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thoughts on spec work

Just thinking about speculative work and what opinion people have about doing it.

I'm not just talking about clients posting on places like DevArt anonymously asking for "samples" or setting up "competitions" but also having a client look at your art, dither about hiring you and then offering you the chance to compete with other artists by submitting work for a project and they'll pay the person whose work they like but not the other artists. Has anyone ever done such a thing in a rewarding way? Am I correct in my first reaction, which is to politely inform the person that I do not do speculative work? In most advice I've read for artists in the past, they warn again doing speculative work as many people use that as a way to get free art. And most of the advice I see around here is based on the concept of "some form of payment up front before any work is done."


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( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 7th, 2010 11:03 am (UTC)

Watermarking isn't foolproof some companies will just take the work and get some cheap schmuck to copy it/the concepts.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 7th, 2010 11:55 am (UTC)

Even then, watermarks can be editted out.
Jan. 7th, 2010 07:58 am (UTC)
I avoid both that and contest posts. They're generally just ways to get lots of art for very cheap by only rewarding one or two people, and the characters/concept aren't usually interesting. And the prizes usually suck...

If it's something you'd have FUN doing, that's one thing, but not just for the possible opportunity of being paid probably a fairly low sum.
Jan. 7th, 2010 08:01 am (UTC)
Yeah I'd have to agree with this and with Goosestep on the watermarking.
Jan. 7th, 2010 08:03 am (UTC)
Nothing like 'I want lots of art of my character! First prize is five dollars through paypal, maybe a few more if it's REALLY AMAZING...' as if they're being so generous.

There's a reason that you don't usually find good artists submitting to contests. If you do, they're usually either a friend of the contest holder or the prizes are really good. Like I've seen a few contests offering a new shiny tablet as a prize, that's not so bad. Though I still don't enter them.
(no subject) - bladespark - Jan. 7th, 2010 08:12 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dripbat - Jan. 7th, 2010 08:13 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 7th, 2010 08:19 am (UTC)
In most competitions, the only winner is the person who organized it who gets a lot of art in exchange for a single prize. Far be it from me to stop people from having or entering these competitions, but to invite people to these competitions is too much :/

If you want to get paid for your work, do not enter.
(Screened comment)
Jan. 10th, 2010 09:02 am (UTC)
You have been banned for ignoring warnings and continuing on your little tirade. You don't like Thaily. We get it. It's still not appropriate to let that loose here if you can't disagree like an adult.
Jan. 7th, 2010 09:20 am (UTC)
I think it's fine BUT only if all parties have agreed to it BEFORE any work is done. They also shouldn't just only pay one person for what is basically the same amount of work, but rather hold some sort of sampling contest in which they all just draw whatever, and THEN the best artist gets hired to do the actual commission. My friend got ripped off when she was offered a commission and they refused to pay because they had "found another artist" and he was just "sampling" people: http://community.livejournal.com/artists_beware/278794.html
Jan. 7th, 2010 09:27 am (UTC)
I have to say when I was in school, one of the things they did was direct us to this site for contract work. A lot of the jobs posted were like this; you do the work and submit it, they pick the one they like best, that person gets paid and everyone else gets to go screw.

Well.. all I can say is, if you don't mind putting in the time (and not getting paid) it's a good way to practice client-driven work. Mostly what I was doing it for was logos and web design, which I needed to do for my classes anyhow, so it didn't bother me much at that time.

If it's a real client, and you can produce something nice that you can use as a portfolio piece, it may still be worth doing.. so long as you have the time to spare. However for DA people who just want cheap/free art, I would really pick and choose, and only do it if I really was inspired by their character or something.

Just my $.02
Jan. 7th, 2010 10:43 am (UTC)
Avoid it like the plague. In fact, when I was in school the profs made a point to tell us "avoid it like the plague". lol

They also mentioned the contests. Contests are nothing but a scam so the organizer (whether it be an individual, magazine, company, whatever) can get plenty of free artwork to pick and choose from. In most of those contests there is fine print in the rules which states that all artwork submitted to the contest automatically belongs to them and they can therefore use it however they want even if they don't select you as the winner.

You are absolutely correct to respond to the speculative client by politely saying thanks for the inquiry but I don't do spec work. Your portfolio should speak for itself.
Jan. 7th, 2010 11:09 am (UTC)

On spec work I'd advise people to avoid like the plague.

People don't ring up six plumbers and tell them the one to fix their toilets best will get paid, is your time any less valueable than a plumbers?

As for contests, I suggest only entering if the prize is worth it to you. Some sites like dA have a bad habit of getting contests in that might have nice prizes but are really just a way for a band/company to get to pick and choose art out and pay very little for using it commercially. That's why I advise people not to enter dA's contests, the minute it says "it's going to be on the albumn covers/promotional art" hiring an artist to produce a piece for commercial user and buying the rights would cost them a lot more than whatever the prize is.

dA has also done this to it's userbase, held a contest for promotional art (that would have cost them a small forture if they'd hired someone) and given a prize that was pitiful by comparison (though hilariously the winner was traced). Companies need to pay for their promotional art, otherwise they're basically cheating you, any company that announces a contest/on spec assignment is basically saying that they don't value artists and are willing to rip them off.
Jan. 7th, 2010 01:29 pm (UTC)
The only time I ever did this was high school computers in art class.

If the project was mandatory to begin with, the chance to win some kind of prize was good.

Otherwise, it's a waste of time and effort...
Jan. 7th, 2010 02:11 pm (UTC)
What you do is up to you! But I'll never do spec work. For 'pro' jobs (I use this term lightly and mean it only in the sense that I'm talking about published work) it can involve artists first signing a document to disclose rights and then 'competing'... and in the end I have seen it happen where no artist 'wins' but because the right to use the work has been signed over already, the company (or individual) has a bunch of free art to use at no loss. Sadly it is usually emerging artists that tend to bite on these sort of hooks, for a desperate need to get exposure and work within a desirable genre. Especially now that the job market is tough. :( But they are only harming themselves and possibly other artists in the running.

There is, of course, spec work that does offer the 'winning' artist compensation of some sort, but this still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Unless you are doing it for fun and really don't care what happens to the image that you create.. well the choice is yours.
Jan. 7th, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
I guess if the rewards are that great...

But, from my own personal experience, I fell into this hole back when I was just getting started. Its an unprofessional way to run something, so I would expect unprofessionalism all along the way.
Jan. 7th, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
I think it partially depends on the cost-benefit analysis, but also largely on just who's asking. If Joe Schmoe on DA asks me, I'll probably decline. If a company like Google says jump for a job in our art department, I'll probably say how high. Some legitimate companies ask for spec work as part of their hiring process (kinda sucks, but them's the breaks). In general, if you trust that it's not a scam, and want the prize (or job, etc.) bad enough, it's not an illegitimate way for some things to run...of course, it's perfectly acceptable to politely decline too, imo.
Jan. 7th, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC)
I had the exact same thing happen to me this year. I went in for a job interview where they wanted someone to design a character and do some sample animations for their website. When I gave them a quote, they said 'the other artists' were doing it for free 'as a try-out' for the job. I figured it was a way for them to get free character designs, pick and choose which they liked, and then hire anyone they pleased to do the production work. Naturally I never contacted him again. I have plenty of my own ideas i can do if I wanted to work for free.
Jan. 7th, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC)
The only time I've done it was when my parents "insisted" I submit art to a couple of local contests -- one for a local city carnival, and the other for a local elementary school.

I found the process insulting on several levels, not the least of which is that they obviously wanted artwork that looked like a kid did it (read: crappy on purpose) for both contests, but were not up front about this at all.

The actual compensation was worthless compared to being able to include it in my portfolio, so that part didn't bother me, but even for situations like that, there was no upside.

Avoid spec work like the plague.
Jan. 7th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
Avoid avoid avoid! In my college courses we were warned about these sort of things.

On a related topic, this is how Suicide Girls works. A large number of girls submit free shots of themselves and only the lucky few with the most hits get paid. In the end, the site gets dozens of free photos and only has to reward the popular ones. I was warned against this, as well.
Jan. 7th, 2010 06:22 pm (UTC)
Oh that's not cool about SG, boo to them!
Jan. 7th, 2010 09:34 pm (UTC)
From what I'm aware, SG also pays horribly for the photosets that they do take. About half what other sites might pay.

There's also been a lot of drama surrounding their management in recent years.
Jan. 7th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks everyone for their helpful comments!
Jan. 7th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
I did spec art once, and I can't complain about the experience.

The company asked for a single digital or pencil sketch on a theme, which took me all of about 10 minutes. The project would have been for an on-site painting / mural, involving multiple artists. I ended up unable to take the project for different reasons, but my interaction with the company was fine, and when I saw their finished project, I didn't feel that my concept / sketch had been copied in any way.

That said, it would feel that it's very situation specific, and in general, you should avoid it. You should especially never do spec work when your submission grants them the right to use the concept or image without compensation.
Jan. 7th, 2010 07:25 pm (UTC)
I am anti-spec.

As a beginner artist I can see how spec work may seem like a chance to win an award or get recognition, but once you turn pro, it's just free work.

There is not a single business anywhere that would do work for free... a house painter wouldn't paint a test-wall for you to see how you like it.... so why should a creativer person spend their time and resources on something for FREE when they could be doing paid work for someone else?
Jan. 7th, 2010 07:36 pm (UTC)
It's dependent for me honestly. The last time I did it was for another lj user on WoW_Fanart who wanted a picture of her character's tattoo. I had time between classes one day so I made her one and submitted it. It turned out that I was the only one who entered and even though it wasn't what she had envisioned (she was very vague about what she had wanted) she still gave me a year of paid LJ.
But, it was something I did in my free time, it was just in blue pencil, no inks or digital work or anything major and I normally don't sell my chicken scratch.

I do have to agree with the others that there is a scamming culture to get free art by holding "contests". It's up to you to decided what is worth your time and effort. Sometimes they can be legit for exposure but not in all circumstances.
Jan. 7th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)
One thing that has confused me in the comments is the use of spec work in the hiring process.
On one hand, when I'm looking to work at a clinic (I'm a vmt) they usually do a working interview where I come in one or two nights and work with their staff to see if I like how things are run and get along with people. It gives both of us time to evaluate each other and I gladly do it even though I am giving them my skills for free. I personally think it's more professional for clinic to do this.

For the art world, my first thoughts were "I thought this was what your portfolio was for" but on the other hand I think spec work can work like my working interviews because it allows the employers to see how you handle a work load, creative idea and generally how you think and operate. A portfolio doesn't always do this since it either shows WIP leading to a finished piece or finished pieces only. Much like my resume says that I do good work but doesn't show you my bedside manner or ability to handle pressure.
Jan. 7th, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC)
Never do it, LoL. I can't really think of situations where it would be necessary. The only time you should do that is if a company you like is having a contest and if you DO win, you'll KNOW you'll be compensated.
Jan. 10th, 2010 07:41 am (UTC)
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )


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