Be­cause you’re worth it

Cheap labour Can it pay to work for free, or do you risk un­der­valu­ing your­self? Alice Pat­tillo sees if artists are be­ing ex­ploited for ex­po­sure

ImagineFX - - ImagineNation -

It’s com­mon th­ese days, to prove your­self through un­paid work. Some­times this can mean work ex­pe­ri­ence within a com­pany, other times it can be an un­paid com­mis­sion or two. It’s im­por­tant to be able to iden­tify such as­sign­ments that are op­por­tu­ni­ties that can lead to em­ploy­ment, earn­ings and ex­po­sure – and when you’re sim­ply be­ing taken ad­van­tage of.

When it comes to com­mis­sions and un­paid work, 2000 AD artist Tom Foster says, “There are three ques­tions you should al­ways ask your­self: who’s ask­ing, for how much, and why? The ‘who’ is im­por­tant be­cause that tells you how much ex­po­sure, if any, you’re go­ing to get and of what kind.”

Full-time free­lance artist Noah Bradley is highly scep­ti­cal of any promised ex­po­sure, “Ninety nine per cent of the time, when some­one brings up ex­po­sure in any of­fer, they don’t re­ally have any ex­po­sure to give you.” And Tom agrees, say­ing that if the client is re­spected and has a large au­di­ence, it may be worth your while, but he makes the ob­ser­va­tion that such com­pa­nies would rarely ask you to work for free.

Artist Peter Mohrbacher takes a stronger view, high­light­ing the dis­par­ity of the ex­po­sure ar­gu­ment. “When some­one else is shar­ing your work for their own gain, that’s when you’re pro­vid­ing the most value to them. The high­est ex­po­sure gigs should typ­i­cally be the high­est pay­ing.”

Peter’s opin­ion is that in-house work ex­pe­ri­ence must ben­e­fit you as much as your em­ployer. “When­ever I hire an in­tern, I al­ways make sure I’m pro­vid­ing more to them than they are pro­vid­ing me,” he ex­plains. “That’s why be­ing an in­tern can be so valu­able, be­cause it’s the one time when you’re work­ing for some­one

What was an op­por­tu­nity to grow your port­fo­lio in­stead be­comes an ex­er­cise in en­dur­ing hor­ri­ble pay

where the flow of value is re­versed. With my own in­terns, when they start pro­vid­ing more value to me than I’m giv­ing them, I hire and start pay­ing them.”

“Don’t do work in ex­change for noth­ing,” says free­lance il­lus­tra­tor and de­signer An­gela Sch­mer, who be­lieves that pay doesn’t have to mean money, but it has to be some­thing re­ally worth your while. “You must en­sure you’re get­ting some­thing of value, whether that’s in the form of money or some­thing else.”

con­cern over nom­i­nal fees

Yet some­times even jobs with clearly de­fined ex­po­sure and pay­ment can be ex­ploita­tive. “The idea that be­ing paid a nom­i­nal fee cov­ers the life­time value of a piece of iconic art feels gen­er­ally false to me,” says Peter. “It’s the right fit for some peo­ple’s busi­nesses and it’s nec­es­sary for some jobs, but it’s too widely abused within the fan­tasy art in­dus­try.”

Noah feels that some­times free work can be prefer­able, and that many com­pa­nies un­der­pay their artists. In a re­cent blog by the artist, he fig­ured that many large com­pa­nies are pay­ing $100 per com­mis­sion, which would equate to a shock­ing $3.50/ hour in earn­ings. He be­lieves that the mo­ment money en­ters the equa­tion, con­trol is no longer in your hands. Your rights to the work be­gin to dis­ap­pear and client de­mands be­come the only thing that mat­ters. “What was an op­por­tu­nity to grow your port­fo­lio in­stead be­comes an ex­er­cise in en­dur­ing hor­ri­ble pay,” he says. None­the­less, Noah would never sign over any im­age rights with­out an ex­change of money, and Kiri Leonard, a free­lance il­lus­tra­tor, agrees: “I don’t think it’s fair to lose your rights, yet it’s com­mon prac­tice. I know some gam­ing com­pa­nies have started let­ting the artists re­tain some rights - be­ing able to sell prints, etc, and I hope to see more com­pa­nies adopt that.” It’s cer­tainly the tem­plate that ImagineFX has worked on since its be­gin­ing.

With all the tech­nolo­gies and re­sources of the mod­ern world, it’s un­nec­es­sary to have to carry out new work for free and not main­tain the rights to your im­ages. “Ex­po­sure is bet­ter gained through post­ing on sites such as Red­dit, Tum­blr, Twit­ter and In­sta­gram than by work­ing for peo­ple for free,” says Peter.

An­other way of achiev­ing this is per­mit­ting pub­li­ca­tions to use ex­ist­ing work rather than

hav­ing to cre­ate ex­clu­sive pieces. “You’re not re­ally be­ing asked to do any­thing and you might get a bit of free pub­lic­ity,” says Tom. “It might even in­crease the value of the orig­i­nal piece (if there is one) to buy­ers!”

Noah says free work can be great: “an op­por­tu­nity to work with oth­ers, col­lab­o­rate, grow your port­fo­lio, and ex­pand your skills.” But he main­tains it’s about mu­tual in­ter­ests and it’s im­por­tant to recog­nise the dif­fer­ence be­tween col­lab­o­rat­ing with oth­ers and do­ing free work that you should be get­ting paid for. “If it’s ev­i­dent that the per­son you’re work­ing for is just too cheap to pay you, even though they’re go­ing to profit from your work, be care­ful,” warns Noah. But if you’re team­ing up with other peo­ple who are paint­ing for the love of it, he en­cour­ages you to go for it.

con­sider col­lab­o­ra­tion

From a comics view­point, col­lab­o­ra­tion is nec­es­sary. Tom says, “If a writer is try­ing to break into the busi­ness, has been work­ing just as hard as you and has good ma­te­rial, then it might be worth a col­lab­o­ra­tion, but even then I would ad­vise only work­ing on a short story of up to eight pages, un­less you’re plan­ning on go­ing down the self­pub­lish­ing route. This should be enough for ei­ther of you to demon­strate your core skills to po­ten­tial pub­lish­ers.”

You can’t al­ways pre­dict when there’s go­ing to be a pay-off when you col­lab­o­rate, but just be­cause you aren’t be­ing writ­ten a big cheque, doesn’t mean you’re be­ing taken ad­van­tage of and the work won’t be worth your time and ef­forts. “Some­times the pay turns out to be rep­u­ta­tion, new friends, great con­tacts, some­thing that leads to a new job and more,” says Kiri. She adds that it helps to do a lit­tle re­search on your po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tors. Kiri’s worked for free and is likely to do it again, “I think it’s im­por­tant to weigh up the op­tions and go with your gut.”

Tom agrees: “Ul­ti­mately, it’s your call, but if you get the im­pres­sion you’re be­ing taken for a ride, you’re prob­a­bly right.

God­less Shrine by Noah Bradley, who en­cour­ages free work but doesn’t trust the prom­ise of ex­po­sure.

Judge Dredd artist Thomas Foster be­lieves free work can be worth your time, but you need to con­sider who it’s for and why they aren’t pay­ing up.

Tom Foster ad­vises you to judge for your­self and go with your gut feel­ing – it’s usu­ally the right call.

The African Uni­corn by Kiri Leonard. She says that you can’t pre­dict when col­lab­o­ra­tion with other artists will pay off.

Peter Mohrbacher’s Baraquiel, An­gel of Light­ning, which is part of the artist’s An­ge­lar­ium pro­ject.

Raziel, An­gel of Mys­ter­ies, by Peter Mohrbacher, who says in­tern­ships are far more valu­able than ex­po­sure work. An­gela Sch­mer en­sures she’s get­ting some­thing of value out of her com­mis­sions. Or­bit Books treats its

artists as part of a team, all col­lab­o­rat­ing

on the fi­nal prod­uct. Noah Bradley favours col­lab­o­ra­tion, where you and your ‘client’ have mu­tual in­ter­ests.

Or­bit Books’ Lau­ren Panepinto says you should al­ways work for some­thing, even if it’s not money.

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