Thursday, 3 December 2015

"Artwork is Work - Why do people still fail to grasp this?" A ReadItDaddy Editorial.

Our last Editorial of the year, and it's on a subject that really has (quite rightly) been in the spotlight for most of 2015, mostly thanks to a fantastic campaign by Sarah McIntyre (Pictures Mean Business) to ensure that artists get equal billing on picture book covers and other printed items featuring their work.

We've covered this a few times on the blog but this blah is more about the often tricky prospect of being paid once you've come up with a fantastic piece of art that someone's willing to use, but not always so willing to front up some cash for.

I'm just an amateur scribbler but through work I've had a few opportunities to stretch my meagre talents and come up with graphics or illustrations for various projects. These are always things I'd need to work on outside of normal working hours in my own spare time and recently I took on a couple of jobs like this to design a new logo and some branding elements for an ex-colleague.

The brief was (predictably) vague and yet the 'customer' (who right up front admitted absolutely no knowledge of how art is taken from a concept to a finished design) had their own ideas of what they wanted to present to the folk who would end up using the logo and items on their website, in their printed materials and for their communications.

I've only completed a couple of jobs like this before and had done my research into what were acceptable charges for the amount of work, the variations in design and branding that would be required for a multi-use scenario, and of course the sticky legal issues around copyright and re-use.

As soon as the subject of payment was broached, it was like bringing down a set of steel shutters.

"Paid? What do you mean paid?" the customer stammered.

"I will be working on this in my own time, using my own resources so I've come up with a reasonable set of charges for the work" I answered.

"But I thought you'd do it for free, I mean your design is going to be seen by a lot of people! It might bring more work your way!"

At this point, most illustrators and artists are rolling their eyes and probably remembering similar conversations they've had throughout their careers. That old chestnut has been doing the rounds ever since Ug first daubed a crimson splodge on his neighbour's cave wall and his neighbour not passing over the promised juicy Mammoth steak claiming that his cave is visited quite often so Ug's work will achieve some sort of infamy.

Exposure won't pay anyone's bills and if you ask most artists whether exposure - even for fairly large corporate clients or companies - has ever done them any good, you'd better be prepared for a fairly abrupt response.

Of course, stupidly, I had already started work on the branding and logo project before thrashing out remuneration up front. I'm a keen amateur, not a hard-nosed professional so in hindsight (and certainly with any new commissions) this should have been discussed in the first meeting. The customer in this case dug their heels in and started to make all the usual piddly excuses about there being no budget, me not being a professional, the work being good but not THAT good - which was the point where I folded up my designs, closed my laptop and bid them adieu wishing them all the very best of luck finding someone else who'll do a quite substantial amount of work for nothing.

So I'm left with a few more pieces to add to my portfolio, and of course a lesson learned. As we've previously stated on the blog it's as tough a gig to get paid for your writing as it is to get paid for your artwork, but there's still a rather crappy assumption that artists gambol around in a state of heightened bliss always looking for any opportunity to waste hour after hour putting work together that ultimately won't be paid for (sure we all produce items of work for ourselves but if someone wants that work and wants to use that work to make money, they'd darned well better ensure you get a slice of that action in some way).

Things are getting better, and the supportive artist communities on social media are very quick to leap on any instances where someone's publicly taking the pith (particularly when an artistic opportunity is 'dressed up' as a competition, therefore somehow negating it from needing to be funded in any way if your submitted competition artwork is chosen and used thereafter).

When it comes to children's books, particularly picture books, Sarah is right - pictures mean business and the entire industry would grind to a halt if creatives downed their pens and brushes. Treat them with respect as professionals as you would the guy who comes to unblock your loo or the guy who services your car because that's what we (they) are.