-By Lauren Panepinto
Ok guys, I think this post needs very little introduction. I asked for questions, and I got em! Thanks to everyone who thought up really great questions. I’m going to reply to each of them in one of three ways (a few repeats will be combined) – either an answer, a link to one of my previous articles on Muddy Colors, or a short answer plus a promise of turning the topic into a full blog post soon.
I’ve been hoping for a post on what art directors want to see in an artist’s website. I think I’ve read previously you want to be able to right click on images and no contact forms. I would love to read more pet peeves and common mistakes. It would also be helpful on what you what appeals to you on an about/contact page or even what catches an art directors eye on a home page.
Contact forms are ok, if you’re pointing your droves of fans to contact you that way. But you need your actual email on there too, even if it says “for Art Directors Only”. And make sure it’s one you check often. I want to hear back from you in 24-48hrs max. After that I’ve probably moved on to someone else.
Not being able to find an email address. Not being able to save images. Thumbnails that are a cropped piece of an image instead of a small version of the entire work. Music that auto-plays. Comic sans or Papyrus. Brightly colored backgrounds around your art (black, white, or gray, please).
1) Poor presentation (either crappy prints or online work too low-res to actually see). 2) Lack of consistency in skill. 3) Too much work (unless it’s all the same quality, get rid of your worst pieces as soon as you do better ones – it makes me think you have a problem judging your own work). 4) Really awkward anatomy. 5) Glitter. (it happens) 6) Boring poses. 7) No contrast (in color, value, etc.) 8) No flow to the portfolio itself. 9) Hard to find contact info. 10) Really unrealistic boobs (personal pet peeve – boobs are not muscles!)
Honestly, yes, it would be a red flag. I’m not saying it’s not insurmountable, but before I can hire someone I need to know that they can reproduce what I see in their portfolio on demand, adapted to my commission. So I will need to see that consistency in the medium I want to hire you for, no matter what it is. Ultimately you’re giving yourself 5x more work until I consider you “hireable”. It might make you an amazing artist in the long run, but you have to willingly accept it’s going to take you longer to get work. I say master one thing, then expand, master that, then expand again.
A) You’re not fooling anyone. We’re professionals. B) I hire what I see. If someone’s portfolio is all one style that is really flat and graphic I’m going to hire them when I need something flat and graphic. I’m not going to sit there wondering if they can do gradations. If you don’t have horses in your portfolio, I’m not hiring you to do a horse. In the case of an artist who’s well-established and I’ve worked with them before, I might pitch them a job outside of their comfort zone, but it’ll be a conversation first.
As I said above, I hire what’s in your portfolio. If your portfolio is all gorgeous elf-ladies, then I am not hiring you to do a horror piece. If you want to do a horror piece, you have to put it in your portfolio. Time IS limited, I completely sympathize, but if you want to do something different, you have to find the time. I’ve been there in my own career. It pays off. But honestly, this is the illustrator’s version of a first world problem. Turn down a few elf-lady commissions if you have to and do some horror pieces for yourself.
I pitch the job, with deadlines, and ask the artist what their rate is first. If it’s way high, I say, well, we only have X budget, what do you think. If it’s way low, I tend to bring it up to our budget (shh don’t tell my editors.)
It depends on the book first – each book has it’s own separate budget that it has to earn past before it makes money. This involves all the cost of a book, not just art – printing, effects, author advance, etc. Obviously a book we expect to be a best-seller pulls a lot more budget than a debut author. Different genres sell differently. After that, then it’s about medium, artist experience, and time. If I need something on a rush schedule I will bump up the budget if I can. Rough estimates are 1-2k for design, 1-2k for photos, 1.5-3.5k for digital illustrations, 3.5-5 for traditional medium. But there’s a ton of wiggle room in there.
I have no problem with 50% up front, but accounting is slow and if an artist has to have money in hand before they’ll work with me I usually can’t wait that long. I submit an invoice (and associated paperwork) within 2 weeks of when I receive it from the artist. Ideally the payment goes through accounting in 2-3 weeks after that. But things go horribly wrong all the time, and fall into an accounting black hole. I won’t know an artist wasn’t paid until the artist tells me and I go chasing accounting to see where it stalled. Really frustrating. But I have never not paid an artist. Eventually.
Kill fee can be 25% if we kill at thumbnail stage to 50% if we kill further along in the process. It also depends why the piece is killed. I don’t like to give a kill fee if it was a change on the publishing end that suddenly decided to go in a different direction – that’s not the artist’s fault. But if we just couldn’t get an artist to achieve what we felt they could achieve, given their portfolio, then we do sometimes have to kill it. (NOTE: some company’s do not give kill fees, and this is their right, whether you like it or not. If you do not want to take the risk, do not work for them when you see the contract.)
The revision issue comes up a lot more frequently, I think, with uneducated clients and small companies. If you put a revision statement in your standard contract (I know, I know, I owe you guys a standard contract post, I’m working on it, I swear) that says something like, 3 rounds of revisions included, after that a fee, then that’s not a terrible idea. But if you’re dealing with an AD they generally are trying to minimize corrections for you.
Note: When dealing with licensed properties, expect 5x the revisions. If you want to cut that down then you do it with strict research and adherence to the style guide of the property. If you don’t draw an X-wing like an X-wing should look, that revision is not the AD’s fault, they can’t show it to Lucasfilm until it’s fixed. If you want complete artistic freedom, don’t work on licensed properties.
Actually if you want complete artistic freedom, get into gallery work. (And a legion of gallery-experienced artists laugh at the idea that they have complete freedom either.)
Aside from selling originals, (which is a crazy mix of a gut decision, comparison pricing, and divination from a slaughtered dove’s entrails) budget windows are generally set by the company and the industry. Pricing is half the actual work, and half the rights to use it. All I can say is ask around fellow artists. You can also always ask an AD something like “this is a new market for me, what do you usually budget for this kind of work” and at least you’ll know their ballpark. Assuming the ADs are moral…but most are. The budgets are the budgets, they’re not out to get you to work cheaper than everyone else, it’s not coming out of their pocket. ADs generally want to give everyone more money, and will when it’s warranted, and when it’s possible.
My question is about the invoice. After the assignment finished and the client paid full everything, should I send an invoice that indicated everything is done to the client? Besides, should the client sign any kind of document or give me any tax form?
You don’t have to send a completion invoice, most people don’t expect them. You can always pop the client an email saying you received the payment, thanks, looking forward to working with you again. A large company will have a contract they give to you to sign. If not you should give them your standard contract (don’t have a standard contract? I’m working on one now for a post soon). As for tax forms, in the US you should get a 1099 form for each client that paid you more than $600, because you have to report that to the IRS.
Again this really depends on the client. Some companies have set rates that their ADs do not have the freedom to deviate from. At the beginning of a career, it is true that it is kind of expected that you work your way up a ladder from lower-paying jobs up to higher-paying ones. The lower-paying companies are paying you in experience as well as money. That said, you should never feel cheated. If you are “never satisfied” with the price you agree on, then that says to me either you’re not asking for enough, or your work isn’t as high up on the ladder as you think it might be. Either way, it usually doesn’t hurt to ask for more money. You might be turned down, but at least you tried. Just be polite about it.
——- FINDING WORK and BREAKING IN ——–
First of all, agents have nothing to do with where you live, it’s about your work. You submit to an agent the same way you submit to a company – a short but informative email saying a small amount about you and your work, what you are looking to do, and 3-5 low-res jpegs of your best work. The more specific research you can do about your target and tailor into the email, the better. For example, look at a publisher’s books before you pitch them. Study an agent’s roster before you try to get them to look at your work. Do you fit in? Do you add something unique but still in the same ballpark? So many artists don’t even bother to do any research on what I do before they email me asking for work, if someone emails me not even bothering to know I mostly do SFF work, then I kind of immediately mentally dismiss them.
How should I prepare a portfolio to get work from a specify client or art director? Do you think it’s better to make a selection of specific illustrations (based in some books) or just send my finished work?
I will never ask an artist to do work on spec (like trial book covers for free), that’s not moral to me. I will look at what an artist has in their portfolio and judge by that. But if you really really want to do, say, book covers, then putting book covers in your portfolio is a good idea – whether they’re personal projects or not, they still count.
I’m a young artist just about to leave a relatively small and young college in the middle of New Hampshire. With a small student population its been easy to get noticed by my teachers and fellow students. However I fear that as soon as a graduate that I won’t be able to create enough momentum to get noticed at all. How dose a nobody like me get noticed by art directors like you?
Do amazing work that you love. Show it to the right people. Repeat. Cream rises to the top. If you are putting great work out there, it is my job to find you. Your love of your work will shine through. Spend a little time putting together a dream list of ADs and clients to email, put things out on social media, but spend more time on the work than promoting it. maybe 75/25 work/network?
I remember your work. But I am also super happy to see improvement. I have greater faith in an artist I have seen struggle and grow over time. I’ve been portfolio reviewing a while. There’s some artists I work with all the time now who had completely awful portfolios when I first met them.
(see “Email” question section above)
Pinterest! Facebook. Recommendations from other ADs. Conventions. Getting accosted at cocktail parties at the Society of Illustrators (you know who you are).
Look around you. Anything in your world that has art on it, it was made by someone. Do some research on the magical internet and find out who made it. Research them. Send them a polite email. Repeat until you find something you really want to do.
That is a FANTASTIC question, and one I have been pondering incessantly lately. For now, haunt the internet and bookstores, but I am writing a post on this soon, I promise.
——- ART DIRECTING and AN AD’S ROLE ——–
When working on a cover for a publication house such as Orbit or any of the bigger publishing houses, what sort of time scale are we talking about for getting a commission completed, from initial contact right up to that dreaded deadline?
What do you tell an artist who is unwilling to do corrections because doing it is against/outside his/her art style?
I’m only hiring people for the style they do in their portfolio, so I’ve never encountered this problem. But if something completely out of left field comes out of editorial or the author, I expect the artist to try their best. If they’re having trouble, I expect them to talk to me about it. I’ll try to help them thru it.
But also, don’t be a damn diva. Do the best you can with any tough situation. If you take a job, you do the best you can on it, even if you regret taking it halfway through.
What is the best way to receive contructive critics?
Listen politely, walk away, let the advice sit for a few days, and then either incorporate it, or ignore it. Not all advice is good. But a lot of good advice is hard to take. The key is to never waste your time arguing with advice freely given. Just nod and smile and say thank you.
It really depends on the projects I get. Matching an artist to a book depends on the genre (fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi, etc) and what trends are happening in that genre. Then we either go with the trend, push it, or go against it. Then it’s really just my gut feeling and personal taste. I will pick 2-3 artists and pitch the choices to the editors and publisher. We narrow it down, pass the choice past the author, and then we have our artist (and hope they’re available).
In other creative Fields such as Video Game, Art Directors are almost always individuals with years of related Art experience themselves. Art directors in publishing however are more likely to be graphic designers or have no art experience at all it seems. How does not being an artist help and/or hurt an ADs ability to do their job or portions of it effectively?
Ouch. So being a designer doesn’t count as an “artist” huh? Them’s fighting words! Honestly I don’t know a single “real” AD* in any field who has no art experience. Maybe they weren’t illustrators, but they studied art in some capacity, or had many years of art experience before they took the job.
*It seems that there’s some small companies who have guys assuming the title of AD just because there’s 3 people in the company, and they have no experience whatsoever. I’m not saying don’t work with them, but protect yourselves the same way you would an uneducated client. Make sure there’s a contract, and be prepared to educate them through the process.
Honestly, I’ve never run into this issue – I imagine it comes up more in gaming, with violence issues and scantily-clad-unrealistically-endowed-heroine-syndrome. I would say the instances should be slim enough that you could turn down those jobs that felt wrong to you without it harming your career overall…but just like any other conflict, it’s best to be polite and honest with your AD as soon as a red flag comes up, and see if you can work through it. If not, then part ways amicably. Maybe suggest a friend artist. Don’t leave the AD in a lurch and there shouldn’t be any hard feelings.
As far as my personal morals, it comes into play mostly in the Urban Fantasy genre. I have zero problem with sexy ladies, but I do have some rules. Urban Fantasy is about wish-fulfillment for the (mostly female) audience, not about objectification. Everyone’s line is different, but here’s some of my heroine guidelines:
—No stiletto heels
—Boots rather than shoes
—I try to use fitness models instead of fashion models (no underfed waifs)
—Hold that sword like a weapon, not a baseball bat
—I’ve been learning firearm discipline from author friend Myke Cole – that’ll be a future post too.
—And last but not least, a gut-instinct judgement I call Sexy You Want to Be, Not Sexy You Want to F$©K. That’s the one that’s the most personal. In PG terms, it’s the Badass Heroine Rule.
Well, that’s horrible. And wrong. And calling yourself an “art director” sadly doesn’t actually make you one. I had an author once who told me he could design his own covers because he was also a Creative Director. Bad sign. Run away? (See answer about protecting yourself with a contract above.)
See here: GOOD, NICE, ON TIME VENN DIAGRAM
As I said above, my artist choices and all my art and covers need to be approved by the editor, the publisher, and the author. And we have to not freak out sales or the big accounts who buy the books. It’s shockingly hard to get all those people to agree on anything. Sometimes I get my pure vision through, and it’s the best feeling. Sometimes things get changed by the input, and they’re better for it. That’s the best kind of collaboration with the rest of my company. Sometimes it all gets compromised into a book cover equivalent of mud. That’s heartbreaking, and frustrating, and generally the days I am a cranky bitch in the office…but you get up and try again on the next cover.
But to answer the question about “last word” – an AD never has the last word. We’re always waiting for either Publisher, CEO, or License approval.
——- CONVENTIONS ——–
My wife and I are planing on attending Spectrum this year. This will be our first con in eight years. Between us we work in about seven different styles including a collaborative style. When we put together our portfolios for reviews at Spectrum, how should we organize our varying styles of work? Should we show each art director all of our best work, even if as a whole they do not look very similar stylistically? Or should we create one portfolio for each style and only show the works to art directors who represent an interest in that portfolio’s specific style? Should we try to present ourselves as a team that also does work separately? Or should we present ourselves as individuals who sometimes collaborate?
I think you should each make portfolios that have that person’s individual styles plus the collaborative style, and then do portfolio reviews separately. Cover as much ground as you can and compare notes. Without seeing your work it’s hard to judge, but in my experience, the more styles you’re trying to do simultaneously the harder it is to get hired (although that seems counterintuitive, I know), so I would really only show the styles that you are best at, that you love the most, and that you can show some consistency in. Also, Spectrum is a very friendly place, maybe it’s worth posing that question to the ADs you see.
Consistency. Students tend to be all over the place. I need to see a cohesive vision to hire you to apply that vision to a project I have. If you’re all over the map it’s nearly impossible to hire you, because I’m not sure what I’m going to get, and part of my job is minimizing risk.
Good idea, and a great idea for an expanded post, because I have to poll some ADs from other industries. For me, the musts are Illuxcon and Spectrum for any SFF artist. There’s other cons for comic work and editorial and mainstream publishing, but those are the two best cons I look forward to all year.
Spectrum is amazingly welcoming and friendly. It’s good for entry level and pros. If you’re really concerned that you’re not ready, why don’t you just go as an attendee? You get all the fun of networking without the stress of having to make up the exhibiting cost in sales.
It’s pretty rare, and it can be a great selling point, but it’s not going to beat someone without the gimmick who has better work. The publishers ONLY concern is selling, not “primary” – they are not a charity, and are not in the business of giving anyone an opportunity out of the goodness of their hearts. If you do a fabulous book that they think will sell, then they will lot the added bonus of a sister backstory that helps the book sell, helps you promote it to blogs, magazine interviews, etc.
Honestly, not to be mean, just honest, your “we can slam-dunk selling” comment makes me laugh and immediately not take you seriously. Whole industries of people way more experienced than you spend their careers trying to figure that out. If you’re going to make claims like that, you’d better have one hell of a proposal explaining exactly how. Confidence is great, but don’t get cocky, kid.
Quite often. Some publishers more than others. Same advice as above. Find books that are similar to what you’re trying to do and research the publishers and agents.
This is also a great subject for a longer post, so I’ll get back to you on that soon…but in the short term, it all depends on how critical your financial needs are, and your personality type. If you live somewhere where the cost of living is high and you have student loans looming and you need some peace of mind to be creative, then by all means, get a job. There is NO shame in that. Work part time at Starbucks if you have to, whatever pays the bills. However if your cost of living is low (also no shame in living with the parents for a while if you can, just ask Noah Bradley), and you can get by starting to get local art work (murals, small commissions, cat portraits), and you’re also someone who would rather eat ramen than be a barista, and you will thrive on the pressure of needing to make it, then maybe put off the day job and push the art thing for a while.
Big companies have Human Resource departments that handle internship programs. Make a wish list of companies you want to intern for and research the $hit out of them. (Get moving, most companies are already filling in their summer internship programs.) As I said to the question directly above, maybe even create your own internship. Internships should also not stop you from finishing a degree – either they happen during school or after graduation.
Also I’ve been hearing interesting things about Intern Sushi. For publishing & media internships and entry-level jobs, Mediabistro is a great place to start. But if you want to get the first jump on jobs, you’ll hunt the company websites individually.
As for big publishers, they all take interns. Most big studios do too. Slave labor is terribly useful, you know. Go to their website and find the link specifically talking about internships or find the Human Resource contact and send them an email. As far as individual artists taking interns, it’s really individual to the artist. You have to just send a (polite but determined) email and see if they’re interested. The thing that most “catches the eye” is showing you’ve done your research. Do you know what they do? What can you bring to the table that they would want? Prove that you’ve thought about it in depth. Research is the KEY, people!
What’s in it for them? I’m not being a jerk, I’m serious. Why would someone take the time away from their work for you if you’re not going to pay them? Will you “pay” them in work? WIll you be their studio assistant? Will you prime their canvases and run to the post office 5 times a day? Will you provide a steady supply of freshly-baked pies? Artists and ADs in this community already do a ton of charity work and community building (like me being up at 1am writing this), but a mentorship or class is just too much work time lost for there not to be some kind of compensation.
There’s no artist living who is happy with all of their work. If you are unhappy with the creativity of the work you get paid for, then make personal work that IS what you want to do, that you love, and fill your portfolio with it. It is incredibly hard to do that when you are exhausted by mindless day job work, but you need to squirrel away the time and positivity to do it. Instead of hating what you are paid to do, look at it as a means to an end. It will pay your bills while you better your portfolio and find different work that you love.
Anyway, I digress. Start doing something you love, something just for you, something that recharges your batteries – do it not to show anyone, just to make you feel better, and that will revive you, boost your self confidence, and you’ll start making time to do more personal work. And eventually you’ll start building a portfolio of what YOU want to do. And then people will hire you to do that thing. People smell love in your work, and it makes them want to own a little piece of it.
You’re talking to a girl with green hair, lots of tattoos, and really loud leggings…so I might be prejudiced, of course, but I always say err on the creative. This is a hard line sometimes to walk for a woman, so you have to watch the sexy factor and not overdue sexy AND creative at once. I think there’s an expectation for an artist to look the part, and a little “weirdness” is forgiven (if not outright applauded) by the conservative types that are hiring you. The more conservative the business, I’d say the more conservative your sexiness level, but definitely play it up with creative accessories.
Different cities are hubs for different industries. Check out this article on Artists and Location.
——- INTERNATIONAL ISSUES ——–
It makes no difference to me where an artist lives. I have a ton of artists in Canada, the UK, France…honestly I have a few artists that I can’t even recall where they live. Language can be a barrier sometimes, but location certainly isn’t. Artists are never asked to come to meetings…and if I need to talk to someone in person, that’s what Skype is for.
Email and Social Media. See this article on Artists and Location.
Foreign Publishers: it seems they always reuse the UK/US art or do a quickie photoshop job, what’s the deal?
A foreign publisher often has a much smaller market that the US and UK to sell to, and thus have a smaller budget. It’s often easier and cheaper to drop a small reuse fee to the original artist to relicense the art than it is to develop new art. When they can’t even afford the minimal reuse fee, that’s when you get the bad photoshop hack covers.
This came up in some responses people posted to some of the questions. There’s a lot of controversy over sites like fiverr, logo tree, 99designs, and all the spec companies. I’m going to be doing a more developed post on that soon, but for now read this: Spec, Exposure, and Competitions
——- PERSONAL ——–
Jean Grey. (Sans Cyclops, preferably. He was a jerk.)
Favorite flavor of ice cream?
Mint Chocolate Chip (duh, it’s GREEN. Also, chocolate chips!)
l’m the most gorgeous when I’m drinking the blood of sassy illustrators for breakfast. Consider yourself warned.
——- THE FUTURE ——–
Also a great topic for a further post. In short, I have long believed (and I’m slowly being proven right) that the advent of digital publishing is making more, not less, opportunities for artists. Not only do ebooks and apps offer a lot more opportunities for including art and extras, but the print book has become an item of greater collectibility. Now that you don’t HAVE to read a printed book, it means print books have to really offer something unique to justify a higher price. And thus the rise in popularity of Penguin Classics series, Folio Society, Centipede Press, real collectible books. Swoon.
Our culture in general is in a huge period of lauding (and paying for) craft, the story behind a brand, workmanship, care, time. Hipsters can be annoying, but I greatly prefer a foodie/mixology/heritage-brand wearing hipster scene over the 1990s bottle-service eurotrash club scene.
Rich people need things to spend money on, and currently the trend is to do so on craft. I mean, have you taken a look at the limited-run hi-production value poster scene lately?! Artists, this is your moment! Milk it! Google “artist as entrepreneur” and MAKE ALL THE THINGS.
And also: while developing my own portfolio of work, is there a particular canvas dimension ratio you recommend for pieces to be added into the portfolio that reflect the potential change in composition demands?
Type legibility has become even more important – everything needs to be judged as a thumbnail. However, since the metadata always travels with an ebook, we can more frequently leave off teeny quotes and excessive reading lines.
Images also need to be interesting at thumbnail size – you don’t have to see exactly what’s going on at thumbnail size, but the general shapes the image makes should be interesting. Frequently look at your piece shrunken down to thumbnail size. Is it interesting, or is it mud?
I’m too exhausted to compile this right now, so I’ll just cheat and make a list of all my past MC posts and promise to make my top 10 from other people another long post.