by Donato

I have a wonderful opportunity for you.  Stay at home, be your own boss, set your own hours and earn over $2 an hour for your work.  Ready to sign up?

Why are you making art?

This question came up as I was talking with my assistant Kelley a few weeks ago and raised a few important issues which have driven my art career from its beginning.  From drawing with crayons as a two year old until the dawn of my first commercial work, the dominant motivation for making art was because I loved the subject matter I was working with;  deeply, compassionately and without question, I drew what I wanted to for myself and for my friends.

Years ago, when a call came from my representative to stop by his office for a briefing on my first book cover commission as a professional, another reason erupted as to why I was an artist.  To support myself as an artist. To make money. To be recognized as a professional by peers in the industry.  The change was one I embraced enthusiastically, for receiving compensation for my labors validated what I did as an artist, affirming that my chosen career was worthy.  My representative, being a very good one, began to book my schedule with commission after commission, making sure that I was creating art full time…and earning money.

Throne of Isis   1993    ‘A money job’

I was lucky to have a representative like Sal Barracca.  Early in my first year working with him we sat down and shared a lengthy discussion about where I wanted my career to go.  Working with so many artists over the years, Sal knew that each artist brings different motivations to their work, some do it for love, for money, for fame and for something else.  I had just completed a few images for Sal which were truly ‘show me the money!’ illustrations, and although I enjoyed the work, I found much greater satisfaction out of paintings created for narrative science fiction and fantasy novel covers.  Sal wanted to check with me and see what type of route I wanted to pursue as a professional artist, to make money regardless of content, or to nurture my love of painting at the cost of losing some business.

Under his guidance and wisdom I decided to set a course and make a career and name within the genre of science fiction and fantasy.  Over the following years, Sal directed work to me which followed these goals.  I was lucky to be able to develop a portfolio around work which I had a passion for and not need to accept commissions purely for their monetary value.

But doing work for love can have its downsides, as anyone who has worked in magazines, comics, and the gaming industry can tell you.  There is plenty of commissions which do not pay much and may never lead to a prosperous, let alone livable, lifestyle.  Below I share with you one of my worst paying jobs ever for a game card.  But the horrible pay really was not the fault of my client, but rather how much time I decided to spend on the work.

Esmar Tuek 
Dune Collectable Card Game
Unicorn Games

Fee: $100

$45 Transparency for reproduction (I was so happy with the results I decided to document the painting properly)
$10 Mounting and Supply costs
$15 Shipping

Profit: $30

Earnings:  $30 for 15 hours of work = $2 an hour!

What was I doing creating work at $2 an hour, earning less than what I made as a teenage paperboy?  Was this the career I set out to have as an artist?

The answer: there is more to creating art for love and money.  There is creating art for fame – for a career – and this portrait for Unicorn Games was a step I was taking in that plan to build a life long career out of my art.  My discussions with Sal and assessments of what I saw and understood of other artists, led me to the conclusion that the most successful artists were those that made a career of their work.  They found a voice, a subject, or an approach to nurtured and develop as a unique way of seeing and interpreting the world through their art.

This painting of Esmar Tuek was more than adding another image to my portfolio, it was a chance to show how I could tackle science fiction content in a manner which spoke to my love of classical figuration.   I was looking for ways to break outside of the norms of the genre and bring a new voice to interpreting the content of my commercial assignments.  Portraiture was one area I loved and this commission provided the opportunity to explore and experiment in this new direction.

Obviously my career was not made overnight, nor was it based upon executing many commissions at $2 an hour.  The majority of what I have undertaken has been for money, a few for love and the rare image for my career.  Sometimes two of these factors meet together on an assignment, and when the stars align, all three make for a fully pleasurable experience.

As I spoke about these issues with Kelley, it made me reflect upon how important motivational aspects have been to my career.  It is with 20/20 hindsight that all of these choices appear to be the right ones, but I cannot deny that some images that retain their staying power were inspired by these factors.  My first assignment for Penguin Books speaks to the desire to impress a first time client and help launched my career with them.  It was successful and Construct of Time remains a cornerstone in my portfolio twenty years later.  I didn’t earn $2 an hour creating it, but it wasn’t about the money anyway, it was about my career.

The next time you tackle a commission, assignment or generate a sample piece of art think about why you are making that piece and how it fits into your grand scheme to become, grow and mature as an artist.  It will help you resolve issues and allow you to believe in yourself and the direction you want to take your career.

Good Luck!

Construct of Time     1993    Donato Giancola      18″ x 27″    Oil on Panel