Say NO to Spec Work

No spec! No spec!No spec! No spec!

I don’t get many chances to talk about being an artist on a science blog, but as somebody who only recently was able to make comics a full-time profession, I am a huge proponent of fair wages and practices for creative professionals.

Particularly when it comes to being paid. In my early years, I did a lot of unpaid work. After graduating college, it was 100% normal to pencil and entire comic book on the promises of “money after publishing.” It was a rotten system, and I quit drawing comics for years until I started my old science comic. So when I was asked by a science organization to submit a comic for their annual calendar, the timing couldn’t have been better. I was already amped up about creative contests.

For the purposes of keeping this post evergreen, I’ll spare the details. If you’re curious, the full post (and links to follow-up posts) can be viewed over at Popular Science.

If I could give only one piece of advice for young creatives looking to “break in”, “make it”, or get “discovered”, it would be this:



  1. Is your contest spec work? Find out at No!Spec’s website.
  2. If you’re looking for fresh voices, artists on the internet usually make themselves pretty known. Just scroll through sites like Tumblr sometime. If you’re able to spam a hundred cartoonists, but still need to “find new voices” through a contest, something is very wrong.
  3. Oh hey, Symbiartic’s Glendon Mellow put together a handy list of science artists on twitter.
  4. Don’t spam this list with your contest. There are circles of hell reserved for such betrayals of trust.
  5. Glendon also wrote this piece titled, “So You Want to Hire a Science Illustrator.” He’s really cool like that.
  6. If you still want to do an open call, collect pitches instead of finished works. Work together with creatives, rather than taking an “I’ll know it when I see it” attitude.
  7. [Update 12/22/2016] It’s also 100% possible to have a fun, non-spec contest. Just ask yourself “Who’s benefiting here?” If it’s you (the contest holder), you might want to go back to the top of this list.
Like this post? Consider supporting me on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!