Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Design/Art "favors"?

I've heard being a designer or artist compared to owning a flatbed truck...everyone needs a favor at some point, and you're the one they know who can help em out.

I'm becoming reasonably (and I say that hesitantly) capable of telling people I'm too busy with life and other projects to just "do a favor", or that I do in fact get PAID to do that kind of work, but it seems to be harder when it's a closer friend, or extended family member.

How do you all deal with family and friends who just" need your help" in coming up with some imagery (logo, website, invite, etc) for a project--especially when there's no mention of any payment?


  1. That is a tough call Oliver... I suppose it depends on the time commitment involved and the relationship you have with the relative/friend and the ease/difficulty of working with them (we call it the PITA factor):)

  2. My experience has been that my really close friends and family always, and I do mean always, offer to pay me. I will gladly do small design/cartoon jobs for the people I truly care about without charging. To a person, they have always given me a gift to say thanks.

    It's the fringe people I've had problems with. You know, someone you barely know. That friend of a friend you played a round of golf with in 2003. They are shocked to find that you would charge them to do this "small favor".

  3. I'm waiting with you to hear the responses, Oliver. This has been a banner year for pro-bono work for me. I genuinely love my family and friends, so I continue to do stuff but yes, it gets difficult. Fortunately there's often some quid-pro-quo involved (babysitting, free haircuts, etc.)
    At the moment, I'm just glad I'm not a CPA.
    Not to scare you or anything, but if you think you are inundated now, wait till your kids get to school. Bwahahahahahaha!

  4. Another thing: If the family member you're trying to say "no" to is your Mom, take this as my best advice:

    Just do the invitation.

  5. I think Daryll summed it up perfectly...Chuck the check's in the mail - guilty. I owe you a lunch at least...

  6. John, that didn't even enter my mind!
    Charitable organizations is another topic for another post.

  7. Chuck brings up a good point. Once your kid's school finds out what you do for a living, look out!!! Here come the t-shirt designs, posters,etc.

    Now, I don't have kids, but let me relay a school freebie story from my youth.

    I was known the artist at my Catholic grade school. The Youngstown Diocese had a half hour tv show that rotated hosts among it's schools every week. It was my school's turn and they needed cartoons for the presentation.

    For some strange reason, they assumed that since I could draw so could one of my parents. Three of the nuns from my school came to our house and before they left, my dad had the assignment to create 6-10 cartoons for their show.

    My dad could draw, but was not a professional. I remember him coming home from a shift at the steel mill and drawing and drawing and drawing trying to nail down these images.This went on for weeks! I might add that my dad was blinded in one eye fighting in WW2. Try drawing or painting with no depth perception.

    They actually came out really good and when I brought the finishes to class my teacher was pleased and told me to tell my dad, thank you. That was it. When the show ran, no mention was made of who did all the artwork.

    I'm sure my dad didn't expect to be paid. But it would have been nice to be recognized in a more personal way.

    Among all the arts, illustration/visual arts are the most misunderstood. What we do and how we do it is a mystery to most.And undervalued...

  8. Great story, Daryll —thanks! (thank your Dad for me too!)

    The problem I bring upon myself is that everyone who knows me has seen me whip out a random sketch in seconds. Most of us are good at lightning-fast drawings of nothing-in-particular. When someone asks you to do something to fit a specific need, the rules change appreciably:
    What does a crusader really look like? What does he look like when he's holding a lacrosse stick? Is his expression too mean for an elementary school? Will this show up on a black shirt? The school's colors are maroon and gold, what PMS colors are those? Who in the school's hierarchy knows?
    A simple computer compatibility issue can cost you hours. Ever design something and hand it off to someone who can't get it to work in Microsoft Word? Arrgh!

    It's hard to educate your beneficiaries without griping (behaving charitably is the harder part of doing charity-work), but there are ways of bringing them into "the know".

    Sometimes I'll ask a beneficiary to accompany me to the printer to check something, even though it's not entirely necessary. They get a new experience, and they also learn something about the hidden costs of doing free business.

  9. Excellent point Chuck! It goes back to the ignorance thing about what we do. The general public is clueless about what it takes to get a drawing from sketch to finish to printing. Most peoples experience with the visual arts ends with crayons and coloring books.

    Also great point about folks seeing you whip out something in 30 seconds that they couldn't come close to if they were given a week. This adds to the confusion about out talent.

    A big freaking mystery.

  10. The first thing I tell the person is how long it will take - it's usually a shock to them! And, if I've decided to do it, how many things are already on my plate, which will add to the time.

    Tattoo designing requests come to me, somehow. In one case, I asked for a pittance; the person never got back to me.

    In another tattoo, the elements were so, so tasteless that I couldn't do it. And the person had no concern about who would be doing the work, or that the idea was impossibly busy. I knew that it didn't matter what I did: it would be ruined.

    So I created a Photoshop collage of the awful elements and balanced them as much as humanly possible...never so much as a "thank you"...