Sunday, February 1, 2009


Got the thumbs-up/go-ahead on two new designs a couple days ago, tshirt/poster art for upcoming races in the summer. I posted the work-in-progress for one of them here: Opera Fairbanks’ “Run of the Valkyries”, as I like to show the occasional ongoing project to students in class. It points up several things; one, that nobody’s above screwing up, as evidenced by the evolution of this design, and two, reiterates the mantra that the creation of artworks is oftentimes not instantaneous but a gradual process. And the old annoyingly true adage about “99% persperation/1% inspiration” sometimes comes into play when you get an even better idea while reworking ideas. In fact, there’s no difference between myself and a beginner in the frustration over not having something come out quite like you had in mind, or what you originally envisioned. Which is why it’s so crucial to stay with it anyways, as there might be unexpected developments that in turn exceed your initial concept.

One case in point here being the goof with the right breastplate; even after penciling it out first, as it was inked I watched it appear in horrifying real-time right before my eyes like a self-induced slow-motion accident. Still, 90% of the drawing was ok enough to merit scanning it instead of redrawing everything – which in many cases is actually simpler and easier than relying on the computer to save you. They really were keen on the inclusion of their official logo somewhere in the design, so a pendant doubled as a mask over the mistake.

Shown here is a selection of transitional stages that reflect a balance between what I thought would make a better image, along with some practical modifications pointed out by the organization’s folks. Just like a critique it usually works best to have a face-to-face meeting where things can be discussed and ideas bounced around, though the majority of adjustments can be done emailing proofs back and forth. I encourage students to do the same – taking a quick snapshot of work-in-progress if they are having trouble or want some feedback, and I can make suggestions with Photoshop.

The relationship between a client and myself is analogous to what I try to establish with students in the art class, in that there is a series of checkpoints where input is solicited and revisions made to their pieces.
I like to make a point that at least my students don’t have to deal with the recurrent nightmare of “art by committee” where sketches are constantly resubmitted to a group of people, many of whom for some reason think their opinions are more valid than the artists’ – or worse yet, might be bigger control freaks than me. Such a situation is analogous to that of taking your truck to a garage, and I’m like the master mechanic: sure, be more than happy to take another look at it for ya, but there is always a shop fee and an hourly rate that gets charged (even if something else goes wrong or it turns out what we thought was the original problem doesn’t fix it). One could argue which is a more valuable skill or a better career with more earning power, but it helps put things into perspective. It’s worth explaining that even if I do happen to enjoy my work, there is a limit to patience when it comes to either making ceaseless modifications or in a worse-case scenario, starting all over from scratch. Sometimes it can get to be a real buzz-kill when “work” becomes a “job”, but in a practical sense there are a similar set of considerations when creating art for me or for something/someone else, like perseverance, discipline and hunger. Ego can be a humbling speed-bump, and sometimes like in any relationship there are other issues that make it impossible to work with certain personalities. Fortunately I don’t have to grovel too much these days, which is good, as life is way too short to spend any time working for assholes.
Hopefully at some point one can cultivate a list of high-caliber “dream clients” that give you essentially free reign over projects; in effect they have contracted you in particular to create something that suits their particular needs, recognizing and valuing what your own personal and unique style and experience has to contribute. In other words, there is a happy medium between them using my art and my art still retaining enough qualities of self-expression to still be my art. This as opposed to some clients who essentially need a trained monkey to put together custom clip art at laughable costs.
A related side-note here in that the pricing of this work isn’t a fixed structure either; there is considerable leeway in staggering fees to accommodate a range of clients from non-profits, the “art by committee” gigs, work for the aforementioned dream clients, friends & family. There are multiple tiers in charging for artwork, factors like deadline, complexity of design, adding color, usage fees etc. all of these factor in what by now can be estimated for a minimum charge that more often than not roughly correlates with a decent enough hourly rate. And some of the higher-ticket gigs will in turn enable command decisions on donating work to a couple special causes over the year.

So this again straddles the line between fine & commercial art – to a certain degree the work is personal but it still has to meet a set of required parameters, just like assigned pieces in the classroom. This is a constantly changing dynamic in my freelance gigs, with a gray area overlapping when I already happen to enjoy doing work in a genre like cartooning that is easily applicable to advertising - doing art for me solely to satisfy some personal vision w/out consideration of financial compensation – or doing it for someone else so I can make rent and pay the bills. I share all these issues and aspects with students, as it’s important for them to see firsthand what it’s like in the trenches trying to get by as a working artist.

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