Friday, September 22, 2017

A Comparison of Some Commercial Art Genres

-By David Palumbo

A few years ago, I posted a piece on the varied landscape of my client base and how I shorthand what I do into “book covers and Magic cards” even if that's only a portion of the full scope. I thought I'd revisit this today and compare recent examples from six different avenues: Comics, Editorial, Gallery Work, Gaming, Private Commissions, and Publishing (book covers). Of course, these selections are anecdotal, but I tried to pick examples that I felt represent my experience overall

Comic Covers

Project: Joe Golem cover for Dark Horse Comics
Turnaround: Typically about 3-4 weeks
Client relationship: I've been working with Dark Horse for about 5 years now, probably about 40-50 covers in that time for several different editors
Rights bought: Work for hire
Brief given: Though it varies by editor, Dark Horse tends to often just provide me a script and let me pitch ideas which leaves me plenty of creative freedom. I'll sometimes ask guidance on what story beats to lean on. This particular cover was a collected volume so I just had to give an overall sense of the tone that also touched on some kind of story specific imagery

Sketch notes: My initial take was two directions. One was a montage of our hero backed by flames, a lonely abandoned row home, and the indication of rats filling the dark sky. The second was at the suggestion of the editor to see our hero (in his Golem form) with a statue of an angle standing over him. The montage sketch recycled a pose from an unused sketch of an earlier issue and, in the end, the editor decided to just go back to that original unused sketch (just Joe and the rats, far right)

Final notes: I don't often get much in the way of final revisions with these, and that was the case here. Smooth approval, everyone is happy!


Project: 2-page interior spread and a quarter page spot for Texas Monthly
Turnaround: Typically 1-2 weeks (my most recent piece for them was three days, brief to final)
Client relationship: I've done about half a dozen jobs for Texas Monthly
Rights bought: 1st North American
Brief given: These paintings were to illustrate a non-fiction excerpt from a book about the first Spaniards to arrive in Texas. The AD sends over the story and usually some rough indication of what the tone or concept might be. The pace in editorial is so fast, there isn't usually much fussing over little details. I generally feel a lot of trust is given over to me to do my job without interference.


Sketch notes: because of the short turnarounds, I tend to still do editorial sketches in digital. I had a very clear idea for the main spread and that sailed through no problem. For the quarter spot, I wanted to see a shot of the Spaniards established further south (which ties in later in the story) but it was rejected because that part of the story did not take place in Texas. It was replaced with a scene of Karankawa finding some shipwrecked Spaniards. My first pass at this could have been wrongly interpreted to suggested there had been a battle between the two, but the second pass was approved.

Final notes: Again, with the fast pace of editorial, my experience is that clients don't tend to have many revisions. Texas Monthly does usually have a note or two and in this case it was just some simple color adjustments


Gallery Work  (not a "commercial art genre", but it is essentially turning art into commerce)

Project: a piece for a two man show at Rehs Contemporary
Turnaround: I spent about a year preparing a few dozen pieces for this show, with the most intense focus being the final two to three months
Client relationship: I've been working with Rehs for four years
Rights bought: none
Brief given: none, though there is an understanding as to the general theme and scope of the show
Sketch notes: no sketches presented
Final notes: none

Additional notes: Working in a gallery is so different from commissioned work, I hesitated to include it. The reason that I did is because it is a facet of my career and income. And it's worth comparing as well. The one thing that particularly should be called out is that, along with all of this freedom, there is also no guarantee of compensation. I've taken part in several group shows with various galleries in recent years that produced no sales. With a long term gallery relationship, however, the gallery holds an inventory of your work and should be always actively promoting it to their buyers. Sales will, if all goes as it should, occur at openings as well as between shows. Several times, I've had gaps in my commission invoices covered by gallery sales on older work.


Project: Magic: the Gathering
Turnaround: six weeks
Client relationship: My oldest steady client. I'm just shy of my 10th anniversary working on Magic
Rights bought: Work for hire
Brief given: Artists are sent a style guide, which is a tome of artwork and notes used to help keep you on brand for the specific setting. The actual brief will describe in fairly detailed terms the scene to be painted as well as some notes on overall tone and focus. Card functions and in-game effects are rarely if ever given in the assignments.
Sketch notes: minimal, just a note on clarity of some details. This is typical for me: notes that don't require any revisions to the sketch, just to keep in mind for moving forward

Final notes: none, a clean approval. Again, this is usually my experience with MtG
Additional notes: As a traditional painter, it's also worth mention that there is a dedicated collector community for MtG art. The actual assignments don't pay as much as some other clients on this list, but the aftermarket makes up for it

Private Commissions

Project: original piece for a private collector
Turnaround: usually pretty open ended, though I aim to keep things inside 3-4 months
Client relationship: This piece was for a collector who I had no prior relationship to. We did communicate quite a bit during the commission though
Rights bought: none
Brief given: The collector had originally wanted a piece that was already sold, which then opened the conversation to creating a new piece with a similar theme

Sketch notes: I first sent over rough thumbnails to close in on the concept, and then the full sketch once I felt confident we were on the same page. Some suggestions were made based on the sketch that helped guide us in to the final

Final notes: none, everyone is happy!
Additional notes: I think the most nerve wracking type of job for me is a private commission. When working with a normal client, you have to satisfy their needs of course, but it's business first and foremost. The AD might not even really like my work for all I know, they just know it's right for the product and that is the primary concern. Creating a piece for an individual to own and love feels like a very different kind of responsibility to me. You have to connect with your client at a very personal level

Publishing (book covers)

Project: Book three of the Binti trilogy for Tor Books
Turnaround: Generally about two months
Rights bought: reproduction in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, ebook
Brief given: Publisher to publisher, this varies greatly. Some have a very specific idea, others just send a manuscript. The Binti books were of that open ended manuscript variety, which means I tended to present quite a few ideas in some cases before we found the right one.

Sketch notes: An initial round of thumbnails were sent to fix the focus of the piece. From there, three fleshed out sketches were created. One of those was then taken further with notes to recompose some details before finally being approved to move ahead to final.

Final notes: I usually expect some notes on a cover and this piece followed that trend. Minor details for the most part though: clean up a shape here, tone down a value there.

Bonus round: AdvertisingI wanted to also say a quick word about advertising, though I honestly don't feel I've done enough of it to speak with as much confidence as the above subjects.  I've done two projects this year that fall under the advertising umbrella and virtually nothing about them was the same except that they both paid better than any other clients for comparable hours.  Typically, advertising has strong budgets but can be extremely micromanaging on details.  If any category of illustration might reduce you to a pair of hands, it's advertising.  Turnarounds are usually pretty fast as well, despite that some jobs can also be fairly complex.  You're frequently dealing with a team of people, who in turn are dealing with another team of people, so there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen.  Bottom line, hard work but good money.  I've only ever had ad jobs come to me through my rep.

Any experiences in other illustration avenues (children's books, freelance concept art, etc.) that you'd like to add?  Please leave a comment!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Crowdfunding Tips from Stephanie Law

By Lauren Panepinto

Reminder: This friday is the last day to register for Stephanie Law's Kickstart Art Intensive. I talked about the Make Your Art Work project in my last column, where Marc Scheff & I will not only be presenting our now-famous Art Business Bootcamps, but we'll also be holding focused Intensive classes with experts who have knocked it out of the park in their fields.

To give you a taste of the kind of material Stephanie is covering, she's given us some quick tips to think about when you're planning your crowdfunding project:

Tip #1

When you're creating a crowdfunding project, think about how you're going to include your audience into the process.

Draw them in with your narrative, and be able to articulate what motivates you, because if you can't put it into words, you can't expect your audience to be able to get excited! Being introspective enough to understand your own passions can be hard, but if you can get a handle on that and be able to articulate it, then that passion becomes infectious.

Tip #2

Audiences get behind Ideas, not Products.

Yes, there's a nifty product that they will want to get their hands on at the end of the process, but if you are focused only on the goal of putting product on shelves, then you are missing out on the golden opportunity that crowdfunding provides to expand your reach and have your audience forge a dedicated bond to you and your endeavors.

Tip #3

When determining your fulfillment timeline, two key things to remember in communicating to your audience.

1. Be realistic, not hopeful.
2. Be transparent.

Tip #4

Know your product specifications. You must have a firm idea of what your product is.

Even if you don’t have all of your content complete, you need to know what your specifications are.
You need to know how big it is, approximately how much it will weigh, and any details regarding
materials that will be important during the production to the manufacturer or printer. Some of those details you won’t know until you actually begin talking to your manufacturer/printer. Have a wish-list of what you desire, and then when you begin the conversation with them, let the specialists know what your ideas are, and have them present you with the various options to chose from.


The course is $197, and you get 5 lessons that Stephanie designed to break down and replicate her  crowdfunding success. She breaks down all the preparation and promotion she set up for her Kickstarter campaign, which raised over 100k for her art book, as well as cover material about starting a Patreon. You get all the written lessons immediately upon registering, then Stephanie will hold 4 live classes on Crowdcast on Mondays Sept 25, Oct 2, 9, and 16 at 2pm EST. Classes will be recorded and can be rewatched by anyone registered for the class.

If you want to get a sneak preview, check out the ProjectCast we recorded with her a few months ago.

Enrollment for Kick Start Art closes 9/22. Class begins 9/25. More info & register here.

Don't miss any news or upcoming class announcements! Sign up here for the Make Your Art Work newsletter.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


-By Heather Theurer

 Nightmare - 1781 Oil on Canvas - Henry Fuseli
Ever since I was invited to be a part of Muddy Colors, I’ve spent a good chunk of time internally debating over what I should write or share and whether or not what I came up with would be worthy of the audience. There are a plethora of topics that could be written about and I plan on visiting as many as I can. However, I’m going to take a departure from the tenor of my previous posts and go out on a limb here to touch on a subject that, although somber, I think is relevant.

The idea was sparked (in addition to some other present, concurrent events) by the recent rewatching of one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes. It’s the one where Doctor Who and his companion, Amy, go back in time to visit Vincent Van Gogh in June of 1890 at Auver-sur-Oise, France, during a turbulent period of the artist’s life just before his suicide. It’s a moving visual experience and I’d recommend it to anyone. In any case, what I watched ruminated inside my head for a couple of days and because of that, my fingers inadvertently decided to do some tap dancing on my computer keyboard. As a result, I ran across a particular article on CNN. It’s title: “The Dark Side of Creativity”.

Self-Portrait - 1887 Oil on Canvas - Vincent van Gogh

It got me to thinking. Now, I know what some of you might say (and I chuckle to myself at this, because I’m just being silly here): “Heather, thinking is a dangerous thing. You shouldn’t do it.” But I was intrigued, and not just because the subject was morose. I started digging. It led to other articles. It led to study. It led to introspection. And no matter what anyone says, I believe introspection is always a good thing—if it leads to positive change.

This is where I’m going to go out on a limb. I think we all have demons. Well, at least that come in some form or another. Okay, so I guess I can’t speak for any of the other phenomenal artists and contributors who post here on Muddy Colors. Maybe they don’t have any. But I know I do. And maybe some of you who come here to visit us do. So here’s the disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist. I wouldn’t give anyone advice or direction where I have no power to do so. I’m only going to throw this stuff out there, pitch in a few of my thoughts (dangerous, I know!) and let you decide what you want to do with it.

So this is where I go back to my thought on demons and everyone having them. I’m not talking about the gargoyle-style demons that perch on the dresser across the room from your bed and give you creepy vibes in the nighttime—although that very well may be the type that haunt you, I don’t know. I’m talking about the ones that take up a very real residence inside our heads and don’t leave us alone. I’ll refrain from covering the ones for which I have no authority to make a statement and knowing that there are also too many to list to even make them a part of this post.

Throughout my career, I’ve met a few demons of my own and they’ve come in various forms. I’ll share just a couple of them, and if one or more of them strikes a chord, perhaps it will lead to your own introspection. I bare myself a bit in this, so be gentle. :)

The Scream - 1893 Oil, Tempera and Pastel on Cardboard - Edvard Munch

One of the first demons to ever crawl on my shoulder and whisper in my ear was the one by the name of Self-Deprecation. Even during my childhood and then into adulthood, I felt I’d had a pretty good grasp on art technique and creativity and I was occasionally complimented on it. That felt good to hear, of course, but the Demon of Self-Deprecation is a vicious one. He sat on my shoulder and reminded me that no matter what anyone else thought, I’d never be as good as the Great Masters I admired (both ancient and modern). I’d never be able to attain the kind of creativity, quality and far-reaching influence that they did. According to Self-Deprecation, I would always and forever be a hobby artist. I’d never have a real career or find success in it financially or perhaps even find any true fulfillment in the creative process because of this. I’d find joy in creating images and then within moments of finishing a piece, Self-Deprecation would remind me that it wasn’t as good as something else I’d seen. He was a beast and difficult to be rid of.

Bound I - 2005 Oil on Canvas Study - Heather Theurer
Bound II - 2005 Oil on Canvas Study - Heather Theurer

It wasn’t long after Self-Deprecation took up residence, that his twin sister decided to join him. Her name is Self-Doubt. She took everything Self-Deprecation flaunted and magnified it across every area of my life. If Self-Deprecation could convince me that my art wasn’t good enough, then certainly, she could do much better and persuade me to keep my art to myself. Unlike her twin brother, she didn’t whisper; she was bold and in my face, letting me know that my art wasn’t worthy of selling. I also didn’t have a formal art education, she reminded me, and that meant I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a “fake” and perhaps even a “cheat”. So sitting at a table for my first years at San Diego Comic-Con turned into five-day stretches of torture wondering why in the world I was there (which springs back to my first post on Muddy Colors). Having her on my shoulder led to uncertainty and indecision. I wondered if I was selfishly taking away from my family (I have five kids) to make stuff that nobody cared about. I struggled with the idea of investing in my art financially, especially if seeing a positive end come out of it was not clearly in view. This dragged on for a long time and was seriously frustrating because there was a part of me that didn’t want to believe all of her lies. With these twins sitting on my shoulders, it was hard not to imagine that the only reason anyone bought my art was because they were either related to me and therefore obligated to show support or that they pitied the “little guys” at Comic-Con and felt the need to fulfill an urge to be charitable. The Demon of Self-Doubt didn’t stop there, though. Doubting myself because I hadn’t yet achieved a grand goal I had set for myself was a rather natural response and one relatively easily remedied with time and experience. No, Self-Doubt dug a little deeper. She took the heart of what I did and attempted to blacken it. I’d always loved creating art. It was a part of me, kind of like breathing. But I didn’t know why that was, specifically; I just did it. Self-Doubt tried to convince me to doubt every brush stroke and its purpose. It was like convincing me that breathing wasn’t important, one inhalation at a time. It took everything out of me and it became a battle to continue.

Saraigh Ceol - 2012 Oil on Canvas - Heather Theurer

Then there are the demons that rear up in front of us and bare their fangs in all the ferocity of a grizzly on a rampage because you’ve stolen the last salmon in the river. These guys don’t sit on your shoulder. They attack head-on and make it seem as if all the powers of Earth and Hell are combining to destroy us and everything we do. Death, illness, tragedy, economic trials, emotionally/physically abusive relationships—they all have a way of finding their way into our lives to some degree. I’m not going to dwell on the particulars here. You all know what your personal demons are and what face they take.

Instead, I’m going to step back and bring this all together. Maybe this is the unrealistically optimistic side of me—because I tend to lean in that direction—but, barring serious mental illnesses or addictions (which I mentioned I’d refrain from crossing over into, for the sake of lack of expertise), I believe that none of these demons—and I do mean none of them—have any real power. None whatsoever. They only have power as we give it to them. In hindsight, I can see points where I pretty much handed over my life to the demons that sat on my shoulder and demanded it of me, which is kind of sad to admit. However, I think I’ve experienced enough of life now to realize that I not only didn’t need to do that, but that I won’t be doing it again. For some of you who feel you’re right smack dab in the middle of Demon Central, you might be, in addition to scoffing at me, asking how in the world I plan on accomplishing that. Demon Central is a bleak place to be, after all, and one with a daunting city wall.

Santuarii - 2011 Oil on Canvas - Heather Theurer

Well, it’s definitely more than just attitude, I’ll tell you that much, although that is at the root of it all. If you find yourself in the downward spiral of pessimism, no amount of effort is going to free you from the demons who climb on your back and tell you what to do. What shed the demons that I faced in my past came down to putting up my dukes and just doing. To begin with, I had to acknowledge that the deceitful little buggers of Self-Deprecation and Self-Doubt were actually sitting on my shoulders. They have the ability to hide well, blend in, and appear insignificant. Now that I know what they look like, I can avoid them. I pluck them off and flick them away before they can get their dirty claws into me. I plow forward in my art with the kind of determination and speed that makes it hard for the demons to catch up. Creating artwork is no longer an end result but a process. If I can see that I’m not where I want to be right now, at least I’m approaching it, moving toward it. Sometimes that happens in big leaps, but most of the time it comes in slow, trudging, tiny steps. I don’t think I’m unique in this regard. I’d place a hefty bet that most artists out there are taking the slow and steady route with their noses to the ground searching out the best path to take. That’s probably wise and beneficial, so long as you’re aware of who your companions are.

Gruppo del Laocoonte - Marble Sculpture
The same could be said of the demons that I have no control over—the grizzly bear kind. Crazy thing is, that out of every one of those types of experiences I’ve gone through, something grand has been added to my creative core. They’ve changed my work for the better by challenging not only my skills but the substance of the art itself. Perhaps these demons didn’t appreciate it, but I dismantled them, took their base elements and then rebuilt them into something that I could call my own and hopefully uplift others with. This didn’t happen spontaneously, folks. It took focus, vision, and ridiculous amounts of effort. It was sometimes a tedious and painful method of creating and living. With that as a setting in which to launch the future, though, I don’t fear the demons anymore.