Fishing for Freebies
By Ellen 'the Alaskan' Million
Originally published in the Woodworks E-Zine.
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.
FARP Article Guestbook
|24 Jun 2004|| Anonymous|
I really enjoyed this article. Thank you so much! I had never figured out a way to ask an artist for a freebie. This cleared up a lot of questions. Thanks!
|25 Jun 2004|| Elihion Longtoes @ Elftown|
My sincere thanks for the insight in this article.
I can't draw for toffee, but I have a way with words,
and have often wished I had the nerve to ask someone
to illustrate some of them.
I still don't have the nerve.
But I'm closer to crossing that bridge thanks to you.
|7 Jul 2004|| Philip|
Thank you very much for writing this arcticle. This is my first time at this site, and it was great to see this featured on the front page. I sincerely hope that everyone who reads this arcticle takes it to heart, and that the arting community becomes a better place because of it. *Hands you a Super-Cookie* ^_^
|23 Jul 2004|| Emily Foxbane Oldroyd|
An interesting read, indeed. I, in fact, did a freebie a little while ago, I made a background for somebody's lookup on a site- I got a message to say thank you for it, but irritatingly, the background was in use for 2 days and then was changed to something else. I haven't sent a message to the person who requested it yet, but I think I possibly should as I am actually hosting the image at my site, and I put a lot of time and effort into it- I'm just going to use it myself, most likely.
Anyway, I'm ranting. Very well done on making a useful article, and hopefully it will enlighten many folks out there. ^_^
|22 Apr 2005|| Rhodri McCormack|
Hey nice article. I agree, giving the artist creative control does sweeten the deal (infact I will not accept a freebie request otherwise and I'll up the price on payed work without it). Interstingly though, I do want to know the complete background of the charcter, their personality in particular and then I like to deside what they look like (to a degree). If a requester gets specific about buttons, earings, boot hight and style etc. I tell them "Sounds like hard work, I'll need payment to do this commision", it usually gets rid of them.
|6 May 2009|| Anon.|
eny one got any fishin tackle there given away
|28 Jan 2010|| John Tinman|
|26 May 2010|| Anon.|
This was my first visit to this site as well (initially referred to a tutorial by a friend) and I find this link very
insightful - and interesting.
I’ve never really seriously thought about freebies (mainly because I read in some thread the artist’s posted that freebies and art trades are unavailable, or just something they don’t
do) but this is a very interesting, enjoyable thread.
Thank you for this insightful thread you’ve posted, ’hopefully’ enlightening any of us who may ask for freebies.
|17 Jul 2011|| Scarlett McKnight|
Lord I hate people who ask for freebies and when you politly tell them you dont do that or you simply dont have time, they go all off on you and spam your sight. One reason I left DA but Im back on as a different name (this one) I hope to meet better people and do much better business this time around...
|4 Feb 2012|| Marcus Fernstrom|
Though I’m a newbie artist, I’m a web developer/designer by profession, and this article goes just as true for my line of work..
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