Art Business

What to Do When You’re Asked for Free Art

September 15, 2021

I'm JULIET!

I'm a full-time artist and online educator. You can find my watercolor designs on products all around the globe. This blog is where I share all of my latest art business tips for you!

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If you’re an artist, you’ve probably been asked for free or discounted art at some point. Whether it was from a friend or family member, a business, or even another artist – it’s likely you’ve heard it one way or another.

But what are you supposed to say when someone wants you to work for free or wants a free painting? Should every request be treated the same? When is it okay to give away your art? Let’s discuss! Read on my friend, because what you do is valuable and should be treated as such.

If a Very Close Friend or Family Member Asks

Let’s start with the most difficult scenario. In my opinion, it’s hardest to turn down a friend or family member when it comes to these requests.

Maybe they want an invitation designed for their event, a painting for their living room, or even a logo for their business. What in the world do you say to them when they want this free or ask for a special rate?!

I want to mention that I have given away art as gifts, and even offered my free/discounted services for custom graphic design work in my early days. You do need to look at these situations on a case-by-case basis, but in general, even for those close to you I do not recommend giving your hard work away.

What I like to do instead is make sure they know what the regular full price is – like on an invoice. And I will offer a discount, say 10-20%, and that is clearly reflected on the invoice as well.

No matter how much of a discount you offer, you don’t want to be losing money on this transaction. So make sure your actual costs of materials are covered, and don’t forget your time involved and overhead costs (a portion of your studio rent + utilities factored in for example) as well.

Of course, you can still choose to offer your project or product for free! Maybe it’s an extreme situation when they are in need or you want to offer a donation to their cause.

Whatever you end up deciding to give, just remember that it is your choice what you choose to offer, not theirs.

If an Acquaintance Asks

I usually won’t offer a discount in this case, or if so a very small one, which I make sure is reflected on the invoice or receipt in a clear way – so they know the deal they are getting!

You can also choose to offer a little something extra instead of a monetary discount, like small free gift with their purchase for example. A hand written thank you note goes a long way to show your appreciation as well! This can apply to close friends and family members, too.

If a Business or Influencer Asks

I’m sure you’ve gotten those emails or Instagram messages when another business asks you to create art for their promotions, wants you to do a sponsored post for free, or wants free product.

No, thank you!

Every transaction should be mutually beneficial. And in pretty much all cases, that should mean you are getting paid money for what you offer. If they ask you to work for only exposure to their audience, that is NOT enough. And besides, even companies with a ‘large’ following may not mean you get anything out of it at all. Unless the result you are going for is contractually guaranteed, say no!

If a business is profiting off of or benefitting from your art in some way, you should be as well. Period.

And even if you are getting paid, make sure you are getting paid enough.

If a Fellow Artist Asks

Usually without meaning any harm, a fellow artist may ask to trade with you. But you may not be interested in their artwork, or you may simply not be open to trades. And that’s okay! You can offer a little gift, a nice note, or a small artist discount if you like. Or you can politely let them know that you are not able to offer discounts or trades.

Remember…

In general, what I hope that you understand from this post is that whatever you decide to do is YOUR choice.

You don’t have to offer anything discounted or free at all, ever. We are trying to make a living ourselves, after all!

You’re also allowed to break your own rules if you want to. The beauty of running our own businesses is that we have that freedom of choice.

Remember that what you do is valuable to others, yourself, your community, and yes, even the world. Keep going!

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  1. Kiki says:

    Very well written and portrayed!
    I remember – unfortunately – “claims” for free works of art from me that were transmitted via third parties. The gimmick of the matter, the demands came from people who were of the opinion that art is “breadless” … So -.

    Thanks for sharing and posting your opinion.

  2. Linda says:

    I’ve been fortunate where most of the time, when someone would ask for a freebie, it has been something I don’t generally do anyway. You could say you don’t do pro bono work, or you would be too busy (at that time) to take on any more work. Another thing you can say is that if you take in free or discounted work, you might have to turn down a good paying gig that comes in; it’s a business after all. If someone uses the exposure ploy, I politely end that conversation. Quickly.

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