Requests to Work for Free

This is something that happens far too often for creative professionals.

You get a message in your inbox from a big name, multi-million dollar company working on a high-profile job, and they would like you to work for them.
Only the budget is very small, so they won’t be able to pay you for it.

I get roughly one of these every week. I was fooled once. Then for a while I would reply with my working rates, “if you want x, pay me y”, and I’d get a sob story about how tight things are financially in these “hard times” and bla bla bla, or I’d never hear back from them at all. Lately, I haven’t even bothered to reply, I just mark it as spam and go on with my day.

Earlier today I came across this post by Juan Luis Garcia who had been offered to design the posters for Spike Lee’s version of the South Korean classic revenge movie, Old Boy. Not only did this company refuse to pay for the design work, they even threatened legal action against the artist who they refused to pay. There is no sense in me typing out a recap of the story, you should go read the original source instead.

This story really struck a nerve with me because it coincided with a rush of these crap offers in my own inbox, and I am tired of dealing with this bullshit from these shit bag companies.

So let me make a clear warning here and now: If you send me messages requesting that I work for free, you are consenting to having that message, complete will full personally-identifying information published for the world to see.

I’m also going to be getting in touch with several of my artist and designer friends, and see about working together on compiling a list of shit bag companies and agencies who abuse creative professionals.

What’s that? “It will be good exposure for me”? Well right now I would like to expose my middle finger in your general direction.

Don’t Let Yourself Become Some Company’s Bitch

Google recently announced that it will be closing down 10 services that get little use. I don’t have a problem with that. Google is a company, they can do what they want. There are people, however, who rely on these services, and are about to have them swept out from under their feet. If you find yourself in that situation, or if you fear that something similar could happen to you one day, it is because you’ve allowed yourself to become some company’s bitch. Building your business on their platform is like building your house on someone else’s land: sure, it’s easier and cheaper, but you just never know when they will come by and force you to leave.

Control of social media seems to be concentrating into the hands of a small number of big players. Twitter, Facebook, Google plus one, etc.

I used to participate in a number of online message boards. But not so much any more. It’s not from a lack of interest on my part, but a lack of replies coming from everyone else as the number of active users dwindles.
Some message boards have closed down, while others have slowly faded away as the majority of users migrate towards facebook groups. I imagine convenience is a primary motivator here, as facebook represents a one-stop solution for email, texting, message-boarding, posting ideas, ranting, and sharing links. The old way involved navigating between multiple websites, each with a different layout or design to figure out and navigate. This does seem to take more mental energy. Facebook made it far easier to do all of these things, and do them all in one place.

I fear that people forget that with the increase in convenience comes a loss of control. When a page, or a group is created on one of these third party services, you are agreeing to play by their rules. They could shut down your group, or close ‘groups’ in general. The whole company could collapse, close, be sold off, and you’ve lost everything.

Continue reading Don’t Let Yourself Become Some Company’s Bitch

August Round-up

Well, it looks like another month has slipped by without any updates from me. It’s not because I have nothing to report; it’s actually quite the opposite. Lots of things have been going on, and I’ve been struggling to keep up with it all.

The biggest time-sink of the past month has been the Site 3 Silent Auction, which Brad and I organized. I have never taken the lead on a big event like this, I had no idea what I was doing, but the evening turned out to be a huge success. I learned a lot, and I do see areas where we could have done things better, but we had enough redundancy built into our system that even with a few mishaps, everything still ran smoothly. The reactions I’ve seen so far have been entirely positive.

And for anyone planning on organizing a similar event, I will give you this piece of advice: fire performers at a silent auction is definitely a great idea!
Yes, we really had fire performers! I missed nearly the entire show because I was sorting and packing up items, and sorting through paper work, (the performers were a distraction for the guests while we did the behind the scenes work) but our guests seemed thrilled upon re-entering the building.

Of course, part of the reason for organizing a silent auction for artists and makers is to create an opportunity to show off my work. That means that I have to make a bunch of new stuff that fits with the show. So, on top of all the organizational stuff, I had a lot of creative “gotta make something good, and I gotta make it in time” stuff on my plate as well.

When I wasn’t planning this auction and making my own art, I was travelling up north to the top-secret lair (also known as “Brad’s house”) working on the next new-media project to be released to the world this fall. This body of work is going to be kept more hush-hush than Take a Picture (a little mystery is a good thing) but we have been releasing a few hints along the way. We’ve recorded a bunch of videos about the project and it’s construction, I’ve just has no time to edit or post any of them.

Editing video takes a long time. “One hour of editing per minute of finished video” is the expression that is often heard about editing. I am also producing the background music for the video, and that eats up even more of my time. The point I’m trying to get at can be summed up as follows: I’ve got a lot of stuff on the go right now; you just haven’t heard about any of it because we are sitting on a big stockpile of media that has yet to be released.

But it will be.


Staying Critical and Selling Stories

I find that artists are often drawn towards some very bad ideas; ideas that might seem beautiful or inspiring on the surface, but upon closer inspection are just a load of B.S.
For this reason, I try to stay critical of the new ideas I come across until I see some sort of real-world evidence to back it up. Anyone can have an idea. Any idea can be true or false.
In casual conversation, and in the art circles, some ideas are very popular, or easy to write about, or lead to good-sounding grant applications; but I don’t see popularity as a good reason to hold on to an idea. Testing an idea against nature, and having that idea confirmed by evidence is the only method I know of which ensures that a idea is not wrong.

“Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled” -Richard Feynman

The new idea that I have been mulling over in my head lately is from Seth Godin, and his ideas on marketing. The man is very charismatic, very entertaining. He has a way of explaining things simply and directly, with a certain irreverence towards the traditional way of doing things (sort of like the attitude Kevin Smith has when he describes his interactions with people in the movie industry). It’s the story of the beloved outsider who comes in, challenges the good old boys, and changes everything. He makes it all sound so easy, once you accept that you are going to have to do the work yourself.

This, of course, has my warning flags raised.
“Anyone who is this easy to like has to be wrong”, says the alarm bells in my head.
Continue reading Staying Critical and Selling Stories

Perfect vs. Good Enough

After watching a series of recorded talks and presentations, I have become a fan of Seth Godin. Like his talks, his blog is an explosion of ideas, and each idea is worth spending some time with and giving some serious thought. They are the type of ideas that even if they all turn out to be wrong, a person is still better off for having thought about them. The ideas are fresh. One idea that is stressed more than once is the importance of abandoning the idea of perfection, and shipping a product that is good enough.

At first, this didn’t sit very well with me. “Good enough” is a phrase I use very often. I am by no means a perfectionist with every detail in my life. The only area where I do strive for perfection is my art, because the arts are one area where I strongly believe that “good enough” is never good enough. Only the very best that I am capable of producing is ever good enough. This must be an area where business advice does not apply to the art world.

But this might be too literal of an interpretation on my part.
Continue reading Perfect vs. Good Enough

Do You Sell Originals, or Reproductions?

In the last entry in the “Photographing Art” series, Don’t Bother With Image Protection, I covered some reasons why I think that allowing images of art work to be freely shared isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some people want to photograph art, or download images of art, and for artists dealing with one-of-a-kind images, like painters, the benefits of this infringement can outweigh the risks.

The last entry was rather one-sided, however. Freely allowing copies isn’t going to be beneficial in all situations. If you are in the selling reproductions business, file sharing has the potential to eat away at sales. I can sympathize with this. I have made money licensing images for prints myself. As a struggling artist, I know that every source of income, no matter how small it might seem, is very significant.

How many image makers are in the business of selling reproductions? Photographers certainly are, but I believe that it is important for artists to decide on the main focus of their practice: are they about selling originals, or selling reproductions.
If you are in the business of selling reproductions, this series is probably not for you. If you are more interested in selling originals, please come with me as I take you through the weird world of infinite goods.
Continue reading Do You Sell Originals, or Reproductions?

Professional Photography: Accident of History?

Lately, I’ve been hearing a growing number of complaints from professional photographers about the introduction of pro-sumer grade digital SLR cameras. Pro-sumer is that fuzzy patch between consumer-grade toy and professional-grade tool. These days, professional level photography tools are accessible to a non-professional audience. I don’t have to take out a loan to purchase professional-level equipment these days. I don’t have to spend years learning all the technical processes involved in making my expensive tools work. It’s all within my reach.

When accessible high-quality tools meet up with the awesome power of online aggregates and search, the micro-stock photo industry almost seems inevitable. This also means that the idea of professional photography as a profitable career is put into jeopardy. There may no longer be a need for as many photographers as there once were.

Here is one idea that although not a pleasant one, is one that I believe must be considered: maybe photography as a profession is just an accident of history. The window between photography being possible and photography being easy allowed the profession to exist, and that window is now coming to a close.
Continue reading Professional Photography: Accident of History?

Don’t Bother with Image Protection

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about reproductions of art, and why art can’t be photographed in many museums and galleries.
In part 1, I covered my teenage conspiracy theories about the prohibition of photography, while in part 2, I talked about learning the real reasons during my time in University. Then I switched gears for a bit and talked about image protection, listing some examples of bad ideas and good ideas.

In this entry, I will talk about the issue from a different angle. I will be asking something that should have been considered long before any time is spent on content protection schemes. That question is “Do painters even need to worry about infringement?”

I know, it sounds crazy. You might be thinking, “Kyle, I know you embrace the open source movement, free culture, the creative commons and all that, but this is our livelihood you’re talking about. Give it away! Are you mad?”
As artists, we own the rights to images we make; surely we must protect them, right?
Absolutely, we should protect our work, but I don’t believe that a blanket “All Rights Reserved!” model is necessarily the best approach for a painter to take.
Continue reading Don’t Bother with Image Protection

Why Reproductions Are Good for Art

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about why art can’t be photographed.
In this entry, I will ignore the issue of copyright, and taking pictures of art directly. Instead, I will talk about the reproduction of art in general. I will explain why I do not think that the reproduction of artworks is a bad thing. In fact, I will be arguing why I think that reproducing art is actually a very good thing.

Before I go forward with this argument, I would like to go back. Way back.
In the 1935 essay “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin wrote about the mechanical reproduction of art, and the damaging effect this had on tradition and value. Reproduction was seen as a threat to the authenticity of a piece of art. He made use of the word “aura” to describe this value.
Continue reading Why Reproductions Are Good for Art

Good Ideas for Protecting Your Images

After my last entry, Bad Ideas for Protecting Your Images, you might be thinking that I am against the idea of artists protecting their work. Absolutely not. I am only against bad ideas that either won’t work, are likely cost far more than they are worth, or will irritate your audience and potentially drive potential collectors away. Most of the methods I criticized earlier have some sort of negative impact on the audience. They take away from a viewer’s ability to enjoy the work while giving them nothing extra in return. The image protection methods that I would encourage make life easier for viewers.

Best of all, my recommendations are fairly cheap, quick and practical.
Continue reading Good Ideas for Protecting Your Images