Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Care and Feeding of Your Artist

This one’s an open letter to all who commission work from an artist, no matter how big or how small (the work, not the artist). It’s a bit of free consultation from someone who’s worked in the industry. It’s a wee bit of wise advice from someone who has suffered and seen friends suffer. Finally, it’s a dose of common sense. Here it is:

Let the artist stand (or fall) on his / her own creativity.

Not too hard a concept, eh? The problem is, if you wield the money, there is the overwhelming (and easy to understand) urge to become an editor, to muck around in the finger paints and put your indelible mark on it.


Just don’t.

Let the artist go.

This is not to say, “Do not give direction” or “Do not provide background”. The more of that there is, the better. But once the parameters have been set, just let go.

Let it go!

It’s kind of like, “If you love something, set it free…” except here it will always come back to you, and it will (90% of the time) be better for it.

Marvel and DC Comics learned this lesson the hard way. For years, they hired talented young artists and writers, and then forced them into a mold. Anyone remember “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way”? And what did they get? Work that looked uniform, exactly the same… which is fine if you’re producing plastic pails or Oreo cookies, but for comics… it got kind of bland. No one could tell any of them apart. Tell me, which Marvel and DC comics sold the best? Remember? The ones by artists whose work looked different than all the other guys’ stuff… McFarlane, Adams, etc. Which stories sold the best? The ones that broke the “Comics Code Authority” mold… Miller’s Dark Knight, Killing Joke, etc.

Which Hollywood movies are best remembered? The blockbusters where every producer has to have a cameo and his own personal script rewrite? Or the focused vision of an unfettered director? Fifty years from now, people will still be watching Blade Runner and Brazil. I doubt I can say the same for Armageddon and Lost in Space.

The key here is to research the artist you wish to hire first. Research him or her thoroughly. Decide if you like their style. Decide if the kind of work they do is what fits your vision. Provide the details of the job, and any background information. Then… let go. If there are corrections needed, consult. But don’t attempt to contort the creative process without reason. It’s like trying to bend a sheet of glass. Pretty soon, everything is in pieces… the vision, and perhaps a pair of sanities.

Granted, there are times when the parameters are pretty tight. I do some freelance writing for projects where there is not a lot of creativity involved. The trick is, I know this going in. And so should any artist for hire.

Mike (and many other freelance artists) have run into situations where the artist is invited to “do whatever” and “have free creative reign” and then… SLAM! Down comes the box. If there is not a lot of room for creativity (like if you want them to copy another’s style exactly), then this must be understood before the start. You won’t scare many artists away, and you will have the respect of those who stay. If the artist refuses a commission, then it’s for the best. Move on. Someone else will do it.

“But I deserve to control the process!” insists the employer. Well… if you don’t trust the artist’s look, sensibilities, and creativity, then why hire them in the first place? Yes, I know. You control the money. But realize this: by trying to micro-manage the artist’s output, by trying to make the image conform to YOUR vision rather than THEIRS, you are getting LESS for your money rather than MORE.

Obviously, there are parameters. If you ask for a color CG rendering of a beautiful girl and get a pencil sketch of a duck wearing bloomers, there is cause for complaint. If you ask for Kate Moss and get Chesty Love, there’s a problem. What I’m trying to say is, don’t sweat the unimportant details. General kinks and small details can be ironed out, and any reasonable artist will make corrections. Just don’t try to make the artist into something they are not.

In summary:

DO be honest about the creative parameters of the job.

DO have an understanding of what you want going in.

DO provide plenty of background details.

DO provide as much reference material as possible.

DO submit any changes as soon as possible.

DO choose the artist based upon their previous work and its suitability to your project.

DO allow the artist to express their own style.

DON’T micromanage.

DON’T think that controlling the money allows you to control the artist.

DON’T make wholesale changes after the work is nearly completed.

DON’T sweat the small stuff.

1 comment:

SafeTinspector said...

Can you draw this turtle?
How about this pirate?
You, too, can be an artist!