What if friends want free work?

A former student of mine wrote:

I am having an issue with people thinking just because they know me I should paint portraits of their kids and do graphic design work for them for nothing—or next to it. I have gotten five demands this week (worse yet, 3 of those were rather rude).

I politely sent back a note explaining that I freelance—accompanying a cost sheet for the work, hours involved in the job requested. And a link to my site, also thanking them for being interested. This has not won me upbeat feedback. Or just sheer astonishment that I would ask $300.00 down to begin a medium-sized oil portrait.

What are some suggestions you may have so that I could further appear more professional? I wish I had limitless time and a money tree in the back yard to just make work and give it away to people who love what I do. Unfortunately this is not the case. Any advice would be appreciated.

I wrote back:

Sounds like you’re doing it the right way—professional-looking estimates remind people that you’re in business and can’t afford to give away free samples. I doubt your friends would consider giving up a paycheck for whatever work they do. Moreover, it’s fatal to cultivate the perception that your work isn’t worth anything.

I’ve done the occasional freebie for friends who’ve been kind to me and I wanted to reciprocate—but that’s my decision. Because I’m established, these friends understand and appreciate what they’re being given (if you’re one of those friends reading this right now, I want to underscore that I enjoyed sharing my talent with you). It’s harder for a young artist starting out.

Stick to your guns. The friends who are astonished that you charge for your skills or are outright rude will either come around to respect your talent or they’ll drift away.

3 responses to “What if friends want free work?

  1. Well said, John! Art is an investment, both for us and our collectors, and only truly appreciated when properly paid for. In an abstract sense, payment for work of art is akin to the collector participating in the process of creation, a considerable reward in itself. Your student’s story reminds me of an old cliché: When you give something for free, the recipient will invariably ask, ‘And do you deliver?’

  2. I think you should explain them how long it takes to make a portray (!) and that it’s not exactly easy peasy lemon squeezy, that you need to invest a lot of time and effort into doing it, and be really diplomatic when you talk to them. Maybe they have the wrong idea about what you do, and maybe they’ll understand, if they manage to relate with what you do and understand your effort. If not, don’t worry, the world is only full of difficult people…
    (Or you could actually paint portrays of their ugly mugs, real’ quick… like this: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_zqFoq3qej2c/SoBzqta9y8I/AAAAAAABCTY/xZL4MiZSTWk/s400/hermann_nitsch_splatter4.jpg)

  3. Lampoon them within an inch of their lives.

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