The Power of No or, Why I don’t work for free.



Yesterday I was offered my first job as an Illustrator as a result of sending out email promos over the summer.

I was so excited. As a student, it’s hard to believe that people will hire you based on your work. I mean, that’s what we hope for but getting a pro job offer feels like its part of a nebulous future that can’t possibly have anything to do with you. However there it was sitting in my inbox, an offer to be on the cover of a mag, and from a publication i admire, no less. The art director introduced herself, laid out the plan, the process of being selected and the terms. Everything sounded legit but the terms sounded a bit off. “Please note, there are no payments for the sketches, but if we all like your sketch after the meeting, we’ll pay you a small amount to officially hire you for the job.”

My nervous excitement turned to caution. I decided to consult the arsenal of professionals most students have on hand: our current and past instructors. All of them warned against the growing trend of publications, hiring illustrators without paying them for sketches. Sketches are work and I decided a long time ago that I never want to work for free. I learned about a “kill fee”, which is standard practice for the time spent in case the job gets scrapped.

Sketches are more than just a doddle. It is part of a process of critical thinking we honed in the hundred hours receiving and giving criticism in class. It’s the sleepless nights we all spent agonizing over the combinations of composition, color and technical skill that could best communicate our ideas. It is our college education, which did not come cheap in money or in effort.

So, I wrote back a very nice professional letter stating my enthusiasm of working with the publication but, in very clear terms, she needed to pay me for all of my work. I pressed send and I knew I might not hear from her again but I realized something. In the future, besides getting job offers, I want a work in an industry that values my work as an artist. I refuse to participate in the trivialization of the arts and devalue my line of work. I realized that I have the power to say no.



Abigail Rocha

September 14th, 2014

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