Archive for the 'General' Category
Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
The Lovely Anna and I are heading out shortly to attend the NCS Reuben Award Weekend in beautiful Pittsburgh, PA! I’ll have updates, pics and other goodness from the event later this week. The Reubens officially kick off on Friday, but as I am running the show I have to get in early and make sure the bourbon, scotch and gin are up to our famously cheap standards. Our flight actually leaves tomorrow morning, but we are getting to the airport this afternoon because the TSA lines are so long.
Sunday, May 19th, 2013
Q: You’ve written here before that when you do a freelance job for a client, they technically aren’t buying artwork from you but the rights to use artwork. What kind of copyrights do they typically get?
A: Absolutely correct on that first part. While most freelance projects involve creating artwork specifically for a client’s needs, ultimately they are really paying for the copyrights to use that artwork for their purposes. At least, that’s the case in an independent contractor agreement. In a work for hire agreement, they are paying only for the artwork creation because they own every pencil line and the full copyrights to anything created for the job… but that’s another story.
It varies job to job, but “typically” a client buys the rights to use the artwork created for the project one time for that particular purpose. For a magazine, that’s usually means for that single issue. For an advertisement, that means for the duration of that particular ad campaign. For a book, it would mean for that single title and subsequent reprints. A freelance agreement should spell out the copyrights being transferred, so there is no mistaking what a client is getting. Some of the limitations that might be imposed would be geographic (north America only, for example), time used (perhaps one or two years), exclusivity, etc.
The web complicates matters, as usual. Since it’s entirely dynamic, only time limitations apply. I typically “throw in” web use for any publication illustrations I do these days, since every publication has a website and wants to use the illustration for either ads for subscriptions or for digital versions of the story.
In practice, most freelance jobs are for a specific purpose that is so specific use of the image beyond it’s original purpose is not really applicable anyway, but it’s always a good idea to have the rights spelled out in writing.
Thanks to R. Griffin 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.
Tuesday, May 14th, 2013
I’ve got an illustration for an upcoming MAD book due by this weekend, so blogging might be spotty for a few days.
Sunday, May 12th, 2013
Q: I am a what you would consider an “average-amateur-novice-white-belt” artist. I have spent many hours in non-art classes throughout college, grad school, and (heaven forbid) church doodling in my notebooks and on the back of Sunday programs, always impressing my less artistic siblings or classmates. I have always enjoyed drawing and now that schooling is done and I have more free time, I have decided to dedicate more time to drawing and art. In my search for instruction, I stumbled upon your book. I really enjoyed it, partially because other books about caricature seemed rather lackluster, but mostly because your caricatures are exactly the style I want to emulate, and I feel like I “get” how you look at and think about your subject matter. It’s inspired me to take up the pencil and pen again and really start dedicating time to this since I really enjoy it!
In my pursuit of developing this hibernated talent, I have found myself lacking some of the basic skills that make the portrait in my head the same or similar to the portrait that comes out on the paper (i.e. borders, shading, the use of negative space, texturing, etc.) and that the pencil or pen tend to guide my drawings rather than my vision. I know that developing this skill of translating my vision to the page takes years of practice and diligence, and as you said, after doing about 500 caricatures, you may finally start to get the hang of it, but I was wondering if there were any tips you might have as a head start, like basic courses, books, or other media that you have found helpful when mentoring younger, greener artists?
A: I usually try to edit down long versions of questions like this one, but I thought the background was pertinent to the question and the answer. If I was going to boil it all down onto one simple question, it might be this:
“Can you give me a resource that will allow me to shorten the “practice, practice, practice” part of learning to be an artist and magically teach me how to draw almost instantly?”
No, I can’t. No such thing. There really isn’t. I tell people this all the time and they say “Yes, I understand that. BUT…” and then proceed to ask some variation of the question above. I don’t even have any specific courses, books, or resources I’d recommend in general because everybody has different issues and are at different levels in their art skills that there is no general resource to recommend. Some artists need to work on their basic anatomy and structure in drawing, some need to focus on composition or design, others need to concentrate on their perspective or ability to draw convincing environments or some other aspect of their work. That makes any one resource impossible to recommend, so I don’t even try. And that is more for artists who are already well down the road of skill and ability, let alone the novice.
I find most young or inexperienced artists just need to work on their DRAWING. Every aspect of it. Books are great, video instruction is great, classrooms are great, but again there really are no shortcuts. There are no secret passages, rituals, or magic incantations that will make a meaningful difference in art skill development. If there is anything that is beneficial, it is exposure to as many different kinds of art and drawing, and different mediums, as possible so an inexperienced artist just getting into their art has an opportunity to explore and find out what interests them and resonates in their own work. As you so kindly say, you found something in my work that you “get”, and that’s the first stage in developing your own voice as an artist. After that, seeking out learning tools like books, videos and classes that apply to the art that interests you is a wonderful idea, but it really is those countless hours of drawing, drawing, drawing that brings your skills around.
I will get letters from people saying they found this book, or that video series, or some such that they say really made a difference for them. Maybe they happened upon something right at the moment that some specific instruction really would make a difference, and it just happened to be perfect for them. That’s great, but it’s such an individual matter it is hard to recommend that same book to another artist, as they might get little from it. I personally think the kind of art book or media that is really helpful is the one that inspires you to do all those countless drawings and spend those hours and hours of practice needed to make real advances in skill and ability. Yes, those books or videos might teach you some theories or techniques that you pick up on and use, but the most effective thing they do is get you DRAWING, which is the only way to get your eyes, brain and hand to start working in tandem to create art.
As MAD art director Sam Viviano said in the afterword of my book:
The one thing Tom does not point out enough in these pages (he could say it in big boldface type on every single page and it wouldn’t be enough) is that no amount of reading will turn you into a great artist. The only way to become an artist is to pick up the tools and start making pictures. A much wiser artist than I once told me that the road to one good drawing is paved with thousands of bad drawings. It’s a long road, but the experience of traveling on it can be exhilarating. <snip>… all the tips culled from the writings of others are only useful if you put them into practice. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Thanks to Dan Duran 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.
Friday, May 10th, 2013
We might be seeing this guy’s ugly mug a bit the next few weeks. My last theme park operation opens tomorrow, I’ve got two major MAD jobs in the works, one due yesterday, four other illustration jobs on the board with two due imminently, and I’ve got this little weekend event called the NCS Reuben Award Weekend I’m in charge of planning and pulling off less than two weeks away.
I’m really starting to hate May.
Tuesday, May 7th, 2013
I am a pretty tough person to buy gifts for. I basically have everything I could ever want (within reason… freelance illustrators as a general rule can’t afford Porsches or winter homes in Hawaii). I have a complete batsuit, for God’s sake. The Lovely Anna and my kids and family hate my birthday and the holidays because they just don’t have a clue what to get me. That means they have to ask me, so I am seldom surprised by anything.
Anna is pretty creative, though. This year for my birthday (which was this past Saturday… 47, thanks for asking) she surprised me with some awesome vintage art supplies she found scouring antique stores. Among the treasures were:
an old Faber Castell tin pencil box and dip pen,
a bottle of Sanford’s Xit Ink Eraser which came in a tin container/sleeve,
a Cardinell lettering guide,
some old pen nibs including a bunch of Resterbrook Falcon 048′s,
and an antique brass inkwell (see open pic of it at top). That last is really awesome and I’ll be using it often.
Very cool stuff. I love old art supplies. If you have never checked it out, visit Lou Brook‘s Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies. Lots of fun stuff there.
Sunday, April 28th, 2013
Q: After working for my [caricature concession] company for four years, I might be in a position this year where I’ll be in charge of interviewing and hiring, as well as training. So here is my question: When hiring new artists for your theme park concessions, do you have any thoughts on:
1) Weeding out the right person who has enough artistic potential as well as the ability to engage a guest in a pleasing manner while they draw,
2) Any tips and techniques for training these people to become better at engaging the guests? I would definitely like tips or drawing techniques I could teach them, but I’m more concerned about making sure they’re actually out there interacting with guests in the park, and not cowering behind their easel.
A: Since the seasonal theme park caricature biz is ramping up right now, this question has some pertinence to me at the moment. It also speaks to a part of that type of caricature art that doesn’t always get addressed: the performance aspect.
Make no mistake, at its best live caricature is a performance art. Those who truly excel at it not only do great work on the paper, but are also great at “working the crowd” and the subjects via a dynamic that is part what is being drawn on the paper and part verbal interaction. I know caricaturists who are superb at drawing but lousy at interacting, and caricaturists who put on a great show but the drawing leaves a lot to be desired. The best have a handle on both. That said, I will always give the advantage to the “art” over the “act”.
When looking at potential artists for my theme park operations, I start by assessing their art abilities. That’s because ultimately what we are really selling out there is a product, i.e. a caricature of the subject. That has to be done competently at a minimum, and preferably done impressively well. I’ve always held to the belief that a good caricature is still a good caricature even if the artist creating it wasn’t very entertaining to listen to, but the best showmanship in town will not make a bad caricature good. Therefore the art skills are always first and foremost for me in looking for new artists for one of my theme park operations.
That’s not to say I don’t consider the potential artist’s personality at all. Far from it. I have turned away artists who I thought would do just fine with the drawing part of the job because they were so painfully introverted I knew they’d have trouble with the people part of it. Not just being quiet, but literally struggling with drawing in front of people. That is not easy, and takes a certain amount of self confidence and occasionally some thick skin. How do I spot those types? That becomes fairly evident within a few minutes of talking and interacting with them. It’s very easy to spot those people with extroverted personalities, or at least those with good conversation skills. If they have those in place, they can learn to “put on a show” when working, even if thay aren;t naturally inclined toward it.
How do I train artists to better engage the guests? That’s easy… by example. I am by nature not very talkative… I’d much prefer to shut up and draw. However I know that’s not the best approach when doing live work. I begin by explaining to new artists why it’s important and beneficial to do some talking when doing a live caricature. It loosens up not only the guests you are drawing, but you as well. Your drawing becomes more spontaneous and reflective when you engage your subjects verbally as well as visually. You get a much better sense of “them” than if you simply look at them as they become more and more uncomfortable in the silence, and your caricature improves as a result of that better interaction. Finally, the interaction interests the people watching, and they are more apt to stick around and see the final “reveal”, and then decide to get one themselves. You could do the best drawing ever and it would be a boring process for the subject, the audience AND you if it was done in silence. Then I either personally demonstrate how to draw and talk at the same time, or make sure I put them in a booth with those that do a good job with that so they can see how it’s done and emulate it. I learned by sitting next to one of the best ever, Steve Fasen of Fasen Arts. Steve not only did some seriously great exaggerated caricature art, he was a master at banter, conversation, and “insult” comedy. He would say things to people that I still to this day cannot believe he said and got away with… somehow he was able to pull it off. He was the Don Rickles of caricature, only his insults were smart and savvy as opposed to calling people “hockey pucks”. Basically , he’d put on a little mini Friars-roast of his subjects with each drawing. He had the uncanny ability to sense how much the subject was able to take of this treatment, and would dish out exactly that much. The result was guffaws from the audience, equal laughter from the subjects and a line of people waiting get the same treatment. I would never advise anyone to emulate that sort of act unless they had Steve’s sixth sense, but the basic idea of subject/audience/drawing interaction is an important part of the mix.
I ran into this issue just last weekend at one of my park operations. I was watching three of my artists doing drawings simultaneously, and the entire time no one said anything. It was like being in a morgue or a library. While they were all busy drawing another family came up with three kids looking for a caricature. I commandeered the seat of one of the rookie artists and did that triple myself. By the end I had the family laughing, a crowd of people around me enjoying the show, and did the drawing in about 1/2 the time the other artists did theirs. Afterward I told the artists that none of that comes naturally to me, I have to “put on a show” with a real effort. The results are noticeably better in all facets of the process, and that’s why you need to do it. Hopefully that sunk in and they will be better at making that effort.
I still believe that there is no substitute for doing good live caricature artwork, but doing that and being engaging and entertaining at the same time is the recipe for success with this kind of art.
Thanks to Cowboyseth 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.
Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
We interrupt this art blog for the occasional review of geeky gadgets, and today I’ll be reviewing that Kickstarter darling, the Pebble smart watch. I usually try to review gadgets from an art-centric point of view, meaning if the product has any relevance to an artist, what that might be. The Pebble has basically none, but it is quite handy in real life.
For those not familiar with the Pebble, it’s a Bluetooth watch that pairs with your smart phone and displays notifications like incoming texts or phone calls on its face, as well as doing a few other functions like controlling your music playback. This allows you to keep the phone in your pocket, but see with a quick glance at your watch who is calling, or read the full copy of a text. It works especially well with the iPhone. It uses an “ePaper” sort of display like eBook viewers use, with a backlight for low light situations. The bluetooth flavor it uses is the low-power Bluetooth 4.0, which allows for longer battery life.
I was a late supporter in the Pebble Kickstarter campaign, so my watch arrived only about a month ago compared to many getting theirs weeks earlier (although many months later than was originally promised by Pebble in their Kickstarter… I know, SHOCKING). So, I am probably going to be about the millionth person to do a review of the Pebble on the interwebbies. I had to wait to use it a bit… now that I’ve had it for several weeks, I must say I am satisfied but a little underwhelmed.
The hardware is about as basic as you can get—a chunky plastic rectangle with thick, physical buttons on the sides and a rubber strap. If you are looking for style, this isn’t it. It’s pure function. On the plus side, the screen is pretty large and the text is very readable despite the low-resolution nature of the display. The buttons might be big and bulky but they are easy to find and press as a result. the three right side buttons scroll menus up and down and select menu items. The left button turns on the backlight when in “watchface” mode or acts as a “back” button when in menus. The backlight is also activated when you flip your wrist to look at the face, eliminating the need to use that button. Also on the right is the charging socket, which is magnetic and easily connects to the end of the dedicated charging cable.
The watch does what it’s advertised to do. Once you’ve paired it with your phone, which is very easy, it will vibrate and display notifications instantly as they come in. When someone calls you, their number (or name if it’s in your contact list) appears on the screen. With the iPhone, you can dismiss the call with one button (sends it right to voicemail), or answer the call with another button. The latter might sound silly as the watch has no speakers or mic, so you have to grab your phone anyway, but that eliminates the need to do anything except take your phone out of your pocket and start talking. Dismissing is handy so the phone doesn’t keep ringing or vibrating if you can’t take the call. SMS messages simply display on the screen, along with the name or number of the person texting you. Your watch also vibrates to tell you a message has come in. There is no way to answer on the watch, of course. With music, you can control iTunes on your iOs phone, also Spotify and Pandora with pause, play, next and last track controls.
That doesn’t really sound all that sexy, does it? It’s not. Very functional, but not much more. However, I have been very surprised at how handy that basic functionality is. For me, the biggest benefit is that I never miss a call or text with it on. I don’t know about you, but with my phone in my pocket I can very easily not notice when a text or call comes in… especially with the phone in a jacket pocket. Even when on vibrate, if I am out in a mall or similarly noisier environment I often have to pull my phone out and check to see if I missed anything. There is no missing the watch vibrating. Just this very simple benefit makes it worth having. The Pebble is especially handy when I am in one of my theme park operations, because it is extremely noisy there and I am not supposed to pull out my phone at all. Also, when I’m at the drawing table it might be useful to just glance at my wrist when I get calls or texts… if I wore a watch when I work. I always take my watch off when I draw, so no use there for me. Controlling music playback is neat but kind of useless… the only reason to have that is when you are out jogging or similar, and then you are probably using headphones that have those controls on them already.
That said, I wish it could do more. Right now the only notifications it displays are calls and texts (email is supposedly coming sometime)… I don’t understand why it can’t display ANY notifications my iPhone displays. It would be great if my MLB At Bat app notifications got displayed, so I could see how much my Minnesota Twins lost by that day without digging out my phone, or have calendar reminders pop up. In fairness to Pebble, I understand this an an Apple issue, and that if you have an Android phone you can get far more notifications. Thanks, Apple. The makers of Pebble have promised frequent updates and have released authoring tools for others to make apps that interact with the Pebble, so increased functionality is on the way. I understand there are several running apps, etc. I read about one that allows you to control PowerPoint presentations. I find that useless, as it’s easier to just hold my phone if I want to do that. However, cleverer people than myself will likely write loads of apps that make perfect sense for the functionality of the Pebble. Personally, I’d love a programmable text response you can customize, so that when you get a text one of the buttons on the Pebble with cause your phone to send reply something like “Got your text. Busy, will reply soon…”. That would be very useful.
On the bad side, I’ve experience poor battery life and intermittent Bluetooth disconnect. Pebble claims 5-6 days on a full charge. I am experiencing about 3ish. Worse, there appears to be no indicator on the Pebble as to the level of battery life, so it’s a guess at to when it will die. I’ve gotten into the habit of just charging it every night, but it would nice to have the watch tell you where the charge level is at. The Bluetooth disconnects are a real problem. It’s only happened twice, but that’s two times too many. I was surprised both times when I pulled out my phone to find a missed call and texts, and my watch was not doing its job. Both the phone and watch still said “connected”, but when I tried to test the connection it then decided to say it was not connected. I needed to reboot the phone to fix this. After that happened, I find myself occasionally testing the connection, which you can do by “pinging” the watch from the app on your phone, because I am paranoid that I can’t rely on the watch to be working. That defeats the entire purpose of the Pebble. Hopefully a future update will eliminate this.
Probably the biggest disappointment is just the aesthetics of the watch. It is as inelegant as you can get. No doubt other companies will jump on this bandwagon and start creating smart watches with equal (or better) functionality but much better design. In the meantime Pebble might not look very smart but it does some thing very smartly.
Friday, April 12th, 2013
My pal Stephen Silver, who if you are not familiar is a well-known animation character designer, illustrator and cartoonist, has been on a real tear lately trying to educate young or inexperienced artists looking to make a living with their work about not giving it away. If you follow his twitter feed or visit his YouTube channel you’ll find many videos where he dispenses some passionate advice about not falling for attempts to get you to do work for little or nothing when you should expect to be paid fairly. One of his biggest pet peeves is the “art contest”, where some entity stages a competition of sorts where the end result is their obtaining the rights to some creative works for little or nothing that they can then use for their purposes rather than paying a professional to create that work.
This is nothing new, of course. Even before the internet became THE INTERNET there were art competitions where those putting on the contest would charge an entrance fee, and then pocket a nice profit thanks to the difference between those collected fees and any prize money rewarded. Often the fine print would grant them the copyrights to all submitted artwork, so they could then publish a book of the work and possibly profit from its sale as well. These days the internet makes such a thing so much easier and cheaper to do, so the web abounds with these kinds of contests. Mostly they are harmless insofar as there are no ramifications beyond the awarding of a few places and maybe a book of the work that probably isn’t going to sell anyway. These are not the kind of competitions Stephen is railing about.
The more disturbing ones are a fairly new type of “competition” that is becoming more and more prevalent—those instigated by actual publishers and companies in lieu of hiring a professional to do the work in the first place. Stephen points out many but here are a couple of examples:
Book publisher Watermelon Books has a contest looking for a children’s book illustrator. In fairness to them, the artists who submit retain the rights to their artwork (except for allowing it to be published on Watermelon’s website and FB page), so they are not looking for ideas or work for free. The “winner” ends up with a contract to illustrate a children’s book, but there are no specifics other than they are to receive a royalty for the book. What percentage? Not specified—could be well below the going rate. No advance? Apparently not… it is typical for an author and/or illustrator to receive an advance against sales, and a royalty after a certain breakpoint of sold copies is reached. Not getting that advance is the same as agreeing to work on spec… in other words for nothing if the book does not sell. Publishers take the financial risk on book publication, not the artists.
Yoplait yogurt has a contest of sorts where they are looking for animators to make pitches for 30 second animations about why their yogurt is so delicious. There are very little details here… do you get paid for the animation if your pitch is one of the 40 chosen? Doesn’t say. Even if you do, is it a fair payment compared to going rates? Even if so, Yoplait is not paying anyone for the concepts here, they are soliciting free concepts, something that is a big part of the process of advertising. In fact, it’s the concept you really pay money for… the execution is peanuts in comparison. This is very disturbing as Yoplait is a very successful company and can easily afford to hire ad talent and animators to do this work.
This one isn’t about illustration but video as art. Gordon Joseph-Levitt is involved in creating a new TV variety show where they solicit videos from the internet and use them for the program. Again no details I could find, but one can assume there is no compensation involved.
There are many other examples, from magazines having cover “contests” where they pay little or nothing for the final art they use for a cover, to companies staging competitions to create whole ad campaigns. I can see this becoming bigger and bigger in the near future.
So, why all the competitions and contests, and why do artists participate when they should know they are often being exploited? The answer to the former is the phenomenon of internet viral exposure as much as getting work done for free or cheap. Companies are recognizing that there is enormous value in anything that gets buzz on the internet, and competitions and contests gets the internets a’talkin’. That’s the kind of advertising exposure that costs millions on TV or in other traditional avenues. Secondly, companies are also recognizing that artists/creatives that do professional or near-professional quality work are willing to participate in this, so they end up with professional results in whatever endeavor they are undertaking but avoid paying anywhere near professional rates. Win-win for them.
The latter part of that question: why do artists participate when they should know they are often being exploited? Lots of reasons. The main one is the oldest one: those who do participate are usually up-and-comers looking to “break in” to the business, and have nothing to lose in doing work for cheap or free. Steve really rants about this, and how much of a disservice it is to the artist who is devaluing their work. That’s very true, but not from the young artist’s perspective. Steve is talking from a position of experience where he commands top dollar for his work, and rightfully so. He can also afford to turn down jobs that don’t pay his rates, and that is a great place to be. It’s a place that up-and-coming artists would love to be in, but aren’t. I am lucky to be in a similar position, so why I agree with Steve that doing things as participating in such contests devalues one’s art, I get that those who don’t have paying clients lining up will do it in hopes that the paying clients will follow. I would never advise anyone to participate in such competitions or to work on spec, but I would also not hold is against anyone who does.. at least someone who is not an established professional. The sad part is that doing this so very seldom does pay off in that hoped for gateway to paying work, but it is hard to tell young artists that and not end up sounding like someone who is angry they are “stealing work” from professional artists by doing doing this kind of thing. That is really not the case. 99% of the time these competitions are being done by entities that would not be legitimate clients anyway… those looking for something for free usually do so because they aren’t willing to pay for it, meaning they would not hire an illustrator regardless.
What really bothers me about these kinds of competitions are the ones conducted by companies like Yoplait—companies with plenty of cash flow that should be hiring professional creatives to do their work. If enough of those start going this route, there will be both a drop in the amount for work out there, and likely a drop in the fees paid for that work since internet competitions seem to be becoming legitimate sources of professional end results.
Just some of my thoughts on these issues. I appreciate my pal Stephen’s passion for art and the industry.
Friday, April 5th, 2013
I’ll be doing a short talk and signing copies of my book The Mad Art of Caricature! tomorrow (Sat. April 6th) at 2:00 pm at the Burnhaven Library in my hometown of Burnsville, MN. I am hopeful that tens of people will show up. I am also hopeful no one at the library will check my library card account and find out about that copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover I’ve had checked out since 1982.