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The Gift That Gives Back


Making your art is only half of the fun! Giving of your time and artistic ability can be a great way to increase the reach of your artwork, and double the joy you receive from making it. Here are a few things to consider when deciding whether or not to give away your artwork.

by Amy Ng

People are surprised to hear that I sometimes give away my time for free. I’ve done pro bono work for charities and have entered into fun pitches where I worked in collaboration with web designers/programmers. I sketch for people and have created illustrations for select projects too.

No, I’m not bonkers. I just feel that the more I give, the more I receive. I do not think that giving my work away devalues what I do at all. Because when I give my work away for free, I think of it as a gift from me, to whomever the recipient may be.

You see, I am so extremely lucky to have been on the receiving end of such generosity—either from friends or family members—that I feel that the best I can do to give back is by paying it forward. This act not only reminds the world that the kindness of strangers is not a myth, but also confirms that there is still hope for genuine warmth and generosity in spirit.

But how, you ask, is the best way to navigate these choppy waters? Here’s a simple guideline that I subconsciously adhere to whenever I consider giving away my work for free, and it’s something I share with those who ask:

1. Do it for yourself.

This is top on my list; I give things away to improve. I wrote and submitted short articles to the local newspaper when I was a tween. I even drew pictures and sent them in (some of which, to my delight, got published!). I did it because it seemed fun at the time. While I never had publishers knocking on my door or received monetary remunerations, writing helped me articulate things better, and drawing was just so much fun.

I participated in a collaboration once, where a team of developers needed a logo to go along with a certain web application. I whipped one up, and it was fun to see the whole team getting excited about it! It felt good to be able to contribute to a team environment—especially since I had no programming chops to offer—and I would do it again in an instant.

But here’s the thing. Some people assume that because you’re having fun, it should be reward enough. This is insulting on many levels (yes, they might have pointed out the obvious, but they don’t need to rub it in). Such behavior is condescending, rude, and should not be tolerated.

2. It’s for a good cause.

I raised my hand to help a charity organization create a logo for their new fundraising and awareness campaign. It felt good, I learned quite a few things along the way, and it helped me build connections.

3. I like the people I’d work with.

It’s super simple, this one. Maybe I’m too generous—but if I like a group of people and we click, I’m more inclined to say yes. Maybe I like their idea. Maybe I like their cause. But most probably, it’s because I want to show my support, especially to those who might not be able to afford what I am able to offer right there and then. I’ve also done barters with a few acquaintances, and instead of paying cash, we exchange things or services; which is tremendously helpful if the barter was out of a mutual need!

4. I have a bit of time to spare.

Now, this doesn’t happen very often (me having time to spare), but instead of filling my time worrying about paying the bills, I’d rather have something to busy myself with (only if points #1, #2, and #3 apply). You might want to think about your ability to give from this perspective too.

Whatever you decide, don’t worry about giving away your time and skills for free. You just might be surprised by what you’ll get back in return—especially when you least expect it.

Amy Ng lives in Malaysia, and writes for, a blog devoted to all things art and illustration. She is also a guest lecturer at One Academy, one of the leading art and design colleges in Malaysia. She is passionate about helping creatives infuse personality into their work, and will talk your leg off when it comes to creative entrepreneurship. Her newest project, 1000 Things To Draw teaches people of all ages to draw (pun intended) from their imaginations.

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