Spec work parading as a contest

Spec work makes my head explode!

Maybe you have a business and you need art, or a logo and you are thinking a contest is the way to go, you give the same amount as a prize as you would pay for the work, but you get to pick your favorite in the bunch.

Maybe you are a designer or an artist and you don’t really know how to get your first gig and you see an ad for an art contest to create a logo and think it might just be the way to go.

I find that this sounds more like spec work than a contest. Yes there is a prize at the end, but basically, a bunch of people work for free, then you take your pick and pay only that one.

The line between a contest and spec work is very thin, but often when participating in a contest you get something even if you don’t win (critics, exposure, contacts) and if you win, you get something that you wouldn’t have gotten if you had done the work normally (send a quote, get the job, get paid.) If I participate in a contest on http://theartorder.com/ I get my art in front of a whole lot of AD’s from the biggest companies in the industry, and I often get feedback from pros. And If I show my portfolio to someone in the industry later, often they remember seeing it on ArtOrder. Now that’s something I don’t usually get from a mundane gig.

What does your contest have to offer that should incite artists to participate and run the risk of working for no pay? Is this approach better than asking people to send you quotes and portfolios and picking the best one?

I know there are sites entirely dedicated to contests and “crowdsourcing” and they look popular. Now, just because some artists lowball each other vying for work doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. And maybe there is a lot of traffic on those sites, but  I don’t want people to see my work on there because I assume that the people who are going to see my work here are either lowballing artists or cheap potential employers looking for spec work.

My position on this is pretty clear, now, readers, what do you think about contests? Please post in the comments.


For comments or questions you can also contact me at chantal (at) chantalfournier (dot) com.

I’d also like to remind you guys of my mailing list . I promise that I’m not going to use this list to spam you about trivial stuff all the time.  I have an option to sign up as an art director, a collector or just a curious person, I’m going to use that knowledge of my audience to tailor my mailings. I’m not going to give, sell or lease this list. Please sign up, you might even learn something!
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  1. CelebrenIthil

    What a coincidence, I’ve been on a discussion about the rampant low-balling on the Deviantart Job Offer forum. I was adding to the discussion something I had witnessed too.
    I have been browsing the job offers and been appalled to see a huge portions of the entries ask for artists to produce some sort of piece for a chance to be considered as a candidate, or turning the job offer into a contest. To make matters worse, the rules specifically state both practices are prohibited on the Job Offer forum.
    I’m really bummed, and I don’t know how we could really raise awareness to this. 😦

    • Qitsune

      CelebrenIthil, thank you for your comment. This is indeed a problem and just standing up for yourself is a good start. If you don’t know how to explain your position, you can always head up to http://www.no-spec.com/, they have good articles that explain the situation in detail. You can also direct your friends, collegues or clients there, it’s a good resource.

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