While some artists draw for fun, others would like to get paid for it. And there’s ample opportunity for paid work. But in a highly saturated market—especially as a self-taught artist with no networks or inner knowledge of the art scene—it can be hard to find genuine opportunities to create, showcase and sell art. Too many people (individuals and companies included) prey on this vulnerability. They offer “exposure”, “partnerships” or “collaborations” instead of payment, encouraging hopeful artists to give more than they get in the misguided belief that working with them will lead to bigger things. I myself have fallen for some of these traps, but as I spend more time furthering myself as a professional artist, I’m becoming very critical of these so-called opportunities. I hope to share my thoughts with you all, so that none of you fall victim to these exploitative practices.
The first trap we all know about by now is the promise of “exposure”. Someone will ask you to create work for them in exchange for showing you off to their networks, which is supposed to improve your reach and, thus, potential for sales or commissions. It often turns into nothing more than time wasted. Artist Holly Exley goes into better detail on this in her video blog. And I’d like to add that those who really support your work will gladly show off what you’ve already done without asking for anything in return.
A second, more subtle trap is often termed a “partnership”. It takes so many forms, but the examples at the front of my mind are people offering to sell your artwork via their networks and split the revenue with you. Like Society6 except smaller. In the end, your sales are directly correlated to how much you (the artist) market to your audience and the middle man, who offered nothing, loses nothing. The terms I’ve seen are rarely attractive and it seems more of an easy way for people with no artistic talent to capitalize on somebody else’s.
The last trap I’d like to warn you about is the “collaboration”. Someone will approach you with an idea that is 90% your artwork, 10% their contribution. Somehow, it’s labeled a team effort even though nearly all of its execution is up to you. You really have to carefully assess if what the other person or team is contributing is fair and worth it; otherwise, they are just your client and they’ve duped you into working free.
I firmly believe that if someone likes and respects your artwork, they will pay for it. Anyone trying to get free work or discounts doesn’t truly value what you do. I know this because last year Joshua Kissi, co-founder of Street Etiquette, purchased three limited edition prints from me and showed my work off on all his social media networks (Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram) without asking for a cent off. That to me is someone who appreciates my work. I owe so much thanks to Joshua for teaching me that my artwork is valuable and deserves compensation. And I hope that in sharing this story, you will learn that yours is too.