Do you get what you pay for? Do you pay for what you get?

Published 10:00 am Monday, April 29, 2024

“Hey, man, would you draw something for me?”

I used to get this question a lot. It was usually followed by a request for something that was Renaissance master-level stuff, on a huge scale, and desired for free.

One guy — I’ll call him Michael, because that was his name — kept asking me to draw him something that was extremely detailed, large-scale (about 3×5 feet), and at no cost to him. Though the subject matter was interesting to me (it was something to do with one of his favorite bands), the project would have taken hours of research, planning, and execution, and would have utilized skills I worked long and hard to gain and maintain. I told him I couldn’t do it for nothing, and gave him a ballpark figure for what I would charge. 

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He was offended. Because we were co-workers and I liked to draw, I should do it for nothing, he insisted. 

OK. I said I would, on one condition. Michael was really good at construction work, so I asked if he would be willing to build a brick landscaping enclosure for the rose bushes at my house. I showed him a quick sketch of what I wanted and gave him approximate measurements. He came back later with a list of all the materials I would need to buy, and how much he charged per hour to do the work. 

I acted surprised. What? You’re not going to do this for FREE, Michael? 

He said that would be crazy. He was going to be putting in all the work, and wasn’t going to pay for the materials he’d be giving me. 

But you LIKE doing this kind of work, I told him, and we’re coworkers! 

When I could see the lights still weren’t coming on for him, I explained to him that what I had asked him to do was essentially the same thing he’d asked me to do for him — use my time, skills and materials to provide something for him at no cost.

He got it. He just looked at me for a few seconds, then turned and walked off. No more mention of free work for either of us.

Later on, when I drew a poster for another coworker that featured him as the fifth member of The Beatles — in my own caricature style — Michael got upset when he found out. Why would I draw something like that for Kelly and not for him? 

The simple answer was Kelly asked me what I would charge to do it, and paid what I asked — an amount we both agreed was fair. 

As a writer, I get paid to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I use my training, skills and research to do my job. When people ask me to do it for free, I usually will say no. I have helped with special projects for students, non-profits, churches, etc. But when I write something for a publication that in turn sells that published product, I get paid to do so.

Likewise, the publisher gets paid for the product they publish. Just like fast food restaurants get paid for their food, clothing stores get paid for their clothes, and barbers get paid for haircuts. 

Does it seem unfair to you to be asked to pay for work someone else has done — such as news articles in print or online? Tell that to the waiter at the next restaurant you dine in, or the cashier at the next department store you visit. Then you can tell it to the police officer, and the judge. 

I was taught to respect others and the work they do, and not to take things that do not belong to me. I have to say it’s frustrating when people think that only applies to them and what they do and have, and not to people who create things for a living — like writers and artists.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I already know many don’t. 

News editor Brett Campbell can be reached at