Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The REAL Cost of Running a Kickstarter

-By Guest Blogger: Sam Flegal

In March of 2016 I ran a successful Kickstarter to fund my book “The Illustrated Havamal.” With the help of 472 backers,  I raised $35,108 for the project.

As I was running the campaign, I spoke to Dan Dos Santos about the idea of writing an article on running a Kickstarter and submitting it to Muddy Colors. Dan's response was that everyone wants to do an article about running a Kickstarter, and there are tons of them online already (go ahead, do an internet search, he’s not wrong), but there are very few articles about what a Kickstarter looks like on the back end. Dan said "I’m way more interested in the real cost of running a Kickstarter."

I imagine if you’re still reading this, like Dan, you're interested too. So here it goes…


For starters, Kickstarter takes a cut and the credit card processing company takes a cut. For simple math, it’s about 10% total. That means out of the $35,108 funds raised, I'm only actually getting 90% of that.

New Profit Total is: $35,100 -$3500 = $31,600.


After that you need to get moving on production. I’m lucky because my wife is an amazing graphic designer, that means my time and her time weren’t hard costs. But believe me, we put in a lot of time! I spent 6 weeks working on the illustrations for the book. My wife spent a month on design and layout. I spent a month prior to the Kickstarter planning it and a month promoting it during the life of the campaign. You will pay in time.

Total time expended so far: 600 hours


Once the layout was done, and the Editors gave it their approval, it was time to print.

I sold about 500 books via Kickstarter, but I wanted extra to sell online and at conventions, so I ordered 2000 books. Because we were printing using offset printing it wasn’t much more expensive to add the extra books. If I’m remembering correctly it was the difference of about $2,000 to $3,000. The per unit cost changed dramatically though. For 500 books it was around $9-10 per book. At 2000 books it’s about $4-$5 per book. I also had to pay to ship those books from China to the USA, all said and done, the total cost for printing and shipping was around $12,000.

New Profit Total is: $31,600 - $12,000 = $19,600.

At this point I entered printing limbo. You start to deal with printing problems, and proofs. You have to wait for the proofs to arrive from China. You have to send them back a signed note with any changes. If there are problems (and there were), you have to repeat all this until your project is right.

Remember you don’t want to rush all this stuff. You want a kick ass book that delights people when they see it. It’s the same idea as when you’re working on a painting, “Delight your viewer.” All this took months. From May until October I worked on all this stuff. Back and forth with the printer. I’m VERY happy with the book and the printer I used, On the Mark. They are great, but things crop up. During this phase of the process you are essentially a Project Manager. People get paid good money all throughout the world to do all this stuff for major and minor brands alike. You will be doing it too, but you're not getting paid for it. That said, it’s not constant. Every week you will spend a couple hours keeping up with your project's production.

Total time expended so far: 625 hours


Another part of Project Management was the extra stuff offered via Kickstarter rewards...

 -I offered 2 small prints to go with the book. Those prints cost me $150 to have printed.

 -I did a small sketchbook as a companion book. Those cost another $250.

 -The Collectors Edition needed bookplates, and I did a sketch on each bookplate, that was $150.

 -We made T-Shirts, that was $835.
(By the way don’t do T-shirts on Kickstarter, keeping up with sizes is a nightmare! I’m serious, DO NOT DO IT!)

 -I had silk screen limited edition prints made for another $800.

 -We also had custom hand carved drinking horns, that was $900!
(Those drinking horns are sweet though. Zero regrets on those.)

If you can create a unique item that fits your project as a custom thing without adding a ton of cost, go for it!

Total extra item costs $3,085.

New Profit Total is: $19,600 - $3,085 = $16,515


Finally I received word in November that the books would be shipping. They arrived in California and made it through customs by the first week of December. A truck drove them from California to my home town of Nashville, TN by the 18th of December. Another truck delivered the books from the Nashville warehouse to my house on December 23rd. Two freakin’ days before Christmas!

Now let’s be clear about what this means. I am about to spend another big chunk of money on shipping and supplies. I want all those expenses to go on my taxes for the year so I don’t get taxed on money I never really had. That means we have until December 31st to ship 500 orders. Also in that time we have holiday travel and time with family, and the post office will be closed for several holidays in that week as well. All this considered we had about 5 days. That means we had to ship 100 orders a day. My wife and I did it, but we pulled 12 hour days, turned our house into a shipping center, and I signed about 300 books. My mom helped by watching our kid, thanks Mom!

Total time expended so far: 745 hours

When I say that I turned my house into a shipping center I also feel the need to clarify what exactly had been shipped to my house. Of course it was 2000 books plus 100 Collectors Editions, but what does that look like exactly? Well I’ll tell you, it looks like 5 pallets each stacked full of boxes of books, wrapped in plastic wrap, with wooden reinforcements to protect the corners. Each pallet weighed around 1000 lbs, or 1/2 a ton. We had to clear out our garage in order to hold the pallets, and depending on where you live and the time of year that might be a bad option due to humidity, weather, etc… Food for thought!


Onto the money! You need good boxes that fit your project. We order ours from Uline. We needed 500 boxes, with delivery, those cost about $500, or $1 per book shipped.

You're going to need tape to close up those boxes. We actually spent $120 in tape. Didn’t expect that!

If you’re going to ship a lot of stuff you will need help and a way to ship orders in batches. What you want is a service that lets you select 20-50 orders that are all the same. Enter their info at once, and print labels. I used It worked pretty well once I figured out the kinks. has a free trial, but you’ll spend $10 shipping to get your starter pack, and then $16 for the first month.

You’ll note I mentioned printing labels earlier, you will need a way to do that. Some experienced friends recommended a hot label printer, which saves time and money in the long run. But this was my first rodeo so I went old fashioned and used my ink jet printer. I have an Epson Work Force 7620. I used up 2 ink cartridges for $100.

You will also need label paper to print the postages labels on, that cost $140.

At this point our costs are $886, and we haven’t even paid for shipping yet! This might seem like a lot, but for 500 orders that’s roughly $1.80 per book shipped. Not the end of the world, but something you want to keep in mind.

New Profit Total is: $16,515 - $886 = $15,629


As for the actual postage costs, the average book could ship Media Mail within the US for about $5 per book. I factored this into my Kickstarter and charged $5 for shipping. Shipping to Canada was $21. Shipping to Europe was $32. The most I spent on international shipping was $80, the average was about $40. I screwed up estimating those fees and only charged $20 for international shipping, so I took a hit on those costs. All in all shipping was about $3,000.

New Profit Total is: $15,629 - $3000 = $12,629


At this point, that’s the profit... $12,629.

If you dived that by the roughly 745 work hours my wife and I put in, that comes to about $17 per hour. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the worst I’ve been paid by a long shot!

On top of all that, I have 1,500 extra books that I can now sell (retail price of $45), and 40 extra Collectors Editions (retail price of $150). I also have extra prints and sketchbooks (retail price of $20) and 40 Limited Edition silk screen prints (retail price of $60).

I was able to fund all of this extra merchandise through Kickstarter, so future sales are now pure profit, aside from shipping. That's upwards of $75,000 in potential revenue.


If you’re still reading along, all this must look pretty intense at this point. But it's worth mentioning a few things. First off this was my 6th successful Kickstarter. I also had 1 failed Kickstarter. That means I had some previous experience and already knew a lot of the potential pitfalls. This is why I recommend people start with small projects for your first Kickstarter. Jump in, but don’t drown!

Doing a Kickstarter and coming out profitable was amazing! It involved a little luck and a lot of support (It’s called crowdfunding for a reason). Even though my Wife and I spent hundreds of hours working on the project, we have very few regrets, and those are mostly just things I would do differently next time. I got to be my own boss, create a project I was passionate about, and connect with others passionate about the same thing. It helped grow my internet audience, the number of people following me, and my personal mailing list.

My experience with this Kickstarter was so good, I’m already working on another book. We worked a lot kinks out on the first book, and now have vendors already in place for a lot of different products. Keeping the momentum going is much easier than getting started

I’m very excited for the future, and I hope you’re excited to try crowdfunding for yourself now that you're a little better educated on the real cost of running a Kickstarter!

Thank you!

To see more of Sam's work, please visit:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Live Demo This Weekend!

This weekend, Annie Stegg Gerard will be conducting the first part of a Special 2-part Online Demonstration for Muddy Colors.

On Saturday, February 25th, 3-5pm, Annie will be demonstrating her drawing and underpainting process. This demo will be followed up in a few weeks with a demonstration of her color and glazing process. Both of these demos will be streamed live on Youtube, so that you can watch from anywhere in the world.

Each of these demos will be great stand-alone demonstrations, still having merit even if you watch only one of them. But for those who are continued supporters, you will be able to watch a single painting develop over the course of several weeks. This will allow Annie to showcase a much lengthier process that is more conducive to creating a more polished illustration than you would normally be able to do in a shorter demo.

If you're already a Muddy Colors Patron of $5 or more, no need to do anything. You will recieve a link to the LIVE demo about 1 hour before the event starts. If you're not a Patron yet, but would like to watch this event live, simply make a donation of $5 or more, and select the reward tier you want.
$10 donations receive access to the event as well as a downloadable video of the event afterwards.

*Please note that these are two separate events, so donating for a single month does not grant access to both events. Each month's demo is it's own respective reward.*

For more info, or to sign up, just click here: 


If you make a $10 donation within the next 24 hours, you will also receive a copy of 'Painting a President, with Greg Manchess' ABSOLUTELY FREE! This is also the last chance to get a copy of this video, which will no longer be available for purchase after today.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Figure Drawing Resources Redux

-By Arnie Fenner

Back in 2014—and again in 2016—I did a post about a free resource for nude models on YouTube. As I said before, since there are always new visitors to MC and blogger doesn't make searching the archives the easiest, I thought it would be helpful to remind everyone again of these invaluable videos.

If you don't have access to live models or figure drawing classes (or the moola for one or the other) the Croquis Cafe: The Artist Model Resource is a lifesaver. There are several hundred videos with new additions posted fairly regularly. Poses are held from 1 to 5 minutes, you can fill your screen and freeze frames for as long as you might need, and the various videos feature men and women of all ethnicities and body types.

These videos are not remotely sexual but obviously are "not safe for work" or intended for the easily offended or for kids or for immature clowns looking for cheap thrills. Using models (nude and clothed), of course, is an incredibly important part of being an artist; anatomy is a life-long study and if the artist doesn't know what the body does—in action or repose—they can't understand why clothes hang or fly or drape or cling the way they do. If the artist understands the body—knows their anatomy as best they can—they can convincingly make their characters do anything.

Another regular YouTube resource for poses comes from the New Masters Academy (samples above). But if you'd rather not do a site-wide-hunt-and-search you can go to their website and find all manner of excellent video model resources for a reasonable subscription fee. 

And, shoot, while you're browsing, why not get some tips from Otis instructor Chris Warner about measuring the figure? Remember, drawing every day—and constantly trying to improve—is part of the game and, hopefully, these video resources will help.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Right, or Wrong?

-By Petar Meseldzija

Is there a wrong way to tackle a painting? Do all roads lead to Rome, as they say? Can we really reach the same destination by different roads? I think the ultimate answer to the first question is NO, and YES is the answer to the second one. In other words, to get to the level of NO, one must pass through the level(s) of YES.

Yes, I believe that all roads lead to Rome, but only our own path will eventually bring us there. In order to find our own path, we must first walk the roads paved by others that came before us.

Another important question that addresses the same issue, only from another angle is – do we need to train our hand so that it can perform as we please; or, so to speak, do we have to learn to listen to that same hand and then act accordingly? This might sound like a silly, pretentious quasi-philosophical question, but it’s not. It refers to the following – at the beginning, one must learn in accordance to the existing set of rules and relevant insights, one must follow and obey them while passing through the various levels of skill and knowledge, and after having assimilated all that he requires, one begins to realize what it is that he needs to do in order to expresses himself genuinely, to live and work as one is destined to do, aligned with his innate character and sensibility.

In order to break the rules, or to let go of the guidelines that have helped and guided us on our developmental path and replace them with the new ones more true to our own character and our aspirations, we must get to know them first, we must live and work by them, at least for a certain period of time. Eventually it boils down to spending 20 years in hard work, learning and developing in accordance to the certain rules and criteria, just to find out that you must give up on them because you realize you don’t need them anymore, because they have become a restrictive burden, a stumbling block to your further growth. Of course, one can try to stick to the rules and guidelines, norms and values one grew up with, and live by them for the rest of one’s life in happiness and contentment - if one is lucky. But I am not talking to them, I am addressing those who are brave enough to walk “The road less traveled”.

The Sentinel: Homage to Paja Jovanović

Recently, I posted an image on Facebook of a painting in progress (The Sentinel: Homage to Paja Jovanović). Most of my Facebook friends, as it is called today, liked the presented image - some were intrigued, others puzzled by my way of working. A puzzled person asked why I paint like that? Another one was impressed by the “magic” of the process and suggested that I should go on television and present my skills to the kids to enjoy and be amazed by. There was a person who, quite genuinely and with best possible of intentions, advised me not to post such images online anymore because the “real” painters might think I am an amateur. A proper way of working on a painting, as he correctly pointed out, demands that the artist works simultaneously on different parts of the picture, gradually working his way toward the completion of the entire piece.

To make things clear, I did not feel insulted by any of these questions and comments, nor did I think they were silly, or mean. They were genuine and by the book…well, by a book. I perfectly understand that we, people, often have troubles understanding the dynamics and the logic of a level, or a stage, we are not familiar with, or the insights we are not yet up to.

What they did not know was that I spent decades working by the book, so to speak, following, as best as I could, clever and inspiring instructions and insights of those who preceded me on a similar kind of endeavor, and with which they paved and enlightened the path for me. Throughout my entire career, I spent countless hours preparing reference material, doing sketches and preliminaries, and making elaborate and complex underpaintings, some of which were in fact finished monochromatic pictures. But… but, about a year ago, I realized I did not need any of this anymore. And although I still spend much time on preparations, especially on creating a very detailed digital reference, I do not need the underpainting anymore. I might do a little bit of underpainting here and there when a specific under-color is needed, but generally I stopped working in this way – the thing that was previously very helpful, has become now restrictive and annoying. At the same time, the irresistible call of the virgin white painting surface and the freshness and vitality of the first, juicy brushstrokes became so attractive to me and delicious to work with, that some other aspects of my previous painting process did not matter anymore and were abandoned, or pushed to the background. The fear of paint, my faithful friend and companion, seems finally to have left me.

The Sentinel: Homage to Paja Jovanović, still in progress.

I realized that I have finally arrived - I finally “graduated” from my own school, my own art academy - I finally learned to paint (it’s funny to feel that way after more than 25 years of painting). Moreover, I understood what my hand - being a metaphor for the painter’s creative spirit – wants me to do, and how to do it. So, thus I entered a new level, a new stage of artistic development with new set of rules and challenges.

Nevertheless, I am not the first, nor the last one to have made this particular journey, this transition. Perhaps you are next…So, good luck!

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Portrait in Progress

by Howard Lyon

I thought I would share a work in progress today and then the final in two weeks for my next post.

I started the process by doing thumbnails and then a detailed sketch.  With that in hand I hired a model for a photoshoot and then did a couple color comps to nail things down.  I usually do my color work in Photoshop, but I have been falling deeper in love with oils and as much as I can these days they are my go to medium.

Here is the first color study I did:

The response to it was good, but I didn't think the color palette was quite right for the feel I wanted, so I did another study.  Both of these are 8"x10" oil on aluminum panels (OmegaBond is the brand).

Here is the second study with a different palette.

I felt that this more appropriate for the image.  It was a tough choice though.  If you happen to follow me on Instagram or Facebook, there was some strong opinion towards the purple palette and the blue palette.  I received some great input from friends too, thank you!  Ultimately, I had to go with my gut on it and went with the latter.

I shot a video of the study being painting.  It is 5 hours of painting time sped up to 30 minutes.

To get the reference for the fabric, I bought 5 yards of the lightest fabric I could find and set up a strong fan.  I set up my studio strobe and set my camera to take a photo every 5 seconds.  After some experimentation, I got a few shots that I think worked well.  Here are some outtakes. :)

Next up, I wanted to do a head study to workout the flesh tones and expression.  Even though I was painting from a photograph, doing the head study let me make changes to the face and experiment a little which helps me not be a slave to reference, but not experiment on the final paint surface.

With the color study, photography and head study finished, I was ready to move onto the final.

I transferred the drawing using a 2"x2" grid, and then inked the important lines.

Here is the color block-in, or ébauche stage:

This stage is done in a few hours and the goal isn't to do a lot of rendering, but to block in some of the key values and colors.  You can see things look a little strange and flat, but that is alright.  This stage just provides a foundation to paint into.  I find that I am more successful with a color block-in like this and it adds some depth to the final paint layer.  It also gives a good reference point for subsequent layers of the painting.  When you put a color down, onto something that is fairly close to the end result you immediately see if it is too warm or cool, too dark or light, and you can make simple adjustments.  So while this stage looks ugly, it is really useful.

I used a little drier for the ébauche (Galkyd Gel, I really don't like straight Galkyd, but the gel is quite nice), and by the next day it was dry enough to start the 1st pass of painting.

Check back in two weeks to see the final!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A New Place to Work

-By Justin Coro Kaufman

I wanted to share a project we’ve been working on for almost a year now. It's not a painting, but more a space to paint in. A new BARN STUDIO!!!

When we moved our family out to the woods a couple years ago, one of the things I was the most excited about was the barn. It wasn't anything too special, a humble, empty outbuilding across the yard, BUT it had a water a sewage line running to it, lots of potential, and sits less than 100 feet from our place. Great opportunity for a studio conversion.

For pretty much the entire duration of my professional career, my home set up has been in the living room. Pre-kids, this set up made sense, as Ive always liked being in the center the house, where I could hang out with my better half, half-watch TV and work at the same time. This set up served me well for the better part of the past 16 years. Lately though, with two little dudes tearing through the house, its become more and more difficult to work like this. Don't get me wrong, LOVE the kids, but DON’T love it when they draw or paint on my stuff while I’m using the bathroom or grabbing something to drink. Want to encourage them to draw and paint (just maybe not on dad’s stuff). There’s now a real need for a space to keep things separate (and safe) now for everybody’s well-being.

Enter BARN! The possibility of fleshing an entire building out to accommodate all of my arting needs has been something I’ve fantasized about for years. Having no construction background whatsoever made it kind of a daunting task. There’s SO much that goes into a project like this. Being a complete amateur, I figured the best way to start would be to take measurements and fall back on my 3d skills to build out a 3d model that I could iterate proposed alterations into.

This proved to be valuable as we started the actual work, since we could refer back and also try things out virtually before committing to it physically. decided to make the downstairs the oil painting area, since the open bay and barn doors make it easy to bring large canvases in and out. the upstairs would be set up as the digital part of the operation, or MB north :) where I could put my computer stuff.

We started out with the plumbing, since the water and sewage came into the building at the opposite end from where we intended to put the bathroom. First step was to have a concrete cutter come in and basically cut almost the entire foundation in half. Once that was completed, the plumber came in and trenched the new lines. We also added in lines for a shop sink in the painting bay, as well as a sink for the upstairs office area as well.

The actual building began once the lines were all roughed in and in place. We’re fortunate that our neighbor is a contractor and custom home builder who agreed to take the barn on as a side project portfolio piece type thing. Im limited in terms of handiness, so it was nice to have an experienced hand to power through the more specialized tasks that required actual skill. I handled most of the low-skill grunt stuff like demolition, installing insulation, site cleaning, painting, grouting etc.

The entire downstairs was originally covered in cedar panels, which looked kind of cool, but wasn’t insulated and didn’t lend itself well for hanging stuff, so I tore it all out and stripped the walls down to the studs.

Then came the reframing and window replacement. the windows were initially single pane’s of glass nailed permanently into place. we kept most of the windows the same size, but replaced with them with double paned ones that open and close. we put in a couple of large picture windows toward the back of the building to introduce more light and create some better views of our yard :) The upstairs picture window as particularly difficult to put in since its about 300 pounds and had to be hoisted into position about 15 feet off the ground. It was a relief nobody was killed. Also added a couple of skylights and made the cupola operational to increase air flow upstairs.

We just finished grouting the bathroom, which ended up being a fairly involved task in and of itself. We tiled the whole room so its pretty much a gigantic shower that you can hose down. It'll be easy to keep clean and also to wash mastiffs in there :)

There's still a laundry list of stuff to finish up, but once some final electrical stuff is finished and the sinks/toilet/stove are installed I can move in and start making stuff. After about a year, we’re now weeks away. Its been a very education experience, but Im SO ready to get out there and get my hands dirty at this point. Beyond excited! Maybe now my next post can be about making actual art or something!!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Few Thoughts About Your First Job

--Greg Manchess

So you’ve decided to freelance and lo and behold, you got your first assignment. Good job! It may have been a struggle to get the commission, but now is when the work really starts, and if you’re considering doing this for, oh, I dunno…your life, then you’re going to need these points. This is how you’re going to build a good working reputation. The kind that gets you more work.

Stop looking at me like that. I may be older than you, but don’t go high-school on me and think those dang adults are so stuck in their ways even in today’s hyper-hipster advanced world. The client hired you because they want what you showed them in your book. You were hired by adults and you’ll quickly learn that they expect you to be like them. You’d better hope to heaven you can act like one.

Because every move you make from here on out will be scrutinized. If not on a macro level, then clandestinely, on some sub-quantum antimatter particulate level. Here’s where you’re gonna shine by getting this stuff into your chemistry. Especially if things get all fouled up.

And they will. Get fouled up. Sometimes so badly, you feel the actual weight of the planet leaning on your ear. But if you’ve set them up right, and you bring out The Genuine, you’ll survive. You’ll make it. And live to tell about it while you are getting more calls.

Save all the snark for the Prima Donna's. They burn out quickly and leave smoke trails you could follow like tracer bullets back to all the enemies they create.

Don’t. Be. That. Guy.

Nail the deadline.
You need a date. A hard date. This is the first thing to inquire. This will determine whether you’ll be racing to meet it, or taking your time. (most cases: you’ll be racing to meet it.) Make a plan to meet or exceed that expectation. You will either hit the mark squarely, or you will be early. Yes, early. You read that right.

Make it your current life’s ambition to hit that deadline. Do not, repeat do not act as if this is a ‘soft’ deadline. That the client is “padding” the actual deadline to cover their butt. That it’s not the 'real' deadline.

They pad the deadline so they can meet their own deadline, get it? So your first thought is to stop thinking and planning their job for them. You need to focus on only one thing: the deadline they told you. That’s the actual deadline. When you hit yours, they hit theirs, and everyone goes home happy.

Nail the format.
Cover? Spot? Double-page spread? Vignette? Horizontal? Vertical? You may think this is obvious. It may be, but it’s always smart to talk it over. It’s always best to discuss how your work will fit into the space allotted. Think it’s a waste of breath? Think again.

Sometimes during these discussions a client suddenly realizes how to fix something they’ve been wrestling with while visualizing the project. And you may've just helped them solve it. (I once had a job that was an inside spread for a magazine. I had no problem with getting the specs down, what they needed. But I was also fired up and drew an extra thumbnail and suggested it could possibly be used for the cover. The head AD loved the idea and gave me that assignment as well. That’s how I got my first cover on TIME Magazine.)

This is the part where you listen. Let them speak. Let them explain their vision. You will be the one to bring it to light. (if you listen well and speak well, the client may start to think they’ve lucked out by finding you)

Thumbnails to start.
Start with thumbnails for you. Pick the ones you like the best and work them up into a little larger and clearer size. Hone them down to the best three or so. Only then show them to the client. On a first assignment like this, you might want to show them a bunch for discussion.

Number them. You’ve got to have a pointer to the differences in the sketches. In my online classes it is required that sketches be numbered. It makes the discussion easier. Adults like it when discussions are easier.

One trick to learn. Try not to show them any idea that you really don’t want to do. They will inevitably pick that one. You will be miserable. This adds time to the deadline. Because of all the therapy you’ll be sitting through.

Small sketch.
Work up the one or two that they want to see into a still larger sketch for approval at this stage. This is the one where you’ll work out many of the kinks. It starts to pull together at this stage. You do this so that there are no surprises for the client, and especially for you. Once they say ‘go,’ you’ll move on to gathering reference for the final sketch.

Final sketch.
This is the part where you do the sketch at actual printing size. Example, if it’s a book cover, you’ll draw the sketch at the actual size of the cover, generally 6” x 9”. This way, the client gets to see where everything is placed, where the problem spaces for type will be, and how they’ll have to solve it. Expect more tweaking at this stage. There could be big changes. That’s ok. Grit your teeth. Grin. Nod your head. Don’t speak. (Nope. Don’t you dare send that email.)

Just draw. This shows you are not only versatile, but cool-headed. This is gold.

Working with the client.
You’ve gotten the ‘go-ahead’ from your client and you’re going to paint, scratch, draw, digitize, whatever. (You might give them a color comp/sketch for them here. It’s up to you, generally. Lots of digital guys just go straight to working in color from the start.)

Follow the damn sketch you gave them. Do not deviate. If they ask you to give them what you drew but want you to feel free to ‘improvise’….don’t you believe it, Schmedly. ‘Improvise’ means render a little more here, let that edge go there, but do not change position of elements or overall concept. 

Give them what they are asking for within your style constraints. Give them what they came to you for. Give them what they need. Deviate from this at your own risk. But I swear you’ll be back in therapy before you know what hit you.

This middle part of the job is where things can fall apart and it’s best for you to keep an open mind about the process. They have higher-ups that they need to clear things with. You are working with a team, combining your efforts with theirs. All of theirs. Or didn’t you pick up on that when I mentioned “Client?” You work for them. You may feel like a hired wrist, but that’s illustration. Brilliant work comes out of restricted spaces that stretches beyond its limitations.

If you want to just ‘do what you do,’ then go show in a gallery. Illustration hasn’t got time for that. 

Sending the finish.
If you paint digitally, then this step is no big shakes for you. You send a copy of the file you’re working on. No big.

Just remember that they know that digital painting can be changed. Forever. You knew that, right? You think regular painting is never done? What were you thinking when you decided to skip the ‘traditional’ route and go semi-conductor?

If you paint in analog, then get a decent shot of the original and send the shot to the client with appropriate notes. Don’t stick it outside in the sun to shoot it with your phone camera, and don’t send the entire shot with your half-eaten sandwich and cold coffee along the background edges. Crop that junk out. Image only

They’re adults, remember? They like things pretty.

Good scan is a must.
They are thrilled. The finish looks great. The client knows it will one day hang in the Louvre and you are a certifiable hero. Now…you’re not done yet.

They need a phenomenally good scan of it. This is harder than you think. (You digital folks can ignore this because you’re generally already there by the time you finish.) Actual paint media is difficult to shoot. Gouache and pastel are the easiest as they are non-reflective and so do not bounce light back into the lens where the camera reads it as bright spots of light. These are called specular highlights, but with some Photoshop chops you should be able to touch those outta there.

What’s that, you say? “They’re gonna screw it up in printing anyway.” Well, can you imagine, genius, what they’ll do to it if you send them a mediocre shot? Yeah, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Email Etiquette 101.
I was a hotshot punk, too, when I came into the field, but I knew one thing: I made sure I didn’t sound like I was raised by wolves and recently graduated from art school. I didn’t use vernacular and I never addressed anyone as, ‘dude.’ I spoke like I was experienced, mature, had my head screwed on right, was dignified, gracious, and pleasurable. This leads people to think you are intelligent. Which leads to more work. Which is the point.

Email is not speech. Email is not electric language. Email is not immediate English transferal. It is letter writing at signal speed. It is words on paper when the paper isn’t there.

Ultimately, you must write well. Write clearly. Write authentically. Articulate your thoughts as if the folks at the other end are mostly in a hurry, but have enough time to listen to clear thinking. Not high school, and not Shakespeare.

Proofread every email to any client. Read it to yourself as if they are reading it aloud to themselves.

Write like an adult. Preferably one you admire. That would be one that maybe carries a mortgage and owns a dog. Cats are good.

I’ve been down this road and made all the mistakes for you already. This is just to get you started. Eventually, you’ll short-cut some of my suggestions and come up with better ones. We hope.

Because illustration is counting on you. All you have to do is step up…ahem, dude.

(the drawing above is the sketch for the case cover [not the jacket] for my novel, Above The Timberline, due out in October 2017)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

David Petersen's The Wind in the Willows

by Cory Godbey

Valentines Day? No sir, today is The Wind in the Willows Day!

At long last David Petersen's new, richly illustrated edition of the Kenneth Grahame classic is now available.

This is an astonishingly beautiful collection. The book has been a labor of love for David over the last couple years and across the 70 illustrations I think you'll see that love for rivers, cottages, and wild places pouring from the book.

David Petersen (of Mouse Guard fame) is a New York Times best selling artist and writer as well as a Spectrum, Eisner, and Harvey Award winner. I reached out to him to get a little insight into this project.

Tell me a little about your history with the story. What led to this project? 

The Wind in the Willows is one of those books I wanted to take a shot at illustrating before I died. I was aware of the story as a kid, and I think in high-school I even acquired the Cosgrove Hall stop-motion animated series on VHS, but it wasn't until I was in college that I read it. My Dad gave it to me as a Christmas gift knowing how much I still enjoyed animal stories. I read it over the break, home from school and was enchanted. When my wife Julia and I were dating, I read it to her aloud, doing my best to imitate the voices of the characters as I imagined they sounded in my head. IDW approached me saying that they wanted to publish some classic prose stories and use their contacts of comic artists to illustrate them. They'd thought The Wind in the Willows was the right fit for me and I couldn't have agreed more. This was my chance to illustrate it.

Did your process differ much from Mouse Guard? If so, in what ways? 

It differed in some ways and similar in others. The most obvious differences being that story was already written, and I had to go though and pick certain elements to illustrate as one single image, instead of telling an narrative with panels showing all the moments of a story. A less obvious difference was the amount of added texture and tonal value I wanted to add with line. But, just like Mouse Guard, I used the same process of doing traditional sketches that I'd resize and adjust digitally before printing out and inking traditionally on a lightbox. I also fell into my habit of making models of some of the architectural locations, furniture, and vehicles (though not Toad's motor car... I purchased a die cast model for that reference). 

How was it stepping into such a well loved (and well illustrated) story? What particular challenges did the book bring to the table? 

Several! Dealing with some of the size/scale issues presented in the book with animals who sometimes seem the size of animals and at others the sizes of human children was a trick, but the two biggest challenges were deciding what to illustrate (or what I'd have to pass on) and living in the shadow of every amazing Willows illustrator who came before me. IDW and I agreed on 70 illustrations (20 color, 50 black and white) partly for space in the book, partly for keeping the project scale manageable on my end, and it was very hard to still not illustrate some key moments in that count. And the list of folks like E.H. Shepard, Arthur Rackham, Inga Moore, Robert Ingpen, and many many others made it difficult to feel like I was bringing something new and worth saying visually to the illustrations of this book. In many cases, I'd draw something very close to one of their illustrations (Shepard's most often) and then force myself to adjust, draw the characters from another angle, get closer or further away from them, show the scene a second prior or after... and I'd come up with an inferior illustration and revert back to just doing my best to add my own voice to a classic layout of someone else's. 

Out of the entire collection can you pick a favorite image? Maybe that's an impossible question to answer. Which piece was the most satisfying or rewarding?

That is difficult. I really like some of the ending scenes with all four of the main characters geared up ready to take back Toad Hall (they were the first ones I envisioned when accepting the project) but a subtle one that I'm very proud of is the moment inside a tree hollow when Mole has gotten lost in the Wild Wood and Rat has come to rescue him. I'd mis-read the passage initially and was sketching out both characters sleeping in the hollow in a pile of dead leaves, but then found that Rat stays awake with his pistols drawn standing guard over Mole so the poor creature can get some rest. It changed the meaning of the illustration and helped me get into a better drawing for it. In the end, I also feel like it's one of the most 'David Petersen' pieces in the whole book.

Ok! Favorite character question in two parts: favorite character to draw and with whom do you most identify?

Even this is a hard question. Badger was fun to draw at first, but found him a challenge to draw in various angles. Mole the same thing, foreshortening his shape of snout along with his black fur meant that I was limited if I wanted him to be readable. Toad was hard to keep consistent and I think he changes throughout the book. And Rat was also a challenge because he's not a 'rat' but a water vole... and it's easy to make that look odd or wrong. I guess I enjoyed drawing Badger the most. But Toad was a close second. Identify with? I think there is a slice of each in me... more Toad than I'd like, but enough of the rest to balance him out so that I'm not unbearable. 

Lastly, where can people find you online?

My website for all things Mouse Guard:
I update my blog every Tuesday with process & info:
and on Twitter & Instagram, @mouseguard.


One final note that I wanted to add, David is releasing many of the originals from the book today as well! You can peruse the entire collection here.