Why illustrators shouldn't work for free

I wasn’t too keen on writing a blog post today, but that’s the whole point of a daily blog challenge right? Things are never as bad as we make them out to be if we just do them.

I really want to address an issue that is still very prominent in the creative industry, which is working for free.

Now, I would like to note that there is a difference in working for free when you are just getting started and don’t consider yourself a professional just yet. Offering to create a portrait for someone so you can build your portfolio is great. What is not so great are companies who approach professional illustrators to work for free.

As upset as it makes me, I do understand why they ask us to work for free sometimes. They might assume that this is not our full-time job, or that we draw for fun, or that there are so many illustrations all over the internet that there isn’t much value to what we do.

When I get approached to work for free, I swallow my pride that starts having a tantrum of how long it took me to draw with the quality I can offer now, and I kindly explain to the clients that if I accept to work for free, it suddenly creates a ripple effect that can destroy the creative industry as a whole. If I accept to work for free, why should the company ever pay another illustrator for work? This not only damages your own reputation but the reputation of all illustrators who have worked SO hard to get to where they are.

Essentially, what you pay for when you purchase an illustration is not just the illustration itself, it’s a piece of work that has come about thanks to years and years of drawing, of failures, of successes, of a roller coaster career that has led the artist to be able to draw in that certain way.

Would you ask a dentist who spent years in school to be qualified at their job to work for free? Probably not, right? Now, you might argue that going to the dentist is a necessity and illustration is not. But this is where I will argue with you again. The next time you’re out and about, take a look around you and see how many illustrations you can spot. I think you’ll be surprised, from logos, to product packaging, to posters, ads, banners, signage, screens and more, we are surrounded by illustrations all the time.

For those who are reading this and perhaps have asked an illustrator or designer to work for free before, I don’t want you to feel bad, because I really do understand why you might have done that. I just hope I can enlighten you a little bit and somehow express in a minute way just how much work, time and effort is behind that one image.

Perhaps I have helped to explain just how valuable illustrators are and why they deserve to be paid, just like the barista you said hi to today, or the bus driver that gave you a smile, illustrators are hardworking people and deserve to earn an income from something they work consistently at.

As always, if this blog post sparks any questions for you, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email. I’m always happy to chat.