The Ethics of art tests

I previously posted about art tests on, in the jobs section. This is an elaboration on the subject because it is kind of a hot topic.

This is a case where we are lightly threading the fine line between enthousiasm and paranoia. On the one hand, we want to make money doing art. On the other we don’t want to be screwed by non-scrupulous individuals. And customers and publishers want to part with their hard earned cash and get hot art in return, not half finished scribbles or someone who clearly can’t deliver what they promised.

Why art tests?

This leads us to understand why art tests were instigated in the first place: to mitigate the risk involved in hiring an artist.

So they are only justified when an employer actually occurs a risk. For exemple, Massive Black give their potential employees art test. I guess it’s quite safe to assume that MB invests in the training and long term well being of their staff so there is a risk. There also is a risk when a company hires a freelancer under retainer, when they give large amounts of money upfront on a contract and other similar situations.

Other situations where I could see a risk is when a portfolio is “too good to be true” the person shows sequentials, animations, illos of enviros, characters, creatures, still lives. Can they really do that or was there any cheating? I know it can be insulting to think they tink you cheat, but the good news is, they think your stuff is too awesome to come from all the same person.

How do you deal with someone who wants you do do an art test?

There are a few possibilities:

  • You can take the test (obviously.)
  • You can try and figure out with them why they want the test and if there is another way for you to mitigate the risk.
  • Decline the offer.

What should you do when you take the test? Make sure that you can reuse the art for your own self-marketing purpose, and watermark the art, it should be done discreetly enough to show off your skills, but in a way that doesn’t let the potential client use it without paying.

In that particular situation you are the only judge, but it’s possible to ask politely for the rationals behind the test. Maybe they didn’t see what they are looking for in your portfolio, maybe you have more samples that match what they are looking for better.  Maybe they worry that you can’t take art direction, so refering them to past clients would help. Make sure to warn your reference that they might get a mail or a call so they aren’t too surprised. Maybe they want to be sure that you aren’t too good to be true, again, references might help.

So in the end, it all depends how much you want the job and how much you trust them. But asking questions cost nothing!


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