Two days ago, via the truly horrible facebook “memory” function, I was reminded of a client who stiffed me $250 for work I had done for him. This was four years ago. In those days, we were very broke, chronically underemployed, and I had lost one of my better paying gigs to an unpaid intern. We were teetering on the brink of disaster, and I was trying to make money by hustling with my art for the first time.
I found a craigslist ad looking for someone to design a family crest. How exciting, I thought, a chance to design something that also interests me personally. I contacted the original poster, and over the course of several emails settled on a price, and I proceeded to work out a draft, get approval from the client, and execute the final design. I was stupid back then, and inexperienced, so I sent him a file of the final design with no watermark (albeit smaller than the 600dpi file he requested - I thought I was being savvy, that he’d surely pay me to get the full size file. Ha.) and awaited his response.
Days passed. No word. Ten days later I sent him an email, cautiously probing but optimistic that it was nothing more than a standard delay. Ten more days pass. At this point our bills are coming due, our groceries are running out and we had budgeted for that $250 to get us through to the next (meagre) paycheck. I send another email. Nothing.
Instead of having $250 to use for food and electricity, we had nothing. It was a horrible feeling, desperately searching at the last possible minute for ANY extra funds we could throw at the sisyphus-like hill that was our financial situation in those days. I’ll never forget the sting, the slow realization that I had been scammed for my hard work and would see nothing in return for my labor, and on top of that, we had to quickly figure out a way to keep the lights on because the $250 was meant for that.
In time, I moved on. I became smarter and learned how to ask for what I was worth and require security before embarking on new jobs for new clients. I met wonderful clients who really respected the value of an artist’s labor and paid me fairly for the work I did for them. I’m grateful for these clients, because they showed me that not everyone wants to exploit creative labor.
But I never forgot that client, never really let go of the anger, the helpless rage and desperation of needing, NEEDING SO BADLY to be paid for the work I did, and simply being dropped and given no answer whatsoever.
I stayed silent, though, as so many wronged artists do. So often we do work for free, or for horribly reduced fees because the perception of the world is that simply because we love art, it is not “work.” When we are exploited, straight up ROBBED by people who decide our creative output is free for them to take, we diminish ourselves as artists, craftspeople, LABORERS. When I saw that post come up, all the feelings I had back in 2012 came back to me. I’m grateful that now $250 does not make or break me, but nevertheless I was moved to speak out because of the realization that four years’ worth of artists may have been screwed over by this guy and I won’t stand for it anymore.
Let me tell you something: ART IS LABOR. No matter how you parse it - creating a WORK of art TAKES WORK and anyone who believes you don’t deserve fair compensation for your labor is exploitative and should be exposed to the creative community as such. Sean Ironstag stole from me, and refuses to acknowledge this fact. I believe the record shows I completed my end of the agreement, and it falls to him to correct this.
Don’t let your work be undervalued, discounted, or stolen by people who don’t respect the work it takes to become a competent artist. Stand up for yourself, and for the artists around you who KNOW what the struggle is like. Please share this!
Also, I’ve been busy. My client Sandra came to me in a “pre-diabetes” stage, and she wanted to look good for a wedding that was in late November. Since working with me for 1.5-2 months she has lost 5 inches off her waistline, bf% dropped 7%, while adding some muscle/strength. Her most recent squat 3RM was 160, only 5lbs under her last 1RM attempt, about a month apart. And best of all, her favorite part of working together, she had to get her dress taken in a size because it was too loose for her. I couldn’t be more proud. @moreweights