Going Pro: free dinosaur art?


The ART Evolved blog I loosely administrate for (the heavy work being done by Craig Dylke, Peter Bond and Mo Hassan) has been doing extremely well the past year, with more and more talented people contributing not just to the themed galleries, but also to some fascinating posts.

It's what we wanted for the site: artists and researchers and dino fans enjoying the art and thoughts about creating it.  Spin off blog posts (like this one) are becoming more common as people choose long-form comments on their own site about happenings at the ART Evolved hub.

Recently, a student researcher approached ART Evolved with ideas for a contest for artwork through the site's loose network of members and contributors, the prize being that the unpaid work would appear in a presentation in front of some paleontology luminaries. Already our decision to post something about the contest for contributors has met some justified criticism.

I commented the following on ART Evolved, but thought I would post it again here for my slightly different readership.

All excellent comments Jack, and with the AE admin crew, we discussed these very issues before we decided to go ahead and publish the contest information anyways. 
There can some times be benefits to working for free for artists starting out. There I said it. I don't like it but its true. My first professional gig for an online client was high-profile and a poor student and I did the work for free and it led to more work. I still don't make enough to pay all my bills though even though I now generally charge Guild prices. That's reality: scientists do not usually have a lot of funds, and even funds earmarked for promotion of the research seldom go into artwork - something I hope high-profile sites like Art Evolved and Symbiartic will help.
Muddy Colors has excellent comments on this here and here. You may also wish to consult the Should I Work For Free infographic. No I'm not kidding, it's smarter than its sarcasm looks. 
This is not to say that it is right to do free work in this instance for Mr. Persons. And here is where I should emphasize that though I'm on the ART Evolved admin team, these are my own opinions and I likely don't speak for everyone. 
I don't want to lose people in research like Scott Persons as an ally. Science-artists of all kinds -scientific illustrators, animators, fine artists, cartoonists, graphic designers, infographic artists, amateurs- need scientists to be engaged with our work. We also have a duty to educate people who may hire us on best practices. Often when approached by a client, I give them a full break-down of my process, and typical fees and whether I am deviating up or down from anything typical. I keep them in the loop throughout the process with sketches and so on. 
When Craig first let the other admins (Peter, Mo and myself) know about Scott's request, I was bluntly, unhappy with it. The last thing in the world I want ART Evolved to become is a clearinghouse for free art for the science community. I want our talented members to get paid. 
But I didn't want to alienate a request like Scott's, though it was naive (understandably so if he has not worked with illustrators before - this is not a slight against Scott). 
Ultimately, each artist affiliated with or who reads this site can make up their own mind on whether they should do this type of work for free. I hope each of them thinks it through, and decides whether its right for them.And I hope through comments like yours Jack, Scott and other researchers learn useful information for future projects.
What do artists think? What do researchers using art think?

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

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