Thoughts on Spec Work

It seems like Spec Work and/or crowd sourcing is on the rise in the world of illustration. That’s a big change from the days of big studios, and it scares a lot of folks, but I say the only thing constant in life is Change.  It’s sad sometimes, and a joyous thing at others.

I think that folks who rally against spec work are terrified of Change, and not really thinking things through. The logic that I have heard used so far has always been some variation on the following:

“You cheapen the value of the work if you do work for free.”

Here’s the thing – I think that they might be right. I get it. I understand the logic behind “If the customer gets it for free, why would they pay for it?” While there may be some validity to that line of reasoning, I think it misses the point. Or perhaps it’s better to say that it misses two points:

1. Someone, somewhere is going to do the work for free (or at least way cheaper). In a world where anyone with an internet connection can create an image and ‘ship’ it almost instantly to a customer virtually, the only real limitation is that initial connection between customer and service provider. Whether it’s the young illustrator looking for ‘experience’ or even a professional living in another region where they can live quite comfortably on far less – it doesn’t really matter. The world is getting smaller, and that’s a significant cause for change – whether we like it or not.

2. The spectrum of illustrators/artists is just getting larger. Does that mean more competition? Yes. Does that mean professionals will have to work harder at marketing their work? Unfortunately, yes. But here’s the thing – the quality that professional produces will be (I would expect) far better than the person who’s willing to do the work for free. Let the newb or amateur take the low hanging fruit that is the free/cheap jobs. Reserve your time and effort for the bigger, more valuable jobs.

I find myself thinking of this new mindset as a bit of a tidal wave. Like any large risk headed in my direction, I find myself trying to think ahead and prepare myself. This makes me think that the best approach is to figure out a couple of things:

1. Where do I fit in that spectrum of artists?

2. If this frame of mind becomes the new ‘standard’, how can I best position myself to get more (and better paying) work?

Doesn’t that seem more sensible than trying to manage the mindset of artists and illustrators the world over? Focusing on my niche (whatever that may be) instead of worrying about what someone else might be willing to do for free or cheaper than me?

What do you think? Is there some vantage to this that I’m just not seeing?

I welcome your thoughts.

3 Comments
  1. I agree with your general sentiment. While it is true that there seems to be a lot of competition, the reality is, no two styles are identical. Each has a unique signature and a client may favor one over the other. Look at art galleries as an example. One painting may be just “meh”, but it sells for thousands because that is the style a collector prefers. The benefit to experience is that we have the ability to work in other creative areas and supplement the need for creativity doing the things that we want. The biggest benefit is the luxury to be a little more discriminating in your clientele.

    • I agree with what you’re saying, but I’m curious – does this mean that you (personally) work in different styles to appeal to the different clients, or do you keep to one style and focus on marketing to the clients who appreciate that style?
      MrLich´s last blog post ..Thoughts on Spec Work

      • To clarify, I do work in whatever style the client request (cartoon,
        comic, realism, etc.). However, no matter what I have done- you can still
        see ‘me’ in the work.

        By this I mean, I can not overcome my signature style because it is
        inherent in how I see the world. This is true for everyone; fine artist or
        illustrator. You just know someone’s work if you are familiar with their
        personal style. It is this same trait that art experts look for when
        examining classic works for forgeries- you just know.

        So to my point, no matter how much competition there is out there, a
        client will choose the artist they prefer regardless of comparative
        talent. It’s a feeling the client is looking for within the work. It’s my
        job to show my clients all that I am capable of, in various styles, to
        provide them with additional options should they choose to go in another
        direction with a particular project.

        Does that make sense?

        Kerri
        Kerri´s last blog post ..Thoughts on Spec Work

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