By Lauren Hom
Last week, I received an email from a multi-million dollar company looking for “up and coming illustrators” to “collaborate” on a coloring book in exchange for an “incredible amount of exposure”. Seeing as how those are my top three email red flag phrases, I sent it to the trash. A few days later, I received another email saying they had a change of heart and were now offering $50 per illustration.
Feeling compelled to reply, I explained that to conceptualize, sketch, ink, scan, and digitize one of my illustrations would take a minimum of 6 hours, and that I would realistically price the project at $450 per illustration. To which they replied, “We totally understand that you have your own way of working, but there are many, many illustrators who can do wonderful things in a matter of minutes! So maybe this project is suited best for them.”
First of all, exposure is not a form of compensation (a benefit, if it even works, but not something you can support yourself with). Secondly, telling me that quality work can be done in a matter of minutes? Woah, way to perpetuate the damaging stereotype that art is easy because it’s fun and therefore takes no time to make. Just because something is fun doesn’t mean it isn’t hard work.
Society has an awful misconception that “difficult” work is the only kind of work worth compensating. Creating a logo that works at 10 different sizes isn’t difficult? Making your magazine stand out in a crowded newsstand isn’t hard? Capturing emotion with light, color, and composition through a lens isn’t tough?
Everyone’s time is valuable. Everyone is trying to pay their bills. Creatives are not an exception to the rule. The same way you’d expect to pay higher prices for a meal at a reputable restaurant or a haircut from a senior stylist at a salon, you should expect an artist’s fees to increase with experience. The next time you’re quick to balk at a creative’s hourly rate, please remember that you’re not just paying for an hour of her current time; you’re paying for the thousands of hours and dollars she invested into developing her skill set.
Don’t get me wrong – I actually think there are appropriate ways to work for little or no financial compensation. Ultimately, it’s up to the artist to evaluate whether or not a project is worth accepting. Making money isn’t always a requirement to take on a project, but making sure you’re not being taken advantage of is.
The company recently hosted an Instagram contest to “empower women” by asking people to post a photo of a woman who inspires you with the hashtag #FollowHerLead. To highlight the irony of this situation, I decided to take over their hashtag by partnering with Ladies Get Paid to host our own Instagram contest with to truly empower women. We asked creative women to come forward and share stories of being undervalued and underpaid.
Within a few days the hashtag was overrun by 150 posts from the creative community and transformed into a platform for women to find strength and support. The CEO of the company reached out to us, and we’re currently working on a project to educate both clients and creatives on best practices when it comes to commissioning artwork.
Though the contest ended, the conversation about the value of creativity will absolutely not. I’m tired of art not being seen as a real profession deserving of real money. I’m hurt by the idea that companies specifically target “up and coming” creatives to try to get cheap labor.
I feel a responsibility to let the world know that even after 4 years of hustling to build my creative business, I still receive offers like this. If I work for significantly less than I know I’m worth, I’m giving other creatives permission to do the same and companies permission to keep asking for it. I cannot and will not do that. As my close friend so eloquently put it, “Hell hath no fury like a woman who values herself.”
Lauren Hom is an award-winning illustrator, author and entrepreneur from Los Angeles. Known for her bright color palettes and playful letterforms, she has created work for clients like Starbucks, Google and TIME Magazine. Currently traveling around the world, she aims to inspire and empower women through art and creativity. Her motto is, and will always be, “Work hard, snack often.”