Thursday, 27 September 2018

Once again we're backing #PicturesMeanBusiness with ten common misconceptions about artists and illustrators - a ReadItTorial

(Credit: Sarah McIntyre. See how easy it is to add illustrator credit?)
The fantastic #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign moves into its second phase, taking on extra staff to ensure that the publishing industry (and other branches of the media) begin to understand just how important it is to ensure that illustrators, artists, designers and creative folk are properly credited for their work.

From the blogger perspective, time and again we find ourselves forced to do a lot of extra work trying to find information on particular artist credits.

When you write a blog in your spare time, you're effectively wasting a huge amount of that spare time hunting around for information that publishers and PR folk could quite easily provide for you in press information and releases. Yet time and again, and not just in PR stuff but in other aspects of producing information about books (such as ads and catalogues) ILLUSTRATORS AND ARTISTS ARE NOT PROPERLY CREDITED, OR IN SOME CASES NOT EVEN MENTIONED AT ALL!

So we're left digging through books often to find the easily missed single line where the cover or interior artist is briefly mentioned in tiny print somewhere inside the book or frantically googling around to see if the author or the publisher has mentioned the artist elsewhere (answer: usually no!)

Sarah McIntyre AKA @jabberworks has been tirelessly campaigning with her #PicturesMeanBusiness initiative for many years, and with phase two about to begin, I thought it'd be a good idea to wrap together ten common misconceptions about being an illustrator / artist both from my own (failed) attempt to become one back as a surly twenty-something, and from direct observation of the way creatives are treated during our 8 years of book blogging.

1) "You get paid to draw pictures all day? What a dossy job!"

Oh my god, if there's a statement designed to result in someone being stabbed in the eye with a Bic biro (no self-respecting artist would ever use any of their 'good' pens or brushes for such a task) it's this one.

Again through my own direct experience of folk completely failing to understand what illustration is, what artistic talent involves, and how UTTERLY AND COMPLETELY HARD IT IS to become a professional artist or illustrator, statements like this show that the ignorance goes deep. Most people seem to equate artists and illustrators with the "kid in class who was always doodling or drawing" and quite a few folk also seem to believe that doing this day in day out for a living is something of a dream job.

Far from it - most artists really do struggle to crack the market in any meaningful way, and rely heavily on a lot of foot slogging and promotion of their work - which again is where the whole #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign stems from - if publishers and people employing artists made a better fist of helping their creatives out, perhaps the public perception of the job of being a professional illustrator may change too.

It's not just that - it is supremely difficult to be disciplined enough to work day in day out creating something from nothing. Imagine what it's like as an office drone when you wake up on a monday morning and can't be bothered to turn in for work. Now imagine if you're tired, or ill, or have sore eyes, or worse yet - have a complete creative block, but rely on getting up and working on something creative despite all that - and often for very little reward. Easy is it?

2) "Wow, I bet you get paid a fortune!"


Again, from the direct experience of quitting an IT job with decent pay, going away to art college for two years, emerging with a bunch of qualifications and a portfolio - and then taking on any illustration jobs I could find (when I could even get someone to pay me at all, often at a rate that was worse than performing manual labour or even shop work, the majority of artists do not earn anywhere near a fortune.

While at college I worked various jobs to fit in around classes and studio time just so I could live (and by 'live' I mean 'scrape by on less than minimum wage per week'). For a lot of professional creatives that's also their reality. Very few can earn a solid living purely from illustration, and either have to take on other jobs (often more than one), or extend their illustrative or creative work out into other forms (such as workshopping or experience stuff at schools etc). Authors will gladly tell you how little they earn from each book sale. Consider that in a lot of cases illustrators will also earn a pifflingly small amount and have to subsidise their incomes in other ways too.

3) "Can you draw this for me? We don't pay but can offer you great exposure!"


I think we've gone over this one many, many times on the blog and on Twitter. We've seen a lot of illustrators and artists we follow on Twitter each with their own stories of folk who've approached them for work, with no intention of paying a cent - but offering some level of coverage that isn't really worth a bean to an artist who has bills to pay. If you're trying to employ an artist for any work, and your up-front discussion doesn't come with a fee offer, pack up, go home, go find another job because you're obviously terrible at the one you're doing. Or, at the very least, don't be surprised or get aggressive when that person calls you out on it, and makes you look like the penny pinching meanie you are.

(See also: "Competition to design our new logo! Win the chance to see your work on every billboard and sign away all your creative rights at point of entry")

4) "It's all about word of mouth".

Not exactly, though word of mouth can be very useful for an artist - and recommending their work to others can help an artist find even more work. But it goes deeper than that. If you cannot also show that you value the work that the person has done for you by properly listing and crediting them throughout a project (regardless of the type of creative project we're talking about here - not just book illustration but even something as simple as designing a logo for you) then you're only doing half a job.

Many professionals in all other aspects of children's book publishing do get to know talented artists through word of mouth and reputation, but if someone has to hunt around for information on a specific cover or interior artist for a book, they won't hunt for long in my experience - and may just take on someone else, thus losing the first person a job. That's so flipping wrong and just should not be happening in this information-led age.

5) "Artists are so difficult / demanding to work with though".

I remember hearing this a few times while hawking for gigs after graduating from college. Artists are often imbued with the unfair reputation of being fairly narrowly focused, not adaptable and quite difficult to deal with professionally. If you feel like that, you're obviously taking the wrong approach (probably the approach already detailed in the previous four points above).

Artists want to work, and they may want to work with you. But any creative process is a two-way street so if you instantly set up a confrontational and 'bossy' approach to dealing with a creative, don't be surprised if they dig their creative heels in and push back.

Again it stems from the way a lot of artists are treated by folk higher up the food chain in a particular company. I remember being in a planning meeting in one gig where I'd managed to secure illustration work in-house for a company, and being told to shut up because "I wasn't being paid for my opinion, I was being paid for my work" - purely because I assumed I was there as a professional whose opinions would be feeding into the creative process - not a pencil-pushing drone.

Back to the original line and most artists will tell you that the most difficult folk to work for are creative directors who have no concept of give & take.

6) "Rights? What rights? You're getting paid, aren't you?"

This is a tricky one, particularly if you're working in-house as you may end up having to sign a contract effectively waiving your rights over your own work.

Many artists have wildly differing experiences of this. Some retain absolutely no rights at all to their work and are not even allowed to use it in their own portfolios (again, I have direct experience of this but the industry may have (hopefully) changed in the last 20 years or so). Some are given more slack and allowed to use their work for their own promotional means. It's vitally important for an artist to be able to show and name clients, work and aspects of a project in order to get more work so please for goodness sake don't choke off that chance.

7) "So what if it's 2AM. I thought you liked drawing?"

Maybe a smidge of exaggeration, I don't think many artists have been woken up in the middle of the night to finish off a piece of work - but many artists and creative will indeed have worked an all-nighter to finish off a project, or put their own physical (and mental) health at risk when under pressure from tight timelines on a project.

This again is unreasonable treatment, and assumes that creatives don't have their own lives. Imagine the life of a freelancer illustrator who has to account for every minute of their working day, but also needs the benefits other employees get in all other forms of employment. Yes they need downtime, they need holidays, they need a pension, and dammit they need to be able to live and exist. So when your company announces its next quarter profits in the millions, yet the employees and creatives, freelance or otherwise are barely scraping by, how do you sleep through 2AM?

8) "We cut your bit so we don't need to credit / pay you"

Again, back when I was trying to make a living as an illustrator I took on a job providing a set of graphics for a web company. I spent about three weeks designing headers, logos, link indicators and all manner of other screen furniture for a look and feel for the site.

Though I was (miraculously and luckily) paid for the gig, the company eventually ditched my stuff in favour of an in-house creative who put together an alternative look and feel for their site.

Because I wasn't allowed to use the material in my own portfolio (see "rights aren't important" above) and because I had no credit anywhere in the site, I had no proof that I'd ever done the work - which again meant that I had nothing to take to my next job to secure work along similar lines.

This must be how it feels for artists who don't get their work credited on children's books. Imagine trying to convince someone that your illustrations and designs were used on a book if you were soaked up as part of a creative team who weren't credited individually - and were also denied the rights to your work for portfolio purposes?

9) "We really can't possibly list absolutely everyone who worked on this book!"

Bizarrely, some forms of publishing do go the extra mile - where nearly all aspects of the design of a publication are credited in some way either in the publication itself or in the listing for that item in catalogues or e-shops or websites.

Comics. Colourists, letterers, even layout artists often get credited by DC and Marvel and rightly so.

Would it not be feasible and appropriate for all children's books to also similarly credit everyone involved in a publication? I'd love to see that happen, particularly for a lot of non fiction titles.

If you think that it's appropriate to miss your cover artist out, imagine what your book would look like with a plain cover, and how many copies it would shift. Cover art (and not just in kidlit, in all forms of publishing) can often be the difference between an impulse sale at first sight, or someone passing your author's book by, so never underestimate the worth of an artist's work on covers.

10) "We don't need talented artists, we'll just hire anyone. It's just a kid's book after all!"


I don't know if any of you remember that episode of "The Apprentice" where the vacuous folk involved in the programme were tasked with producing a children's book. But the assumption above is just so wrong on so many levels.

First, any author will tell you just how difficult it is to write for children. Any illustrator will also tell you how utterly brutal and withering kids are when it comes to critiquing your illustrative work. If you're an artist and you've got kids of your own (or nieces, nephews, younger sibs, cousins etc) you'll know just how precise they are in their requirements for what constitutes as 'good drawings'.

When we started blogging 8 years ago, I remember how difficult it was to woo my daughter away from visually impactive books that had dreadful stories - and conversely how difficult it was to get her to love a book that was beautifully written and had a gorgeous story, but had illustrations that sucked donkey biscuits.

The whole package has to be utterly faultless and professional for kids, from start to finish, from cover to end papers, through internal illustrations and back again (purely talking about the illustrations here but the same rules apply to the stories / text too).

The publishers that do well are the ones that fully understand this, and take no half measures with either. Don't ever assume that just because an illustrator is drawing or painting for kids, that they'll somehow be fine with cutting corners either because experience kidlit illos will absolutely KNOW that kids are super-picky and won't accept just any old tosh.

Bonus Point: "We didn't want to put the artist's name on the cover, because it would detract from this being the Author's book"

(Had to sneak this one in as a final extra point). Yes, I have actually heard this used as an excuse why a particular set of books featured no cover art / interior art credit. You see, the intended audience were supposed to magically believe that the author in question had magically acquired some seriously amazing art skills, in fact art skills that looked EXACTLY LIKE ONE OF OUR FAVOURITE ARTIST'S! Obviously after a bit of digging and surreptitious tweets to the suspected artist, we did eventually find out that it was her work - but she'd accepted the contract knowing her work wouldn't be flagged. So wrong on multiple levels as the artist in question's work was utterly fantastic and absolutely essential to how well received the books were.

Stuff like this is wrong, yet it seems to happen almost on a daily basis.

These are just a few points I wanted to draw our readers attention to under the umbrella of support for #PicturesMeanBusiness.

 I probably could've written another ten easily. Suffice to say that my own artistic experience is fairly limited when it comes to working on commercial stuff, yet the stories and anecdotes I hear again and again from artists and illustrators involved in kidlit have an air of sad familiarity about them, and are very similar to my own experiences. This seems to demonstrate that very little has changed in the last 20 years and that makes me sad because it means the very reasons I couldn't cut it and definitely couldn't make any kind of a comfortable living at illustration are still true to this day.

Perhaps it's a good thing that we have superheroes like Sarah McIntyre and #PicturesMeanBusiness fighting for the creative corner, to ensure that folk get a far better deal and are far more fairly treated by the children's publishing industry. Maybe one day there will actually be a way that creative folk can earn a crust from something they're passionate about after all.