Don’t Assume An Artist Wants to Work for Free

  Something has been irking me since yesterday afternoon. 

  A few weeks ago, someone at my day job came into my office gushing praises and hyperactive friendliness (usually this girl barely acknowledges my status as another life form).  Heaping glorious praises on my artwork, she tells me that someone in her department had a “simple little sketch” she wanted “tweaked” into a design for a t-shirt for her church.  “It wouldn’t take you 5 minutes!”  

  I’m a nice guy, so usually if I can help somebody out with some simple little matter like this, I’ll do my best to help.  “Sure, no problem.  I’ve got a few minutes.”

  About an hour later, she and her friend bounce into my office with their ‘sketch’.  They had already informed the whomevers at their church that I was doing the screenprint for the kids’ shirts, and again, heaped much praise.  

  On their page for “tweaking” was a full sized, complex design…front and back…that they expected me to create.  As you probably guess…this wasn’t a ‘tweak’.  

  They wanted me to design their church’s shirts for free.

  They drop off the pages and promptly leave (“off to a meeting! Thaaank you soooo much.”).  The sketches were horrible…gaudy and, frankly, stupid.    It puts an artist in a hard position to work from some layperson’s sketch:  If you follow their direction, the art is going to look like shit.  If you don’t follow their direction, they’re going to be pissed that you didn’t give them what they want.  The informal and inappropriate nature of their request means that they have no idea at all how to work with an artist.  “We trust you!” always, always means“Read my mind.”

  You might ask “Why not just return it to them and say ‘no’?”   Because in a workplace that’s a fast way to be labeled an asshole.  Most non-artists assume that professional (especially corporate) artists have magical powers that just makes creative work suddenly appear and that we live in some mystical land of unicorns and rainbows where we are happy to do any creative thing someone throws at us.  

Wrong.  Professional graphic art takes work.  Usually quite a lot of work and thought.  But in this scenario, not only do these two women not understand this, but few people in the office understand it, either.  So if I refuse, all most people in the office are going to hear is that I refused to do a little thing for a church.  Trust me, these things get out of hand very quickly in certain kinds of workplaces.  This is not my first rodeo. 

  So please, don’t ask artists to work for free.  Don’t assume we’re just happy to get our little creative hands on everything we can.  The sad part of this is that Iwill often choose to do things for free depending on the situation… and most artists have a good sixth-sense on what to do for free and what should be paid work.  (Hint- almost always when someone wants a tiny job and offers some cash, if I’ve got the time I’ll do it free of charge.)

  But a professional artist’s time means money.  We have to eat, too.  
  

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