Today I read a very interesting email posted by Dan Carraso via facebook. It was a very polite, yet in a very backhanded way, rejection email in response to an extended invitation to enter a "contest" where artists can submit artwork to promote Floyd "Money" Mayweather's upcoming match in Las Vegas in the MGM Grand. The contest and email invite was from Showtime. The winner of the contest's prize was to be flown to Las Vegas and their artwork would be featured at the MGM Grand and throughout the week of the match on Showtime.
I look back at when I was fresh out of art school, only 2 years ago. And back when I was naive, and fresh off the boat in the land of freelance illustration and professional artists, I would have probably jumped at the opportunity to have my art featured and shown at such a highly watched/widely covered event. When you are a fledgling artist and don't have a penny to your name since you are deep in loan debt, you probably should jump on all the opportunities/open doors like these contests. It helps to expose your art and talents to the world. And yes, a free flight to an amazing boxing match would be very welcome.
Presently, 2 years later, I am a year and a half into my first full-time picture book assistant designer job at HCP. I do not make that much money as an assistant, but I love what I do and I learn a LOT doing it. NYC rent is expensive. I also work at night on various freelance projects that help to pay my bills and allow me to treat myself to an occasional fancy dinner or buy myself something nice every couple of months. Honestly, I no longer have the time to spend on projects that will not pay me. Especially something that requires me to take the precious time away from the projects that actually do PAY me, not to mention the time away from working on my own PERSONAL projects.
With that in mind, I am blessed to have my day job. I am blessed to have the clients that gladly pay me what they can to compensate me for my artwork (key word is the "WORK" in "artwork"). If you have the time to do these free contests, all the best to you, they're opportunities to do diverse projects to add to your portfolio, which you will need in order to get to the jobs that will pay you.
(Above: Goldilocks and the 3 Bears character studies from a "freelabor" project I got recruited to do fresh out of college, 2 years ago.)
After paying your dues in the world of professional artists, find the people and opportunities, the open doors that will pay you what you are owed. Do art that YOU want to do, that pleases you. Do the art that feeds you. And more importantly, do the art that feeds your soul and helps to rejuvenate your sense of artistic/creative freedom. That's my 2 cents on the matter. I'd love to hear your opinions too! :]