Should Illustrators work for free?


We all know we are in extraordinary times.  From the basics of getting groceries, to the new challenge of home-schooling children, life, for everyone is different.

But there are some things that don’t change.

We need to look after ourselves. Wellbeing is vital, and we have resources listed to support illustrators with that.  It can be hard to invest the time, and to focus, but please do.

We need to work.  This has not changed.  For some of our members there is the experience of some projects being cancelled.  For others commissions are rolling in. Illustration is germ free!  We (often) don’t need teams of people, shoots, or products that we can’t get any more. If ever there was an artform for a pandemic, it’s illustration.

You can read our article with some tips to reach out to commissioners during the Covid weeks.  If you have had projects pulled, don’t think that’s the end of it – wheels will turn, commissioners will be settling into their new Zoom-ed up normal.  Work will come.  Let them know you are ready.

We need to be paid. This is the most important thing that doesn’t change.  Our campaign Price It Right focuses on this point: by aiming to increase understanding and confidence in pricing illustration, valuing illustration and supporting business.

Illustration has value.  Your skill and creativity has value.  This has not changed.  There will be times that we want to donate our time and expertise to a cause, but this should always be on our terms.

We know many members are being asked to do things for free to support the pandemic.  Large, global organisations are asking for this as well as small ones.  In some instances you may choose to do this.  But it should not be the expectation.

Donating artwork to a for-profit organisation is not recommended, and you should only consider working for free if the goal is to ultimately benefit someone with less power/resources than yourself.

If you do choose to work for free – value your work. Always have a contract in place.  AOI members can use our Illustrator Commissioner Agreement – a simple, all-bases-covered agreement detailing usage, territory, duration, kill/cancellation fees, ownership of copyright etc.

Issue an invoice for the true value of the work.  If you are donating it, discount the amount payable by 100%.  The client will have this invoice and see the value of what they have received.  When they come back for more illustration there can be a fair negotiation for new work rather than working from the starting point of ‘free’.

This pandemic will end.  Life will return to normal.  We must make sure that when it does end illustration continues to be as valued as it was before by operating as the professionals that we are.

Illustration by Nishant Choksi

2nd April 2020

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