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SPGA Archives Accepted by the Tacoma Public Library

by Mark Monlux

The seeds of the Society of Professional Graphic Artists (SPGA) were planted in 1955 by a group of freelancing graphic artists and illustrators in Seattle, Washington. Much of what is taken for granted in the community resulted from their efforts. As the first and second generation of members began retiring from the group, Dan Ballard, a member who served every role within the group, retained the archives, becoming our unofficial historian. A wealth of material, including the original charter, minutes, and newsletters, was preserved which Dan then organized and distilled to create a comprehensive history for the group.

With Dan’s unexpected death last year, we feared this rare collection of material would be lost. Thankfully, this is not the case. The Northwest Room of the Tacoma Public Library, recognizing the material’s value, accepted the archives. Dan Ballard’s efforts eased the task of including the SPGA archive in the library collection.

SPGA member Dan Ballard

Below are some high points of the SPGA history Dan Ballard put together. It’s an inspiring look at the effect a creative professional advocacy group can have on the community.

History of the SPGA/Seattle Chapter

(scroll down)

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Art Studio Association of Seattle is officially charted and registered with the State of Washington as a non-profit corporation. It begins its long battle (almost ten years, see 1967) with the Washington State Tax Commission, over the State’s repeated attempts to impose a sales tax on graphic art services.

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Late-1950s / Early 1960s

The ASAS tells local ad agencies “No more” to their practice of requiring freelancers they hire to pad the billing, to include a hidden 15% – 25% commission retained by the agency. Net billing becomes the rule, not only for artists, but local photographers, printers, typographers, engravers, etc.

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Early 1960s

Campaigns local printers, billboard companies, local daily newspapers, and the local Yellow Pages to stop offering clients free artwork as an enticement to get their business. As a result, this practice gradually fades away.

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After almost a year of studying the codes of similar organizations, the ASAS adopts its own Code of Ethics for members to adhere to. At the time, it was one of the strongest codes in the nation.

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Convinces executives from Boeing’s Art Division, as well as some other companies and ad agencies, to prohibit their employees from undercutting freelancers by moonlighting.

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Hires prominent tax attorney, Thomas Todd, to negotiate directly with the Washington State government to define creative work as a non-product service, and as such not subject to sales tax in the State of Washington. And to further clarify that the creator providing such service is by default the owner of the work. The result was “Excise Tax Bulletin 308-04.224, Artwork Distinguished” and is why no one in our industry has to collect Washington sales tax.

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Produces a tape featuring interviews with the general public, titled “What Do You Think of Commercial Artists?” The public’s lack of awareness about graphic artists was both amusing and unsettling.

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Group incorporates with the State of Washington as a non-profit corporation, and official name is changed to “Professional Art Studio Association” (PASA).

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early 1970s

Pressures one of the largest ad agencies, Cole & Weber, to stop requiring that artists sign “Work-for-Hire” purchase-orders and contracts. They agreed since most of Seattle’s top freelancers and art studio owners were PASA members at the time.

1974 SPGA logo by Arthur Brown


Group’s official name is changed to “Society of Professional Graphic Artists” (SPGA), to more clearly identify the type of work done by its membersGroup’s official name is changed to “Society of Professional Graphic Artists” (SPGA), to more clearly identify the type of work done by its members.

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SPGA produces and distributes a standardized “Pricing Guide System” worksheet. The worksheet featured a formula for calculating the price for a graphic art project, based on size of client, usage, project difficulty, and other factors.

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SPGA produces “Portfolio One,” a portfolio booklet/directory, featuring sample artwork by the members. “Portfolio One” was distributed to potential clients and sold in retail stores.

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“Winner’s List” of problem clients, originally kept and maintained in the early years of the SPGA, is revived and circulated among the SPGA’s Membership. It was so named because an offending client who continually “won” in their dealings with artists was the “winner,” relegating the unfortunate artist to being the “loser.”

SPGA logo 1985


SPGA produces a three-ring “Members’ Notebook” covering most of the main things a graphic artist must know about starting and running a successful freelance business.

Artists for Tax Equity logo


SPGA joins “Artists for Tax Equity” (AFTE), a national coalition organized by the Graphic Artists Guild. Led by Jonathan Combs, the SPGA works locally with AFTE, to win passage in the US Congress.

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Graphic Artists Guild approaches the SPGA about becoming a Guild chapter (the last of four such overtures). This time it is a good match, and the SPGA votes to become a Graphic Artists Guild chapter.

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SPGA organizes mail-in protest of proposed new Washington State sales tax on services. The proposed tax law is defeated in the State legislature, due to opposition by a large statewide coalition, which includes the SPGA.

SPGA Seattle Chapter logo


SPGA formally chartered as a chapter of the Graphic Artists Guild, on March 30. Group adopts new name: The SPGA/Seattle Chapter of the Graphic Artists Guild.

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The SPGA/Seattle Chapter stages its first-ever Annual “Pricing Game,” featuring the Guild’s National Executive Director, Paul Basista, as guest speaker.

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1988 SPGA President Jonathan Combs is elected National Vice-President of the Graphic Artists Guild.

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“See Cruise ’97” at Pier 70, in Seattle. This was the first edition of our chapter’s successful annual NW illustrators show. The show is renamed “ARTJAM” the following year.

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SPGA/Seattle Chapter “Member-Recommended Vendor Directory” is researched and distributed as a Membership benefit.

Mark Monlux is an award winning illustrator and cartoonist. Freelancing since 1985, the bulk of his work has been in the adverting and publishing world, his work in recent years has turned to various aspects of Graphic Facilitation; Ideation Illustration, Cartoon Reporter, Sketchnoter, and Whiteboard Animation. He has a national reputation for his knowledge on copyright law, contracts, good trade practice, and business ethics. He cofounded The C.L.A.W. The Cartoonists’ League of Absurd Washingtonians, served on the Guild’s National & Executive Committees of the Graphic Artist Guild for several years. He is also a member of the National Cartoonists Society and Cartoonists Northwest. He is currently producing a series of “Law & Artist” videos with Daniel Abraham.