Archive for the 'Freelancing' Category
Thursday, April 18th, 2013
Clicky to Embiggen…
Last week in the Sunday mailbag I promised to post about a recent job I completed that reminded me (again) of why I turn down most jobs that involve doing caricatures of the actual client, or their employees. See that post for the reasons why, but here are the gory details of the job that resulted in the final art above (I have changed the names to protect the guilty):
I get a call from a company that works in the film industry that wanted me to do a parody/homage of the classic Animal House movie poster, only with caricatures of their sixty-plus employees and bosses. It was to be used as an ad in an industry publication and as a mocked-up movie poster for their offices. Initially I turned them down for two reasons. First, I wasn’t too wild about having to ape Rick Meyerowitz‘s art style for the job… this isn’t strictly speaking a parody like I might do for MAD, which would require closely mimicking the original’s look for purposes of making fun of either it or something else in context. second, and more importantly, I don’t like doing jobs for company’s where the employees and bosses are the subjects. It almost always leads to my imitating a Glamour Shots camera.
After some talking the first point was mitigated as this was a company working in the movie business, so doing caricatures of them in a classic movie poster setting seemed more like an homage than a rip-off. Plus, I made it clear while I would try and capture the look and feel of the original I was still going to draw it more my way, especially the caricatures. The second point was of more concern, and I was promised that only the two heads of the company would be approving the caricatures, and they loved my MAD work and wanted me to do what I do.
I am such a sucker.
Naturally I had to redo many of the caricatures out of concern for the “feelings” of their employees. They seemed to mostly have a problem with noses, and many of the profiles I did had to get toned down. more than just toned down, really, they became very dry pseudo-portraits. Here are a few examples. On the left is the picture I worked from, center my caricature, right the final approved revision:
Considering these printed very small in the final (even at the actual poster size of 60 inches high… they wanted something BIG for the office) the plain and boring nature of the revised carica… uh… portriacatures, really served to kill much of the fun feel of the piece. I did start to get frustrated when I found out the bosses wife was art directing his caricature. BUT, the client is the boss so I did what they asked.
Basically every freelance project starts out being about the art and doing the best job I can do to accomplish the client’s goals. Some jobs are about that all the way through. Others degenerate into being just about finishing the project and cashing the paycheck. That’s sad but that’s also reality, and the track of any job is ultimately up to the client. It never does cease to amaze me how someone would hire a particular artist for their “expertise”, for lack of a better word, in a certain style and then proceed to direct them away from the very style they hired them for in the first place. Caricature may be uniquely vulnerable to that sort of issue. You have to divorce your personal feelings from the work when things get to the point where the client is asking you to do something you don’t think is very good anymore. That’s when it does get frustrating—not because you are asked to make changes, that happens all the time and there are many different ways to accomplish a goal in an illustration job—but because you are being asked to do something that isn’t what you do.
I did remove my signature, though… I have that right to not have my name under a piece of work I am not happy with. I’ll have to remember this job the next time I get promised there won’t be vanity revisions in a piece like this one.
Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
I did the cover of the latest issue of the UTNE Reader, now on news stands. The folks at UTNE favor my “colored line” style, as I used is a few previous covers for them. Here’s a peek behind the scenes of this freelance project.
The job: design and illustrate a cover depicting how President Obama’s immigration reform policies are contradictory, both making easier and harder to become a legal immigrant. The editors wanted a large wall on the border with a crowd trying to get in, and Obama looking like he’s welcoming them but still has the wall. The proplem was they wanted me to simultaneously show the crowd being very confused and unhappy, yet focus on Obama. Impossible if he is set high above the crowd on the wall.
The roughs: I sent in three concepts, all based on Obama on top of this giant wall:
This was focusing more on the crowd and the wall’s impassibility. An “upshot” like this adds menace and strength to the wall, and allows me to do expressions in the crowd to get their confusion across, but I knew would probably not focus on Obama enough for them, even with his breaking the logo plane above.
This one was a balance between Obama and the crowd, but of course loses all sense of the wall’s looming barricade.
This one is using a “fish eye” sort of warped perspective to make the wall seem really big and adds drama to the scene, yet allowing some sense of the crowd’s expressions and really focusing on Obama, which they wanted.
The final pencil:
Clicky to Embiggen…
Here is the final pencil sketch. I’ll be inking only parts of the image so it was done kind of loosely, especially the wall text.
Clicky to Embiggen…
There was just enough room on the bottom right to get a few of the expressions in the crowd to look confused’ getting that across. I could not get PhotoShop to create that wall lettering in the curved yet 2 point perspective, so I hand lettered that (ugh). The only concern the editors had was that they wanted it plain that this was the border of the US and Mexico. I pointed out that, by using very strong southwest desert coloring and terrain behind the wall, no one would mistake this for the Canadian border. I resisted adding a sign that said “Mexico” or any flags in the crowd, as we already had too many signs and it made no sense that individuals looking to come to the US would be toting Mexican flags… that would look like a protest of some kind.
UTNE’s covers are always very political and have resulting challenges in getting across the point. That make them fun to work on.
Monday, March 25th, 2013
Clicky to embiggen…
Every once and awhile I pull out some artwork from an old job that might be interesting to share. These two full page illustrations were for InfoWorld magazine circa 2005. The story was about Bill Gate‘s “plan” for the future of computing. The concept was that Gates was supposed to be not just predicting where computing was going, but was supposed to be one of the chief architects of that future. We decided on making him the coach of a football team. I personally wanted to make the players into robots with computer screens for faces, etc. because it seemed to make more sense that Gates would be directing the computer world, not a bunch of big football players, but that got shot down.
This job was significant not for the job itself, but for the irony of it. I believe one of the things Gates mentioned in that article (can’t find any tear sheets of it today), was that things like magazines would eventually become computerized. About two years later InfoWorld ceased their print editions and went to an online only model. Computer magazines were one of the niche markets that got hit the hardest in the rise of Internet media consumption. That makes sense, since their target market was exactly the type of readers who would trade paper for pixels early and often. This might be the last job I ever did for a computing magazine, and I used to do work for a couple of different ones.
The image above was the cover. This was a full page interior illustration:
Clicky to embiggen…
Friday, March 15th, 2013
Well, not until Sunday but I’m betting most people will be celebrating tonight and tomorrow night. The above is an illustration I did for Warner Bros Consumer Products last summer for some T-shirts or other merchandise for this time of year. You can order one here if you are so inclined.
Anyway, Happy St. Patrick’s Day weekend!
Monday, March 4th, 2013
Clicky any to Embiggen…
This is going to be a killer week with a cover for the Utne reader due and trying to finish up a five page parody for MAD, plus the back cover of a trade publication that is going to be a really fun parody “homage” to a famous movie poster coming up right after that. There might not be a lot of time for blogging this week. In the meantime, here is my latest Marlin Co. workplace poster illustration. Final above, below the pencil roughs and inks.
The assignment—an illustration of a teenager multitasking on several electronic gadgets… gaming on the computer, texting, video chatting on a tablet, etc. ;ate at night. His parents are trying to tell him he has two minutes to wrap it up until they have the cable disconnected. cable guy at the ready. Weirdly they asked for a football referee to be there signalling the “two minute warning”.
Pencil sketch one:
The referee was not a very strong idea. First off, nobody but a real NFL nut would have any idea what the hand signal for the two minute warning is, so I had to try and get that idea across using “layman’s” body language. Doesn’t work, too ambiguous. They decided to axe the ref and make the parents more gleeful about the impending disconnect.
Pencil sketch two:
A little better. The addition of the “12:00 MIDNIGHT” on the work order does the trick, that and the alarm clock time saying 11:58.
It’s worth pointing out that ordinarily I would have had some fun with the teenager’s room and made it trashed with lots of empty soda cans, junk food wrappers, etc. I have a 16 year old son, so I know of what I speak. However knowing the client would not want anything negative about the kid as being part of the humor, I gave him an unnaturally clean and austere room.
Thursday, January 24th, 2013
I got a big box in the mail the other day, containing The Absolute Ultimate Gutters Omnibus Volume 3 in all its hardcover and glossy, oversized page glory. So-so cover art . . . but otherwise a handsome book.
If you are not familiar with The Gutters, and you are a fan of comic books at all, shame on you. It is a series of single page comics that parody, criticize, and sometimes utterly savage, the comic book industry, its culture and subject matter. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes vicious, but always on target. Written by Ryan Sohmer, the art is done by guest artists making the styles vary wildly and entertainingly. You can read them on The Gutters website, and order prints of the ones you want to hang up on the wall. You can also order this volume and/or the previous two. You can even order the cover artwork as a print!
I was quite flattered when Ryan called me this summer and asked me if I’d do the cover art for Volume 3. It was a really fun project. The cover wraps around and is embossed in areas for a really cool look.
Despite the mediocre cover, I heartily recommend both the book and the comic.
Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013
De-BLAH Vu Dept.
It’s finally happened… after almost seven years of writing Tom’s MAD Blog, I keep running up against the following problem:
- I get an idea about something I’d like to write about
- I do a quick search of my blog to see if I have written about it already
- I have
The solution? Reblogging! Let’s face it, you readers don’t comb through the 6 plus years and 2,500 posts I’ve done looking for interesting topics. My mom doesn’t even do that. So, if I think up with a topic that I was planning on writing about, and thus still relevant in the world of illustration, cartooning, etc. only to find I have already written about it, I’m just going to re-post said article. In my defense I will update it and add to it if the text needs it. Here’s one from 2007 about the evils of working on spec:
-Originally posted 4/21/07
I was thinking the other day about how much the internet has changed the dynamics of freelancing, in terms of how illustrators communicate, conduct and deliver jobs and market their work. For the most part it’s been an invaluable tool, but there is a dark side to it. The easy access and instant communication of the internet often leads to being contacted for jobs that aren’t really jobs.
I used to have the same problem when I drew at the theme parks. A few times each summer someone would approach me at the park and ask me to draw something for them that was obviously to be used for some commercial project. I’ve been asked to do everything from conceptual product design to company logos to T-Shirt designs, and they expected to pay the theme park caricature prices for this illustration work. Realtors were always the worst. They would sit down and ask to be drawn next to a house that said “Sold” on it. It was obvious they intended to use it in their advertising… for the price of a live caricature drawing! I eventually got tired of explaining that using a caricature from a theme park for that purpose was copyright infringement, and they would need to pay me considerably more for the rights to do anything with the drawing but hang it on their wall. My solution was to draw them as they requested, but make the house look like a run down shack with holes in the roof, flies buzzing and garbage all over. Sometimes I’d draw an outhouse instead. They hated that, but couldn’t complain to the park as they knew they were trying to rip me off!
At least at the park they had to look you in the eye when they asked for something like that. Via the internet you can get an e-mail asking for your participation in someone’s latest million dollar idea without ever having to keep a straight face. This type of “job” usually consists of someone who has this “great idea” that just need some art to go along with it to pitch it to somebody who will make us all rich. Almost always the art is the driving force behind the concept… the idea took ten minutes to conceive but it will take countless hours to do the art to make it work, for which we get a portion of the profits. No money up front, of course, but sure riches just around the corner. In other words, working on spec.
The term “Working on Spec” (short for working on speculation) means to do something for free in hopes it will lead to future payment. It’s usually just “some artwork” to put together a pitch for the publication of a book, the development of a product or some other project to be sold to a distributor or manufacturer. Working on spec is almost never a good idea, especially with people who approach you cold without a track record of similar successful projects. Even then, most serious professionals will pay you to do the art they need, incurring some financial risk on their part to back up their big ideas. It’s amazing how many of those Big Idea people who are so ready to risk your time and talents on their sure-fire million dollar project shrink at investing a few hundred bucks in paying an illustrator a working wage to do the visual work.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been had once or twice on some of these kinds of “jobs”. Mostly when I was young and naive, though. One I really got burned on was by a production company who wanted me to design some animated characters for a series of shorts depicting members of Major League Baseball’s 500 Club (those with 500 or more career home runs). On spec I did designs of an Ernie Banks (who owns the rights to the “500 Club”) and Sammy Sosa (pre-steroid scandal) for them, just style sheets in color. I never got a dime and as far as I know the animations were never produced. A few months after I did them, and hearing nothing from them since, they had the audacity to call and ask me to do the art for a birthday card for Ernie to be given to him at some shin-dig in Las Vegas or somewhere like that. Needless to say I didn’t oblige.
A VERY few spec jobs are legitimate and might be worth the time for the potential reward. I tried my hand recently at some greeting card ideas with a specific theme when submissions were called for by a greeting card company. They were rough sketches and jokes that were submitted like gag writers might submit basic joke ideas and fleshing out the ones that get chosen. That did not involve a ton of work and if some get picked up it might mean some royalties down the road. This is for an established greeting card company and that makes a big difference. That’s not really a spec job anyway as it’s not finished art but just a call for some roughs.
One spec job that was very disappointing was from a few years ago, when I was contacted by a writer who had done several books in the 80′s that were political satire “Paper Doll” books featuring the Reagans and other politicians. Of course as paper dolls they were in their underwear and had cut out clothes and accessories that were gags, as well as different environments to be placed in. They were quite funny and sold very well. This writer wanted me to do the art for a new paper doll series based on the Bush twins. It was on spec, but he was a literary agent in New York with a lot of books to his credit and felt he’d have a publisher for this one without a problem. He wasn’t asking for a tom of artwork, he just wanted me to work up a cover and one page for each twin, including his gags and some of mine. Here’s what we came up with:
He kept me updated but eventually he had to admit he’d struck out on publishers. So, that work went by the boards. I had really wanted to do a book at the time and that one seemed like a lot of fun so I was more disappointed about that than not getting paid. It didn’t take that long to do that little bit of art, so I was not out much.
That was the last real spec job I did. Since then I ask those wanting spec work to pay me upfront and they can keep their profits. A few actually do, and so far I have not seen something I worked on become the next hot craze and cry over any lost millions. I sort of doubt I’d ever have that problem, even if did spec work, which I don’t.
Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
That was quick. The secret project I mentioned on Saturday is already out of the bag!
Bleedingcool.com posted the news today that DC Comics will be celebrating MAD‘s 60th anniversary with variant covers of some of their main titles including Justice League Of America, Justice League, Batman, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Superman, Supergirl, Detective Comics, Batwoman, Green Lantern and Teen Titans drawn by the Usual Gang of Idiots. Since they specifically name me as well as Sergio Aragonés, Al Jaffee and Peter Kuper, I guess there is no sense in being coy.
If you could go back in time and ask my 8 year-old self what my dream job would be, I’d answer “drawing Batman comics” without hesitation. I’m THAT CLOSE to actually doing it . . . sure, it’s a kind of technicality, but so what?
Mind you, I have not officially been assigned which title I’ll be doing the cover of, and I know for a fact it’s not going to be Batman. That one is already in the works with another artist. There is still Detective Comics, though, and I could do one of the Justice League titles and sneak Batman in. However, even if it’s one of the others sans Batman, I’ll still be living the dream.
Friday, December 21st, 2012
While I do freelance illustration for a variety of clients including some animation, advertising, product illustration, etc., the majority of the work I do is illustration for magazines. For the under thirty crowd, those are these things that are printed on dead trees requiring ambient light to read, feature no clickable links to anything and do not instantly add your completely irrelevant and often anonymous “opinion” on their articles in a comment section… with magazines those are called “letters to the editor” and take months to get published, if they ever do.
Putting the snarkiness aside, I do seem to get a lot of sympathy from my younger friends who assume my career is in a tailspin and headed towards obsolescence because “print is dead”. They will cite things like the recent announcement that Newsweek is ceasing print publication as evidence of this fact.
I think the death of print is a very far off event, if it ever happens at all. Certainly work for an illustrator like myself will not be ending anytime soon.
True, major publications like Newsweek are seeing precipitous drops in circulation, and struggling as a result. These types of mega-magazines have huge overhead with staff and office space, and without gigantic circulation and the advertising dollars that go with it, their economic viability is in jeopardy. However it’s the dirty little secret of illustrators that no one makes a living doing work for just the TIME, Newsweek and Rolling Stones of the world. There just are not that many of those types of publications, and not enough work in them to solely support an illustrator’s career. Even the biggest names in magazine illustration—artists like C.F. Payne or Steve Brodner, do a lot of work for smaller magazines and publications. For most illustrators, medium to small circulation magazines are the bread and butter of their careers. It’s the Actuaries Monthlys, Snow Country Magazines, Utne Readers, and other smaller publications that are keep illustrators working. Less glamorous, but more plentiful.
Medium to small circulation magazines are not going anywhere anytime soon. These types of publications are targeted at niche markets, have manageable circulations that are mostly via subscription, and low overhead as they are being produced with smaller staffs and as parts of either larger organizations or supported by specifics industries. Enthusiast and aficionado magazines are like this, as well as sports/business/industry-specific publications. They don’t pay as much as TIME, but there are many thousands of pages published every month by these smaller magazines, and TIME only has about 30 pages per issue. The math is pretty easy.
Will even smaller, niche magazines get replaced by online equivalents eventually? Yes, I imagine they will, but as that happens the online versions will need illustration done as well. In the near future, however, humans still like to hold things, collect things, and read things that don’t need to be recharged nightly or turned off when the airplane is taking off and landing. The illustration world will follow along as the world of media evolves and changes, but until computers can be creative do their own drawing and illustration, there will always be work for illustrators.
Friday, December 7th, 2012
This year I did a series of spot illustrations of rocker Dave Navarro as the header graphic for his ongoing column in Penthouse magazine. Thought I’d share a couple of them that have already been published:
There are a couple more but they haven’t been published yet.
It’s funny, but whenever I get my comp copies of Penthouse, the neighborhood guys always seem to show up at the door “just to say hi”. That never happens when I get my comp copies of National Geographic World or Scholastic. Hmmmm.