How I Rent Out My Brain

      7 Comments on How I Rent Out My Brain

This is what I hate.

When being offered a job, the person tries to ‘sweeten the deal’ by telling me the show has easy, cartoony characters to draw.

This translates to, “So this show won’t take you too long and you can just whip it off faster than usual, right?” or “Yeah, I know you’re burnt out, but this one will be easy because the characters are so simple to draw.” That kind of thing.

Here’s a news flash guys:

Quality storyboarding is NOT about the drawings.

In the last post I asked you to think about how you value yourself and your talents.

Here is how I value mine.

At this stage of the game when someone hires me, they are not buying a stack of drawings from me. It may look like that. That’s what I hand over, right? A big, honkin’ stack of about 600 panels in a binder clip.

Well, you could ask a 5 year old to do the same thing if it’s only drawings you’re concerned about.

But you might end up with one crappy cartoon (on second thought, it might not look any worse than some of the stuff on TV…hmm).

No, you’re not buying drawings from me.

You’re buying my knowledge and experience. In essence, my brain.

You’re buying how I put all those drawings together. You’re buying my shot choice. You’re buying my film sense. My storytelling ability. My acting. My sense of timing. The final outcome of all that happens to be a bunch of drawings.

Drawings that make sense and you can make a cartoon out of.

I don’t care if I’m drawing Spiderman or a stick man. It doesn’t matter. It might save me a bit of pencil mileage but that’s about it. I will put just as much thought and effort into either one. Saying it’ll be easier because it’s a ‘cartoony style’ is an insult to what I do.

I worked on a show that had the simplest character designs in the world. One was a square, one was basically two triangles and one was the shape of a pill (yes, that’s them…meet the Adrenalini Brothers).

And that damn series nearly killed me.

I liked the show, but thirteen months is a long ass time to be drawing squares, triangles and pills and make them funny. And they didn’t speak english…but that’s a whole other post.

So yeah…what I do has value.

Which comes to the question “Should you ever work for free?”

Well, that depends. On many things.

And I’ll explore it further in the next post (ya like how I’m milking this?) and I’ll give you questions to ask yourself when faced with this dilemma.

In the meantime…have you worked for free? Do you regret it? Where do you draw the line? Let me know in the comments. Cause I love comments. 🙂

UPDATE: While you mull that over, check out this article by Mark Simon at AWN for a kick in the crotch. It seems to be for the U.S. only (at this point) but it’s scary stuff. It shows how if we as artists don’t stand up and say our work has value, then no one else will…and take full advantage of it. Give it a read.

Subscribe to the Storyboard Blog by RSS or by email to see just how many posts this will turn out to be.

7 thoughts on “How I Rent Out My Brain

  1. T. Benjamin Larsen

    Chillingly familiar Karen.

    I occasionally do some freelancing video-stuff. Everything from the filming, to the editing, motion-graphics, music etc. Most of the work I get is referral work. So people who have tried my services seem satisfied. (End-of-commercial).

    However when discussing what I do with people who don’t know my work they often focus on what gear I have. Now, I do have some expensive gear, but will of course not use all of it on every job. As a result, people think they should pay less when I’m not using the expensive stuff! (I sort of wonder how they argue with their carpenters. “Come on now, how much is a hammer!?”

    Of course my work will have to pay for the gear over time. But I am not selling technology nor gear.

    I’m selling my know-how and I’m selling my competence in producing the product they want. Most of all though, I’m selling my creativity and you can’t find it anywhere else. 😉

  2. KJL Post author

    You said it Ben.

    It’s not about what tools you use…it’s what you’re capable of doing with them. Those kinds of comments always come from people who have no idea what the creative process is. Because they can’t see the process or the experience it took to get there.

    Ever see a simple (but good) logo and someone says “That’s it? I could have done that!” No they couldn’t. If you didn’t have the experience and talent that it took to get to that place where you could design it, then show a little respect to the artist that did.

    People who think it’s the computers that do the work are just as bad. Until I see a “make cartoon” button, it’s never going to be the case. A computer can’t make art anymore than a pencil by itself can.

    The tools don’t make the art…the artist does. 😉

  3. dan szilagyi

    Hey Karen,

    great post, I’ve been following your stuff for a while now, this one made me want to really comment though.
    I’ve been doing freelance art/animation to people and i’ll say so far they either think that you should work for free or that because their starting off as a new company can’t afford to pay you right.
    I’ve also had people tell me to re-do things almost completely because they didn’t like it ( which is fine) but this is after they’ve had the damn piece for about a month.
    respect is another big thing, when i call someone and set up a meeting time/day i damn well go and get there on time at that day, but so far everyone i’ve dealt with seems to think that because they are busy that it should go over my times and order and i should be ok with it.

    So if i’ve learnt anything its that i need to get a clear 100% nailed down idea of what they want, when they want it, what format and how detailed etc

    oh money is in there somewhere, now i asked for half up front ( i’ve got burned a bit with this too)

    thanks for the post karen, keep them up!

  4. Debi

    Dan, I’m so with you! First, half up front is the way to go IMO. Ideally contracts for all projects should be done, but must be done for the bigger paying gigs. (Hey Karen, gonna cover contracts at any point?)
    My biggest complaint with some clients is simply their communication skills. I can’t tell you how many emails/phone calls of “I’ll email you the info tomorrow” ends up with the person disappearing off the face of the earth. I don’t think all of them were blowing me off…hell, I hope all of them weren’t blowing me off! Great, now I’m paranoid.

    As for past working for free experiences. I’ve done it a few times. Mostly in the begining to get a portfolio started since I didn’t go to art school and lacked one. I also tend to rather throw myself into a small free project that I like than sit and twiddling my creative thumbs waiting for a paying one. (This is of course when I’m not working my own projects.) Helps to keep the creative muscles strong. Just get a good feeling of the person you’re working for free with. IE. don’t work with pricks. I’ve made some good friends with people I’ve done free gigs with.

    It is hard to get burned on a free project if you know from the start that it’s free. All you’re going to get from it is what you make of it. Where you could get bitter and pissed off is if they person you are working for is making money off your work. But then again, you agreed to do the free work in the first place knowing that’s a possiblity.

    Where I draw the line (insert art pun here) on free gigs is length of the project. Anything that only takes a week or so is ok, but I can’t ever see doing a feature film for free. Ties up too much of your time.

    Great stuff as always Karen, but you’re becoming a bit of a “next post tease”. 😉

  5. KJL Post author

    Hi Dan! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. It’s great to hear it from someone in the ‘trenches’ who is still pretty new to the industry. Your experiences are going to be different than mine.

    And I have to say I got pretty lucky at the start of my career too. Didn’t get burned too much. So others in your shoes need to hear this stuff.

    If you’re freelancing it’s going to be much easier to get burned and you have to be extra careful. Usually if you get into a known studio on salary, it’s not going to be much of a problem (tho it still can happen).

    What students really need in school is some business advice! Because this is a business and so many artist types just don’t know or learn this stuff. And they need to. Keep me posted on how things are going. 🙂

    Deb – I’ll try to gather some info on contracts in the future. Maybe that’s something Adrien can pipe in on too. Since I usually work with the same trusted studios, I just sign on the dotted line…bla bla bla (pretty routine) and don’t really worry about it. But for you it’s an important thing to know about. Again…those business skills.

    Thanks for your input on drawing the line. I’ll talk about that in the next post (unless this subject keeps going…I thought I was going to talk about it in the last post 😉 ). If you’re going to spend a chunk of your time working for no money…it may as well be for yourself. So you have to know when to say “No” or “That’s it!”

    I’ve heard (and seen) some people get horribly taken advantage of just because they were ‘too nice’ or ‘too desperate’. Not good.


  6. Tei

    This was stupendously awesome. So many people seem to think that whatever you do is only the physical, tangible part of it. For me, words on the page, for you, the drawings. As if the strategy and brainstorming and slowly beating your forehead to a pulp against the wall weren’t significant, or at least billable.

    It’s totally billable. I’m putting my hospital bills on my next invoice.

  7. KJL Post author

    Welcome Tei!

    Good idea with the hospital bills. If only! I’m still trying to figure out a way to write off my cats as dependants on my taxes. 😉

    Go check out that article on Copyblogger that I linked to at the end of the “Perceived Value” post. Good info for you writers.

    Thanks for the input from another field…and go put some padding on that forehead. 🙂



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *