Monthly Archives: March 2010

Being Professional

To me, being professional is never letting someone know what you really think, when you are at odds with them.

When everything is going fine, you can just be yourself. If you are an outrageous person, perhaps be a lite version of yourself, unless you really know the client well.

But what about when you are odds with some one? For me, that’s when I have to go into professional mode.

I was working on a map for the boating magazine. These are general maps, not nautical maps for areas of interest for boaters. I work a little with the author of these port of call stories, to get all the locations from the story. I’m given a list of all the places they would like to see on the map.

This time around, there were about 5 places that no matter how much I searched I couldn’t get a good location for them.

So I laid a grid down over the rough of the map, which had the locations I could find, and sent a jpeg to the author, asking for the following: to check the current placed locations, a grid coordinate for the 5 locations I couldn’t find, and the correct way to spell a couple of them, because I was finding two different spellings.

It took nine emails, instead of two, for me to get what I needed. The author, who is not a professional writer, couldn’t just give me the information. She had to question what I was doing with the map, and give me her thoughts on how I should do the map, and want to know who makes the choices about the maps.

So I had to take time to answer her questions before she would give me the information. She wasn’t holding out till I answered, you could just tell she was the type that when asked a question, has questions, often unrelated, that she wants answered first.

These types drive me crazy. I’ve dealt with them a lot in corporation. It’s more annoying when your question is direct and simple. You can ask a yes/no question like “Are you going to turn over the manuscript today?” and your answer is, “Did we change the color blue for the cover of the book?”  Nothing short of playing 20 questions will work.

So for several emails, I played her 20 questions, having to ask the correct way to spell some locations twice. And then finding mistakes she missed. I cut an paste her text from her emails into the map, so that way I don’t introduce spelling mistakes from typing.

The editor has asked in the past how was working with her. I say it’s fine. I know you might be thinking, but that’s not true, she’s holding you up, she’s questioning your work. Yes, but I got my information, I’m not missing my deadline. So in the end, I was annoyed, I had to play 20 questions, when I could have sent off the map on Tuesday, it’s now going Thursday.

Telling the editor that she can be a game of 20 questions, isn’t going to do anything. If the editor said to the author, “Hey, can you just answer his questions without asking your own” it will probably offend her. As it stands, the editor thinks I’m awesome. If the author ever says anything (unlikely), the editor, who seems already to have issues with the author will think it’s just her.

Sure, I could try asking the author why she needs to knows. With this type of person, that’s just going to open more questions, which frankly I don’t want to answer. I’ve been down that road, and I’ve learned to spot those people who given a too much information, become more annoying.

So I did the professional act, I answered her questions, trying to not give her any openings. When she didn’t give me all the information I needed, thanked her for what she did provide, and politely asked for the information she missed. I didn’t point out the mistakes she missed, included in her original email I worked from. And I won’t tell the editor any of this.

Get Involved, some how.

I can credit part of my freelance work because I got involved with a figure drawing group. I came to the group when a friend asked me to go with her to a Meetup group that met in Central Park to draw. I looked through the other members profiles, to get a sense of the people in the group. I found a couple figure drawing groups, so I signed up for those. I have to admit, I was nervous about going to my first session. The guy who started it was running it from his in home studio, and is a pretty amazing artist.

I went, drew and felt good about it, even though I knew my skills were pretty rusty. I think it was also a right-time thing. I had been let go from my job in March, and had decided I would make sure that my unemployment, was FUNemployment, and really de-rust my skills and build them up. I talk a lot about goals. At that time it was improve my drawing skills. I know in the year since then I’ve achieved both those skills. If I hadn’t gotten involved with something outside of myself, I don’t know where I would have ended up.

I’m a firm believer that drawing is the base skills for most art. I also have a very open mind to what a successful drawing is. Looking “right” is subjective. However, the ability to convey your idea’s visually, and to work them out is really what going to the figure drawing group is about for me.

At first it was every other week, then we moved to a bigger space and it was every week, thanks to Kristen who worked with the artists who owned the studio. The owner went to China or Europe for a few months, so we found a new place. Jeff who had been coming to the group, offered his place. But after a few months, we outgrew that. One of the people coming (Liam) started organizing Saturday meetings, every other week. This week, Marc and I went shopping for stuff we need for the new stage the group has taken on. A professional space we are paying for. The money comes from the people who attend, it covers the cost of the models and space.

Around this time, I was reading a book, My So Called Freelance Life, by Michelle Goodman, which was recommended to me by a fellow cartoonists, Monica Gallagher. The book is more about changing the way you think about freelancing, rather then what you should be doing as a freelancer, such as mailings. One of the things it talks about, which I’ve written about, networking. Basically just finding people who want to do what you do.

Getting involved in the drawing group got me several new friends, who want to do the same thing as me, making a living off our creativity. We are all at various stages of that. So any of us can ask someone for advice or give advice. We formed our own network.

You don’t have to get as involved as I did. But doing something art related can’t hurt. I recommend groups more geared towards professionals. Don’t worry if you don’t see yourself as a pro yet. If your goal is to make a living as an artists of some sort, get in there with them. You also don’t have to find a group that does specifically what you do. If you want to be a cartoonist, you don’t have to find a cartoon drawing group. Chances are you aren’t going to find that.

Our group says we are for professionals and people serious about improving their life drawing skills. I’ve been asked how we determine that. We really don’t make any judgment about that. People come, if they feel it’s a good fit, they keep coming back, if they don’t, they find a group they like better. We are a fun group, but we are serious about what we do, and I think both come across during the sessions.

If you are worried about someone looking at you and saying your not a professional, only a real jerk is going to do that, and who wants to be around those people? If you are worried about people thinking you aren’t that good, going will soon change their mind as you get better. Like I said, when I first went, I was rusty and was worried what people would think.

Doing art is often a solitary act. But as artists it’s so important to interact with other artists. From going to this group I would say I’ve gotten the following out of it:

Better Drawing Skills
A network of fellow artists
Self Confidence to be a freelancer
More resources
New friends

There was some good timing and maybe a little bit of luck involved. I signed up for two figure drawing groups, both being run by talented artists. I only made it to one of the groups. What if I had went to the other one, and it clicked as well as this one did?

There is another factor that had nothing to do with timing or luck, which came from me, and that was my willingness to get involved, and following through. Looking back, some of what I did, seemed very natural to me, even though it wasn’t anything I had done before. But also looking back, I can see why in the past it had trouble trying to be a freelancer, be an artists and be the person I knew I was.

If you find yourself struggling and maybe a little isolated, get involved.

Going for the wow. (Not World of Warcraft)

One goal of mine as a freelancer is maintaining clients, getting them to keep using me. It’s not always possible, because their need for your services might be far and few. Either way, frequent illustrator-users, or non-frequent, wowing your client is a must I feel.

Don’t hack. If you take on a project, try your best. I recently worked with a client that probably won’t have a reason to hire me again, but if the chance comes along where they need my style of art again, I know they will come right back to me, no questions asked. Not only that, I’m sure if anyone they know needs my style of art, I’m going to be recommended. One of my best compliments came from this project, were I was told that it was the most professional and impressive leave behind they had done in 12 years.

So I was happy that I was living up to a goal of mine. I hadn’t always done that in the past.

I used to do some map illustrations for a boating magazine, which a friend was the managing editor. When he left the magazine, I thought, there goes that. But he left my name as a resource for maps, and in January, the new editor called to see if I had time to do a map. She asked if I did anything else, I said “Yes, I’m primarily an illustrator.” She looked at my work online, liked what she saw, and gave me an article to illustrate.

She loved the illustration so much, she’s given me more each month. On average I do one map and two illustrations. Each one has been well received. I’ve spent anywhere between 4-6 hours, which includes sketching and pencils, on them. I’m also able to charge a little more then what my friend was willing to pay.

By doing the best work I could, I’ve ensured a long working relationship with this magazine. I billed them $600.oo last year, which is about 5 total illustrations, which were simple ones. That’s about 1 every two months. I’m now doing on average 3 each month, and for more money.

I’ve learned clients seldom have problems with what you charge, if they are very pleased with your work.

There are things you can do to help make a client very pleased with you. I’ve always been an open communicator, it comes easy to me. I often hear art directors list lack of communication as something that turns them off with an artists. Mainly, they want to be kept up to date on whats going on. And if you have questions, send them. Unless you are asking hundreds of questions, I find people generally like answering questions.

I also start on the project as soon as possible. This was something I was very bad at. Oh, it’s not due for 4 weeks, and I wouldn’t start anything for 3 weeks. I start any given project the moment I can. If I get work, and I’m not working on another client’s project, I start right on that.

Several good things come from this I have found. One, ideas have more time to develop making them better and flesh them out while they consider the thumbnails. Then while I’m doing pencils, I can plan out in my head how I may tackle each particular section of the illustration for the final. How much details I may have to give any part, compared to the other, and color composition.

Also, the client thinks I’m on top and super excited to be working on the project, which I am. I may have 4 weeks, and know it will only take 1 total, why not get it done now? If more work comes in, I can take it on, knowing I can re-arrange my work load. I don’t like it when work piles up, because of me.

I also follow through on everything the client asks, so long as they are within reason. Since I always layout the terms of the work flow for each project, we can stay within them. I come across as friendly, but focused, which makes them understand that I’m open to stepping outside the agreement we have, so long as they understand what that means in terms of money. And, I don’t try and angle requests to always fall within the outline extra charges.

When I worked in a retail store, the store hired the handyman husband of one of the employees to do some sprucing up of the store. He hadn’t worked in months and the store hired him partly as a favor to the employee, but it became clear he was trying to milk the store for every penny he could, with ridiculous claims of what wasn’t covered in their agreement. He got them for an extra $400 above the estimate in the end. He also would never be able to work for the store in the capacity again, and certainly wouldn’t get a good reference or recommendation from them. His lost.

All my agreements say that changes to final art costs $XX.oo. If I get a change after I deliver final art, I weigh the request against charging this. Because if the change is minor, say a correction they missed, or a mistake, and it won’t take more then 10 minutes or so, I’m doing it for free. Basically I set out my terms, and then going off of that, see where I can give the client a little more then what they are expecting. So long as I’m not robbing myself. And I never charge a client to fix my mistakes. When I worked as a production artists in publishing I don’t know how many vendors would bill us the hours it took to fix their mistakes.

I have learned not to count the hours I work on any given piece so long as I am working within the deadlines. I’m mindful of the time I spend on a piece vs the amount I am getting. If I’m getting $150 for a spot illustration, and I end up spending 7 hours on it, but making an amazing piece, that will end up in my portfolio, I’m taking 7 hours, even though that means I just made around $21.oo an hour. I believe having amazing wow pieces to put in my portfolio has an investment in myself and future work.

There are lots of ways to get additional work, which generally results in a few extra jobs a year, and you really shouldn’t plan your business strategy on them. To date, I’ve gotten 1 job from a friend telling a client that I would be better suited for the project. I’ve gotten more jobs from just doing good work and people recommending me. Doing an amazing job on every piece has never failed to pay off in some manner. It can be more work from the same client, it could someone new seeing it and hiring me, or getting the attention of fellow illustrators increasing my network, and finally the most important one, improving my skills as an artist.

I’ve always had good work ethics, and when I started adding in a stronger, Get-It-Started and Do-Better-Then-the-Client-Expects attitude, things really started to fall into place. Good work is key, and I feel that how you interact with your clients, is part of that good work. It’s just as much my job to make them happy as it is to do good artwork.


“I’ve learned clients seldom have problems with what you charge, if they are very pleased with your work.”

A few days after writing and posting this, a client asked me if I had time to do more work for them. This time it was a normal illustration, plus 5 smaller illustrations to go with the article. I came up with a price, broke down what that price included. The editor came back and said, she was going over the budget to see where she was.

I replied I am open to going a little lower, because I was really excited about doing the illustrations. She replied back:

“I would love to do all as outlined originally, but I don’t expect you to cut your price like that. I value your work and know it’s totally worth the $”

It’s always great to hear that, and know that by doing your best possible, you have earned someones respect.

Kool Aid and family

I have just uploaded the PDF files for Kool Aid Gets Fired to the printer. Included in it is a short story called Son of Kool Aid. It’s a 9 page story, done like a children book, each page having a full page color illustration to go with the text. The image to the left is the fake book cover I came up with to separate the two stories.

I added this, since this is my first book I’ve done that I’m sending to a professional printer, rather then printing it off myself. I felt that I should do something special for that, to mark this step forward in my work. Also, the printer said if I could up the page rate to 40, it would make it cheaper. So more pages, better per unit price, fin with me.

I had the idea for Son of Kool Aid when I was writing KAGF, and last year ran out of copies of it. So I began working on the story in full. I spent the last few days (7) doing all the illustrations. It was very intense, and wonderful. I would wake up, sit down, and get to work.

While I had written out the text many months ago, it wasn’t sold on every word that I had used, and the ideas for each page. And honestly I didn’t have the final page written or even what it would be. So I started with the pages I knew were right. As I worked, I kept thinking about the pages that weren’t quite right, and the final page.

I rewrote a couple of pages, and finally came up with the ending. This was how I worked for KAGF. I outlined the pages, then  write the page, then plan it out, then draw it. Generally I would be planning out the next few pages while working on the current page. Since I had a roadmap of where I needed to end up, this method worked.

I find that I can have some really good inspirations when working under a deadline. I also think these inspirations happen because my mind is so active during this time.

The book arrives around April 2nd, a week before MoCCA, the following weekend. The book will be available to order here, with payments acceptable via paypal, or checks send to me. The price will be $5.oo  plus shipping and will come signed and a drawing of Kool Aid (Not for retail orders, unless asked).

A special thanks and love to the following people, Tim Howard, Tim Fish, Monica Gallagher and Marc Scheff.