How Much To Pay Artists And Why You Can’t Use My Drawing For Free

Paying Artists

Source: chipandpincardpayments edited by Cai


Working for exposure is no way to live your life. But what should we really be paying for artwork and other creative services.

Do I agree to work for free in the hope that it’ll lead to future opportunities?

Last week, someone from the other side of the world emailed me to ask if they could use my designs without paying me.

I get requests like this from time to time, and it puts me in a tricky situation. Do I agree to work for free in the hope that it’ll lead to future opportunities and for that classic cliché: exposure.

If a big brand comes to you offering work in exchange for exposure, then it can be very tempting to accept. ‘Just think of all those new people I’ll meet. Just think of the opportunities I’ll get from it.’ Getting a job with that big brand would do wonders for your social media presence. But more often than not, that big brand is taking advantage of you and getting some free work out of it. It gets more complicated when a friend is doing it – on the one hand, you want to help them out, but on the other hand the exposure won’t be too good. It can be a tough decision to make.

And there are times where I work for exposure. There are times when I do see the value to not getting paid. I’m voluntarily creating illustrations for this year’s Totterdown Arts Trail because it’s something I feel invested in and want to be a part of. I think that the exposure I get from working on this will be a huge benefit. The important thing about this work though is that it’s my decision. It’s not someone coming to me for something; I’m offering someone else. I asked Hilary O’Shaughnessy from the Pervasive Media Studio for some advice about this and she said, ‘If someone says to do it for your portfolio, then you know that they’re full of rubbish. If they’ve approached you, then you know that your portfolio is already good enough. I’m always quick to just say no’.

Simon Moreton from REACT and SMOO comics shared my struggle to find the perfect balance. He said, ‘I don’t do much commercial work, but I would never take a job for free if there is budget to pay someone. That said it can be hard if you can see some mutual benefit in doing something collaborative with someone, or helping out someone without budget. It is something to be judged on a case by case basis’.

But how much should I charge? It feels as though that’s my most searched for sentence in Google. After successfully securing a commission and after the initial rush of ideas slows down, it’s one of the first questions I ask myself. It’s a mix of feelings: not wanting to charge too much and lose business or not wanting to charge too little and undervalue my work. It’s always hard to find the perfect balance and I don’t think I’ll ever get it right.

I’m still young and I don’t know how much is a reasonable amount for a logo design.

Valuing your own artwork is hard, and it’s something that I think you learn with experience. I’m still young and I don’t know how much is a reasonable amount for a logo design. It turns out that it’s a lot more than just £20. I’ll always fire back with an e-mail saying, ‘Well, my prices can be slightly flexible. What sort of budget are you working with for this?’ to serve the ball back into their court, stall for time and maintain the illusion of experience and professionalism.

All this illustrates the point that knowing what to charge is difficult. But it is such an essential part of any creative work. I asked ex-Rifer Jon Aitken whether he’d ever work for free and he said, ‘There was a time, coming out of university, where I’d work for free to gain contacts, experience and exposure because I felt it would benefit me. Now that I’m more confident in the work I do and value my skills, I volunteer a little (ie social media for the Freedom of Mind festival) but would never do what I do for work for free’. I agree completely – it’s so important that we see the value in the work that we do.

Taking value in the creative work I do is so important because it doesn’t just affect me, it affects other artists too. If I undercut the market and sell my work for half the price most other artists are charging, then it can cause the value of peoples work to go down. To some people, artwork they can get for pennies is always going to be the more appealing option. This is my problem with the website Fiverr.

To some people, artwork they can get for pennies is always going to be the more appealing option.

Fiverr is a website and app where people can offer their digital services for a ‘fiver’. The premise of the website is to offer cheaper work for clients and to allow anyone to get paid for their work. People can list their services for as little as $5 (or £3.52).  If it costs a couple of pounds for someone to design you a book cover, logo or t-shirt then it puts a pressure on others to try and match that price.

It’s okay for Asda and Tesco to compete to see who can offer the cheapest stuff because they already earn billions. I’m not a multi-billion brand that can compete to offer the cheapest services. I am an artist trying to earn a living.

As Hilary O’Shaughnessy said, ‘People can always find money to pay you. They can find money for print, they can find money for web design, they can find money for toilet paper, and so they can find money for artists. There are always exceptions but what you get in exchange has to be clear and worthwhile e.g. a festival weekend ticket’. And she’s right. If people want you, then they will find a way. Charging for my work should cost more than a stock image printed on a canvas at some home store. You’re paying for quality, skill and to support an independent artist.

Would you work for free? How do you know how much to charge for your work? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter. No seriously, please, I have no idea how much I should be charging.

Come along to some Art Classes in Lockleaze to get some practice every Wednesday.

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