Sunday Mailbag

April 1st, 2012 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: It seems to me that a freelancer needs to be a jack-of-all-trades these days, doing many different kinds of work. You do magazine illustration, advertising, and lately character design for animation. Have you ever done any other kinds of graphic design work?

A: Your observation that a freelancer has to wear many different hats is quite accurate, insofar as the more you are able to do the wider your range of potential clients and jobs, and the more opportunities you have. That said, this is more of a case of finding different applications for the same type of artwork as opposed to doing totally different styles in pursuit of different opportunities. I have done work for magazine, newspapers, books, comics, advertising, products, computer games and apps, animation, storyboards and a few other odds and ends, but mostly it’s been the same style of artwork throughout.

I have said here many times that it’s important for a freelance illustrator to develop a visual identity…a “style” that is both recognizable and consistent so art directors know what they are getting when they contract your services. Some styles seem to work in only one type of environment, like magazine illustration, and that limits the artist’s possible avenues of work. Styles that can translate into different mediums create a broader spectrum of opportunity. The work I do for magazines is not really any different than what I do for advertising. I have changed my approach to the art in a given project to conform to the specific requirements of a given medium, like the simplification of my line work for the character designs I have done for the Cartoon Network’s MAD show, and the “big-head” caricature style for some other animated 3D character designs, but essentially it’s still all my usual style of art.

One thing I don’t do much of is logo design. I hate working with type. I had a number of classes in design in college, and was very happy to never look back. I do get a few inquiries a year to do logo/branding work, but it usually involves a caricature of somebody. I will do the caricature but leave the design work to the professionals. However, I did do this logo design recently a a favor for my cousin, who is opening her own dog grooming business:

I’ve done a few other projects involving design and type, but usually I politely decline those jobs. Fortunately I keep pretty busy doing the kind of stuff I am much better at and enjoy more. Anyone who says doing design work like logos and other branding is not an art does not have a clue what they are talking about. A great designer is a great artist, using fonts, color and other elements as their pigment, inks and brushes.

Thanks to Butch Henrickson for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

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