Adventures in Assemblage
Partners, Part 2
Meditation and the Part-Time Painter
News for August
Interview with Karyn Lewis
Fishing for Free Artby Ellen Million
The first thing to keep in mind is that you are asking a favor of someone when you request artwork for free. It is easy to think of artists that you may have discovered through the Internet as faceless, soulless programs that exist only to produce beautiful work for other people to admire. But every artist is a real person, with a real life. They have bills to pay and candybars to buy. They have relationships to maintain and classes to attend. They have feelings and insecurities and no piece of artwork is created without some amount of effort and time. You are asking them invest that time and money away from something that they'd probably rather be doing. Don't take that lightly.
Approaching an Artist
Do your research. Read an artist's bio and commission information before you go asking them for things they specifically say they don't do. Yes, it sometimes means clicking on a few links and doing a little reading, but you may save yourself a lot of disappointment and an artist a lot of frustration by reading their 'I don't do free art' notices. Know the artist's style and strengths; don't ask an artist who does only medieval human portraits to do a cyber-bot for you.
Do compose your request with care. Avoid slang, bad spelling, poor grammar and long run-on sentences without a hint of formatting. Most artists won't even read all the way through a poorly composed message asking for free work, let alone answer it or accept the request. Use a real name. It is easy to dismiss a request from 'unicorngirl,' but you will appear more professional - and polite - if you put yourself forward as Jane (unicorngirl) Doe. Be unfailingly polite. This is a request for a favor, and if you aren't on your best behavior, don't be surprised if you are flatly denied. Would you do a favor for someone who asked you rudely?
Don't ask for something unreasonable. No artist in their right mind is going to agree to do a free 4 foot by 6 foot oil painting and then ship the original across an ocean for you. The easier and quicker your request is, the more likely that someone will accept it. Consider asking for only a sketch, rather than a complicated finished color piece, or offer to leave the medium up to the artist. Giving an artist creative license is a big plus for most artists.
Don't send a lot of frivolous information. No artist really needs a life history of a character that you want drawn, or a complete resume. If you are looking for artwork on speculation of a project (a roleplaying game, for example), tell them about the business end of the project, not the details of the social structure of the world and reason behind the nose piercings. Be concise and formal with your initial request, and offer to provide extra information on request. That saves both you and the artist a lot of time in the event that they aren't able to accept your request.
Do make your request personal. It is a great big no-no to spam a lot of artists with identical requests for a free piece. We talk to each other. If you want to be taken seriously, don't send a form letter to everyone you like. Say what it was about a particular piece or set of pieces that made you decide to ask that artist to do a piece for you. Be specific about what it is about an artist that you like. A little flattery never hurt anything, and this way an artist knows that you spent a little time on your request and you really are asking them specifically for their efforts.
Do tell them why they should cater to your request. Woo them! If you are producing a collection of pieces to sell to donate money to the Red Cross, you're going to have a lot more luck than only being able to say: 'I want free art.' If you are trying to persuade them to do work on hopes of future payoffs, sell them on how hard you're working on the project, and tell them what research you've already done in the field.
Do sweeten the deal. Maybe you can't pay a red cent because you are planning to invest all of your budget into getting T-shirts printed with the design. So offer the artist one of the T-shirts. Offer to write them a poem, knit them a scarf or design them a webpage. Even just an offer of a return can tip the balance in your favor.
Don't hassle or harass an artist. If you haven't heard a reply from an artist, it is fine to send a polite follow-up note, but wait a fair length of time before you do. Artists are busy people, too. Two queries without reply? That is your answer; don't send anything else.
Do accept no as an answer gracefully. Not all artists will do free art. Don't get your panties in a bunch if one turns you down, and don't flame them for taking the time to tell you so. They didn't even have to do you the courtesy of writing back. Sending a very polite 'thank you for your time' is a big plus if you do get turned down. Often, if I receive a very excellent request for free work that I feel is well composed and non-demanding, I'll pass it along to someone who may accept that request. I'll also warn other artists about the offensive requests and responses I get. Artists do talk to each other, and burning your bridges with one will often blackball you with an entire community.
Working with an Artist
Do make sure you both know what to expect, and what rights you will have to the design. If you want to produce products with your freebie picture, make sure that the artist has explicitly agreed to this. If you want to display the picture on your webpage, discuss what kind of credit or link-back the artist wants. If you are expecting an original copy or a print, make sure you discuss that with the artist, too. Most artists will do free art only if it doesn't actively cost them anything, and often only if they can keep most of the rights to the work.
Don't assume you are the most important project that an artist has. Freebies are not generally an artist's finest work, and they aren't the highest priority in their time schedule. Don't expect them to write back the same day to every email that you send them asking where your artwork is and don't pester them with follow-ups right away.
Don't set them an unreasonable deadline. Frankly, any deadline at all will generally sour a freebie deal. Give the artist a lot of leeway in creativity and timing. When you're paying them, then you can feel free to dictate their schedule, but understand your place as someone who is already being granted an act of kindness.
Don't ever leave them hanging. If an artist sends you a sketch for feedback, don't hesitate to get right back to them. If they are willing to rearrange their schedule to work your piece in, you should absolutely do the same in return.
Do make things as easy as possible for them. If you can provide them with references, do, but make sure that you don't send them attachments if they don't want them. Check your email regularly so that you can respond to any questions they might have.
Don't be too picky. If an artist chooses not to include the wolf companion in the picture, don't gripe about it. This doesn't mean you can't say 'would you please add armbands to the costume' or 'could you please make her mouth a little fuller,' but understand that every little criticism and request is going to lessen your chances of getting a finished piece. Note the use of the word 'please.'
So You Got Your Freebie...
Do hire the artist for money if you are ever able. Nothing is quite as rewarding to an artist as to have a freebie recipient come back as a paying customer. If you can't afford to do so yourself, at least see if you can't convince your richer friends to shop with the generous artist.
Don't be a snot. I couldn't think of a more concise way to say this. Don't badmouth an artist who has given you a freebie, or criticize them because you didn't get their best work within two days of your request. Don't use their work in a way that you didn't agree on.
Do thank them. Gratitude is a marvelous thing, and a properly grateful recipient of free work may even be able to ask for the same again. There is nothing quite as souring to an artist as to provide a lot of time and effort into a design and then to hear nothing back from the recipient. I had one grateful recipient of a sketch send me an unexpected envelope with stickers, glitter, a hand-written letter and a dollar bill, which was all they could spare. It made my day! Likewise, I had a student organization ask me for a design (and promise T-shirts) and then not even acknowledge receiving it, despite several follow-up emails. Guess which one I'd do work for again. Now guess which one I warn other artists against accepting requests from. Did I mention that artists talk to each other?
Do hold your end of the deal up. If you have promised to send them a T-shirt of a finished design, make sure they get it. If you are using your free art on a webpage, make sure you have a nice piece of credit with it, maybe even a link so that the artist can expect to get some exposure from their efforts. If you have promised a big, successful venture that will reap them a lot of business, you'd better bust your butt to see that venture come to light, and keep them consistently informed about the progress.
Good luck! There are many talented artists out there who are still accepting free requests, but there are many, many more people out there who are competing for those favors. Hopefully this guide will give you the edge up that you need to get this work, and save both you and the artists you apply to a great deal of frustration and irritation.
Ellen Million has always had a passion for projects. Visit her site for prints and embarrassing archives.
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