We Need To Talk About Money (part 2)…

I started writing this blog a few months ago and then got distracted for the usual reasons (deadlines, holiday, my wife and I are having a baby soon, etc), but I was reminded of it today and as it turns out there wasn’t that much editing that needed doing to make it intelligible, so here it is:

It’s frustrating to me that this should even be a conversation we’re having about why design competitions are wrong, but I think it needs saying again, especially for the benefit of illustrators who are just starting out in this industry. 

Illustration competitions that require you to create work on spec ARE A BAD THING. What is spec? Speculative work - ie: work that you create in the hope that you will be paid for it.

But why are they a bad thing? I hear you ask. At their best, they allow me to maybe have my work used by *insert-band-name-here* or used as an unofficial poster for *summer-blockbuster-of-choice* or on a t-shirt made by *your-favorite-brand*. They say I’ll get great exposure.

(Oh God, exposure. The dangling toxic carrot of the young illustrators life. If I had a pound for every time I had heard think of the exposure then I probably could afford to work for free. But I still wouldn’t. I’m starting to get off topic, but you should read this wonderful piece by the very talented Jessica Hische about working for free.)

Back to the point I was working towards. Yes, all those statements above are true, but they all hang on you doing a piece of work on spec, for free. They reduce our industry, our studies and our skills to a hobby that can be rewarded with shiny things.

I think that one of the (for want of a better word) ‘problems’ with creative industries is that ostensibly we enjoy what we do. We might even be inclined to do what we do for fun - I would certainly be drawing even if I was doing something else because I love drawing. But it is STILL YOUR JOB and you deserve to be compensated for you time. I hate to use the plumber analogy, but you wouldn’t expect a plumber to fix your cracked pipes for free ‘because he enjoys it’ or because you would tell all your friends about his work.

If you’re thinking of running a design competition, here are some better things to try instead. Take the prize fund and use it to commission someone whose work you like. The end result will be the same - you have a piece of work you can use - but in the mean time you wont have wasted the time of EVERYONE ELSE WHO WOULD HAVE ENTERED.

But I’m only starting out you may say. You still deserve to be paid, don’t let anyone suggest otherwise. If you worked in a shop, you’d still get paid even if it was your first day.

Here are some things that are a better use of your time than entering a competition:

- set yourself a brief and answer it. be challenging (for example, if your forte is drawing owls, don’t set the brief: draw a cool owl). treat it like you would a job and then blog it - show your process maybe, sketches you tried before you settled on a final.

- practice your craft. spend some time drawing, researching. make a zine, make a product that you can sell through your website (preferably not infringing on someone else’s IP - that’s a blog post for a whole other time).

- bake a cake. personally, I find baking hugely satisfying and I do some of my best thinking when I’m doing something that isn’t drawing.

- look for potential clients and send them links to your work

- go and do some exercise. we spend most of our time sitting in small hot rooms, so make the most of the fact it’s summer and go for a walk. also, see above - if you’ve just made and consumed a cake you could probably do with some exercise.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. As long as people continue to enter competitions, there will be competitions, so just stop. You’ll be better off for it. Value yourself. You and your skills are a commodity. This isn’t a hobby, this is a job and you don’t do your job for free.

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There’s a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles out in parts of the world right now (and coming to the UK imminently-ish), so this seems like a good time to share a piece of art that i produced to accompany the release, alongside a bunch of other FANTASTIC artists (Nicolas Delort, Tomer Hanuka and Amanda Visell amongst others).

You can see the whole collection online here.

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Time for another compilation of bits from my Instagram (which you can find here).

This time around it’s all snippets from a comic I am working on. I am painfully aware that I don’t actually have much in the way of proper experience in drawing sequential work (or to be more accurate I have drawn a meagre 24 pages to date). In order to get a bit more practice in before I start work on an ongoing series this fall (more on that later), I’m taking a leaf out of the book of Becky Cloonan and drawing a mini-comic with a view to having it available to buy for those of you attending Thought Bubble this November.

You will be able to see that all my favorite tropes are covered - beards, boats, skeletons, the sea and it’s mysteries - and there will no doubt be more snippets posted between now and November.


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This impossibly handsome man is Romain Duris, and he’s the star of Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo which is out this month, and as such is the cover star of Eurostar’s Metropolitan magazine.

And I drew him, obviously (otherwise this would be an amazingly pointless blog post). If you travel on Eurostar this month, you can see it there, on in the online archive at some point this month.

The second image is an alternative color scheme that didn’t go past sketch stage, but I liked it so I worked it up for my own benefit. In retrospect it probably was way too blue.

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It’s going to be a Matt Taylor-stravaganza over at Comic Con next week! In addition to the Sunset Overdrive print I just blogged about, here’s something else from Mondo.

Batman: The Animated Series is rightly regarded as one of the high-points of animation of the last twenty years, and as part of the ongoing Batman 75 celebrations, Mondo are releasing a limited 7” of the title score for the show. There are going to be a bunch of variants, of which my Harley Quinn piece above is one.

This was a huge amount of fun to draw, especially the Joker singles scattered across the floor. As before, these will be on sale at San Diego Comic Con next week - follow Mondo on Twitter for more info.

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Mondo have been making awesome movie and TV posters for a hot minute now. You are probably familiar with them, not least because I’ve done a few this year and I won’t stop going on about it.

Anyhow, something they haven’t done until now is video-game posters, and when they asked me to illustrate something for one of the years most promising title, Insomniac Games Sunset Overdrive, of course I was going to say yes.

This will be available at San Diego Comic Con next week - follow Mondo on Twitter for details. I might have some to sell at a later date too…

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Another round up of Stuff From My Instagram!

Here we have… abandoned sketches, editorials I forgot to blog, book cover ideas, something from a comic I’m writing and drawing, something from a comic I’m just drawing, and a work in progress of something I’m doing this week. I’ll leave it to you to figure out what’s what.

More as ever, over on my instagram

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Last night, Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse cinema’s threw a three-location-celebration of all things Stallone in honour of his 68th birthday with a Rocky triple bill.

For each of the movies, Mondo produced a poster to accompany the screening, and I was invited to draw two of them (alongside César Moreno’s TOTALLY AMAZING poster for the first movie).

If you missed the shows last night (or don’t live in Austin), i’m pretty sure that any left over will be showing up online at some point in the not too distant future.

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We Need To Talk About Money…

Here are two tales:

1. For about a year (seven years ago before I was a full time freelance illustrator), I was assistant manager in a shoe shop in the Office chain. I worked a 40 hour week, and I was paid monthly. In that time my pay was never late, never short, never ‘misplaced.’ I got my pay cheque on the last Friday of the month and I was happy.

2. Last May I was contacted by an advertising agency who wanted me to work on a series of posters for a beer company. The project was initially intended to run for two weeks and wrap at the start of June and was to pay approx. £12,000. Unfortunately two weeks ended up being six months of back and forth with various different parties within the company and client (and given that it was for alcohol, the legal department). This wasn’t ideal, but projects often take longer than planned, and I must make it clear that I wasn’t working on this for the whole six months - often a few days here and there and then a wait for feedback. I submitted final artwork files in November along with my invoices. Then time passed. After conversations with the client it became clear that they could not (or would not) pay as they were waiting to be paid by their client. Now as an illustrator, I didn’t make an agreement with the beer company, I made an agreement with the ad agency, and it became clear that they had commissioned work without having the money to pay for it. After more conversations an agreement was made that they would pay in instalments (at this point we are four months after invoicing, ten months after the project started). Three payments were made and then no more. After more emails a date was set for the final instalment. This was not met. Then another date was set and not met again. The tone of an email sent when a request was made for some clarity suggested that we should ‘watch our tone’ if we wanted the process to be swift. Finally, this week the last instalment of payment for a job that was commissioned a year ago and delivered as final artwork in November was paid.

I should stress - this is a worst case scenario (and the worst I have encountered in twelve years of illustrating), but i find myself in a quandary. As a member of the illustration community shouldn’t I make other illustrators aware of said advertising agency and their unprofessionalism? I would feel bad if a friend was put in the same situation, and I feel like I could have averted it, or at least advised them not to work with that particular agency.

This opened up to me a bigger question about how we as illustrators value ourselves and how we can often end up being treated. I have lost track of the number of times I have had to chase clients about late or missing payments. I look at my spreadsheet for the year and I can see five jobs (out of thirty five completed and invoiced this year) which I am currently chasing because they are late (ie: over the four weeks stated clearly on my invoice), and there have already been two on top of that have gone past the three month mark before being paid. Personally i resent spending time that I could be drawing chasing someone to be paid, or that I even need to chase at all. When I worked in the shop, I didn’t have to email the accounts department once a month to remind them to pay me. 

It feels to me that illustrators live in fear of the ‘bad reputation’. Speaking out about late or non payment, or insultingly low budgets (a blog post for another time right there) or money in general will land them on a ‘black-list’ and their work will dry up.

A quick straw poll amongst twitter suggested that a lot of illustrators wouldn’t call out slow or non-paying clients publicly for fear of being considered unprofessional, but aren’t we talking about clients who are themselves being unprofessional? Another suggestion was that it was biting the hand that feeds them, but if that hand is letting you starve then maybe it deserves to get bitten? Another had taken on more work with a client despite admitting that their lowballing budgets ‘took the mickey’ and they they were still waiting for outstanding payments (and who I now won’t take work from for the same reasons). Sadly, this kind of behaviour just reinforces the fact that some clients don’t take this seriously. Maybe if they were named and shamed and their source of illustration dried up they might reconsider how they conduct their business. Even now, I find myself not naming the advertising agency who have made my life difficult over the last year - I’m no better than anyone else.

I don’t have any good suggestions about how we can redress this, but it feels like a conversation that needs to be had. We do good work, on time - surely we deserve a fair pay delivered on time.

Where do we go from here?

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I might start doing these compendiums of Stuff You Missed On Instagram more frequently, or at least my shameless attempt to get more followers starts paying off.

Anyway - stuff you might have missed this week:

- Segments from a drawing for one of my favorite publishers

- Unused sketches for the cover of a comic called WOLF that IS HAPPENING SOON (and by soon i mean this winter).

- A drawing from when I was working at ilovedust and illustrated a Mardi Gras parade.

- A sketch of some boxers

More on my Instagram, and probably another one of these blog posts soon. I have a lot of unused miscellany that I’d like to eventually put up.

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Have you been watching Fargo? It’s really good. Well worthy of the association with the Coen Bros classic that it is a sort-of sequel to, and actually now I think about it, one of the better things on TV this spring.

Well I was asked by my favorite client Mondo if I would produce a poster which will be on sale a week tomorrow - to coincide with the final episode airing on FX - and i was hardly going to say no, so there have it.

If you didn’t pick one up at ATX this weekend past and miss out on the Mondo drop, I should have some for sale in my shop before too long. 

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This is the first of a number of illustrations (as well as some of the work in progress) that I have produced for Canadian menswear retailer Harry Rosen. I’ll be doing one of these to go along with each sale over the next year or so. There’s already one more finished for the summer sale, and another which I am drawing right now.

If you’re in Canada keep an eye out for these as they’ll be displayed in store and local press. More to come soon…

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Here are three snippets of things I am currently drawing. Unfortunately they are all pieces in which showing any more would give the game away as to what they are for, so for now you’ll have to take the details.

They are all culled from my Instagram feed which you can find here, and if you’re not following it then gosh darn it, you’re missing out on all sorts of amazing pocket sized pictures of artwork, shoes i’ve bought, and my cat Audrey.


More art next week!

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