Saturday, January 28, 2012

I can't pay you now, BUT...

About once a month I get the exact same message from a different naive creative type. Each and every one of them has this AMAZING story idea. It's going to be better than Lord of the Rings and Star Wars combined and change the way society thinks about storytelling. They're thinking graphic novel. A logical place to start. They just need an artist. They saw your work and you're exactly what they're looking for. And then the inevitable:

I can't afford to pay you now, BUT! You'll get 50% of the profits! 

Wow! All they need is for you to draw the entire thing, spend months of your life working tirelessly to create a massive body of work for zero pay with the empty promise that the project will be profitable enough for you to recoup the money lost drawing the damn thing?! Where can I sign!?

I have a large enough collection of these emails that I figured it was time for me to put my foot down. 

First, to the artists:
You wouldn't ask a mechanic to build you a truck for free with the promise that he'll get a percentage of all the money you make on deliveries.
You wouldn't ask a janitor to clean your office building for free with the promise that he'll get a percentage of all the business done in the building. 
Artists, you are professionals and deserve to be paid. If you're going to work on something for free, it will be your OWN passion project (hell, I'm working on mine). Promises of future profits are not going to feed you, clothe you, or fund your own project. If you get a request like this simply thank them for their interest, and decline.

Second, to the people who send these requests:
If you are truly passionate about this project, and believe in your heart of hearts that it will be as big as you say it will, GO FIND INVESTORS. Find people with money who believe in your project too. Take their money and give it to the artist of your dreams and watch the beautiful artwork pour in. Are investors not interested in your project? Maybe it's not as good as you thought it was. OR, maybe it's time to get a second job and start saving up enough money to keep an artist on commission?

In the end, there are thousands of creative people out there with incredible ideas. We all just need to respect each other enough to value hard work.


  1. Same here. It seems a month doesn't go by were I don't get someone talking about wanting to do a children's book with me, and most of the time they actually do have a good idea, but like clockwork, two weeks later when you finally finish playing telephone tag, and you bring up things like publishing, number of pages or actual pay, thats when they chicken out.

  2. A good heads up, if I ever get to that point where people actually want my art, I will keep this in mind. I guess really I only ever do favours and promises when it comes from my friends.

  3. Great stuff! I see those kind of emails a few times too. Its a big shame that a lot of starting artists fall for the con

  4. Hahah!

    I've seen a *ton* of those very emails on craigslist too!

    I find Harlan Ellison says it best in his "PAY THE WRITER" rant:

    Gads, do I know, though. I get that same thing with's a rampant practice in the indie film scene (been on both sides of this, sadly). I learned this lesson the *hard* way. Steven Pressfield's "War of Art" got me through all that. "Be professional! Professionals DON'T WORK FOR FREE!"

  5. To be fair, I do think it's probably pretty hard to find investors without having compelling visuals to begin with, so it's a bit of a catch-22. That being said, those people probably aren't going to get anywhere by randomly pinging awesome artists on the internet. :)

  6. You still get those? Hide your email. ;)

    I never get those. :)

  7. Aren't contracts supposed to protect you from such guys? Where I live, those people would still get in trouble for such doings !

  8. But it's good for our portfolio's, Matt! :)

  9. Thats funny. I really like your art Matt and all that stuff is true. I have incredible ideas myself, same as you mentioned in the first paragraph but I figured out, that I should'nt bother artists like you. Instead, I learn to draw, paint and design my own Ideas which is even more harder but if successful, it might become a good start in the industry.
    And if I would be able to draw at the same level as you, I would do such "commission" but I'd rather demand 75% off the profits than 50% :) oh no, maybe 90% or 95%.


  10. I have gotten a number of such emails and participated in a few projects for the experience that it provides a beginner.
    Now that I have more experience...I still can't find a paying gig!
    Well that's my situation.
    I no longer take non-paying gigs.
    Why would a professional like Matt?!

  11. Hi Matt. this is off topic but I wanted to let you know what your Into the Pixel print is up on ebay now. I missed the chance to bid on my own painting in 2010. I really wanted it to hang in my parents house.

  12. ...and I thought this only occurs in my uncivilized country. fail.

  13. I have a great, world changing book (not just an idea) which I have been working on for ten years. I have two blogs and an art gallery for the project. Of course, it's hard to find investors in your work (those are called publishers) but I am working on it. And, I CAN pay you 50% down. So what is your price?

  14. Hey,
    Sounds like you should send them my way!

    I'd love to chat with them...

  15. Hey Matt, my name is Basta. I've been following you on DeviantArt for a long time now, and I was wondering if you are open for a commission? I'm not worried about money, and I'm very impressed with your work. If you could Email me at, I'd love to work out a deal with you.

  16. I just have to thank you for sharing your artwork. Those Twisted Disney work inspired me to write. Mind you, it is just writing for an rpg session at my house. I did post it down on if you are interested.

    I have been always meaning to write something. I am always saying that I should meet some quota of words, but never get around to it. Thanks to your art I have wrote a few pages, and I am going to see about improving my grammar.

    Some people called writing an art, and I don’t know how true that is, but you, an artists, have inspire me to choose my words and create worlds.

  17. Only money talks....bullshit walks! Just keep a cut an paste answer ready at all times for these wasters.
    Good answer Matt.
    I have never met a Brain Surgeon that would do your surgery for a cut of your earnings after that for saving your life.

  18. I agree wholeheartedly, but what if you don't know how or where to get investors from. What if you are working on a videogame project? How exactly do you pitch that to an investor? I ask, because that is the situation I find myself in, and I'm taking suggestions where ever I can get them.

  19. Now i know what is the real behind it. Great stuff!

  20. I also get such 'opportunities' on regular basis. I myself would be ashamed if I start begging someone to work for me for free. I just cut and paste the same answer every time, sometimes don't even bother.

  21. And, I hear you Brother! Loud and clear - I hear you!


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