Making cartoons or illustrations for free can be a tricky subject. It involves an ongoing discussion which raises points such as:
- are artists “businesslike” enough to ask professional compensation for their work?
- how fair is it for viable companies to ask an illustrator to contribute work in exchange for “exposure”?
- are artists who work for less than they deserve undermining the market?
- are artists valued at all in monetary terms?
I’m not going into these points here; I just want to show a little of my considerations in doing work for free, and what I recently got out of it.
A while back, a medicine student sent me a mail, humbly asking for cartoons for an informational flyer to be distributed in Namibia amongst women with a heart condition who are pregnant or planning to be. She apologised for the fact that they only had a small budget – and I answered that for a cause like this, I’ll gladly draw for free.
I am in the lucky position that I don’t need that much money. This is mainly because I have a very low rent and no kids – a few paid assignments a year, next to my ongoing comics, are more than enough to live off. This gives me the freedom to say no to paid jobs that don’t appeal to me, and yes to others that pay nothing but are for good cause. Such as this one.
I went into this like I do with any assignment, paid or not: there are preliminary sketches, tweaking, adjusting, last-minute changes as a team of people gives feedback on the results. Luckily, I can work rather quick, and I find it very gratifying to know that I’m delivering something that everyone involved is happy with (within bounds, of course, sometimes the team of people is too big and people come with ridiculous demands, just to make their mark among their coworkers I figure, but this happens very seldom and never in free work. If this happens, I simply let them know more adjustments are going to cost extra.)
The medicine student sent me mails from Namibia to tell me of the enthusiastic reaction she encountered from doctors, nurses and patients alike, and this in itself is enough reward for me. In these cases, I feel that something like a simple cartoon can actually make a big difference. It makes information more accessible, especially in areas where not everyone is literate. A non-illustrated flyer might completely miss the mark, whereas appealing pictures are an invitation to reading.
This was months ago, and today I was pleasantly surprised when this student and her team (back in The Netherlands again and busy finishing their studies) sent me a lovely Thank You card, by snail mail no less, including these pictures:
I absolutely love this! It is worth far more to me than a few numbers in my bank account.
I wish every artist could be in the position to do this kind of free work. I wish every person in the world would not be burdened so much by this constant need to generate money. Money has become a form of tyranny, preventing people from being creative or generous. I sincerely hope new forms of economy will win out in my lifetime, and for instance basic income will become a reality for many, if not all.
Here’s another cartoon I made for free, for an event about New Economy, to illustrate how money should allow us to play and move, instead of locking us into these patterns of hoarding and coveting…