Back to the drawing board today; a wedding invitation of all things. Funny thing is this would be the third one I’ve ever been commissioned to do, about once every five years. You can guess the type of folks who would want something from me to grace one of the most important events of their life. I mean, hey – the surreal experience of asking a client if they think there’s too many, not enough, or just the right amount of moose nuggets on their wedding invitation is almost worth as much as the money.
The first one I ever did was the couple posing nude together; she actually was a model for figure drawing and he was an art major, and they really liked the style of my figure drawings (done with a stick dipped in India ink), which made for an interesting if not unique invitation that probably raised a few eyebrows.
The second was for a photographer friend who was marrying a musher, so the image was two dos getting “hitched” to a sled. Another dog was lifting its leg, another sniffing some butt – these folks obviously had a good sense of humor. Besides, who am I to argue, it’s all about them, right?
This one is for a long-time fan, and her husband I guess is really really into moose, and having a cartoon for the invite fits right along with the wacky, irreverent theme of the whole wedding, right down to the band playing the reception (“Wet Thunder”). I sat and chatted with her over coffee last week, sketching out a couple ideas right in front of her; modifying them on the fly with input from her and ideas from me, worked up in pencil to a point where she pretty much could see what the final piece would look like. Managed to pencil it out on Bristol board last night, ink it in this morning and scan, clean up, convert to vector, and patch together the main pair of moose with the two sets of calves (wouldn’t all fit together on the original), pick a funky font that complimented the artwork, and do a preliminary color version. That was approved as is, so this afternoon I’ll polish it off and burn a disc with every conceivable file format for them to use as needed.
Sometimes get nervous when doing “originals,” as being conscious of the fact that the original inked piece is part of the package deal will make me hyper-sensitive to the fact I can’t screw it up. Which dooms me to at some point smearing a bigass blob of ink across the page, like I did already for this piece, or if either of the cats deciding to lend a helping paw. My style has gotten so much looser and faster with the computer being a part of the overall process; I slack somewhat on the technical craft aspect, and can get away with basically being a slob. It’s such a hand-in-glove thing that I take for granted I can tweak away until it looks perfect later on and not get too stressed at the minor faults that occur on the table.
Gradually over the past few years I’ve took deliberate steps to correct that and to take a little more pride with the originals, but sometimes the best work happens on scraps or Xerox paper with Sharpies (not the most archival materials). There’s about a 50/50 chance that any given cartoon panel will be in saleable shape, which I’ll then treat with the wash and have on my table at signings if anyone’s interested. As it turns out, some of the very qualities I try and “hide” with the computer are what someone would look for in purchasing an original; slight imperfections, unerased pencil lines, coffee stains, beer bottle rings, blood, whatever.
*This all brings up another whole future posting; the concept of “originals” in a digital world, plus ownership and usage rights for images.
Little gigs like this sometimes can present a problem as they are in the fuzzy gray area between strict business, friends & family, and private, personal projects. If I were to charge the normal fees for the amount of work these actually take, it’d price it way out of reach of the average person in my circle of friends, but then again, I enjoy these sorts of things a billion times more than anything else, and there’s compensation with other big-ticket projects so it’ll all come out in the wash.
The only time it would get old is when the recipient isn’t aware of what a fabulous deal they are getting and start micro-managing the job, to the point where I feel like I’m being taken advantage of and get resentful.
Then that’s a very special type of hell for artists, being sentenced to spend time doing something that you love doing and having it corrupted into indentured servitude. More than a few gigs have left a bad memory, and the balance is tricky at times to not have one’s work become too much of a job. Times like that I can certainly empathize with the group of artists whose philosophy and principles are to never sully their purity of vision by stooping so low as to pander for cash, but I got bills to pay, and besides, for the most part, these side projects mean a lot more to the people I’m doing it for than to have a piece up on the wall of a gallery for a month. That said, flattery gets you absolutely no-where on an empty stomach - there’s a fine line where the job becomes such a pain in the ass it detracts time and energy for other things that I’d either A) get way more money for or B) no money at all but derive tremendous satisfaction from by fulfilling that artsy-fartsy spirit thingy. I always love it when the old “but you’ll get some exposure” enticement is offered – I always reply if you heard about me and thought I’d be perfect for the job then I guess I already got good enough exposure, right? And don’t get me started on the other classic – “Your so good it’ll take you no time at all to do”, which, funny thing is, equates to tremendous wages in any other career.
Fortunately though, gigs like this are far and few between, and both of those potential trouble spots mentioned are alleviated when the client is cool and gives me free reign, since they commissioned me specifically, so the best of both worlds one could say. Everybody’s happy, except the cats, who are sulking outside.
"It is terrifying to think of what a commodity art has become." - Audrey Flack