Something for Nothing

I find it fascinating that artists are so often expected to supply their skills for free. I have just received a mail offering an ‘opportunity’ for me to design a corporate logo. There’s a long list of expectations: high quality, clear design, visually strong in colour and monochrome etc. In short, all the things you would expect from a corporate client. The sting is at the end of the tail: ‘we have no budget for this work, but would welcome designs from artists looking to have their work published’.

I’d like to say that this was an exceptionally cheeky effort, but sadly it’s all too common. We live in a society all too ready to ask if art is a ‘proper job’ while undermining our attempts to earn the money to make it so. I wonder why it is that the idea of ‘being published’ or ‘good for your CV’ is seen as a substitute for cash. I’ve tried it with my plumber and funnily enough he wouldn’t service the boiler on that basis. Perhaps artists are expected to live on the rarefied air of creativity alone, but I for one need filthy commerce to buy a ham sandwich now and again.

It’s easy starting out to see any work of any kind as a fantastic opportunity and to go for this kind of job. The trick is to do the maths: if I’m not getting paid then I make it a rule that I get at least the value of my work and time back in concrete benefit and that doesn’t mean a vague promise about publishing or a line on my CV. I would urge you to do the same if you are in a dilemma about a freebie. You should bear in mind that being up front about the benefit to you with the client is good business practice and a decent client will respect you for it. It also helps all artists by helping to reinforce the fact that we’re not mugs and our skills have a market value. Leave the peanut payers to the monkeys with the poster paints.

That’s not to rule out doing things for love. One of the nicest things about having a skill, be it printmaking, heart surgery or repairing shoes, is that sometimes you can just give it away and make someone else’s day. The watch word there is love. That has to be earned and I’m a long way off loving the company after a free logo…

Author: Laura

Laura Boswell is a printmaker working exclusively with linocut and traditional Japanese woodblock printing. She has a degree in Art History/Visual Art from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and has been elected to the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers.

5 thoughts on “Something for Nothing”

  1. I have lost count of the number of times the line “We can’t pay you, but we’ll give you a credit” (for use of photographs) has been tried on us. There is a certain satisfaction in saying no, especially when you know perfectly well that they will be paying for things like printing, which are perceived as more tangible trades, without demure. Unfortunately with the advent of social media web sites specialising in the hosting of artwork and photography an awful lot of amateur artists these days are only too happy to see their efforts in print and fail to realise that if it’s worth printing then it’s worth paying for. We must all have the courage to say NO when these people try and take advantage.

  2. Laura – As always funny and prescient. I like your approach hugely. Wanted to weigh in about love. I’ve been doing tons of graphic design for my sister in law’s wedding, which is tomorrow! It’s been a lot of fun and stretched me well. The best part – her telling my husband/her brother that I’ve been a ‘godsend’.

    As you say, nothing like being able to share some skill you have with those you love.

  3. I went in to an alehouse I used to frequent
    And I told the landlady me money was spent
    I asked her for credit, she answered me nay
    Such customer as yours I can have any day

  4. Exposure? People DIE of exposure! When the utility companies and the landlord and all that agree to accept “exposure” in lieu of cash, I can do the same.

    This is my profession, not my hobby!

  5. I agree entirely, and while we’re about it, wouldn’t it be great if unpaid long-term ‘internships’ were done away with? Or given a more apt name, like ‘exploitation’?

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