Recently I had been asked to execute some work on spec. I was taken aback, initially, as it is not something I have done since the late 80’s. I can understand the desire for a young artist or designer to get their work in front of a potential client in the hope that it will be deemed “acceptable” by someone seemingly professional. These bottom-feeders thrive on the hopes and dreams of the young and inexperienced or those slogging through a slow patch. They know how to dangle that carrot of “Good paying assignment to follow” or “This is a foot in the door” and “This will build your portfolio”.
“Good paying assignments” do not follow. If they actually had any capital to follow up with a good paying job then they would have money to pay you for the first assignment, even if it’s a nominal compensation to cover your costs.
The line about getting your foot in the door is a misnomer. This is where they provide (correctly) an avenue into their company. What follows are additional, no-to-low-paying jobs to further “prove” your talent or commitment to whatever facet of the creative world you are pursuing. Why waste your time with this when there are other legitimate companies willing to pay a starting but fair rate for work done?
There is a difference between “Building your portfolio” and being taken advantage of. A creative artist or designer (even one right out of school) is more than capable of building their portfolio without the oversight and “art direction” of a cheap and opportunistic potential client. Do you really want to have a portfolio loaded with pieces you had no say over and quite possibly resent having done?
Any other professional would be insulted to be asked to do a job for free, and then – AND ONLY THEN – if you like it will you consider paying for it. Give it a try. The next time you need work done on your car or a filling for your tooth let the mechanic or dentist know that you’re expecting them to do it for free this time. Tell them that IF they do a job you feel is acceptable then the next time you’re in for something you’ll pay them for it.
These predatory companies that offer “Art Tests” “Logo Contests” and “We’re too cheap to pay for anything other than our internet connection” know we love what we do. If we didn’t, we never would have become artists, musicians or poets. We don’t get into this because we plan on making a million dollars (although, honestly, that would free up some time for easel painting) We got into this because we love the act of creating, whether it be a book cover, a piece of music or a character for a video game. The thing is, we’d be doing these things for ourselves anyway and these companies know it and take advantage of it.
I know how tempting it is. I’ve fallen for it and don’t know an artist who hasn’t. I realize that we need to learn by our mistakes and this is an expensive one (in talent, time and emotion) we must all inevitably make.
These “Art Tests” are the detritus of small minds employed at small companies, lacking any degree of professionalism, vision or ethics. All you can do is decline these “opportunities” in no uncertain terms. But be professional about it, in the off chance they’ll learn something from you.
But I’m guessing they won’t.