Three reasons why artists should never work for free

*This story was updated and edited for clarity and brevity by Jenna Heil on November 1, 2022.

An obstacle every artist faces in their career is whether or not they should do projects for free. And the answer is simple, 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, but it takes hours for you to bring an idea to life and you should be properly compensated for it. Take a closer look at three reasons why artists should never work for free.

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

2. Time is money.
You have invested years to get to where you are today as an artist – and that goes beyond the hours needed to bring your creativity to life. As an artist, you are also a business owner which means that not only are you creating the artwork, but you are also handling all other aspects of the business. For example, a photographer does much more than take photos. They have meetings with clients, hire models, scout different locations, travel, direct and edit thousands of pictures. There is no template for how long these tasks take, but it’s many more hours than what an average consumer or client would guess.

3. No one works for free.
In life, there may be a few instances where you volunteer your talent or time. Perhaps the payoff is learning a new skill or doing volunteer work to help out your community, but that should be the extent of your free labor. 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 only to lose money? With that logic, it doesn’t make sense to work for free, so the same should apply 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, we recommend doing research or asking your professors and fellow classmates for advice and best practices. You can also pursue an internship opportunity where you can get firsthand experience in your field and learn how other artists run their business. Remember, no matter what, you should never work for free as an artist.