states that tomorrow is her birthday and he’d like to send her all the sketches of her from this group s a birthday present.
    Obviously he doesn’t see a problem with this… but I did:
    first off, its extremely cheap of this guy to go into a public facebook group and ask for free renderings of his sister “as her birthday present” just because we’re all drawing random photos every day.
    yes, the artists could draw his sister (no harm, no fowl) and thats their decision.
    but its also on the person to know that asking for free art on a facebook group filled with artists to give to his sister for her birthday is… well… VERY cheap…. he did not understand that he should be uh… paying an artist to do a rendering of his sister for her birthday.

    Would some of our artists have drawn the photo of the guys sister? You bet they would have, they’re conditioned to draw a photo every day. its more about the idea of this guy ASKING for free artwork when he should know better. Its a birthday gift for his sister after all, and even if he couldn’t afford to pay an artist, he wandered into a facebook group where he potentially could have received (for nothing) over 300 different renderings of his sister from over 300 artists… gosh that would be one amazing gift right? all for nothing because the guy didn’t realize its very cheap and underhanded to ask that of a group of artists.

    Also he could have just bought a nice frame and printed out an 8×10″ of his sister’s photo and been done with it. good gift…
    not asking an artist’s facebook pool for renderings of his sister for her birthday.