Sunday Mailbag

April 11th, 2010 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Have you ever had a client that wanted things done in a certain way that looked bad? Did you try to educate them, refuse to do the project, or just complete it as they asked even if you thought it looked bad?

A: Yes, certainly. There have been many times where I disagreed with the art director/client’s idea of what would result in the best solution for their project.

There are basically three kinds of art directors:

  1. The “do whatever you want” ones- These are the ones that tell you what the project is and then let you do whatever you want without direction. These are very rare, and although it sounds like it would be the best type of scenario that is not the case. I prefer the art director to be engaged in the project and to explain what they want and provide feedback at the various stages. Letting me do whatever I want might be fun but it doesn’t guarantee the client will be pleased with the final result. It’s the AD’s job to communicate the client’s needs to me and usually this type provides little of that communication.
  2. The “open minded but informed” ones- these are the best to work with. They value the creative input of the illustrator and fully participate in the process. They usually begin with a detailed description of the project’s needs and then let me as the illustrator come up with my ideas for possible end results. Then they provide direct and smart feedback and direction to take my ideas and make them work with the client’s needs to create a solution that is both successful and artistically strong. They are sometimes tough but they never refuse to listen to my thoughts and can be persuaded if I feel strongly about a certain concept or direction if my arguments are strong enough.
  3. The “my way or the highway” ones- these are single minded, stubborn folks who think their ideas are genius and there is no room for another idea or solution. They have a clear cut vision of the final result and hire an illustrator not as a creative collaborator but as a “wrist” who just executes their vision. If the idea is ineffective or just plain stupid they do not care, they don’t want to hear any alternatives. The worst part of this interaction is if a client ends up not liking the final result, this type of AD will blame the illustrator rather than confessing it was their idea all along.

The scenario you are asking the question about would relate to the last two types of art directors. If the AD is such a case as a type 2, I would present my ideas and discuss why I think they might work better. If they were a type 3, then I’d just save my breath. I might persuade the type 2 AD my concept was a better solution, and I might not. Either way the fact they are willing to listen and consider my point of view is appreciated.

No matter which type I was dealing with, I would absolutely follow through with the project and complete it to the client’s satisfaction. I can usually take any idea and still execute a piece of art I don’t mind my name being signed to, but I suppose if it came to really hating something I was embarrassed by (and I cannot envision a scenario where that would happen) I might ask them not to credit me. I would never not fulfill my agreed upon obligations nor complain once my ideas were rejected over the completion of a job. I might refuse to ever work for that client or art director again if the experience was truly terrible, but refuse to finish a job as long as they were fulfilling their end of the bargain as far as the agreement and compensation went? Never. Unprofessional.

Thanks to Sharprm 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!

FYI- This Sunday Mailbag post was written and posted en route from Hartford Connecticut to Minneapolis, Minnesota at 34,000 feet via an inflight wifi internet connect… ain’t technology wonderful!


  1. Anton Emdin says:

    Being a ‘wrist’ is the pits. Although I had one job where I was being used in this way – hated every second of the job – yet at the end realised that I had learned a few new things by being forced to do things someone else’s way.

  2. Paul YM says:

    There have been times when I’ve been very upset or indignant about some direction from an AD. I think I’ve generally done a good job of internalizing it, but nonetheless I’ve felt the tension and physical disgust of making the change. Looking back at almost every one of these instances, the changes barely made much of a difference to the final result, or, in some cases, actually improved my work; either because the change was actually a good one that I was blind to, or because it challenged me to alter my work while still retaining my personal vision. I try to keep this in mind whenever I start getting hotheaded about feedback that goes against my instinct. In 3 months time, will I even give a hoot?

  3. sharprm says:

    Thx for the answer. I really needed this advice a while back! Hope it helps someone else.

  4. As always Tom, MUCH appreciated.

  5. Wow, Tom! This whole site is just a great boon to the illustrative community. The past two days I have probably spent a combine four hours reading through some of your old posts. Just fantastic! And super-detailed… You either type super fast, or you have some how figured out how to squeeze more hours in a day. You’ve definitely earned a spot on my young site’s blogroll! Thanks!


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

Workshops Ad

Dracula ad

Doctor Who Ad

Superman Ad

%d bloggers like this: