The Artist Epidemic: Paid or Free Work - The Needy Animator

The Artist Epidemic: Paid or Free Work

*This is a personal rant with a lot of opinions. There may be generalizations.


We often encounter stories in the media about the wage gap and gender/racial inequality. While at an animator’s meeting today, I discovered another pervasive ideology that I find disturbing: the epidemic of artists that do not get paid what they deserve. Artists deserve to be paid for the hours that they put in. That includes the expenses they incur from travel, meeting hours with clients, and the hours of executing a task.


When you calculate the amount of hours put into a project versus what they earn, their wage falls well below the minimum. The minimum wage in Georgia is $7.25 an hour…except when applied to a freelance artist working under a set budget. I’ve talked to friends that get into projects like this. They do revision after revision with no additional charges, their hourly rate dwindling to less than $4…$3…$2…. Some artists don’t even break even. They end up exhausting their time and energy and inadvertently end up paying for the clients’ work.


Three Simple Things to Ask Yourself When You Accept Work

1. Why am I doing this?

When you accept the work from a client/non-paying “friend”, what are you getting out of it? Are you getting monetary compensation, learning a new skill , or getting mentorship? You might be happy to do work for your best friends or family members. You will also be met with requests from acquaintances that just need a wedding invitation or a card for their boyfriend. These people never communicate with you on a daily basis but when they need art they suddenly remember their forgotten friend. This being said, many people have different reasons or situations in which they are willing to make free art.
Here are my own personal thoughts for when I am willing to do pro bono work:
a) It gives back to society in some way
b) It allows me a chance to practice/ build  portfolio FOR SOMETHING IN WHICH I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL
c) Your friend has done you a solid before and this would be a great opportunity to repay them.
d)  It is for my family (debatable for a lot of people but not a question for me. They pay for my tuition, clothe me, feed me, and invested in me more than I could ever repay)


2. When and how to start/end a project

While you can offer assistance or accept a project, determine with the other party when this agreement ends. Whether you are helping them to create a website, make an animation, or a logo, there is a limit to how long this should take. You should be upfront with how many changes you are willing to make. Determine if you have enough assets and briefing from the client to start, how clear the clients are with their brief, and the length of projection for the duration of a project.
Remember that getting $300+ to create a logo might sound like easy money, until you remember that you forgot to inform the client of how many revisions and alternatives you are willing to make. You might end up taking a year churning out 300+ versions for them…and then they come back a few months later asking for more changes.


3. Would I suggest my friend to accept this job?

One thing I have come across quite often is the mentality that people are more apt to stand up for their friends but not always for themselves. Distance yourself from the whole project and pretend that a loved one is in your position. Would you suggest they take the job or turn it down? While I want to rant about how the industry may not be fair, I also notice that it is a cycle. It is also important for artists to understand their value as a community and feel worthy of the work they produce. While we are eager to do what we are passionate about and be proud of our skill sets, a majority of artists I have encountered are shy when it comes to being compensated.
There are a lot of articles from graphic designers that address their clients about this but really, we should also be looking inwards as to why we would accept these conditions in the first place. We need to discover what we can do as a community to raise the bar and our self-esteems as an industry. While a lot of fluctuation in pricing may happen, it is important to foster a community of artists that help each other understand things. We must work together to improve our vocational abilities and learn business savvy skills.

Editor’s Note:

It’s important to treat yourself as a professional. Even if you are spending most of your days in your footie pajamas, you’re still pursuing a craft and deserve compensation for your labor. Treat yourself like a professional and get into the habits of drafting contracts.  Here’s a bunch of website with a bunch of templates for contracts. Give them a perusing and fill some out for imaginary jobs. Start estimating what a budget might look like.


If you have trouble, pick up the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines. It’s the industry bible for creative professionals and has a lot of information for budgets. However, draft up contracts even if the project isn’t paid. If your Mom wants a portrait of the family dog, draft a contract just to practice. Speaking the language and knowing your price requires practice but in time you will build tons of confidence as a freelancer. It might seem silly at first but contracts protect you from all sorts of exploitation and will help you define the scope of the project. You are a professional, so it’s time to feel comfortable acting like one.


Needy Animator’s Notes

 You may also start with to create free online easy-to-create templates for different types of freelance contracts. Very recommended to have better than not. To get a quick overview of the 3 types of agreements for freelance artists, read this article written by our entertainment lawyer Lee Morin. 

In upcoming articles, we have Spotlight on artists that have created digital e-books for sale on Amazon and made money off YouTube. We will also provide more basic guidelines on how to price your project and time management.




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