As you may or may not know, I am a photographer by trade, calligraphy is just a hobby of mine which I started in order to improve my Japanese. By starting Beyond Calligraphy, I’ve made many new friends in the art of Calligraphy and Sumi-E. Sometimes I get an E-mail or phone call from friends asking this question: “A book company/a person/XYZ Company just contacted me and would like to use my work, do you think I should let them”? I guess they contact me because I am a photographer and lots of people contact photographers to use their images, so they ask for my opinions.


In every case I reply the same “Great, I am happy for you”, followed by “are they going to pay you?” which for the most part is followed by “No”. The book company/a person/XYZ Company will just print my name in the book as the Calligrapher and send me a copy.

The conversation goes back and forth with me trying to convince them that it’s a bad idea. They aren’t listening, and I know it, as all they can think about is how great it is to have their work published and how this is a great promotional opportunity.

I usually ask the following questions to try and get my point across to their deaf ears.

  1. How many people are going to read this book? 10/20/500 or millions of people? What percentage of those people are going to do a search for the calligrapher after they read the book and buy something from the calligrapher?
  2. Is the company an NPO or not? If it is an NPO is everyone donating their time resources to the project or just you? Is the cause something you support?
  3. Are people going to have to pay for the book or is it free? If people have to pay, how is that money being used?
  4. Last but very important, will your landlord accept those calligraphy credits in exchange for rent. Or what about the car payments/ food/ calligraphy supplies for calligraphy credit?????

Why Your Calligraphy Credit Never Works Out the Way You Plan

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand how it feels to get something published when you are just getting started, but you should look at the whole picture. You need to understand that when you give your work away you free (or for bragging rights, etc.) you are just hurting yourself (if you wish to make a living from your calligraphy) by devaluing the work of Calligraphers who do this for a living.

If you disagree with this, leave your points below so we talk about it.

Watch this interview with Harlan Ellison (an American writer who wrote for Star Trek/The Outer Limits to name a couple of things he’s done) about paying the writer. Enjoy.