We Need To Talk About Money (part 2)...
I started writing this blog a few months ago and then got distracted for the usual reasons (deadlines, holiday, my wife and I are having a baby soon, etc), but I was reminded of it today and as it turns out there wasn’t that much editing that needed doing to make it intelligible, so here it is:
It’s frustrating to me that this should even be a conversation we’re having about why design competitions are wrong, but I think it needs saying again, especially for the benefit of illustrators who are just starting out in this industry.
Illustration competitions that require you to create work on spec ARE A BAD THING. What is spec? Speculative work - ie: work that you create in the hope that you will be paid for it.
But why are they a bad thing? I hear you ask. At their best, they allow me to maybe have my work used by *insert-band-name-here* or used as an unofficial poster for *summer-blockbuster-of-choice* or on a t-shirt made by *your-favorite-brand*. They say I’ll get great exposure.
(Oh God, exposure. The dangling toxic carrot of the young illustrators life. If I had a pound for every time I had heard think of the exposure then I probably could afford to work for free. But I still wouldn’t. I’m starting to get off topic, but you should read this wonderful piece by the very talented Jessica Hische about working for free.)
Back to the point I was working towards. Yes, all those statements above are true, but they all hang on you doing a piece of work on spec, for free. They reduce our industry, our studies and our skills to a hobby that can be rewarded with shiny things.
I think that one of the (for want of a better word) ‘problems’ with creative industries is that ostensibly we enjoy what we do. We might even be inclined to do what we do for fun - I would certainly be drawing even if I was doing something else because I love drawing. But it is STILL YOUR JOB and you deserve to be compensated for you time. I hate to use the plumber analogy, but you wouldn’t expect a plumber to fix your cracked pipes for free ‘because he enjoys it’ or because you would tell all your friends about his work.
If you’re thinking of running a design competition, here are some better things to try instead. Take the prize fund and use it to commission someone whose work you like. The end result will be the same - you have a piece of work you can use - but in the mean time you wont have wasted the time of EVERYONE ELSE WHO WOULD HAVE ENTERED.
But I’m only starting out you may say. You still deserve to be paid, don’t let anyone suggest otherwise. If you worked in a shop, you’d still get paid even if it was your first day.
Here are some things that are a better use of your time than entering a competition:
- set yourself a brief and answer it. be challenging (for example, if your forte is drawing owls, don’t set the brief: draw a cool owl). treat it like you would a job and then blog it - show your process maybe, sketches you tried before you settled on a final.
- practice your craft. spend some time drawing, researching. make a zine, make a product that you can sell through your website (preferably not infringing on someone else’s IP - that’s a blog post for a whole other time).
- bake a cake. personally, I find baking hugely satisfying and I do some of my best thinking when I’m doing something that isn’t drawing.
- look for potential clients and send them links to your work
- go and do some exercise. we spend most of our time sitting in small hot rooms, so make the most of the fact it’s summer and go for a walk. also, see above - if you’ve just made and consumed a cake you could probably do with some exercise.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. As long as people continue to enter competitions, there will be competitions, so just stop. You’ll be better off for it. Value yourself. You and your skills are a commodity. This isn’t a hobby, this is a job and you don’t do your job for free.