Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Art for Expsoure

By Justin Gerard

“I’m writing this totally cool book; I’d like you to illustrate it. Do you have to be paid, or will the exposure be enough?”

We were recently asked this question at a comic convention. Like many of you, I’ve heard this several times in my career and it still shocks me every time I hear it.

“Wait, you are wanting me to work …. for free? In the hopes that this mystery project of yours will be a New York Times #1 bestseller and I will somehow get famous for it?”

I find that it happens more often at comic shows. Perhaps this is because so many struggling artists attend and get artist alley tables in the desperate (and understandable) hope of being noticed by a publisher. And here unscrupulous people prey upon them.

Before I begin, let me clarify: This is not about all free work. There are certain times when it is right and good to do free work.

Briefly, a few examples of free work that are exceptions here:

A Charity or Cause
Perhaps it is for something you truly believe in and want to support.  (Like being asked to contribute art to the Society of Illustrators Microvisions show, the proceeds of which are dedicated to student art scholarships.)

For A Loved One
Perhaps it is for a close personal friend who you truly believe their book needs to be illustrated. Perhaps it is your mom, and you love your mom. (Note: These are almost always bad ideas to accept, but they are exceptions and people are absolutely allowed to do crazy things for their loved ones.)

For Your Artist Representative
An Art Rep is someone who you have agreed by contract to provide art for so that they can market you. In this case, you already agreed to provide art for exposure. But an art director isn’t trying to get you to illustrate his project. He is trying to put together your portfolio. He only makes money when you make money from actual clients. So this is very different, and until you get work, you should be doing everything in your power to improve your portfolio.

And this is also not about work where there is some form of profit-sharing being suggested.  That is a different article entirely.

This is about providing free work, given in exchange for the dubious promise of "exposure."

Here is a flow chart I have created so that you can decide wether or not a project of this nature is right for you:

Providing skilled artwork in exchange for exposure is an exchange of services. You provide art, and they provide marketing for you and your brand.

It is not that this is an inherently bad exchange, it is that 99.9% of the people who promise this 'exposure' cannot deliver on their end of the bargain.

Here is why you NEVER take these projects:

1. Someone who offers exposure for art does not understand the industry.  If they did, they would know that they HAVE to pay you. Someone who offers this will have NO idea how to get the project produced. And therefore won’t be able to deliver on their promise of exposure.

 2. Someone who offers exposure for art lacks the capitol necessary to produce and market the product towards a successful end.

3. Someone who offers this lacks respect for you and for creative professionals in general.
They will be miserable and extremely demanding to work with.

4. It is insulting to you and to creative professionals everywhere.
By taking the work, you are supporting an evil and manipulative market and furthering a corrupt mindset that devalues the art of illustration and dehumanizes those who practice it.

If you are still tempted, ask yourself:
Could you use the time you would spend on this project to do your own, much cooler project?
Could you use the time you would spend on this project to further you art education through classes? Could you use the time you would spend on this project to improve your portfolio so you have a better chance of getting ACTUAL, paying commissions?
Do you have even a shred of self-respect?

If you said yes to any of these, then don't take the project.

Keep this in mind: 
If their project is so great and is going to be so successful, then they can go sell an investor on it, and he can put up the money to pay you a fair rate for your work. Let the sharks handle that. You make sure you get paid.

What to do when someone asks you to do work for free:
Kindly, politely, educate the person that this is not how the world works.

Perhaps they didn’t mean to say something so horribly offensive to you.
Perhaps they didn’t mean to suggest that you give up 3 months of your life for no pay because they think of you as something inferior to themselves.
Perhaps they just don't understand art.

Or perhaps they didn’t whole-heartedly agree with the abolition of slavery.

So take a moment and explain to them that illustration is a professional skill, acquired through years of difficult training and practice. The execution of it takes time and great effort.  Illustrators are just like other professionals, and they expect to be paid for their work, and to work under similar working conditions of any other human being in our society. Perhaps when they understand that you are a working human being just like them, they will change and become someone who can support the arts in a more honest and helpful way.

NEVER take unpaid work for the promise of exposure.

Monday, July 21, 2014

"Breaking In" Part 2 of 2

THE FOOTSOLDIERS (series). 2000.
Acrylic on illustration board, various sizes.

In the previous installment, I detailed the series of events that led to meeting one of my favorite comic creators, Jim Krueger, while I was still in high school. After doing a piece of fan art for him, and finishing my freshman year at art school, he commissioned 3 more illustrations for his creator-owned book, The Footsoldiers.

Oil on illustration board, ~18 × 24″.

Throughout my sophomore year (2000-2001), I began working on a multi-tiered montage for his new web site. Each section represented one of his many creations, and I enlisted my friends as character models. (Always preferring to kill 2 birds with one stone, I managed to turn a few of these into class assignments.)

ALPHABET SUPES. 2001. Oil on illustration board, 24 × 10″.

Then came junior year. I had the insane privilege of spending the entire academic year in Rome as part of the European Honors Program. We had complete freedom — not a single class besides Italian and art history — and so I concentrated on making comics.

Oil on masonite, 16 × 24″.

Jim had given me a short, 6-page script called Children of the Left Hand that turned Frankenstein's monster into a lonely, little girl. This was intended as a pitch/poster that could be presented to potential publishers. Painted in oil on canvas, I finished most of the pieces in the first semester and assembled them all digitally.

When I returned to the states, Jim offered to personally take me to the Marvel offices. Nowadays, the place is in a constant state of lockdown, but back in 2002 you could sweet-talk your way in if you knew the right people. Luckily, I knew one "right" person, and he introduced me to 3 editors. The portfolio they reviewed consisted almost entirely of Jim's characters, which meant not many superheroes.

And then nothing happened. They said "nice work," but they had nothing to offer in the way of gigs. My art at the time was all painted, and so they didn't really have a place for me, or even know where my work would fit. Despite getting the opportunity of a lifetime, I left pretty disappointed.

And then everything happened. Jim gave me the email of Joe Quesada, the editor-in-chief at the time (and one of my favorite artists). I wrote to him that night with a jpeg of my work... and he got back to me the next day. Basically, I was hired. I completed my first cover for them shortly thereafter, an Iron Man painting that I still have, and I quit waiting tables. My parents came to the Olive Garden on my last day there, and happened to bring along my first check from Marvel.

IRON MAN #63 Cover. 2002.
Oil on illustration board, 20 x 30".

I still had my senior year left at RISD. I was yet to take David Mazzucchelli's comics class, which would turn out to be incredibly influential on my work. He actually critiqued one of my Marvel gigs as I was working on it during the semester, even though it was cutting into projects from his class. Of course, it helped that he had done the exact same thing when he was in school.

So start early. Make the best work you can and get it out there. You can't predict where your "big break" will come from, you just have to stack the deck in your favor so you're ready if and when it comes.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Revisiting my artwork photography tutorial

David Palumbo

Just about a year back, I wrote an article on photographing your own artwork (find it here if you missed it).  While I still follow the same basic method, I’ve learned a few new things since then and felt a brief update might be useful.

To begin, my original article suggested the choices of camera be either a DSLR or a point-and-shoot, with the point-and-shoot being the budget friendly option.  I have two thoughts that I’d like to add to this.

Buying Used

It was a major oversight to not suggest shopping for DSLRs used.  A DSLR can be had for quite the bargain if you buy a slightly out of date model which still has everything that you need.  I buy most of my camera gear used these days either through eBay or a dealer (KEH, Adorama, and B&H Photo are all excellent) and have found amazing deals on things I otherwise would not have been able to afford.  On eBay of course you have to be a bit more careful, but I see Canon Rebels of various types for $200-$300 with lens included, which is a great deal for a basic kit.  As stated in the original article, you’ll want to make sure that the model you are getting is a minimum of 12 mega pixels.  Of course, buying from a major dealer carries less risk.  I’ve never yet been burned on an eBay purchase, knock on wood, but dealers can be relied on to list accurate condition and they can also get on the phone and answer any questions you could think of.  Two big advantages over the slightly back alley feel of some eBay purchases that I’ve made.  The other glaring omission in choosing a camera was:

Mirrorless Systems

Many people will tell you that DSLR is on its way out anyway, to be replaced by mirrorless system cameras.  This class of camera should give every bit the same control and flexibility as a DSLR but in a smaller form (no flipping mirrors and whatnot inside) and often at a very reasonable price.  Interestingly, the big two camera companies, Canon and Nikon, seem to be late to the party here and if I were shopping mirrorless I’d be looking at Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, and Fuji.  Latest offerings will be pricier (though often still cheaper than DSLR), but last year’s model can often be had for a steal.

And some additional notes and thoughts:

Locking up the mirror on a DSLR for sharper images

Using the tripod and long exposure method, you shouldn’t likely have blurry images but occasionally I would still notice some softness.  It was suggested to me that I try shooting with the mirror already locked up as the mirror flip can slightly jostle the camera.  On my Canon, I solved this by setting my camera for Live View, where the rear screen displays the view through the lens as though shooting video.  I’d imagine most DSLRs will have a similar feature.  Since implementing this, ever single shot has been razor sharp.

Program your settings to a custom slot

If your camera is one which features savable custom set modes, it can be handy to set one up exclusively for artwork.  My 5dmk2 has this feature though I didn’t know it until I finally read the manual sometime last year.  On the 5dmk2, there are shooting modes labeled C1,C2, and C3 on the exposure mode dial.  I have C1 programmed for shooting my paintings, which means I flip the dial to C1 and instantly I have: ISO100, White Balance corrected for the temperature of my lights, Aperture Priority mode, aperture set for f5.6 (the ideal for my chosen lens), all live view options pre-set (grid lines for squaring the image on screen, still photo mode instead of movie, etc.), RAW format, and the self timer turned on.   Before discovering the custom set modes, I would often forget one of these many details.  Now I just switch to C1 and I’m ready to go.  Of course I don’t know which cameras do and do not have this feature, so I recommend checking in your manual.

Macro Lenses?

I had a question last time about using macro lenses which I’m sorry to say I did not answer very well (sorry Joshua!)  Though it is true that macro lenses are designed for shooting at very close distances which is not really relevant to shooting artwork and it is also true that many many non-macro lenses will have sufficient resolution and build quality to deliver stellar results, I overlooked one important detail about macro lenses: they are resolution badasses through and through.  While most modern lenses should do fine, some even outperforming the current camera sensors, you can always count on a macro lens to give excellent quality.  I currently shoot my work with a 100mm macro. 

So that’s it really, just a few random extra notes that I wanted to add.  I’ll do my best if there are any new follow-up questions!

Friday, July 18, 2014


by Greg Ruth

70 years after it first saw print, First Second Books has teamed up with Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew to bring back the first asian-american superhero, THE GREEN TURTLE, and they approached a bunch of us to do a pinup for the series as the book prepares to launch. I had not heard of this character, but to be fair I am not big on superheroes and there's probably more than I don't know than know about them- especially their history.

The first thought I had was getting down with the old pulp tradition from which this title originally found itself, but when you're doing a commission alongside so many excellent other folk, the trick in my mind, becomes making yours stick out from the others, or at the very least, try and approach the character from a perspective different from the others. Happily many of the other artist posted their work before my turn came up and so I got a chance to peek and see what everyone was doing. I decided to go for a Batman of China approach with this one, focusing less on the character as a central image and making his setting more of the character.

For more info on the book and to see the other pinups in the series, please follow the link below:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Torment in Art

by Donato

Next week will be the official release of the 2015 Calendar of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire at the San Diego Comic-Con and nationwide.  It is a pleasure to be in the company of such talented artists as Gary Gianni, John Picacio, Marc Simonetti, Ted Nasmith and Michael Komark who have illuminated the life and times of the Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens.

The one key difference between the release of the calendar at the Comic-Con and nationwide is that those attending the convention will have the chance to have George and myself sign your copy of the calendar!  100 lucky fans will receive a ticket for the signing Thursday afternoon after stopping by my booth, #4503, or braving the hordes at the Comic-Con tickets handouts - pick your evil.

If you do happen to stop by the booth, you will get quite an eyeful of the art created for the calendar.  I will have the cover oil painting, Mother of Dragons, on display as well as Forging the Iron Throne and The Cinnamon Wind.  In addition the rough and highly detailed preliminary drawings will also be there in abundance, not only for viewing, but to the few who wish to purchase a piece of this historical calendar.  With close to 12 months of my time vested in this project, these paintings are some of my best professional work.  You don't need my word for it as George R.R. Martin and his wife Parris, being huge art collectors, have purchased six of the available oil paintings.  And another piece, that of Stannis Baratheon, has been picked up by other collectors, all before the calendar hits the stands.

As I have mentioned before, I am grateful to David Stevenson, Anne Groell and George R.R. Martin for the chance to create such challenging content for this calendar.  Stripped of the need to produce cover impact illustrations, I was free to explore social and moral themes illuminated so wonderfully through the narratives George supplied.  Thus while I sought to capture highly specific moments from the novels, I also felt it my duty as an artist to convey these greater, ambiguous themes which has us emtional tied to these stories year after year.

Below is a peek of the art to appear next week, Aeron Greyjoy (Damphair) and the drowned men on the beach.  This is not just an image from the fourth novel, but also recalls issues of forced conscription, torment, subservience, worship and hope.  So often in my career as a book cover illustrator I had been called upon to create an image depicting the protagonist of the novel.  Nearly all of these early images had me placing the figure in a positive light and within a narrative which made them seem empowered, confident, and in control - all qualities I thought I wanted in my heroes.
But over the years, my concept of hero has changed, questioning my own beliefs in what a good hero should represent and the qualities that make them someone I wish to role model. 

With this calendar, I felt the chance to break from my typical approach in creating art which needed to 'sell'.  I was free to explore art which could focus upon a different dominate theme, one which would allow greater exploration with the characters and complex narratives George was writing in his novels.  The idea of torment, both physically and emotionally was one I could see exhibited within many of his characters, from Arya witnessing her fathers' execution to the despair Jamie felt after loosing his hand.  There were so many possibilities to approach this subject, yet as an artist, I had only one image to create! 

I wish there were 36 months to the calendar so I would have the chance to fully develop and explore all of these issues perceived within the novels, but alas I needed to settle on those which spoke to me the greatest AND at the same time provided equal weighted content to the diverse cultures and families showcased within the books.  A true illustrative challenge. 

I'll leave the explanations there and let you come to your own conclusions on why I created this painting and the twelve others I so chose.

More to share after the Comic-Con when the green light is given on the rest of the art from the calendar!

Damphair - What is Dead May Never Die   30" x 30"    Oil on panel   Donato Giancola