A year after I stopped working for an “online studio” for a real, full time job, I received a mass email from the owner asking about our availability for future projects. The owner was… an interesting person to work for, sometimes assigning artists to work on personal projects instead of client work.
Understand, this was my first “job” out of college, and I didn’t have the experience or confidence to ask for payments that were late or never delivered. But this was a year later, and I figured it was a good time to bring it up since it looked like he wanted to keep working with me.
Me: (via email) Hi! I would love to keep working with you, but I still haven’t been paid for some of the work I’ve done for you. I would need those accounts to be settled before moving forward on any thing else.
I included an invoice (for around $300, calculated using the amounts I was typically paid at the time I did work for him), as well as all records of payment from him as proof of the situation. Under the circumstances it felt like the smart and reasonable thing to do, especially when you consider that he was using some of the work I was never paid for on his website as an example of the services his company offered.
Before sending this email, he could occasionally message me via multiple channels. After I sent this email, that stopped. One silent month later, I sent him a follow up email asking for an update, expressing concern about his lack of communication. Here are some highlights from his immediate response (emphasis added):
Client: What concerns me about these Johnny-come-lately bills for art delivered well over a year ago is that they are presented with the unspoken assertion that [COMPANY] doesn’t pay its artists. That claim is simply false. We have paid out nearly $XX,000 to artists so far in [YEAR], and many thousands more in [YEAR]. Finding that much business takes a lot of work.
As difficult as it may be to face the facts, your work and the work of our other artists is worth exactly what our clients are willing to pay for it, and not a cent more. I try to supplement that with internal projects, but our studio is not wealthy, and we can’t afford to support large teams on long-term internal projects yet.
Incidentally, I’ve had to pass up thousands of dollars in work over the last year because you weren’t available to draw logos. In fact, you missed most of [PROJECT], which could have earned you some fat commissions.
However, I will make you this offer. If you will make yourself available as an … artist to do logos I can get you $250 (at minimum, probably quite a bit more) in new work in pretty short order. And I will throw in a little extra on each project until it adds up to a $250 bonus.
After subtracting the fees for the “long-term internal projects” he “couldn’t” pay me for, I sent an email back addressing his concerns point by point, and concluded with the following:
Me: …using your reasoning as outlined above, I am still owed $75 for [PIECE] that both earned you some profit and that is currently used in your online showcase. If you are at all interested in still having a friendly working relationship, I request that you pay this amount. Given that you have already paid $XX,000 for art this year, my fees are hardly unreasonable. ESPECIALLY since my work is apparently worth thousands to you.
I ended with this kicker:
Me: If you do not agree to this compromise, please remove the piece from your showcase.
I never heard from him again, despite two follow-up emails. The piece was never removed. From what I can tell, all online activity on the company website died off two years ago, including mentions of any new clients.
Incidentally, one of the “long-term internal projects” he never paid me for was one of the logos that he used to brand his entire company.