Generally I'm very much against the idea of working for free, or "Spec" work. My portfolio is right there, available for all to see, and hopefully gives a good indication of the type of illustration work I do. I'll make exceptions, for family, friends, charity or another good cause. I recently saw a post from another illustrator, Phil Corbett, on the subject of a recent art test he'd done, and this just so happened to coincide with an art test request I'd been dealing with the week previous, so I thought I'd write something about my experience as well.
I recently saw an advert from a – I think – well-known company. I say I think because, even if you don't recognise the name of the company directly, you've certainly heard of their products. They were looking for freelance illustrators, so I sent off an email, not really expecting to hear anything back, but a few days later I got a response. Apparently they're working on a new product, and are looking to put together a team of illustrators to create the illustration work. They like my work and think I might be a good fit.
So far so good, I'm pretty excited.
They've already decided on an artwork style and are looking for people who can recreate it.
OK, I'm a little less thrilled at that idea, let's hear more.
They need to make sure I can create artwork in the same style, so here's an art test to complete.
And that's it. There are no terms and conditions. No legalese. And significantly, no details about payment. This is a free art test.
How do I respond to a request like that?
I'd certainly like the work, and who knows, it could turn out to be a long-term thing. But they're not interested in hiring me because they like my artwork. They don't want me to produce a bunch of illustrations in my own way/style/whatever you want to call it. They want me to produce artwork in someone else's style. On top of that, I'm expected to produce 4/5 pieces of artwork for free, within five working days. A whole week's worth of work more or less for nothing.
It's not like they can't afford to pay. They're not some new hotshot start-up. A quick look at Companies House tells me that – and I'm no expert at deciphering accounts, so I might have been looking at the wrong bit, but even if I was, there's a lot of money here – they ended their last accounting year with over £9 million in the bank. I was worried about trying to bring up the subject of payment. I almost, almost, was tempted to say "yes, I'll do it" on the promise of that potential future work. "Yes, even though it's more an art-working gig than illustration, I'll have a go".
But in the end, my time is valuable. I love illustration, I'd love to be able to do it full-time, but I mostly cram it into evenings and lunch breaks, fitting it around my day job, and my family. Time spent working on non-paying jobs is time I'd much rather be spending with my kids, or at the very least working on personal projects or my portfolio.
At the time I was also waiting to hear back about another illustration job I'd recently quoted for, so my solution was to email them back saying that it was an interesting sounding proposition, but at the moment paying work needs to be my priority (hint hint) and I was waiting to hear back about this other project, but if that didn't come through I could maybe take a look. I could let them know in a day or so, was this ok?
I was hoping this might be quickly followed by an email along the lines of "Oh we'll pay you for your time, of course, as that's the reasonable and decent thing to do". I didn't – still haven't – heard anything back. This, perhaps more than anything else, makes me glad I didn't go down the road of working for free.