Saturday 6 August 2011

Going Pro: free dinosaur art?

The ART Evolved blog I loosely administrate for (the heavy work being done by Craig Dylke, Peter Bond and Mo Hassan) has been doing extremely well the past year, with more and more talented people contributing not just to the themed galleries, but also to some fascinating posts.

It's what we wanted for the site: artists and researchers and dino fans enjoying the art and thoughts about creating it.  Spin off blog posts (like this one) are becoming more common as people choose long-form comments on their own site about happenings at the ART Evolved hub.

Recently, a student researcher approached ART Evolved with ideas for a contest for artwork through the site's loose network of members and contributors, the prize being that the unpaid work would appear in a presentation in front of some paleontology luminaries. Already our decision to post something about the contest for contributors has met some justified criticism.

I commented the following on ART Evolved, but thought I would post it again here for my slightly different readership.

All excellent comments Jack, and with the AE admin crew, we discussed these very issues before we decided to go ahead and publish the contest information anyways. 
There can some times be benefits to working for free for artists starting out. There I said it. I don't like it but its true. My first professional gig for an online client was high-profile and a poor student and I did the work for free and it led to more work. I still don't make enough to pay all my bills though even though I now generally charge Guild prices. That's reality: scientists do not usually have a lot of funds, and even funds earmarked for promotion of the research seldom go into artwork - something I hope high-profile sites like Art Evolved and Symbiartic will help.
Muddy Colors has excellent comments on this here and here. You may also wish to consult the Should I Work For Free infographic. No I'm not kidding, it's smarter than its sarcasm looks. 
This is not to say that it is right to do free work in this instance for Mr. Persons. And here is where I should emphasize that though I'm on the ART Evolved admin team, these are my own opinions and I likely don't speak for everyone. 
I don't want to lose people in research like Scott Persons as an ally. Science-artists of all kinds -scientific illustrators, animators, fine artists, cartoonists, graphic designers, infographic artists, amateurs- need scientists to be engaged with our work. We also have a duty to educate people who may hire us on best practices. Often when approached by a client, I give them a full break-down of my process, and typical fees and whether I am deviating up or down from anything typical. I keep them in the loop throughout the process with sketches and so on. 
When Craig first let the other admins (Peter, Mo and myself) know about Scott's request, I was bluntly, unhappy with it. The last thing in the world I want ART Evolved to become is a clearinghouse for free art for the science community. I want our talented members to get paid. 
But I didn't want to alienate a request like Scott's, though it was naive (understandably so if he has not worked with illustrators before - this is not a slight against Scott). 
Ultimately, each artist affiliated with or who reads this site can make up their own mind on whether they should do this type of work for free. I hope each of them thinks it through, and decides whether its right for them.And I hope through comments like yours Jack, Scott and other researchers learn useful information for future projects.
What do artists think? What do researchers using art think?

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Mike Haubrich said...

I am not an artist, but....

I think that an artist should expect value for work. If a paleontologist or presenter or some other agency wants the work because they like it they should at least be willing to pay a nominal fee. It's capitalism. If there is an expectation that they can continue to find free/no charge work from artists starting out there is no guarantee that they won't find another artist the next time also willing to provide free introductory work. Charging at least a nominal fee (and embedding a watermark) is at least one way to show that you respect your own work enough to expect remuneration.

Sheree Rensel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheree Rensel said...

Artists need to be PAID. The idea "artists will work for free" is ridiculous. However, it is all too common. You mention this issue in terms of the coupling of the science-art communities. This is an issue in all artist realms.
As an artist, I am constantly asked to draw or paint this or that for people (assuming it would be at no cost to them). Artists are continually asked to donate work for zillions of causes and charities. I agree with your point that some artist beginning their careers would want to take advantage of some of these opportunities to build up their reputation and network. Experienced artists need to make a living. I don't know many other professionals that give their work away on a regular basis. Do you?

Sean Craven said...

Artists are usually more interested in working than they are in getting paid, and the world counts on this. It's hard to forget that the sale of any one piece of Van Gogh's art generates enough capital to have kept him for life.

I understand that you have to put up with doing free or poorly compensated work at the start of your career. But contests are a separate issue. The amount of work-hours devoted to producing stories or artwork that probably can't be take elsewhere?

Conscious or not, it shows how poorly artists are regarded, how low our status actually is.

We are grass. Let us grow thorns.

Rick Lieder said...

Sean writes: "it shows how poorly artists are regarded".

Too true. Scientists shouldn't exploit artists.

How many artists ask scientists for a little free research?

Ultimately it's the fault of the artist for not respecting their work enough, and behaving like a professional.

Anonymous said...

Re the Precambrian rabbit image - I'm just repeating this in case I missed you (I posted it earlier, on the previous thread, but it occurred to me that the earlier post has probably slipped a bit too far down the page by now).

I'm sorry it's completely OT! (couldn't see another way of contacting you - hope you don't mind)


Hi Glendon,

thank you very much indeed - I'd be really happy to do that! My email is entrenous (at) aporias (dot) net . I'm a complete and utter klutz when it comes to anything remotely technical (I can just about turn my computer on ...) - I would just log in to gravatar and paste in a different url for the image, yes? I wouldn't need to re-size or adjust anything, or anything like that?

I would try that right away. If for any reason I mess that up (I'm really not kidding about being computer-stupid), I was thinking that I could see if I can add a sig line in a small font automatically at the bottom of any posts I make, saying something like "Precambrian rabbit image used by kind permission of the artist, Glendon Mellow of The Flying Trilobite (" - just to have a Plan B?

I should say straight off that I'm only a very occasional poster, though! I'm pretty unnoticeable over there, mostly I just go to Pharyngyula to read and I just make the odd comment once in a long while.

Anyway I would love to try and use the image in a way that is OK for you and properly credits and attributes it. Many thanks for your generosity!

all the best,

Glendon Mellow said...

Hey Opposable, I hadn't forgotten it's just been a busy week. I'll answer you back on the other thread. ;-)

Glendon Mellow said...

Excellent points all: Mike, Sheree, Sean, Rick.

I do think there are sometimes occasions where artists can work for free to invest in the future: but that's how it needs to be seen. Will it help get paying work later? If an artist thinks so, it's not free exactly, but an investment in the future. Identifying these types of opportunities in practice is really difficult though.

As Sean states, "Artists are usually more interested in working than they are in getting paid, and the world counts on this. " Exactly. It's almost impossible to be an artist without a sketchblog these days, and much of that work is done without the promise of a fee. And people do count on it.

A more experienced illustrator than I once remarked to me that sometimes licensing an image for free to a scientist from your back-catalogue can be useful to keeping your name out there; and the work is already done, sitting around in a portfolio. But new work for free is a tough one and very very tempting for artists starting out who are grateful just to be noticed.

Rick, in the case I'm discussing about ART Evolved, the researcher who's put the contest forth has done some "free research" in the form of a blog post for ART Evolved. It;s one of the reasons I think it's important to cultivate scientists as artist's allies, and educate them about artist's needs for future projects. And why I started this discussion.

Thanks for weighing in everyone, great comments so far.

Glendon Mellow said...

Sean Craven: "We are grass. Let us grow thorns."

This is a beautiful evocative image and entirely right.

Dicing with Dragons said...

"How many artists ask scientists for a little free research?"

If they are involved in any scientific reconstructions, the answer is: constantly. I cannot count the times I have benefited from the "free" research of scientists whilst working on sketching and drawing and painting.

The original post did ask for free work. But this is not always bad. If science profits, I'm not opposed to throwing a little free work back at something which benefits my work at nearly no cost to me.

Could the original request have expressed better? Yes, certainly, by approaching individual artists, instead of asking for partially completed submissions en masse, which does tend to put us off on the wrong foot doesn't it.

An appropriate response to free work certainly isn't always yes, but it's not always no, either. The first question I ask is, who benefits? If it's a corporation, they can cut me a check for the retainer after the first meeting and the contract is signed. Business is strictly business.

Work for public institutions like museums can greatly vary, and can depend upon my workload/current income. I'm more likely to work for little or nothing if I'm making the nut already.

Work for individuals for personal reasons will involve a minor fee, typically. Asking for free work is never off the table for educational purposes, unless the individual is representing a for profit corporation.

A nuanced approach is often desirable when it comes to pricing/working for free.

With that in mind, here's the best way to find an artist willing to work for free on a project for education:

Find someone whose work you like, and approach them directly. Advertising like an art director with a budget of zero is unlikely to generate much of a generous response, as we can all see. If you must canvas a site for willing artists, ask for portfolios rather than completed work. This might involve more effort on your part, but your budget is nil, so you might need to be flexible on this point. Expecting us to do spec work for the privilege of being selected for doing free work is annoying. Nobody but you benefits from this, and this is not the way to create any kind of a relationship.

A brief project is far more likely to get a result than anything involving lots of long-term work, or will involve tons of iterative changes (at least for me--if this is going to take three months to produce, I may need something to cover expenses).

It never hurts to explain how the work will be used, and how it will benefit research.

Glendon Mellow said...

Excellent points all around Scott and I agree with you: free vs paid isn't a black or white decision.

traumador said...

I think ScottE has hit the nail directly on the head.

Much of the behind the scenes debate between the ART Evolved admins resembled these thoughts.

We invite commentators here on The Flying Trilobite to consider popping over to ART Evolved and comment on the actual proposal itself. We have a very lengthy discussion thread going on there too, and many of the points of view present here are not fully represented on AE at moment.

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