3 reasons why artists should never work for free

An obstacle every artist faces in their career is whether or not they should do projects for free. To save you time in this brief article, the answer is no. As a creative, you have spent countless hours perfecting your craft and your time is money. To a client, family member or friend, your livelihood looks fun by making great work, but it takes hours for you to bring an idea to life and you should be properly compensated for it. Below are three reasons why you should not offer your skills for free.

1. Your creativity has value
The difference in creativity compared to other professions is that it is uniquely yours. Assuming you went to an art and design college like RMCAD, you have found an aesthetic that you can proudly say is your creative stamp. If someone is asking to hire you, it is also because they value your unique creativity. That value is something that you should hold proudly.

2. Time is money
By the time you are an adult, you have invested years to get where you are today. As a photographer, for example, you are doing much more than taking photos. You are having back and forth meetings with your client, hiring models as well as hair and makeup, scouting different locations, traveling, using your gear and lights, directing and executing the shoot, evaluating thousands of pictures and editing your top choices for delivery. There is no template to how long an example like that takes, but it’s many more hours than what the average consumer would guess.

3. No one works for free
In life, there are few instances where you may volunteer. Perhaps the payoff is learning a new skill or doing volunteer work to help out your community, but that’s usually the extent of it. For working professionals who are not in the creative industry, it is unheard of to work for free, so why should it be different for you? Why sell something if you can’t get a commission? Why offer a service with supplies without pay only to lose money? With that logic, it doesn’t make sense and the same applies to artists.

As a professional artist, it is your responsibility to set a standard for what a reasonable transaction looks like between you and a new client. To get a better understanding of client relationships and pricing, ask one of your professors or seek out a mentor who does what you strive to be, whether it’s through an internship or your own network. Your creative education is valuable just as much as the work experience you get. Students and alumni, reach out to our Career + Alumni Services team to learn about employment opportunities.