Pay The Artist. / by Jaz Malone

In case you didn't know, most artists have bills to pay. Besides rent, internet, groceries, gas, water, and electric, there are also supply purchases and student loan payments. In short, artists have to pay as much as anyone else in order to keep living.

I make sure to discuss payment before starting any work. It's not the first thing I mention, but it's a necessary part of the conversation. Sometimes, that discussion is met with confusion, irritation, or anger. Here are some excuses for this strange behavior:


1. The Myth of The "Starving Artist" As A Glamorous Condition  

Not being able to afford food isn't fun, and it certainly isn't glamorous, but many people have a romanticized view of The Artist. In their minds, The Artist lives in an expensive, high ceiling loft in SoHo with french doors that open onto a large balcony. The Artist breathes in the fresh air every morning whilst holding a cup of organic Peruvian coffee through the sleeves of an imported fair trade Ukrainian tunic, and the inspiration of the city charges them with all the energy needed to paint piles and piles of gorgeous canvas work without even trying. They don't get paid to create. They do it only because they love it.

Yea, OK. No.

Well, the coffee part is right. We tend to need lots of caffeine. But the rest of it? Nah. Most artists create their own work half of the time, and the other half is spent at a day job. The day job might be art-related, but it'll be for someone else, and since it's a job, they're getting paid for it. 

That loft, probably not in SoHo, is shared with several roommates. Even in Philly, where rent is much lower than in New York (low enough to live alone if need be), the struggle to keep afloat is serious business. Art is hard work - and clearly, because you're asking someone to do it, you don't have the skills to do it yourself. I don't need your romantic idealizing. I need something I can use. Please and thank you.


2. Bartering Is For The Birds

This is a weird one. Personally, I love to barter. You need animation? I need soundtrack design? Let's trade! It usually works out just fine, but some people seem a little put off by it. Perhaps it's because they don't want to have to "owe" anyone anything...but that's what they signed up for, so...

Luckily, I haven't run into many people who both don't want to pay a full fee and also don't see bartering as a viable option. When I have, I side-shuffled away.


3. Familial/Amiable Bonds

I get it. As an 8 year old, I drew a cute picture for you and didn't ask for anything in return. It's super cute that there are adults in the world who still draw instead of getting a "real job," so if one of them is related to you, you shouldn't have to pay for it, right?

Wrong.

Let's iterate: artists have bills to pay. Just because I decided to pursue a different career path than you did, doesn't mean I shouldn't get paid for being able to paint an 8.5" x 11" portrait of your buddy's veterinarian's sister's dog for his 5th birthday. The work, not to mention expenses, I put into my craft are high, which is why you're asking me to paint that picture in the first place. If you can make salary for sitting around in an office for the first 5 hours of the day, making spreadsheets for the next hour, and then scrolling through Facebook until you get to go home, then you can pay me a fee for my work.

Now if I offer to do a job for free, then that's different. But don't assume that because I know you personally, I'm not going to want some form of payment. Again, bartering is great! Just don't offer me a big fat nothing.


4. Personal Woes

I'm more lenient on this one. If you're about to have a kid, or you're having serious money troubles, we can probably work something out. It will most likely mean that you will receive less work from me than in different circumstances, or we set up a contract wherein you pay me in installments, but I understand that sometimes, people legitimately need work done, but legitimately don't have all the funds for it.

This is where bartering comes in handy! People have all kinds of skills, and networking through the bartering of said skills can build a great reputation.

However, please don't call me at the very end of the project, after having agreed to all the details, and give me a sob story about how your grandmother's pet snake just gave birth to 10 little baby snakes that all need food and water and you simply can't spare the cash. First of all, snakes lay eggs, so I'll know you're lying. Secondly, and here's the most important part: you already agreed to the fee. There's even a contract saying as much. I've gotten my first deposit, and a possible second if we're working off of a 3-segment payment plan, but don't lie and try to skip out on the full fee because you don't feel the artists you employ don't really deserve it. It's not only rude, it's unprofessional. A client once told me he could just Google how to animate in After Effects, and do a 4-day job himself in a day, instead of paying me what he thought was an exorbitant (but actually super low) fee for my help. Good luck to him.


Basically, unless I tell you we're good, assume you need to give something in return for my hard work. I didn't hurl myself into the cold embrace of lifelong student loan debt just so I could doodle on notebooks for funsies. I'd doodle for funsies regardless. If you're doing business with me, then you'd better mean business.

My life guru, Malcolm Reynolds, put it best: