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Spec Work Confessional

February 27, 2010

(Illustration by Caleb Morris)

Have you ever done spec work?

Even though most creative professionals seem to think that spec work is evil, most of us have probably also done it at one time or another.  After all, that’s how many of us came to hate the idea to begin with.  Our own bad experiences taught us that spec work is a waste of time and energy, and that it rarely delivers on its promises of “exposure” and “future work”.

The thing that keeps spec work alive is that inexperienced Illustrators and Designers will always be tempted by its perceived potential to propel their career.  I think it’s just human nature to want to jump on any opportunity that comes your way when you’re just starting out.

That’s why I want to use this week’s Weekend Forum to challenge you to be brave and talk about how you got sucked into doing spec work at some point in your freelance business.  Please join me in sharing your stories in the comments section of this post.  My hope is that this little exercise will provide some insight into the topic and a little relief for those who have been burned.  It may even help some of your fellow artists to see why spec work is bad.

Did spec work ever work well for you?

Sometimes Illustrators don’t want to publicly admit that they ever benefited from doing spec work, but I’d also like to encourage this kind of dialogue in the comments section as well.  I know that there are rare cases where spec work has worked out in a positive way, and I’d love to hear some examples of this, if you’d like to share.

Special thanks to Caleb Morris for providing the artwork for this article.

About Caleb Morris: A 29 year old Gulf Coast native, Caleb “Sheesh” Morris has been exhibiting his work in the streets and galleries of North America and Europe for the past 3 years. In addition to showing in galleries around the United States, Canada, and Europe, he has had the opportunity to work for clients such as: MTV Networks, SJC Drums, Swatch, and many clothing companies, international magazines, and record labels. When not fighting insomnia or deadlines, Sheesh can be found planning his next scheme to travel across the country and record it in his sketchbook.

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40 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2010 9:02 AM

    I would never ask you to share your stories at EFII without joining in myself, so here’s my experience with spec work:

    Like many new Illustrators, I didn’t even see a difference between spec work and “real” work when I was just starting out. I created comps for multiple “clients” in my first year as a freelance artist, in the hopes of landing a project, but even when the client accepted the work, I was never given the payment or other forms of compensation that were promised.

    I thought that working on spec was just part of the business. It was only through more experience and research that I learned how to demand your rights as an artist, and how to run an effective business.

    I never do spec work now, because I know that it is just a waste, but I can definitely relate to new Illustrators who are hungry enough to work on spec.

  2. February 27, 2010 9:07 AM

    I can’t really say that I’ve done spec work, but I have done work for VERY little pay, which isn’t that much different from spec work.

    I once did 300 designs for baby bedroom sets (quilts, lampshades, crib bumpers, etc.) for $500 dollars. Do the math. That’s $1.66 per design, some of which took a couple of hours. So, I made around 86 cents an hour. YIKES!

    I will NEVER EVER do anything like that again. I was a really hungry rookie and just wanted to get paid for my art, so I took it.

    I learned a BIG lesson there.

    The bottom line about spec work is: If they don’t have the money to pay you, then they don’t have the money to get you exposure. Plain and simple.

    DON’T do spec work!

    • February 28, 2010 7:07 AM

      Thanks Mark. I believe that one of the reasons new Illustrators are willing to take on work for low pay is that they are hungry, as you mentioned, and they don’t realize how much work a project will actually take. Trying to figure out the price at your hourly rate is a good way to judge whether you’re making enough money. Thanks for pointing that out.
      Thomas

  3. February 27, 2010 9:14 AM

    Having spent 10 years as a designer before I got back to my roots as an illustrator I did plenty of spec work, but I still was paid. That’s because my clients hired me to do the work, companies that know better. But, how do you get the little guys to steer clear when the big guys do it all the time.

    The byproduct of this type of work is that clients get a taste of it and then expect it. Then you’re committed to doing all the work upfront with no guarantee of being paid.

    I think there are times when this approach might help with a client. I would think a client that you’ve worked with in the past and have a good relationship with. You have a great idea you think would really benefit them or a new twist on a project.

    Most of the time though spec work is simply work done for free and then freely taken advantage of. I avoid it whenever I can.

  4. gonzalexx permalink
    February 27, 2010 9:40 AM

    In my case, as a self-taught “student”, (read here, very limited experience) I can tell you I haven’t been approached. But, from my perspective, its an opportunity to push myself, and gain experience, if I see an opportunity to express myself… that would count as my “pay”.
    So far, only family has asked for anything. The rest has been initiated by myself (very few), and I have the freedom of deciding whether I do it, or not. I have one current opportunity to show my work at the tiniest cafe I have visited, just because I commented on a photograph, and the friendly waiter was proud to show it as his. I offered to draw something, and the staff was excited about it (they had seen me drawing at the table). This may count as spec work, but I have complete control, and its out of a feeling of adventure I do it. Ah… newbies! LOL! (thinking – a good way to try new things… drawing surfers going at it is something I’d like to try!)
    I think that this is the only safe way to view spec work, in a good light, when it is for YOU!!
    (don’t spec for promises, folks).

    • February 28, 2010 7:13 AM

      Thanks Jose,
      It sounds like you’re getting something of value out of your examples, so in my opinion it doesn’t qualify as spec work. I think it is fine, and even encouraged, to pursue work that is fulfilling to you in some way, and money is not always the main goal.
      The difference, however, comes when you’re living solely off of your Illustration work and need to focus your time and energy on making a living. In this case, you may need to ensure that you’re getting paid for your work before working on personal projects as well.
      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Jose.
      Thomas

  5. February 27, 2010 9:42 AM

    My carreer is as a direct result of creating and sending off speculative work!

    • February 28, 2010 7:16 AM

      Sounds like an interesting story, Eamon. I’d love to hear more. Care to elaborate?
      Thomas

  6. February 27, 2010 11:26 AM

    Hi Thomas,
    just a quick thanks again for all the effort you put into this incredible blog and podcast series.

    For the record, having been several times bitten and twice shy, I am now anti-spec work in all cases.
    In the past and particularly when I was trying to get a foot into the industry, I’ve made entire animations and music promos for little to no pay whatsover, and ultimately found the final quality of this kind of work never justifies the time and effort put into it.

    I’ve found its better just to flatly refuse all spec work hands-down, and concentrate on creating my own personal work for free. I have a daily rate and if people aren’t prepared to pay it, then I’m not prepared to do their work. Its not always easy, particularly in tough economic times, but I feel as a community we have to refuse hands down to be taken advantage of for our skills.

    Often, the very companies and clients encouraging freelancers to work for free or on reduced rates and pitch speculatively for work, seem to have a roster or core team of fulltime staff on salaried jobs.

    Also of note, there’s a campaign on motionographer and cartoon brew at the moment against specwork and “contests” in general. Rightly or wrongly, sesame street seems to have bore the brunt of it, but it definitely raises some interesting arguments for and against and is well worth adding your names to the cause.

    http://motionographer.com/2010/02/22/dear-sesame-st/
    http://www.cartoonbrew.com/ideas-commentary/dear-sesame-street.html

    Thanks again, keep up the great work

    Dylan

    • February 28, 2010 7:21 AM

      Hi Dylan,
      Thanks for the positive feedback, and especially for sharing those links. I’ll have to look into those further.

  7. February 27, 2010 11:49 AM

    When I was first starting out, I didn’t even know what spec work was. I fell for one of those, “We’d like to see designs from several artists so that we can pick the one we think best fits the product, yadda yadda”. Thankfully what I sent them was a pretty rough sketch, so I didn’t lose much time on it. And of course, they suddenly dropped off the face of the planet after receiving the sketch. After that, I became much more cautious about making sure I was paid before sending anything to anyone. : /

  8. February 27, 2010 11:54 AM

    My first cover started off as spec BUT I wasn’t just foolishly jumping into it. My teachers in college spent a lot of time telling us about the business. A lot of time. We came out knowing what to expect and the traps for young illustrators. Anyway, they were looking at me and another illustrator, but all I did were thumbs. Nothing else. Not comps. Crappy little sketches. I figured it was worth the risk wasting a little bit of time. I don’t regret it. It gave me a chance to exercise my brain on coming up with a visual solution to an abstract concept (advanced manufacturing, btw). I knew what I was getting into and I gave them the benefit of the doubt. It was one of those situations where I followed my gut. I got a good vibe and went for it. It was nothing but a good experience.

    • February 28, 2010 7:25 AM

      Hello Heather,
      Thanks for commenting. I think you’re making two really important points.
      First, I’m impressed that your teachers gave so much attention to the business side of things. That is unfortunately rare in education, it seems.
      Second, I think it’s great that you set a limit to how much you’re willing to give to a project without being paid. It all comes down to not compromising yourself.
      Thanks again,
      Thomas

  9. February 27, 2010 4:28 PM

    A small local publisher found my work through my graduating class’s exhibition last year. Since then I’ve done some work for them on spec, sketches, roughs, colour character designs. I was a student when this all started so I didn’t know nearly as much about how the industry works as I do now. However, I wasn’t stupid, I knew that this was a reputable company, not some joe schmoe I’ve never heard of before.

    If I had 10 years experience in the industry, of course they wouldn’t have asked me for this work. It bothers me a bit sometimes, as I feel my portfolio is proof enough of the quality of my work.

    Today, I’m awaiting a contract from them to do a full children’s picture book. So it’s gotten somewhere.

    At the end of the day it’s best to use your judgement, if the ‘client’ seems like a dirty scumbag who doesn’t want to pay you, then he/she probably is. I’d never do free work, ever, unless I thought it would truly be worth my while. In my case I’d met the clients in person several times, and I got advice from teachers and others about doing the work for them.

    • February 28, 2010 7:30 AM

      Hey Melanie,
      I like your point about approaching a situation with caution. Ultimately, it is an artist’s own personal and professional decision about whether to create spec work, and under what terms. There are cases where you will not be burned, but it all depends on how much you’re willing to give for free.
      Also, this brings to mind the fact that some companies/clients seek out students to take advantage of their hunger. I hope this isn’t the way it works out in your situation, and that the project goes well for you.
      Cheers,
      Thomas

  10. February 27, 2010 4:28 PM

    Technically not “spec work” what I did as a volunteer for organizations with whom I was a member was still requested and unpaid with the promise of “exposure”, but in this case it did work as promised.

    I was a member of several local and regional environmental organizations, and as I was leading up to working entirely freelance at home I agreed to design logos, brochures and create artist’s renderings of master site plans for remediation and conservation projects.

    When I went freelance and those projects were funded, I was then hired for subsequent work with those same organizations, and became the “go-to” designer for many organizations, even with county and state bureaus who needed either design work or needed older brochures and posters to be updated and made electronic.

    But even with that, while I do donate artwork and design services when I so choose, I hate when someone asks me to donate or create something “becuase it’ll be great exposure for you.” I’m tired of exposing myself.

    • February 28, 2010 7:33 AM

      Hi Bernadette,
      I think it’s great for artists to donate their work to causes they believe in. I also like the way that you were able to work your way into being a key artist in a specific industry because that is a perfect way to secure perpetual work.
      Thomas

  11. February 27, 2010 7:26 PM

    I’ve fallen for the spec work thing on all accounts from being obviously ripped off to something I am doing right now that could be considered spec.

    I just have a personal pet peeve with society about how very little respect visual arts receive any more. Just about every instance of spec work comes down to artists getting no respect. The things people ask of visual artists, they would NOT ask of musicians. Like Google asking artists to do themes for free. Google wouldn’t ask musicians to send in their work for free so they could have the “privilege” of having people listen to it!

    Well, rant aside- I’ve been through the blatant spec work situation where they tell you, “We’re trying to decide between 2 artists and we want to pick the best one”- then I never hear anything back good or bad. I’m working with a company now that, while they don’t pay to publish your work, they don’t ask you to create new work for their products either. So in that case, I feel it’s a free form of advertising for myself and making my currently already finished work for me some more. Though if I could force their hand, of course I’d like to get paid for the exposure, but I’m just not big time enough to pass up the opportunity to get my name out there some more and pad my resume.

    I think one way to help new artists ward themselves against doing spec work is to suggest that artists only do work that they want to do. Meaning, if you make an inquiry to a company, make sure that company doesn’t have to ask you to create something for them in order to see if you can do the style they want. For instance, if you have no comic book characters in your portfolio, don’t go knocking on Marvel’s door, ya know? It avoids a “spec work” situation right off the bat. When creating your portfolio, ensure you put the variety of work that you are willing to do and only try to pursue that line of work. Don’t be afraid to get specific. I’ve tried doing graphic design and video editing and every time I try, the project just doesn’t come out like I’d hoped. So now I just stick to illustration, specifically within the horror and sci-fi/fantasy genres. There’s plenty of work to be found in any area of specialisation!

    Hope my experience helps someone else out ;)

    • February 28, 2010 7:38 AM

      Thanks so much, Char.
      I really like what you’re suggesting about standing by the work in your portfolio. This is challenging sometimes because it can be difficult for some clients to understand what they’ll be getting, since the art doesn’t yet exist. However, if your portfolio is a good representation of your work, then you will be more able to use it as a tool to prove what you can do.
      Thomas

  12. February 27, 2010 8:06 PM

    Spec work can have a very broad definition, depending on who you ask…

    I have on occasion done free or extremely cheap jobs for non-profits, either because the organization or job itself interested me. One of those turned out to be really good exposure, locally.

    I sometimes enter contests or challenges online, one of those netted me a job with one of my ‘dream’ clients. I’ve started submitting work to places like Threadless, which I also think of as a contest. (Though I’m very wary of contests that automatically claim the rights to all submitted entries – even those that lose! Don’t enter those!)

    I sometimes do free jobs for good friends. Like good friends who work for extremely popular blogs that get more daily views than my website ever will. I actually approached THEM about doing the work for free the first time, and now I’m getting paid.

    I don’t think all spec work is automatically evil. You have to know the spiel and you have to know what you’re getting into so that you can make an informed decision. And if doing low/unpaid work isn’t right for you, it isn’t right for you.

    • February 28, 2010 7:42 AM

      I agree that an “informed decision” is the best way to approach potential spec work. Every situation is different, and requires individual consideration on its own terms.
      Thanks for sharing,
      Thomas

  13. February 27, 2010 11:49 PM

    All it took was one client to convince me that spec work was an absolute waste of time and to always ask for deposits up front.

    A lead contacted me through craigslist (doesn’t it always start this way?). A gym franchise owner wanted me to come by and talk about doing a mailer and discuss future options. I stop by the gym one afternoon to meet the owner. Since they were short-staffed, she insisted to run the front desk and answer the phone while we went over the proposed projects. I was there for three hours before we agreed to work together on the first project.

    While I did mention how much the first piece was going to cost, she wasn’t eager to fork over a deposit. I figured since there was a potential to design more flyers, rack cards and even a billboard in the future, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

    I work on the comp and provide her with proofs after the verbally agreed upon time. I hear nothing. A few days pass by and she says that they decided not to go with my design for the mailers. They were going to use a template that corporate provided. “But I will definitely use you in the future,” she says. Yes, indeed, “use” is a great word for what you’re doing. My argument was that I needed to be paid for the time I’ve spent into creating the design, even if she wasn’t going to use it. I was assured that she would pay, but I knew it was bull and chalked it up to my inexperience.

    When you talk about spec, you talk about professional re”spec”t for designers and creatives. When you bring your car to the mechanic and tell them you have a problem, you expect to pay them a diagnostic fee to check your car. Although I can file my own tax return online, I would rather pay an accountant to do it right. The same should be said of the visual artist, but I think it is too easy for public opinion to disregard the work we do. Especially if we are willing to do a job without deposit or promise of payment.

    • February 28, 2010 7:46 AM

      Thanks for commenting, Tom. It sounds like the person you talked to wasn’t really in charge, so there was no way she could ever promise to “use” you in the future. Corporate seems to be dictating design decisions.
      On a second note, I think that the best way for artists to get the respect we deserve, we have to demand it. More on that soon here at EFII.
      Thomas

  14. February 28, 2010 7:02 AM

    About six years ago I got wind that my favourite TV show as a child was getting a DVD release. So I just started draw hat I would think would make for a good cover. I sent it off to the distributor and a few days later, I got to call that I will be doing the DVD covers to He-man and the Masters of the Universe. Off the back of that I then go asked to do Dungeons & Dragons and then Ulysses 31. Before I knew it I quickly became the DVD cover guy and I continue to do so with last week finishing off the lated Iron Man DVD Boxset for Marvel.
    Not wanting to get tied down to one thing I turned my attention to pinups. So as He-man worked out so well for me. I decided to draw She-Ra and I put a lot of work on to her. I sent her off and I am now doing pinups on a regular basis for various companies and I just started working on Barbie for Mattel.

    I can safely say that I am living proof of doing speculative work gets you work!

    • February 28, 2010 7:52 AM

      I think your story brings to light the question of whether you were doing what is typically called “spec work”, because you were creating work that inspired you. I’m really glad it is working out for you.

      Thomas

  15. February 28, 2010 8:09 AM

    Well there seems to be an upsurge in companies where you pitch for the job. But you have to show them what you would do. Companies taking advantage of folks trying to get a leg in.
    This to me the bad side of spec work.

    I like the idea of ‘informed decsion’.
    If it’s for something you like and you honestly feel you can compete, then do it.

    I think a lot of problems come from people expectations or delusions about how good their work is. They do the spec work and then feel that they never want to do it again if it doesn’t get used or picked up for the job.

    While I’m sure there are genuine horror stories out there I dare say there a a lot of stories are by folks who simply thought themselves better than they actually were.
    I fell that sometimes it’s all too easy to blame the industry when artists egos can get out of control.

    I myself am far from the best but I know what I am good at and what I am not good at. Quite a few artists don’t. This attitude has helped me greatly.

  16. February 28, 2010 1:07 PM

    I’d like to relate this to licensing, if I may. As your licensing career progresses, you’ll end up with a huge portfolio of marketable images, and the idea is that you can use them as many times as possible on different products. I frequently get requests from clients for what I guess would qualify as spec work, but in reality it is placing my existing work on product mockups to show them what would work in their line. So for example, if a client has a call for “bath” images, I would send them already existing pieces of art mocked-up, rather than spending much time creating specifically for them. The upside with licensing is that a lot of clients typically want similar themes, so if one company doesn’t end up using that bath design, chances are that another of my clients will.

    The thing is, it takes a while of licensing before you A: understnad what types/themes of your art sell well in the marketplace and B: build up a large stable of images that you can draw from. Also, as time goes by, you can recognize which clients will bombard you with art requests for very little chance of return, and which ones seriously intend to use your work.

  17. Diana Ponce permalink
    February 28, 2010 3:20 PM

    In my 20 plus year in the business, I think it may have been less than 3 times that I have ever offered work on spec. If someone needs to see what my work looks like, I have a portfolio which sums up what I do. If someone cannot afford to pay my rates upfront, they don’t get my services, period.

    Pitching already created work I think falls into another category (ie: Artist controlled stock and licensing) which are legitimate income sources. As long as the terms are clear and fair to the artist, I am fine with it.

    Doing work for a chance at being hired is folly and a waste of time that could be put towards better things (doing self assigned projects, marketing yourself, etc.). Not to mention many of those asking for this kind of work are simply gathering work to either to use as is or to be redone by someone cheaper or in-house. The ‘exposure’ line is a joke… No thanks, I have no need for financial frostbite.

    As for charitable causes, many non-profits have a budget they must spend by years end. Why shouldn’t that be used for illustration services? Is that not any different than having to pay an electrician or plumber out of the same funds? In my opinion, it is even more important because we help bring more awareness to their cause. Yet artists cave when it comes to money, when the electrician and plumber demand and get payment.

    From time to time I have done free work for very close friends and family who completely respected the value in what I did for them and what I received in return was equally valuable (barter, etc.). But that is a very rare occasion. I would only donate artwork to a cause I was personally involved with and would note the value of the work (which one can write off).

    Spec work, ‘contests’ and the like continue because people on both sides of the subject fall for the starving artist myth. If artists stop falling for it, then these shady requests will dwindle. The power is in our hands.

    I love this interview clip regarding a very similar subject… pretty much says it all:

    • March 1, 2010 5:44 PM

      Absolutely on the nose hilarious! Same applies to most art forms! This would also follow into a good solid anti-globalisation rant!

  18. Phil permalink
    February 28, 2010 9:39 PM

    Last summer, I had what seemed to be a very nice interview for a position with great potential. I was told that I needed to do a “test” to show how well I could do the work. I never do that sort of thing and usually run in the other direction. What turned it around for me was the fact that I was told there was an urgency to fill a part-time position with a 30 hour a week commitment (perhaps it was also a little bit the economic downturn). It was nearby and would have been work for a pretty high-profile company. Besides, I reasoned, it was only an animated banner ad.

    I aced that “test”, was told I passed and would hear back from the company. Then, silence. When I called back, they told me they went with someone junior and they’d use me when they could afford someone with my experience. I called again and was told they would need me to help with their new website.

    I’ve yet to get any work from them.

    I’ve officially learned my lesson. The upside is that I have another portfolio piece. :-)

  19. March 1, 2010 6:55 AM

    I’ve learned the hard way that the only real option when offered spec work is to turn it down, but even now I’m still tempted when I am having a quiet spell. I cringe when I look back to think how naive I was when I started out. I remember one particular occasion when a design agency in Manchester called me to ask if I would be interested in coming up with illustrations for some kind of events calender for a Jewish organisation. I went as far as brainstorming a few pages of ideas plus six or seven detailed roughs, and even ended up taking all of these and presenting them at the the design firm with a few guys sat around a table. I was under the impression that they were hiring me to do the work – but it became apparent that I was pitching for the job and there were other illustrator doing the same thing. I’ll never do that again I can tell you. Never even put pencil to paper until you have an agreement in writing, or you at least have a good level of mutual trust with the client.

    Nowadays I’d much rather work on my own prints, posters or tshirts or whatever. It keeps me busy and keeps my website updated with new work.

  20. March 1, 2010 10:11 AM

    I too have been sucked into the spec work vortex before as a young illustrator. Having learned the hard way that rarely do you get paid for the time spent on the speculative project, I do NOT sucker in to spec projects now.

    However, I have recently started trying my hand at licensing. Some of the work I submit is work previously created but modified for production. This doesn’t really count as speculative, but, as I get more involved in the process I find that I am doing lots of new art work and submitting it in a very spec sort of way. While it isn’t spec work in the most traditional sense, it does seem that licensing one’s art operates in a different arena than custom work for hire.

  21. March 1, 2010 12:35 PM

    Large ad agencies do “spec work” all time when pitching a presentation to a potential client. Usually, there’s a handful of agencies fighting for the new account and they will spend tens of thousands on their presentations. There’s no guarantee for the agency…and I’ve actually seen the winning ad agency steel concepts from the other pitches. Typically, this is an obtainable, reputable client for the agency.

    As a single person entity or small business, most of us can’t take those risks. I’ve always been a risk-taker but I’ve also, made some mistakes along the way–especially with spec work. A good portion of my evil-doers are uneducated business people trying to create a children’s book or a new product. In reality, they’re looking for “anyone” to do the job for free. I’ve learned to talk about money upfront. I even have PDF sheets that I bounce to them explaining the process that I follow and possible price ranges. This saves me time.

    I had a guy call me once to do character concepts for a Saturday morning cartoon project that he was pitching to a major network. The man had great connections and had been in the industry for many years. Of course, he wanted the artwork for free. After the big pitch, I never heard from him again. Uggh. But on the same hand I’ve done work for a small company at what I call “presentation costs”–lower than usual–AND it turned into a great paying two-year and still going project.

  22. March 2, 2010 7:16 PM

    Thanks for the stories. I also have had some crazy experience dealing with companies/spec art. The first involved my first children’s book with an author friend. She paid me (not the company) so I got money, but we eventually had to get a lawyer and cancel our contract. They took my 7×9 illustrations and made a stapled pamphlet with the illustrations in a super low budget printer circle of about 3 inches diameter. Have you ever had a company make your work WORSE??? hahah

    Another company, (Library Integrated Solutions, LLIBS) made so many promises even to my face as I worked for them at a conference. “Oh, I will pay you. I will send you a check.” I wrote the lady every week asking for my money for a couple months. I eventually got it, but even today, the author is going to court. In an interview with the author, the company lady even said, “I am glad Korey was left in the cold.” Wow! The company still owes the author money from the contract too. This project I averaged $1.33 per hour! Never again. I broke ties with them shortly after with fists raised saying “NEVER AGAIN! I am worth so much more!” The good thing about these two stories is that the working relationship with the author and I is great. We have done other work and been paid and work comes as a result of our collaborations.

    Also, I have gotten requests for spec art that want a cheap deal or free work, but I have gotten more confident in asking my prices. As I first started out and even today, an email or request to work with me is still encouraging and my heart races. After all, people like your work and it represents your “soul” in a way. We artists do need to stick together because our work is valuable…I try to make the client look good and also maintain my reputation and get better. I always think, “I do my part and HAVE to do the work. Why don’t these bad companies come through on their promises?” Illustration is a unique line of work because if we don’t actually sit down and put pencil to paper and work, nothing will get done. We can’t sit around and make it happen. We give our souls to each project. It is who we are.

    I applaud the companies/directors who are upfront and willing to pay the going rates. Go with your feelings about the clients to weed out the bad ones. Make them back their words with a check first. Often times, the bad ones will never write again once they get your rates. This shows they aren’t ready to promote or sell their own product.

  23. March 4, 2010 7:17 AM

    Hello Thomas,

    I wanted to share this with you and everyone. After writing about my experience with spec art on this page, I received this email the next day. (kind of ironic) This is an actual email from someone wanting free illustration work from me….basically he wants an entire children’s book and animation pilot for free. If anyone gets an email like this, take caution. Read it carefully to see how people take advantage of artists with “promises” “can’t pay actual money” “contract giving up all my rights to my work” etc.

    (Start of email)

    I have written a book that needs to be illustrated and written a treatment for an animated show that I need an artist for. After spending some time searching I found you and really like your style.

    I am a writer, and used to be a bit of an artist / musician… but, alas I have spent the past few years in Sales and Marketing instead of taking my drawings and paintings digital.

    However, I have done some writing here and there and have some things that just need the right illustrator / animator to bring to life. Also I have some good connections that have encouraged me to just bring them the finished works.

    What I am wondering is if you might perhaps be interested in just owning a portion of the finished product instead of getting paid up front for your time?

    You know that is the only way to end up making real money.

    If you would consider it, then I would have you sign an acknowledgment letter agreeing that the manuscripts are original works belonging to me and that you will not share, sell or distribute them without my consent. Then I would send them to you to consider.

    If you like them, then we work out the partnership agreement. If you can help me get the illustration done on the book, and the pilot done on the show, I have some connections and can work my sales and marketing magic.

    I hope to hear back from you.

    • March 4, 2010 7:25 AM

      Thanks Korey. I’ve seen a lot of emails just like that one, and they often all use similar language. Cheers to you for being able to see right through the hype as well.

  24. March 4, 2010 8:34 AM

    Korey Scott! I get those sorts of eamils all the time.
    They really piss me off as they are being very checky asking if you ask me.

    If you have a big project that you love, then fund it properly and pay people properly,
    No more this you will own a portion or you will get paid when it sell. It’s a bunch of arse and avoid.

    Last friday I got an email from a guy wanting me to do his album sleeve. I asked what his budget is as that will depend on the level of illustration.
    I get the “we are a broke band line so have a very low budget. Can you do it for 100 euro?”.

    I promptly replied back and asked him if he would ever give carpenter or a plumber the same line?

    Needless to say I got no reply. My patience wear very thin on people to think we sneeze and we get great art.

    • March 4, 2010 10:28 AM

      Hi Eamon,

      Nice to meet you! Yes, I get those emails too (mostly for self publishing work) and say they don’t have much to give. I have heard that time and again. This particular email I posted was such a shock right after I added my post here. I thought, “This is the most blatant example that I have ever gotten.”

      I agree Eamon. I get very frustrated at this mainly because these “clients” want their product to look good, but they can’t pay plus they claim “It’s going to get big!” I’ve had one claim a possible movie deal. What? Seriously? Prove it first (without even having a product made yet) You’re right, they aren’t ready to market and sell if they aren’t willing to pay what it cost to produce the work.

      We should all have a press conference on a worldwide news network proclaiming “Fair Wages!” hahah. Mostly, you have to just brush these phony emails off and then laugh…and get back to the real jobs that pay and companies who are honest.

  25. March 4, 2010 1:45 PM

    Pleasure to meet you too!

    Oh I’ve had promises of full movie credit and a portions of DVD sales when it comes to small movies.
    But as I want to do movie posters some day, I do those for free and they don’t take long and they are good in my portfolio. It’s usually the film’s director (who is also usually the writer and producer). I just let them talk their BS and just be polite.
    If it’s easy to do, fun and may prove useful, I’ll do something like a movie poster for free. But like you, I don’t for one second believe any of their promises.
    I really wanted to meet Stephanie Beecham too! :(

  26. October 26, 2010 2:02 AM

    bedroom sets are cheap if you know where to find a great bedroom set bargain. sometimes there are overstock sales-*’

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