Ellen Million (ellenmillion) wrote,
Ellen Million

A draft...

I got an email yesterday: "I just want to know how you can charge for something that I could get for free elsewhere? This is crazy."

I've been asked many times: why do you even bother answering these letters? "You can't teach a pig to sing," one artist went so far as to say. "You are only wasting your time and annoying the pig."

Well, maybe the pig should be a little annoyed. I'm a little annoyed. In fact, I'm a little incensed. Who wouldn't be? This person has just implied that the work that I put into artwork is worth nothing, and that my sanity is questionable.*

After a few cathartic drafts of a reply that involve rude references to their mother and their upbringing in a barn, my anger is gone, and I'm left with sorrow and a little sourness. But when I write the final draft of this letter, it is with genuine hope - however slim - that this is just someone who hasn't taken the time to stop and think about what they're writing. Maybe I can be the one who gives them just a moment of pause and makes them see the value in the things they take for granted. Maybe, with a few moments of my time, I can open their eyes to an artist's point of view and save a dozen future artists the same condescension. That chance is worth a few moments. (And I'll keep a copy of it handy for the next inevitable email I get...)


It's true that the best things in life are free - on the surface. A kiss from someone we love, a wildflower alongside the road, a compliment from a stranger... or the artwork we find on the Internet, 'free' for the taking. These things can move us, inspire us, bring a moment of beauty into our lives.

But how free are they, really? Does that kiss come free of the daily work we have to put in to build the relationship? Is that wildflower really free, when picking it will halt its reproductive cycle and prevent future people from having it to appreciate? Did we spend a few extra moments in our grooming, to earn that compliment, or produce some creation or demonstrate some act of bravery or kindness that caused that stranger to offer praise?

Artists and writers would love the luxury of working for compliments - there is something heady and inspiring about knowing that we have in our hands the power to touch the hearts of other people. But let's not lose sight of the fact that it is still work, and that a freelance artist cannot afford to work for compliments, no more than a plumber works for praise. An artist also can't, usually, afford to work only on those pieces that they want to do for themselves.

Portrait Adoption allows artists to work on pieces they do want to do, and still have a chance of being paid for their work.

It's still work that they do with only a chance of being paid, and if you were to calculate the manhours of work that has gone into the archives at this site, you would find they are charging nothing like living wages. Would you go in and work a day at the office knowing you might get paid at the end of the day, and you might make minimum wage, if you're lucky? Not likely. The lot of a professional artist is really pretty shabby, when you get right down to it.

Can you get a portrait using google images that you can simply 'borrow' anonymously to use for your character portrait? Sure you can. It probably won't be quite what you had in mind, and you might not ever know who the artist was, and certainly the artist will never get any kind of reward for their work, but you can still get what you paid for.

If Portrait Adoption is not for you, that's fine; part of our value is the exclusive nature of our work - these are not clip art pieces, and nowhere else on the 'net will you find un-watermarked versions of these pieces. Not everyone values exclusivity, and if you are comfortable having the same character portrait as seven hundred other people, knowing that it wasn't created for you and that the artist gets nothing for their effort, that's your choice.

But next time you are looking for a portrait, or something to hang up by your desk, pause a moment before you print out that anonymous piece by someone you don't even know and think about them. How much better would you feel buying a print directly from an artist, knowing that they were able to buy themselves a meal for that minor expense? Just imagine how much more meaning that art would have if it had been created just for you.

Commissioning artwork has never been easier or more straightforward. The beautiful thing about the Internet is that each of us are only a few fingerstrokes away from each other. The distance between a fan in Florida and an artist in Alaska is not any greater than an email or a quick Internet comment. We're real, listening, living people, and your support of our craft enables us to continue creating.

I guess it is a little crazy, thinking that we can make decent livings for ourselves, that people will pay us to create for them. And they do! Most of the artwork you find 'for free' on the Internet was paid for once - commissioned personally, contracted for a book cover, supported via donations, or compensated via a licensing deal. Buyers tell me frequently that they feel good about being able to support artists and they love being able to show their appreciation for a piece - even when all they can buy is a bookmark or a $5 portrait. They go away with a product they feel pride in, or a portrait they know is theirs alone.

What you choose to do with your money, that's obviously your choice, and you are welcome to be one of people at the end of the chain taking whatever you can without return. But don't belittle those people who choose to pay for art. Those buyers are the ones who are keeping the art online that you are enjoying for free, and they are directly causing more to be created for you. What people get when they buy at sites like mine is worth far more than merely the pricetag they pay.

I hope that your question was genuine, and not just a rhetorical scold for promoting and enabling the sale of artwork, and I hope that this has helped illustrate why I not only feel comfortable doing so - I feel good about it.

Taking the starving out of artists,


*Okay, okay, so there might be a point there...

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