The Thing About Exposure

This is a picture of a train.

And if you don’t mind my saying so, it happens to be a particularly snazzy picture of a train.

I should know. I drew it. And excuse the glare.

By the way, please don’t tell anyone I drew it. Because… I don’t really draw trains. In fact, for the most part, I don’t draw anything recognizable. Whatever I am, I fall well and truly on the abstract side of the road.

The train is a special occasion. Specifically, a friend asked me to draw a train for her grandfather, a retired engineer (who happened to be one of the adult mentors in a youth club we both belonged to.) So, I drew a train.

And the train hung on his wall, viewed by tens of people. Tens, I’m telling you.

Well, fine. I did it to make a friend happy.

Now, imagine, on the other hand that I had done it for exposure.

I get a lot of pay-in-exposure type requests. Some of them are direct, and others beat around the bush a lot, and some of them are open calls to all of the artists in the area.

Among the more notable versions of the request are the community art project, in which I would wind up having to buy an unfinished rocking chair (for example) from them, paint it according to their “theme”, and then let them auction it off for “their” charity. (And I’ve seen this with other objects, ranging from trash barrels to giant rodents.) And it usually is for charity. And always “exposure.”

So, imagine I drew a train for exposure.

What I usually draw, and what I want to draw, is this:


Or, this.

But the exposure I’d get for a train picture is tens (or hundreds, or thousands) of people who have seen work I don’t typically do. The people who want what I do probably aren’t going to connect my abstract work to that picture of a train. And the people who really liked the train and call me? Well, they’re probably going to want more trains.

The same goes for people who liked the rocking chair, the trash barrel, or the giant rodent.

The exposure that I would be getting paid in isn’t usually exposure for what I do, or what I want to do. It’s exposure for what someone else wanted me to do, or talked me into doing for the poor orphans.

You could send a hell of a lot of train picture aficionados my way before it becomes worth it to draw that train. I don’t do trains. And yes, there may be some crossover, and maybe somebody will look at the paintings I do have, and fall madly in love… but more likely, they’ll take a quick look around, realize there are no train pictures, and then walk back out.

And the people who do like what I want to do? Well, they probably never bothered looking for the train artist in the first place.

So, where do I draw the line?

1.) If this is a personal favor, how well do I know the person who is asking, and anyone else involved with it? For instance, I’d known both my friend and her grandfather since we were kids.

2.) If this is a fundraising thing, is this a charity I would give actual, cold, hard cash to? You know the saying Time is money? Well, why would you invest your time in a charity you wouldn’t invest money in?

3.) Is the exposure worth it? Does it highlight the direction I want my art and my business to go? The skills and aesthetic that I’m proud of? Is the piece that I’m showing off similar to pieces I do in real life? Is there enough space in my artist’s biography for a couple of pictures of what I really do, and a comment that I’ve done something out of my comfort zone to support the cause?

4.) Does the “exposure” actively damage your brand? For instance, if you draw children’s books, auctioning off an erotic nude for charity could be a very bad idea. Or is that life-sized wombat statue really what you’d like to be associated with?

5.) What happened the last time? Did I get a ton of traffic from links on their website? Or was it pretty much a one-way street?


  1. Reply

    Whichever you do I think you have talent. Loved all them. Hope you find your answers. Cheering for you.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: