The (In)famous Craigslist Post

The text below was originally posted on Craigslist (and quickly removed by admins) in response to the ridiculous job offers there soliciting creative services for free (or for very little money). I’ll be honest: I’m guilty of doing work for free. I tell myself it’s “good experience” or that I’ll get more money from the same client down the road, thereby justifying my acts of pro bono prostitution.

Some of you, like me, are just starting out in this industry. Some of you have been around for a while. I’m curious to hear what all of you think about this.

NOTE: I did not write the following text. It was posted anonymously on Craigslist.

Every day, there are more and more Craigs List posts seeking “artistsâ€? for everything from auto graphics to comic books to corporate logo designs. More people are finding themselves in need of some form of illustrative service.

But what they’re NOT doing, unfortunately, is realizing how rare someone with these particular talents can be.

To those who are “seeking artistsâ€?, let me ask you; How many people do you know, personally, with the talent and skill to perform the services you need? A dozen? Five? One? …none?

More than likely, you don’t know any. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be posting on craigslist to find them.

And this is not really a surprise.

In this country, there are almost twice as many neurosurgeons as there are professional illustrators. There are eleven times as many certified mechanics. There are SEVENTY times as many people in the IT field.

So, given that they are less rare, and therefore less in demand, would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street?

Would you offer a neurosurgeon the “opportunityâ€? to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him “a few bucksâ€? for “materialsâ€?. What a deal!)

Would you be able to seriously even CONSIDER offering your web hosting service the chance to have people see their work, by viewing your website, as their payment for hosting you?

If you answered “yesâ€? to ANY of the above, you’re obviously insane. If you answered “noâ€?, then kudos to you for living in the real world.

But then tell me… why would you think it is okay to live out the same, delusional, ridiculous fantasy when seeking someone whose abilities are even less in supply than these folks?

Graphic artists, illustrators, painters, etc., are skilled tradesmen. As such, to consider them as, or deal with them as, anything less than professionals fully deserving of your respect is both insulting and a bad reflection on you as a sane, reasonable person. In short, it makes you look like a twit.

A few things you need to know;

1. It is not a “great opportunityâ€? for an artist to have his work seen on your car/’zine/website/bedroom wall, etc. It IS a “great opportunityâ€? for YOU to have their work there.

2. It is not clever to seek a “studentâ€? or “beginnerâ€? in an attempt to get work for free. It’s ignorant and insulting. They may be “studentsâ€?, but that does not mean they don’t deserve to be paid for their hard work. You were a “studentâ€? once, too. Would you have taken that job at McDonalds with no pay, because you were learning essential job skills for the real world? Yes, your proposition it JUST as stupid.

3. The chance to have their name on something that is going to be seen by other people, whether it’s one or one million, is NOT a valid enticement. Neither is the right to add that work to their “portfolioâ€?. They get to do those things ANYWAY, after being paid as they should. It’s not compensation. It’s their right, and it’s a given.

4. Stop thinking that you’re giving them some great chance to work. Once they skip over your silly ad, as they should, the next ad is usually for someone who lives in the real world, and as such, will pay them. There are far more jobs needing these skills than there are people who possess these skills.

5. Students DO need “experienceâ€?. But they do NOT need to get it by giving their work away. In fact, this does not even offer them the experience they need. Anyone who will not/can not pay them is obviously the type of person or business they should be ashamed to have on their resume anyway. Do you think professional contractors list the “experienceâ€? they got while nailing down a loose step at their grandmother’s house when they were seventeen?

If you your company or gig was worth listing as desired experience, it would be able to pay for the services it received. The only experience they will get doing free work for you is a lesson learned in what kinds of scrubs they should not lower themselves to deal with.

6. (This one is FOR the artists out there, please pay attention.) Some will ask you to “submit work for considerationâ€?. They may even be posing as some sort of “contestâ€?. These are almost always scams. They will take the work submitted by many artists seeking to win the “contestâ€?, or be “chosenâ€? for the gig, and find what they like most. They will then usually have someone who works for them, or someone who works incredibly cheap because they have no originality or talent of their own, reproduce that same work, or even just make slight modifications to it, and claim it as their own. You will NOT be paid, you will NOT win the contest. The only people who win, here, are the underhanded folks who run these ads. This is speculative, or “specâ€?, work. It’s risky at best, and a complete scam at worst. I urge you to avoid it, completely. For more information on this subject, please visit

So to artists/designers/illustrators looking for work, do everyone a favor, ESPECIALLY yourselves, and avoid people who do not intend to pay you. Whether they are “specâ€? gigs, or just some guy who wants a free mural on his living room walls. They need you. You do NOT need them.

And for those who are looking for someone to do work for free… please wake up and join the real world. The only thing you’re accomplishing is to insult those with the skills you need. Get a clue.

About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



Incisive and true. Good advice which should have been left up.

As for my thoughts,…maybe its because the (outdated and inaccurate) public conception of an artist is generally “starving”, or a head in the clouds eccentric pothead who is too idealistic to be concerned with profit further than sustenance… So these people try to take advantage of that stereotype. Maybe they’re just guilty of ignorance.

Good news is (in my opinion), that as the demand for quality illustration and art elements gets higher and higher, keeping the current rate with the ever climbing demand for technical aptitude paired with creativity, the tendency of these people to try and take advantage of the naieve art students not yet aware of their own power will probably die off. Technology has given the artist an entirely new toolset, and the quality of work is at an all time high, as is the current reputation of an employable artist.

Basically, I think time will take care of the mess. That, and following the advice posted by our anonymous friend.


Although I appreciate the outrage and sympathise with the ideology, I think we all do some work for free to hone our skills and make contacts. I for one have almost always got a paid gig from the work I have done for free somewhere else. Although artists (good ones in particular) are rare, it’s a competitive industry. You need to learn your trade, and sometimes doing work for free (or very little) is a convenient way to do so. Life isn’t as black and white as our anonymous poster seems to think…


That was the most self-imporant clap trap I’ve read in a while.
Yes, students should get paid for their work. But damn, art/design is a hustle. Neurosurgery is something totally different, and a matter of life and death.

Get used to working for free on things, it never stops. Sometimes the best jobs that come in are for low or no money.


I think every working graphic designer, mograph designer or web designer have experienced this. Unfortunately I must say I have fallen in all these traps once, working for free and submitting work to the “contests”. Every artist in the industry should forward this message to everyone they know. I’m sure they can all relate to it.


I must ad, I have worked in the industry for years and maybe it’s just circumstances but not ONCE have a free gig brought me anything, rather it be future compensation, exposure or other gigs. Low paying ones did but never the free ones.


Amen brother.


This is a manifesto that should be illustrated. Heads are so good at advertising cocacola and getting people to spend a buck on sugar water, they should take some time out to make their own case.


If anyone is interested in illustrating this manifesto, there are positions available! Compensation will include your name in the credits, having your work seen by dozens, if not hundreds of people and a free copy of the final product. Future work a definite possibility! A great opportunity for you! Simply send all of your work, including source code and original files to be considered. . .


you mean, illustrate this… without a profit!?

Sebastian Bap

(I don’t speak english very good, I’m gonna make an effort)

I have 3 years of experience, I’m 23 years old and I think:
The salary must be accord to the experience. A studio incorpore a student, this students, for enter in this studio he (or she) needs an experiencie! Nobody takes for his studio a null person. They takes because he(or she) has a basic experience almost. How much is it?

Good text anonymous, I like it.

(Sorry de language, I speak spanish)


I’ve always heard that doing spec work was a good idea for new artists looking to build their reels/ portfolios. For instance, animating the MTV or Coke logo entirely unsolicited just to show future employers that you’ve got the skills but also making it clear that MTV or Coke did not in fact pay for the work. If that’s accepted amongst the professional industry as a valid way in, then why would you work for free just to build your reel? It seems you have a better chance to be creative and learn by doing work on your own until you’re ready to get paid. That’s the way I’m approaching it at least. Please, correct me if I’m wrong.


while I agree with this 100% ( I was burned by spec work almost a dozen times coming out of school. )
Your analogy is kinda off. A nuerosurgeon and a mechanic have a definitive skill set. While anyone can say they are an artist, its subjective. That is another grey area. People can’t seperate the freind who draws good from the working professional designer.


Not to mention if your going to do free work, why not do a mock project for yourself. Pick a main COOL brand like spike TV and do a 30 second spot. This is what REAL potential employers are looking for anyway — not Bobs discount tires. This way you have complete creative control and Joe Shmuck who obviously applies no value to creative services isn’t leaning over your shoulder shouting about how he needs more Magenta :-)

I think many of us are guilty of this. Many of us have let others take advantage for little. This is a great post and I know that i will post this over and over again. This song needs to be sung ;-) Thanks for this.


While we’re getting fired up for equal rights, lets speak about the studios paying people junk and convincing them to work 80hrs a week with the premise of “creative” work. Being freelance I see too many people (usually juniors) trapped in some over bearing staff job. Their employer has them convinced its “creative” to work 80hrs a week and tricked them into a sense of duty to the studio. Its disgusting when studios take jobs and requiring there staff to get it done under impossible deadlines so they can squeeze a profit out of it. You wont see the EP or CD there at 3am, only you, the lowest paid.
While I’m on it. Don’t tell me what you can afford to pay me after you ask my day rate. I don’t care.


Spike TV is a cool brand?

I think this proves what earlygrab said : art/design is subjective.


Amen to you earlygrab!


The free and low budget jobs are almost always the nightmare jobs. I would advise students looking to build their reel to come up with their own spec work as opposed to taking on free (or very low budget) jobs..


Like weenie said in the first comment: time – and technology – will take care of this problem, mostly.

oscar mar

Man this article should be sent to every person in the world, sometimes people who hires you think that all you have to do is to click the mouse 3 times and WHAMM! done!
so… why should they pay you? Once, a client saw that I had a wacom tablet and he said: wow if i pay you big bucks could you teach me how to use that? He was serious! (oh yeah the dude had told me that he didn´t had money and had begged me to do the job for free) I got up and left.

So… amen for this article friends!

Chester Cooperpot

Valid points. Why amongst all of the BS that is on Craigslist would they pull this?

Like noted we all work for free. Sometimes it is a family member a friend or just because we are excited for a project that will advance our skills. If you are getting by and can afford to help someone out and feel it will benefit your skill set, I don’t see a problem with it.

I definitely understand the under appreciation of the work/skill set and the lack there of appreciation of the creative process.


Thanks Justin for posting this. I think this is super valuble content.

I think we all have fallin’ into this trap. As a freelancer I believe that you have to be extremely frank when working out your RATE and TIME on a job or when working inhouse at a studio. Here is a List of things that I find valuble when dealing with the biz side of things.

1. If you are talented, a fast worker, and you aren’t cocky. You are worth a ton to studios. If you are in high demand, raise your rate.

2. Age doesn’t matter. your are paid on your skills in motion graphics, not years of experience.

3. Invoices need to be paid with in 30 days. as a freelancer you don’t have the luxury if getting a check every 2 weeks. so its paramount thats studios are punctual on payment.

4. Studios that keep you past 12 hours consistently, you should bill overtime. a day rate doesn’t cover an 18 hour day.

5. Don’t get caught up in working for the “hot shops”, alot of times these studios will try to give you the “We are the shit” so drop your rate because we are giving you a chance to work with us. Personally, i think this is really BS, these studios have the highest budgets and can more than afford to pay twice what your are worth.

6. At the end of the day this is your job no matter how fun it is. charge people what you think you are worth.


Hey sorry to point this out, but does anyone belive in “free will”. No one forces you to do these jobs for free , do they?

Stand strong brethren !


One more thing_

I think it’s alright to do free work if you are invited to be part of a well known publisher or festival with the perameters that this work is your personal/experimental work non-commercial. Die-gestalten, IDN, Resfest, OneDotZero…


Amen! People need to be educated to the value of Designers and just how important and how hard out skills are.


I don’t understand why it was deleted, was it posted in an innapropriate forum or something? How does thier violate the terms of service on CL?

Great discussion everyone.


I too have shamefully done this or that for free. When you’re broke and trying to break into this industry – that is when you are most vulnerable. So it’s good advice but these cheap bastard employers know what they’re doing when they seek out young inexperienced designers to do pro bono work for them.

And the same goes for mograph studios that use free interns. At least pay them a junior wage! All this does is make this an industry for the privileged. Just like directing. People who can live off their trust fund in order to follow their dream always beat those who can’t.

Jacob Lewis

If it wasn’t for short do-dates and little to no pay, I would have no portfolio. Everyone has to start somewhere. Lots of people do work for no pay, it’s called being an intern. In the “real world,” you have to start at the bottom and work your way up.

I agree, designing for free sucks… but it’s only at the beginning. If you’re good enough to get paid, then the money and the clients will come. If you suck, then you’ll keep designing for free.


It’s so sad my friends. I usually charge for castings too. And then seeing all these young kids getting ripped off, really sad.


jacob, i understand your point but i honestly feel that the way the system is set up, people who don’t have the monetary flexibility to do free internships are practically barred from this biz. even if you have the talent how can you express it without the proper opportunities? and i’m not talk about handouts. i’m talking about the simple and cheap option of paying interns a junior wage, don’t tell me studios can’t afford a 30k designer.


Yussef, I believe it is actually illegal to not pay your interns, but that may vary from state to state. Therefore, it is technically legal to sue for compensation and backwages. Again, interns should always be paid.

If a company cannot pay you properly, they don’t know how to run and manage a business, so you shouldn’t be working with them anyways.

Eric Gregoire

Free work is NOT NECESSARY. I’ve never once done free or volunteer work in my field.

I am doing pretty well for myself where I am at now in my life, and there was never any reason to be taken advantage of. If you think its part of your dues, and you’ll do it anyway – you’re fooling yourself.

Doing work for free might get your foot in the door in the short term. In the long term, you’re confirming that it is okay to make this a common practice in the art/creative field.

If you want to do work for free, and build a portfolio. Make your own assignments!!! See a bad advertisement? See if you can make a better one! See a bad still life photo in the ad? See if you can do it any better!

bot el

First off, that’s a little long winded to post here I think. I just wanna see cool graphics move like :)

Second, I agree with most of the sentiment. Add to it that any digital illustrator/animator had to spend tons of money on an education, a computer, and software just to be able to angle into the work for free demographic. So don’t feel bad asking to get some money back on your investment that these other people didn’t have to make.

Third, this work for free never ends. The higher you go, the more it’s expected. When you get into music videos and advertising, often the top competing companies will be asked to submit treatments including designs and illustrations, animations, and complex visual effects just to win the contract. Starting out on music videos as a director now, have fun directing and producing music videos from start to finish for $2k total budget. That is very common at major labels nowadays.

Fourth, I have accepted this kind of work as well to build up my reel so I can get the bigger gigs. In turn I have also offered low/no pay work to certain people who have sent me their reels whom I see have talent, and just need more content after graduating to show real world experience. And guess what, they have been stoked because Dreamworks hired them right after, so choose your battles wisely and lay out goals for yourself that these self sacrificing gigs can help achieve.

Last, creative direction and storytelling, as well as people skills aren’t something everyone has. So sometimes it does pay to build up your career by doing speculative work for a director that is talented to show you can do good work, when there is good work to be had, otherwise, many people may be technically skilled but less of a taste maker unfortunately and slip between the cracks for years.

I would say always ask for minimum wage ($8/hr or so) vs. working for free.


I think we should all copy and paste the post that was removed and paste to any boards asking for free/low paying work. only for corporations that can afford it though. i am a big supporter of pro-bono work for non profits and charities. We don’t cure diseases or feed the poor, we influence others by our design. I recommend any students looking to hone their work to volunteer their skills to a local charities website or brochure’s or even shoot a documentary.


I happen to be part owner and creative director of a reasonably successful motion design company and I will tell you this. During my final year and even when I initially got out of school I offered my services for free to be on set so as to gain more real world experience. I volunteered in exchange for access to equipment in the off hours and I interned without pay just so I could learn from people who had decades of experience and knowledge that I could never learn in a classroom and while working for free sucks – it can be a valuable experience and I honestly believe it can accelerate your chances of success in the highly competitive creative world.

Does that mean you should be hustled or exploited – no, of course not, but as long as the arrangement is mutually beneficial it can be rewarding and is more often than not a necessity.

For what it’s worth – it really never ends. At this point my company has a substantial overhead that has to be covered, employees need to be paid and we still find ourselves doing free pitch work, donating our time to lectures and seminars and sometimes even have to work at a loss just to do cool projects that we feel passionate about.

Remember that you as a skilled artist and thinker are incredibly valuable, but also remember that sometimes the value of a job isn’t just monetary.

Good luck to all the young creative professionals out there and keep producing kick ass work that moves our industry forward.

special sauce

uhhh duh people who are skilled should not work for free and if your skills are not to par yet, my suggestion is intern, intern, intern!!!! Since even if you are talented nothing can replace experience..


I don’t get it… I think that it is perfectly fine to solicit someone to do work for free. To feel insulted by someone soliciting free work means that you are either insecure or you have an over-inflated sense of your own self worth.

As for comparing art to brain surgery… I know a lot of people who do art as a hobby and not to make a living. How many weekend brain surgeons do you know?


this is an industry where 95% of the work is done by only 5% of the artists. so unfortunatly when you’re just starting out, doing free work is the only work available. even more unfortunate is that an increasing number of people are taking advantage of this.
what to do? start demanding what yo uare worth and stock up on Top Ramen.


hey guys ….
which company’s the worst ever?…

honestly most of ppl say prologue is the worst ever company..

and i know some bad company~? what do u think?


I am happy that someone finally posted that! I absolutely agree!


The original author of the post?

-its in his second latest journal entry. check his previous posts to find it


I think it goes back to the beginning of the desktop revolution. Back to Quark and Mac getting cheaper, and CEO wives designing the company report. It’s kinda like when monkeys came down from the tree. When ad agency and creative dept. started to lose work to people doing it after hours and cheaper. It was this cycle of under cutting the next guy, doing it cheaper that has built this stero type. If I were an exec at Spike TV I could walk into OTIS grad night and get the whole next season GFX package for nothing. Leaving the inhouse dept and the post production old dogs to clean up the jitter frames, format problems, etc. This post always comes up every couple month some dude gets burned and wants to start a riot. If we would all form a union or a group, then that would make it better?. I don’t know. “There is always some motherfcuker trying to ice skae up hill” -Blade


“The original author of the post?

Sadly, no. At the top it says:

“Found this in ‘s journal; this is extremely relevant to anyone who’s interested in being an artist. I’ve not been able to find the author.”



It’s very inspiring to read all this. Open discussion is so important to ALL of us.

How are we to communicate well–to our target audience–as designers, if we don’t even talk to each other about some of these VERY important issues?

Many Kudos to Justin!


>this is an industry where 95% of the work is done by only 5% of the >artists. so unfortunatly when you’re just starting out, doing free work is >the only work available.

I don’t know if I agree with that… but assuming thats true, then the 5% of us have ruined it for everybody else by whoring oursleves out doing spec work.


This is a really really well written post.
I agree with yorambenz and earlygrab.
To JDretz: I dont think the writer of this was being ‘self important’. He/she has simply captured and expressed what every single creative person feels deep inside.

If you claim that you don’t feel any disappointment/sadness at how little respect you get as a creative (specially when compared to other professionals in other industries), you’re lying to yourself.

Yes we all know lowly paid work and pro-bono work and exploitation and all that will always happen in this industry, but I think something like this (an incisive, insightful article followed by a passionate open discussion) will improve things. We just need more of it.


“At least pay them a junior wage! All this does is make this an industry for the privileged. Just like directing. People who can live off their trust fund in order to follow their dream always beat those who can’t.”



playing devil’s advocate:

i think even small businesses need good design. its good practice. where i come from waaaay tooo many mom-pop stores(im talking about neighborhood barbers, mechanic, diners, mini marts, ect) have misspelled ugly looking sings, logos, etc. lets do society a favor and beautify them. they can use the help. and us beginners can use the practice.

plus too many people don’t even know art and design exist in their everyday worlds.

however i do agree we need some degree of pay. and scams are not cool. but some stores simply cannot afford any payment. :)


Never work for free. The more you charge, the more respect you will get, and the higher profile jobs you will be asked to do.

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