Saturday, July 29, 2017

Let's Be Real: Why Do You Make Art?

by Vanessa Lemen

"You are the hero of your own story" -Joseph Campbell / painting by Vanessa Lemen

There is a quip that I heard recently and it's one that I've heard said a handful of times over the years by other artists. It's usually uttered by artists who are younger or less experienced. In discussing art with these folks, when the subject comes up in which the artist is in conversation with someone and that someone asks them about their work, the artist returns with “I don't like to explain my work. I think the art should speak for itself.” This answer reminds me of that funny etiquette tip we learned when we were younger – that when someone offers you a mint, you should accept it without question. It might be that person's polite way of telling you you should seize the moment. Take the mint. Answer the question. Because maybe, just maybe, your art isn't speaking for itself like you think it should.  (which could actually say a lot about the artwork itself, but that's a whole other can o' worms that I might tackle another time in a different post)..

When an artist answers a question about meaning with “I don't like to explain my work,” I'm not sure if they're aware of this, but it comes across as either arrogant, disinterested in the person asking, or that they don't really know what it's about themselves. I'm guessing that they're actually unaware of how to speak about their work.

This kind of quip also puts the others in the conversation in an awkward position. In many cases, the person who asked the question was probably asking because it is unclear, in which case, the artist replying with “I think the work should speak for itself” is basically grinding the conversation to an abrupt halt, leaving the person who thought to ask the question refraining from speaking, when in their head, they're saying “yeah, that's why I was asking. Because it doesn't speak for itself.”

words by Tarkovsky / painting by Vanessa Lemen

Here's the thing: You should know how to talk about your work. Period. And you should know how to talk to other artists about their work. Heck, you should be thrilled to talk about art – yours, others' work, art history, all of it! You should know how to ask questions, and engage in conversation about meaning, breadth, process, what moves you – in your own work and in others' work, and in life in general. This is what you live. This is what defines you. This should be just a regular conversation topic for you. And just like any conversation about anything else, there's an ebb and flow. Things might go in random but not-so-random directions, and you should be able to go with the flow as you would any other conversation about anything else. And especially if you are at an art event, where your art is being shown, you should be ready to have a conversation about it, and not be at the ready with quips to shut the conversation down.

words by Rilke / mixed media by Vanessa Lemen (also part of my contribution to ArtOrder's The Journal)

And you should be able to listen as well. To really be present and hear what's being said and asked and presumed. You should be able to own that energy that you exude instead of putting up a wall at someone when they show a curiosity and interest in your work. Because that could very likely be what they're doing when they're asking you questions about your work. If you have insecurities about talking about your work, don't project that onto the person asking the question. Instead, use those opportunities to start practicing and learning. Do it in real time – in those circumstances, with real people asking real questions. They want to know. Why (and how) do you make art?

words by Gandhi / painting by Vanessa Lemen

And if it's your own work that you have a tough time speaking about, then you owe it to yourself to own up to it, and then try making a point to ask other artists questions in order to gain an understanding about how they might approach this type of conversation. And then listen, take it all in, let them speak, and hear what they have to say. Use those opportunities to learn, glean from them, and make use of what you get from it in your next conversation with others. Don't act like you know everything to cover up your lack of knowing. You're human. We're all human. We all can always learn more than what we already know.

words by Rilke / painting by Vanessa Lemen

If you are someone who's reading this and thinking “hey, I think saying 'I don't like to explain my work' is perfectly fine, and there's nothing wrong with that,” then here's my advice: First, think back to those conversations, and how they continued after you said that. They probably didn't. If the big reason you don't think there's anything wrong with it is because you secretly wanted to shut down the conversation, then by all means, you've achieved your goal. And I suppose that's somehow satisfying if that was your intent. (Although, I suggest restructuring your goals, if this is one of them). But then don't sit around wondering why someone's art is doing well, when you just don't get it. And you can't wonder why people have stopped talking to you about your art in any other way than one-liner comments on social media - if that.

Or, try answering the questions the next time that type of conversation comes up, and probably no one will ever know but you that you took the advice from someone whom you've outright wondered why their art moves and inspires people ..and how or why it also *gasp* sells. Being an artist is not a slick package deal that gets handed to you by rubbing elbows. It's about real genuine connections with people and with your art, and it's working hard at what you do and understanding that working hard doesn't necessarily mean throwing everything and the kitchen sink into every painting or just churning more and more work out at the expense of learning, but rather it means truly immersing yourself into your work, and being present in all its stages. Oh, and that's not necessarily easy. Albeit, some people might make it look easy because they've been doing the work a long time, they've been through the highs and lows of it because they truly love it and they want to learn more and do more of it every day. They wouldn't have it any other way. They live and breathe their art. To talk about it comes with the territory. It's their life.

words by Oliver Stone / painting marks by Vanessa Lemen

So, here is a list of questions to answer that might help you on your quest to conversing more naturally about your work.. if you so choose:

**note** This doesn't have to be painful. You don't even have to think of it as if you're writing an Artist's Statement, but this is essentially what an Artist's Statement should include as well. Just answering these questions below – just for yourself – and really giving them some thought will help you in conversing about your work the next time it comes up. And practice saying them aloud. If it's difficult to conjure up a scenario in which you'd be answering these questions, then think of it as if you're explaining your work to someone who's new to going to an art event or even better yet, try thinking of it as if you're describing your work or yourself to someone who actually can't see. (No, really, it's a very helpful way to think about it).

• Why do you make art? You can choose to start by answering more specifically Why do you make this type of art, or why do you choose to paint this subjectmatter (or how does it come about)? And then go from there..

• What inspires you and how does that influence your work?

• What medium do you like best? Or why do you choose to work in the medium you work in?

• What does your artwork mean? What does it represent? Try answering this as briefly as possible – enough to keep someone else engaged (if you were explaining it to someone else), while not necessarily directing them how to view it.

• What does your art mean to you? This is about your own understanding of your surroundings and how you interpret and filter that, but again this is not to be used to direct others on what your art should mean to them.

I hope you find this useful. I look forward to bumping into you sometime in the future and having a genuine dialog about art or anything else that might come up.

words on left by Simon Schama, words on right by Emerson / mixed media sketch by Vanessa Lemen (also can be seen in ArtOrder's The Journal)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Some Pros and Cons To Working With A Rep

- By David Palumbo

Portrait of David Bowie, cover illustration for Rolling Stone Italia

Because my career started will both feet firmly planted in fantasy and SF illustration, I never intended to work with an artist's rep. F/SF may seem like a daunting world to break into but, relatively speaking, it's pretty intimate and accessable. You can meet and get to know a lot of the key figures if you are able to do the research and leg work, and for the most part it's a supportive community where artists are happy to help each other.

The other thing about working in the genre field is that rates and rights tend to be pretty standardized. They might differ from a book cover to a Magic card but, in each of those categories, the expectations are established and situations that call for price quoting or negotiation are uncommon. This isn't necessarily good or bad, but it does make things easier for someone without much business training (which describes most artists) to navigate.

And so I never intended to work with a rep. I didn't really see the need. Why give a cut of my pay to someone to pitch me to ADs I already know and negotiate contracts that are already industry standard?

spot illustration for Texas Monthly

That had been my take for the first several years of my career when I was contacted by Richard Solomon, who was interested to work with me. Because I knew him by reputation and was friends with one or two artists who he had history with though, I was curious. The deal that he pitched was to try things out with me as a sort of back up for his group. If a job came through his office and nobody was able or interested to take it, he would offer it my way. Meanwhile, the business that I already had established remained my own. To me, this seemed a win-win situation. I would have the opportunity for new clients and I didn't have to give up commissions from my old ones. This trial period quickly turned into a more standard working relationship.

Almost five years on, we're still working together. In that time, I've definitely changed my opinions a bit, and a big part of that was simply by being exposed to avenues of illustration that I'd never even explored before. I'm still primarily genre focused, but having occasional editorial and advertising work pop up between covers and card art is something I've come to really enjoy. But this is all a bit of a long winded back story to the real point, which is observations I've made about working with a rep in a freelance field:

cover illustration for ACC Docket


-In my situation, by far the biggest is the obvious: a broader network of clients and more visibility means more opportunity and stability. I still maintain my own clients (what are called “house accounts”) but at least a third of my work is coming from Richard. These are almost all jobs that I would not otherwise have been up for or gone after. And while the editorial field isn't really that much more opaque than F/SF, it would have meant building a new brand geared to that market, learning that market, and then starting at square one to crack into it. I still have to show appropriate work to win a client, but because my rep has a long history with that field I get a big leg up. And it turns out I like editorial. There's something about the rapid turn around (my fastest so far was 48 hours from contact to approval) that leaves no time for nonsense. You get the brief, dive in, and the clients are almost always a delight to work with. And then there are clients, such as advertising agencies, who are difficult if not impossible to pursue as an individual. Truthfully I don't get that many jobs along those lines and more than half the time they evaporate before the agreement is signed, but they are generally good money makers when they come through. And in all cases, I enjoy the diversity of projects.

-I always look for the opportunity to learn more about this business. I worked as a part time art director for a couple of years to better learn my field, and I taught very briefly for the same reason (definitely not my bag). Along those lines, working with my rep has given ample opportunities to learn more about client communication on the business side. When unusual jobs come in that demand a quote, I'm always interested to talk with my rep about it and better understand how he breaks things down for rights and pricing, as well as following his office's direct communications with potential clients. I feel I'm much more equipped for those situations now as a result. I may not need to be for the most part (since that's his role), but it has also been helpful working with sales of originals and in a number of other small ways. And it gives me more confidence in calling out a bad deal.

-Besides learning opportunities, it's fantastic to have someone with years of knowledge and experience negotiate your fees and contracts for you. Most of us have a vulnerability to undersell ourselves at times, so it's good to have an outside party looking out for you here.

-You get to be all excitement and positivity and let your rep be the bad cop. Whether that means saying “no” to bad terms or demanding additional compensation for extensive revisions, you keep your end on creative discussions and refer them to your rep when it comes to numbers and clauses.

-it's not a huge thing, but having someone else taking care of all the invoicing is worth noting. It doesn't make sense to me that I hate invoicing (that seems like it should be the best part) but I'd just as soon have someone else on it. And nobody likes chasing late payments.

two page spread for Scholastic Magazine


-the one that really stands out is paying commission on jobs. The Graphic Artist's Guild quotes 25%-35% as being the typical range. In my case, this only applies to jobs that my rep brings in, and I feel it's very fair. Like a gallery taking a commission on the sales they make, I recognize the work being put in and have no problem with it when they do their job well. I have heard of some reps who want to take their cut from clients that you may have already spent years building a relationship with though, and I'd have to weigh very carefully how much new work I expected them to be bringing or how much influence they could have on budgets before signing up for that. Some artists just want to hand everything over though and not think about any of it, and I can respect that as well.

-You will also have additional promotional expenses, and they might not always be avenues you would otherwise invest in. Again though, if I expect my rep to do his job, I'll give him latitude to do it his way. In my case, my rep shares promo costs by paying in the same rate as his commission.

-I've also spoken with several illustrators who, at some point in their career, worked with a rep that was a bad fit. Either because they did not understand the artist's work and how to sell it, or because they were simply not very good at their job, it sounds like a rotten situation to end up in. I was glad that I was able to try things out at a slow pace initially to find out how well we worked together, and I'd advise starting this sort of business relationship slowly if possible.

two page spread for Car and Driver

In the end, my opinion on working with a rep comes down to these basic two questions: What type of work do you hope to do and is the rep you're looking at going substantially improve your ability to get it?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SF&F... The 'F' is for Fashion!

-By Dan dos Santos

Gucci finally figured out something we've all known for ages... Science Fiction is cool! Gucci has just released preview images of their upcoming Fall/Winter 2017 collection, title 'Gucci and Beyond'.

The ad campaign, shot and filmed by Glen Luchford, pulls directly from classic SF films and shows, such as 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Star Trek, Ray Harryhausen, Forbidden Planet and many others.

Although the campaign relies heavily on the imagery created by a slew of talented artists from our past, the Gucci clothing actually blends incredibly well with these sets, creating a bizarre, light-hearted and eccentric look that is surprisingly appropriate.

The trend of fashion houses looking towards the SF&F genre for inspiration is nothing new. In fact, even Prada's latest collection utilizes the art of the inimitable James Jean. More on that HERE.

Take a peek at the 'Gucci and Beyond' campaign below. And be sure to check out the short video at the end to really see it all come to life!