Here is the thing my mentor told me when I was getting out of art school. Never Do Work For Free.
For one thing, the people hiring you can afford to pay you, they aren’t a charity. (unless they really are a charity, in which case you are paid by the tax write-off, but I digress) What they do is get young new artists and tell them oh, this will give you Experience! It’s published work! (I would love to try this on a new plumber or a mechanic)
They never mention that if the work is good enough to be published, it’s good enough to be paid for.
The company getting your work is double billing their client, one fee for themselves, one fee for your art - which you never see.
So you have a portfolio of art you’ve done for free, and you shop it around town, and you get - you guessed it - more work for free! That’s what you become known for. I’ve had friends who were fantastic artists have to move to another part of the country just to get out of the pro-bono hole they’ve fallen into.
Now my mentor, who was offered this dead-end deal of no pay would always take his work back home, and would get a call within an hour or two, and voila, he’d get the gig and was paid what he wanted. He said to me, Act like a professional and you’ll be one, act like an Amatuer, and you will be paid accordingly, in all honesty, the quality of your work doesn’t even enter into the equation. (and as a result I’ve never done work for free that was not a gift or for charity)
Do I sound angry about this? Yes I am angry, because I’ve seen this all my life, my friends, my peers, my students, and particularly these days when ‘contests’ are rife online, make this picture for my etc. etc, and it will get you … pretty much no where.
These are in some cases, corporations, getting this free work, which they own all the rights to in perpetuity - when you sell art legit, you only grant certain limited publishing rights for a time period and never give up your copyright.
Just think how this looks on a resume/portfolio ‘I won a contest’ or you could say ‘these are my clients ‘
And maybe you want to do that contest for fun, and that’s your right, but after a time, you’ll feel cheated, particularly when you figure out you’ve not only given your work away, but paid for someone to take it, because you are now out your time, education, and materials. You’ve also helped to devalue your profession, because with a wide audience out there, willing, and even grateful to do work for free, why pay any artist for their efforts?