#16 Let's Talk Spec

Posted on Wednesday, Apr 22, 2015
At long last, another Open Source Creative Podcast episode is here! Sorry for the long gap between episodes, folks… it’s been a crazy month. In any cast, this episode was recorded back in March and in it I talk about doing spec work (that is, speculative work) as a creative producer of things. Episode 15 really helped me nail down where I think my position is on this, so in a way, it’s an extension of that. It’s a bit of a contrast to the folks at nospec.com.Originally posted on monsterjavaguns.com.

Show Notes

At long last, another Open Source Creative Podcast episode is here! Sorry for the long gap between episodes, folks… it’s been a crazy month. In any cast, this episode was recorded back in March and in it I talk about doing spec work (that is, speculative work) as a creative producer of things. Episode 15 really helped me nail down where I think my position is on this, so in a way, it’s an extension of that. It’s a bit of a contrast to the folks at nospec.com.

Of course, when there’s a month gap between episodes, there’s a lot of news that transpires. First (because, well, it’s my podcast), the me-related news:

  • Be a responsible open source user - I wrote an article that was posted on opensource.com!
  • I had a Kickstarter project - If you’re on my mailing list or follow me here or on social media, you probably already know this. I learned a lot from this… definitely interested in sharing
  • Calendar flipbook animation - For my Kickstarter project, I designed a daily tear-off calendar. Not only could I not resist making it also a flipbook, I was compelled to make an animation of that flipbook in action. Eventually, I’ll write a little tutorial on how it’s done.
  • Blender For Dummies 3rd edition is coming out! - You can pre-order it now, but the official release is 27 April 2015. Wheeeee!

Yeah… but enough about me. There was also a bunch of real news in the open source creative world:

Calls for content:

Talkatcha next week!

5 Archived Comments

Regus Martin, Apr 23, 2015

One great example in defense of Spec work is Andrew Kramer and his work with J. J. Abrams. He did his first project for him without any expected pay. (he did get paid for it awhile later, but that’s beside the point) That let to him working on many more paid projects such as Star Trek and lots of other major productions.

Jason, Apr 23, 2015

Good point. And a lot of [lesser known] people get their start similarly, with strategically considered spec work. Of course, the counter argument is these individuals are outliers and don’t represent what typically happens among the majority of creatives. There’s some truth there; good fortune does play its role. However, it’s not the only role; you’ll get no where without developing your skill and continued dedication to your craft. I would also say that being the outlier is, in part, an implicit goal when you choose to do creative work. How many creatives want to make work that’s just like everyone else?

TL;DR: Some people might think you’ve made an unfair example. I’m not one of those people. :P

Bassam, May 13, 2015

Finally listened to your podcast while grooming some hair (cg not real). Great delivery, fun way to make your commute more useful!

I’d argue a little that you are against spec work – since a lot of the stuff you describe: Marketing work, fun work that could later pay, Free/Open work, work for contract are not spec.

Spec is more driven by the client, and comes with no guarantees – i.e. if you do a ‘fan’ video for a project and post it online, and later the company hires you, I’d say that’s not quite the traditional definition of spec work. On the otherhand, if an agency or client asks you to make some small part of their project in order to bid on it, that is more like traditional spec work.

Jason, May 15, 2015

I see where you’re coming from, but spec work can be artist-driven. There are spec scripts and spec commercials that people produce on the hope that someone will purchase/distribute it from them. It does bear the name. But maybe that’s part of the issue… perhaps the term has been overloaded with a few multiple meanings and I’m unintentionally conflating them.

Dave Hingley, May 14, 2015

Hi Jason,

Finally got round to listening to your podcast – you got my surname spot on – well done sir! Again I have spent a couple of days cogitating your general gist of the podcast and I think we should try break up spec work into a number of different categories:

portfolio / promotion pieces

These are pieces you have made for yourself to demonstrate your artistic range. You can’t really call them speculative as you didn’t pitch them to anyone -If you sell them later, that’s an added bonus. But wasn’t the original intention of the artwork


here’s a more calculated risk. You are banking on your work being judged by a competition and winning the prize. An example of this would be the current conception over on Doug walker’s site – this actually looks like a fun competition with a decent cash prize. Here, I guess the challenge is to produce something of decent quality in the shortest period of time, that adheres to the rules of the contest.

True Spec work:

thie is either you sending off art to potential clients or anticipating a clients needs and getting off a piece of art to them before they realise they need it or pitching a piece from them. Here the challenge is to get your art used so you could be paid for it.

There is really no problem with portfolio pieces, its your art, your IP, you can do what the hell you like with it. Things start getting murky when we move into the territory of competitions. I remember a few years ago seeing posts on various animation message boards asking for animators to make a low budget music video – there’s the usual things in the request

“We can’t pay much but it will give you great exposure”

the band was actually a very well known band who had a number of hits in the 70’s. Needless to say the forums I was on let them know in no uncertain terms what they could do with their offer.

Here’s some things things to consider about contests:

  1. if you enter the contest and you dont win. who owns the IP? If part of the conditions of the contest is that the contest organiser owns the IP, and you dont win, and later they decide to use your art in a different way – what recourse do you have?

  2. what does great exposure actually mean? say you make this music video for a band and it gets viewed 10 Billion times ( congratulations! you beat Gangnam style!) How many of those views will result in new commisions? seriously ask your self, next time you get a commision, ask them how they heard about you. was it your online portfolio? your facebook page? the music video? I think it would be intersting to see exactly how much extra work ‘exposure’ gets you.

  3. do the rules of the competinion, not constitute a contract? should you be protected if competition organisers try and do something counter to the rules?

Things get even more tricky for true spec work. as it can be potentially dangerous. I work in games and most companies will not accept any kind of speculative pitch for a game or character because if we are already working on something that they pitch they could argue the company stole their design. so with that information, I would think it’s safe to assume that any company asking for spec work or putting feelers out for spec work do not have in house departments they are commisioning for. So if they want a logo, they probably dont have an Art Director, graphic designer, or artists in the place. The Person who will be evaluating your logo design, has no idea about composition, colour theory or general design principles, has no idea how long it takes to produce the logo, or the best format to have the file in and no idea how much it is worth. should your design be deemed good enough, then you submit an invoice, they then decide if its worth the price you invoiced them. they will either pay it ( well done!) or they will try and negotiate it down. if you prove too beligerant, then they will just decide to not have a logo, no one gets paid – except another designer commisioned a few days later to make a logo that looks like your design but significantly different.

I disagree that all work is spec work. if you are contracted with a regular salary then how can that be speculative? By definition, speculative is a gamble you submit the work on the hope that you get something out of it. your point that if you have a contract and the client reneges means that they have breached their contract- you could therefore have grounds to pursue them through your countries legal system.

the examples of the game engines is a little different. as commercial piece of software, the licence fees will have generated enough income for the company op open them out to consumers, this will have 2 outcomes:

  1. the home user makes some kickass games and distributes them free (as in beer)

  2. the home user makes the next flappy bird. suddenly it becomes popular and a vialble commercial proposition, Engine company now says to user ‘Well done your game is a hit, plase licence your copy of the engine’ yes theres a fee but as the game is making money it should pay for itself.

two final thoughts:

Spec work is a gamble, you are competing against an unknown number of competitors to match a brief that may or may not exist for a client who is only concerned with final product. they don’t care about process they wont see the hours spent on the design or the drafts that weren’t finalised.

finally, I think commisioners need to understand that creating art is difficult, we make it look easy because we have spent our entire lives doing it. You wouldn’t ask a plumber to fix your central heating by telling them ‘ it will be great exposure’ or to do it ‘for the love’. You recognise he has specialist skills that you dont have and pay the rate set down by the plumber. I used to be quite offended by this sort of reasoning, like we are easily distracted mororns. Tell us how good you think our art is, pat is on the head and we’ll draw all your logos .


Jason van Gumster

Jason van Gumster

“I make stuff. I make stuff up. On occasion, I stuff-up what I make. I don’t do much stuff with make-up… though I’m not above trying. I work in all kinds of media: words, animation, ink, coffee, wood, video. And, of course, I’m really passionate about open source and open content, so that’s what I talk about in this show. Books I’ve written and other creative experiments I’ve made can be seen on monsterjavaguns.com.”