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Natural History Illustration: Don’t work for free

Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper

Natural history illustrator (Claudia Hahn) tweets (angrily) that she’s been asked to do a load of work for a successful music company…for free.  What’s sad is that this is a very familiar tale. I’ve decided to write a quick blog about why this is never a good idea.

Who asks illustrators to work for free?

There are various times when I’m asked to work for free, or to donate paintings.  Sometimes these are completely valid.

Charities and local causes

I can choose to allow a charity to use of my illustrations, and not charge them.  I will happily donate paintings to raise funds for the local school.

Salmon natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper
Samon Salmo salar; sold at auction to raise funds for Hay on Wye Primary School
Small businesses

Small businesses just starting out may ask for a reduction of rates, or to use a picture for free.  I can choose to agree or not.  In either case I don’t regard these approaches as cheeky.  (I let Ross on Wye’s Festival of the Hedgehog use the illustration below for free on publicity materials).

Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper
Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus in profile

 

Design Companies making a pitch

Sometimes design companies will ask you to work for free.   They explain that that they’re pitching for a job, and if they get it then you’ll be given the contract and handsomely paid.  I don’t like this.  I would prefer to be paid up front for what I do.  It’s understandable though; the design companies are minions of larger corporations.   They don’t get paid for presenting their ideas, so nor do the illustrators they rely on.

An example of this is work I did in the summer for Jelly, an excellent production agency in London (see below).  An unpaid week’s work for an animation idea.  It came to nothing, but had it succeeded I would have been paid a few thousand and had steady work for a month or more.  It was a gamble, this time it didn’t pay off, but I did the work for free knowing there was a potential reward.

conker, seedling, design company,

 

Large companies asking you to work for free: Just say no.

What makes me extremely angry, and what I find deeply insulting, is when large and successful multi-national companies approach you and ask to use your work for free.  This isn’t confined to the world of illustration.  Friends who work in journalism, music, fine art, and fashion have all been approached in this way.  All been infuriated by it.  These big and profitable companies finish their brazen requests with “there’s no budget for illustration, but we’ll credit you.  The publicity will be excellent for you.”  Well, let’s have a little look, shall we?

My response to: “We have no budget”

These large companies set their own budgets.  If there’s no money for illustration, then you should have budgeted for it.  It is your fault, and you should not be rewarded for bad planning by getting free usage of my artwork.

Being credited for illustration is the norm across most areas of the industry.  You get credited for paid work too.  Do not  act magnanimous by offering to credit me as the creator of my own art work.

My response to: “You’ll get great publicity”

“Publicity”.  This is  the one that annoys me most.  It’s as if these companies are dangling you an amazing and priceless opportunity.  They suggest it’s worth far more than hard cash.  Get over yourselves.  Publicity is great.  In all likelihood the trumpeted “publicity” here amounts to little more than your name printed very small somewhere.  And why on earth wouldn’t you pay for the work, and offer the “publicity” as a bonus?  I find it impossible to believe that you couldn’t afford an illustrator’s fees.

There’s a fabulous rant by a musician (Whitey) on this exact topic; his email to an executive asking for free usage of his music sums up my feelings precisely.

I view these approaches as flagrant under-valuing of my illustrations and career, and know many colleagues feel the same.  We spend years training to be illustrators, and it’s not exactly a high-paid industry.  I know we can choose whether or not to agree to these ludicrous requests.  However,  I feel it’s undermining the industry as a whole, and illustration in particular.  It makes me uneasy, and unhappy.

What I would say to these organisations, (and they are rife), is this, “if you value my work, pay for it.  If you’re not willing to pay for it, don’t insult me by expecting to use it for free”.

Rant over.

 

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Lizzie Harper