I'm a student and want to do it!
February 23, 2012 2:21 PM   Subscribe

I was approached by a teacher of mine, who says a friend of a friend is looking for a graphic artist, and he thinks I'm more than capable and wants to give me the opportunity to try and get some professional work into my portfolio. I'm a freshman, and have no idea how to navigate this situation, or what to expect. Help?

The back story:Theres a web designer who is working on a project. He needs a graphic done, and wants to outsource. He forwards the email to people he's worked with before. One of those people is friends with a teacher of mine. My teacher pulls me aside, along this other student, and says a colleague of his friend's is looking for a graphic artist. He says, based on the work he's seen, that we're more than capable. He wants to give us the opportunity to try and do some professional work, because it's really impressive to have in our portfolio. Teacher admits he has no idea of the nature of the graphic that's needed, or if the web designer is looking for pro-bono work or not [though he does warn that we shouldn't be working for free-I'm not sure if I agree with him at this point]. Teacher gives us the web designer's contact information.

Now that the complete joy and gidyness of being told [by an industry professional that you actually respect, quite a bit] that your work is of professional quality has worn off, I'm kind of freaking out. I have no idea what to write in the email to WB. The friend did mention to Teacher that it would be in our best interest to mention her name, otherwise theres a good chance the WB will just ignore us. So, how do I throw this in there? I've never met the friend, how do I describe our relationship? What else do I say? "Hey, I heard you were putting out some feelers, to try and get a graphic designed. I'm a student and want to do it!" ?

Also, I'm a student. A freshman. I don't have much work, the only pieces I have that I'm proud enough to show are a few logos I made. Pretty boring. I'm sure the WB will ask to see examples of my work, and that just completely renders me immobile from fear. Also, I go to a community college. Off the bat, that sounds pretty... unimpressive. The school is actually held in high regard by a lot of the industry professionals in the area. I've had the pleasure of meeting with quite a few at AIGA meetings. But if the WB doesn't know of the school's reputation, I'm afraid it will make me look bad. I don't want to look like a fool, but at the same time, I don't want to pass up this opportunity.

Oh, Metafitler, please solve my crisises.
posted by FirstMateKate to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You should most definitely not be working for free.

Tell them you heard from [teacher's name, friend of X] that they were looking for designers, and that [teacher's name] thought you would be up their alley. Don't mention that you're a student and ask what kind of work they were planning on having done and what they're looking to pay and should you send som sample work?

If they pass you up, then you're a freshman designer who is in the same place you were a day ago. It's not gonna go on your record.
posted by cmoj at 2:27 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Never work for free.
posted by rhizome at 2:28 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Send some version of: "Hello, I got your name from [teacher], who suggested I may be able to help you out with your design project. Can you let me know some details of the project? I have some sample work I can show you if you'd like. Thank you. -FirstMateKate"

No need to mention more than that, or undersell yourself. Don't lie if they ask you questions, of course, but you don't have to volunteer that you're a student at Community College or whatever.

And don't work for free.
posted by brainmouse at 2:31 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

oh, i misread didn't realize there was a third degree of separation. In that case, "Hello, I got your name through [friend of teacher] via [teacher], who suggested..."
posted by brainmouse at 2:36 PM on February 23, 2012

Best answer: though he does warn that we shouldn't be working for free-I'm not sure if I agree with him at this point

Your teacher is completely correct. Don't work for free, ever. First, because it devalues the work everyone else does and the field at large. Second, you don't want to develop a reputation as an artist who is totally okay to do work for the glorious opportunity to show it off in their portfolio because that's how you end up never getting paid.

Anyway, this would be a great thing to ask your art teacher about. Considering the amount of esteem he has in you, I'm sure he'd be able to help you out with this. And don't worry about your novice-ness or them not knowing your school or whatever. A personal recommendation from a person who knows what they're talking about (as a design professor would be) is better than just about anything when you're hustling.
posted by griphus at 2:38 PM on February 23, 2012

And you should not ask "is this paid work?" when you talk to him. Ask "what is the rate?" Act like a professional and you will be more likely to be treated as one.
posted by Wordwoman at 2:41 PM on February 23, 2012

Never work for free. NEVER WORK FOR FREE. The posters upthread are quite right about that.

Also, when you settle on a rate, get it in writing. Whether this is an email trail or an actual signed contract of some kind (generic contracts can be found in the GAG Handbook, which you should probably own a copy of anyway), if you don't get it in writing there is a distinct chance that you will be unpaid or underpaid when the time comes. I had to learn this one the hard way. More than once.
posted by Vervain at 2:50 PM on February 23, 2012

Best answer: The fact that you go to a community college is largely irrelevant to the challenge that faces you, so don't worry about it. The designer who is sourcing this work is unlikely to care about that. Things they are likely to care about:
  • Are you capable of producing the required artwork?
  • Without requiring too much of the designer's time and energy?
  • In the time required?
  • For an appropriate price?
I imagine your instructor has a sense of those requirements, and believes that you can fulfill them.
The designer, on the other hand, knows none of those things, so your first job is to give them the information they need to reach their own conclusion.

Your portfolio will go a long way to convincing them of your ability to produce the required artwork. Interacting with you will help convince them that you can do so without excessive demands on them. You should do some market research to figure out how you should price the work. That you can deliver in the time required is a little tougher, but your instructors recommendation can go a long way towards addressing that, and all the other questions.

If you get the job, then your challenge is in delivering what you were hired to do, and your ability to communicate with the client, verbally, in writing, and visually, to understand what they think they need will be as important as your artistic and technical abilities. You will probably have the best luck if you can quickly generate a handful of rough sketches after your first discussion and use those as the basis for narrowing in on the final result.

Good luck, even if you don't end up with commercial work in your resume as a result of this, you are going to gain important experience in being a commercial artist.
posted by Good Brain at 2:56 PM on February 23, 2012

"The designer, on the other hand, knows none of those things..."

should read:

"The designer, on the other hand, has no idea if you can fill those requirements..."
posted by Good Brain at 2:58 PM on February 23, 2012

As a freshmen who has literally never worked before, assuming this is a legitimate business request (not some random small firm) there is nothing wrong with working for free. At least for your first job ever, everything on from there you charge a fee.
posted by jjmoney at 3:30 PM on February 23, 2012

There is free - and there is free.
If you are going to get a good recommnedation, and something for your portfolio, and other benefits - then it is NOT for free.

Just because you are not being paid, does not mean that you are doing something for free.
posted by Flood at 3:58 PM on February 23, 2012

Never work for free.

posted by artdrectr at 4:07 PM on February 23, 2012

Nthing don't work for free. Working for free is not an opportunity, and "work for your portfolio" isn't a paycheck. Not to be pedantic, but it's not professional experience if you aren't getting paid.

If you have the web designer's email, just get in touch and say you heard from (TEACHER'S NAME) through (TEACHER AND WEB DESIGNER'S MUTUAL FRIEND) that he's looking for a graphic artist, ask for the details about the job and tell him you can email him samples (or include a link to your porfolio web site if you have one). You don't have to tell him specifically that you are a student, either.

If he answers back expressing interest, send him your samples and offer to give him an estimate based on the scope of the job he described. If he's looking for free work, he either will say so or he won't answer you. If he's willing to pay, you need to give your best guess on how much time you'll spend on the job and how much you think it's worth.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:32 PM on February 23, 2012

Clients will treat you differently -- better, and will be more likely to give you all the information and attention you need -- if you charge them, even a little. Charge the going rate. You're really not unqualified at all -- lots of people work when they're freshmen.
posted by amtho at 4:55 PM on February 23, 2012

there is nothing wrong with working for free.


Just because you are not being paid, does not mean that you are doing something for free.


Do not work for free. Ever. You are providing a service. This service has value. That's why people get paid for it. Your instructor believes you are capable of providing this service. So offer your service at a reasonable price. Free is not a reasonable price.

Think of it this way: under what circumstances would you dig a ditch for free? Charity, perhaps. Maybe self-preservation, if the flood-waters are rising. That's about it, right? So why would you value your design skills less than your ditch digging skills?

Should your first ditch be free? Just so you can get a good recommendation and maybe a picture of it for your ditch-digging portfolio? That sounds like bullshit, right? That's because it is. Design is work. Work that should be paid for.
posted by ook at 6:21 PM on February 23, 2012

I agree that people shouldn't generally work for free, but I love the barter system. I've been paid in wine, baked goods, tree trimming, gutter cleaning, and about a couple hundred other non-cash ways. I also do a lot of tech support for free. Hell, I email strangers the answers to tech problems when I can.

It's hugely ironic that there are a lot of people giving you free advice telling you to never give work for free.

I don't pay my illustrator. I try. He won't take money. He likes working with me and sees himself as a collaborator and not a contractor.

Recently I asked a 5 year old for a logo critique and paid her $5 for it (child labor laws be damned!).

I offered a graphic artist $50-100 for a simple drawing I wanted. He said he'd do it. I doubt he'll charge me anything, since we're friends and coworkers.

I've done a lot of writing for free. I've also been paid.

I know someone that designed a logo for a company that has sales in the millions. She got $50.

I designed a website for a guy for nothing because I am friend's with his girlfriend. I also expect this to generate paid work, as he's one of a dozen guys with the same interest and they all want websites.

Sometimes I do stuff for free because I don't want to deal with the aftermath. If you take a check from someone they feel entitled to your time if they pay you.

There's a lot of gray area between free and substantive hard cash. I agree it's best to not get into the habit of not working for free.

Fuck you! Pay me!
posted by cjorgensen at 8:06 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

How about this... it's good experience to set a rate, do the work and then get paid for that work. Later, when you have more experience, you can decide if you want to trade your work for the hell of it or for wine.
posted by amanda at 11:20 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know someone that designed a logo for a company that has sales in the millions. She got $50.

This sort of thing is exactly why designers have to be so vigilant about making sure they are appropriately compensated, avoiding spec work, etc. Too many designers undervalue their own skills and wind up giving away the farm. Which harms not only that individual designer but the industry as a whole, because now there's one more client in the world who thinks they're entitled to get design work done for a pittance.

Yeah, I've worked for free or for barter occasionally. But I've done it as a donation to a cause or organization I wanted to support. That's a very different thing from working for free because I'm insecure about the value of my work. Which is the case for the poster of this question.
posted by ook at 11:40 AM on February 24, 2012

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