Friday, March 2, 2012

Stepping Stones: Freelance Art Jobs From My Miscellaneous Folder

For almost three years now I've been working almost exclusively on Teuton for Big Sexy Comics. I'm thankful for the work, am grateful to Fred for partnering up with me, and am incredibly relieved to be working on a project I truly enjoy.

Before landing Teuton, and even afterward, I got my hands dirty with numerous freelance gigs to gain experience and pay the bills. So here is a collection of art from my misc. file folder, in not-quite chronological order, that remind me of lessons learned working freelance.

DECALS: A lot of prospects that come my way are referrals. A friend has another friend in need of an artist and they suggest me. God bless you people! In this particular case, a former art teacher had a friend who needed a series of decals designed for some product aimed at kids. I was relatively fresh out of high school at the time, coasting aimlessly through a sea of beer and pizza in my parents' basement. I remember taking it seriously at first, because it was a paid job, but I soon slacked off. My biggest problem, I would say, was that I had no notion of professional standards. All I ever did was draw on paper with markers, and not even all that well. Furthermore, I didn't know what self-respecting artists charged for their work. So when the client asked what my services would cost there was a long and awkward pause on my end while I frantically pulled a figure out of my ass. To my astonishment he agreed, and I got to work. Here is what I produced, which I believe he was profoundly unsatisfied with...

Lesson Learned: Act as if. You have to take yourself seriously and present yourself professionally. A client is someone who is putting their faith and money in your ability to deliver something they need. That said, a decent portfolio doesn't always speak for itself. A client also needs to believe you're a competent individual who can follow instructions and meet a deadline. The work above isn't very good and I acted like a amateur with no self confidence. This job helped me realize what a loser I was, and that needed to change. Being professional isn't just a resume or CV, it's projecting the right attitude.

WINDOW PAINTING: My volunteer hours in high school were spent painting murals at the daycare where my mother worked. They were all ugly as sin, made with dollar store tempera paints as thin as water. Every single one was a literal pain in the neck and back. Years later I got offered some work from a travel agency in Toronto that needed new displays for new destinations. The front of the store was all glass and the space that needed filling was low to the ground. It was usually a days work, and I spent that time on my ass, chilled to the bone by winter air that blew in from the glass door. Otherwise it was alright, since the ladies were all super nice. They took these photos and were pleased for what it was...

Lesson Learned: Know your materials. Jobs like this taught me that a tool is only as good as the craftsman using it. I hated all my window paintings because I couldn't work the tempera like oils or acrylic. Because I focused on what it wasn't, I failed to work within its limitations. If I had been smarter I would have taken the time to draft a design that considered the materials I was using and the surface I was working on. I didn't, and I constantly worked myself into corners. I would also advise my young self to better estimate the time needed to complete a project properly. In my mind, I need to get things done fast; probably because I've lived as a procrastinator and so much of my work was done in the 11th hour.

CARICATURE: I have very little experience with caricatures. I've only seriously attempted it once before with unremarkable results. Unlike a portrait where you're trying to render the best possible likeness of your subject, a caricature emphasizes and exaggerates physical features to create a likeness both surreal and unmistakable. A while ago I agreed to do a caricature of a former co-worker and their spouse. Because we were acquaintances and it was for their wedding I charged a ridiculously low fee. Everything was agreed upon before starting, but communication stopped once the time came to exchange the piece for payment. I haven't heard from them since, nor have I really hounded them. I have to assume they didn't care for it. So now I have this piece buried in my office.

Lesson Learned: Friends and acquaintances don't make the best clients*. It's always flattering when someone comes directly to me for a piece they're seemingly passionate about getting done. Unfortunately, even people you know and respect can undervalue your work. It's that employee discount mentality, I think, where it's perceived that I can break them off a deal on my time and ability. In some cases it's because people unfamiliar with the creative field can't quantify the time and effort it takes to create something. I don't have a steadfast rule on how to handle these situations. More like a better calibrated compass to navigate these waters. Sometimes I'll do a piece for very little because I like the person or the concept. Other times I just can't. In the end you hope they understand.

* Conversely, an artist can be fairly shitty to the friend that hired them. I've been guilty of this and I'm not proud of it. Things come up in your personal life and you put off your duties assuming your friend/client will understand. To this I say: never allow the lines of communication to break down. Own up to your mistakes. It may be the only way of salvaging the bridge you burned.

Of all the jobs in this post, it is this one I most revile. It went against all the lessons listed above as well as being an act of trademark infringement. This is how it happened: during a job interview, the HR lady reviewing my resume pointed out a large space of time unaccounted for and asked what I did between job X and job Y. I explained that time was spent working as a freelance artist on a lengthy comic book, and that I continue to work as a freelance artist. The HR lady called to say I didn't get the job, but said another position may soon be opening up, and would I be interested? Sure. She then inquired whether I could make a personalized comic book for her husband much like a popular sitcom wife did for her husband at the time. She was a perfectly nice woman and said she would understand if I couldn't, but she offered to pay and I really needed this other job she mentioned. I agreed to do the comic believing it would guarantee me the position. It didn't. The job went to someone else. However I was still on the hook for this comic. The criteria she specified included Spider-Man, her husband's place of employment, and their children. I put together what little plot it needed. Being extremely busy with Teuton, I couldn't start it right away. The more time passed the more I loathed the idea of following through with it. I liked nothing about it. It had no merit, no integrity, no legal right to exist. Yet I made a promise to a reasonable human being and some sentimental part of me fought tooth and nail to keep me from breaking my word. I drew it, lettered it, and coloured it with as much enthusiasm as one marches to meet a firing squad. I printed and stapled it after much trial error. The payment I received went straight to replacing the inks I used printing the damned thing and the gas used to deliver it. Now you can see my freak baby I keep chained under the floorboards...

Lesson Learned: Learn to say no. It's difficult providing for a family on a artist's modest income. I feel stress, anxiety, desperation--terrible things that leave me wondering in panic where the next paycheque will come from. Before I went snapping at anything that promised pay, I should have evaluated my situation and weighed it against the requirements of the job. In the end, it wasn't worth my time. I hated the experience and I didn't end up with a piece I can proudly use in my portfolio. It's not always easy turning something down when you're hungry, but I believe that in order to maintain a high value of yourself there must be standards. I regret this particular gig because I compromised mine.

I posted these against my better judgement. I'm about to start work on a new page and went looking for inspiring material to get me excited for the new story beat--a fist fight between gods. Instead I found images that recalled hard learned lessons and memories I'd almost rather forget; memories of times when my struggle was worse than it is now. Now is what really matters though, so it's high time to get back to the drawing board.

See ya soon!

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