ART COMMISIONS AND DEALMAKING

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SVT brings you another blog from Andrew Zar, creator, owner and operator of www.darkbrain.com.  This blog offers tips to artists and also small publishers or commissioners.

DARK MUSINGS #24 – ART COMMISIONS AND DEALMAKING by Andrew Zar 11/9/11

Today’s blog I will detail some of the things I’ve learned and tips I can share for aspiring artists and other small publishers or commissioners.

1 – You make your own opportunities

Example: the above art is by Szabo Celesztin – an artist who made his own opportunity at DarkBrain by contacting me directly and landing a property that wasn’t even being planned to work on. He presented me a clear desire, rates, and why he wants the project. His art is excellent, and the other aspects of his “pitch” led him to a contract that very day. A good reminder that although some opportunities given, most are made. Just because you have wonderful art, doesn’t mean potential customers are going to hunt you down.

Same for publishers, I’ve reached out to many artists directly instead of waiting for ones to contact me. Although as you gain popularity, the paradigm does shift a bit more towards leaning on artists to reach out to publishers. As a publisher/commissioner, be prepared for a lot of rejection – just like artists – it is part of the business. Just be as clear as you can be with your initial contact – provide samples, the reason for the project, and anything else immediately relevant to the artist to make a decision.

2 – Learn each other’s perspectives

This is the single largest lesson for anyone doing business in general. If you are an artist, learn about your clients and publishers. Knowing what they are looking for is key to landing work. If you are a small publisher, learn about any potential artist and what they do, how they work, what their goals are.

A pet peeve of mine is an artist reaching out to me for work, then later saying “oh, I don’t do erotic content.” Would you go to Playboy as a model and say “I don’t do nude work”? Ridiculous. Don’t be ridiculous with me, it wastes my time. Even if later on the artist comes back and asks for a second chance and that they now do R-rated work, forget it – I’m done already. Don’t forget that all of our time is precious – yours and mine – and treat it that way. Same for publishers, if an artist has not a shred of erotic content in their gallery, I don’t bother asking and wasting their time. Also, if an artist is under contract or has 20+ commissions on their to-do list, I usually move on as they are plenty busy.

For publishers, it is easy to understand the labor that goes into art – but what about the artist’s goals and plans? Some of the best matches are when a project fits the artists’ aspirations, provides a valuable gallery and resume material, and generates some key exposure.

One wonderful example is Christa Rosenkranz. If you study her work at DarkBrain, you will see the evolution of an absolutely gifted colorist. She took on DarkBrain projects in order to better her coloring skills, and wow did she make the most of that. Current issues of Underbelly demonstrate a coloring skill that is truly unique and stellar.

3 – Establishing pricing

Art, as with most anything else, is a supply and demand market. To command large prices, artists need to be established and highly desired. To get to that level, artists need to showcase work and have a following. For publishers, it is a difficult market to sell into and a huge number of startups will outright fail (I don’t even really want to know the percentage, but I’d guess north of 90%).

If you are an artist and feel your work should command a large rate per page, then I encourage you to self-publish. This is the only way you can move from “armchair quarterback” to game-time. The lessons you will learn will make the effort worth it, for certain. Just go in with your eyes open – it is very, very likely you will lose most of your money, have a difficult time establishing a client base, and will probably be ignored by the distributors because you are unknown (regardless of your quality). It is eye opening and a win-win – if you make a smashingly successful book, then you win – if you gain a lot of other knowledge, you win too.

The easiest way to establish pricing is to find peers on deviantART and see what their rates are – it is an indication of the market. Of course, being realistic on that comparison is important – is the artists gallery of comparable size and quality? Have they a longer or shorter work history to present? Do they have completed works? Etc.

Of course, I believe every deal should be customized and tailored to both parties. Any deal involves the sum total of the benefits – rate, publishing creds, exposure, gallery/resume material, etc. All are part of the discussion.

4 – Galleries!

Any artist, of any level, must have an accessible gallery showcasing work. I recommend deviantART as the best place for it at this time. There are other options, but deviantART also has a community and the ability for people to subscribe and watch your work. I’ve hired over 70 people from deviantART work and continue to always look there first.

Note, however, that deviantART is biased against erotic work and cannot and will not support the best artist in the world if the subject matter is not to their liking. A shame, but a reality. It is best to host that kind of work elsewhere and post censored versions on deviantART. Not ideal, but deviantART already made the decision to ban art based on subject matter, not quality, and that is that. Extreme sadism, violence, hatred, gore, mean-spirited, and anything-but-erotic is fine, though. Go figure.

Artists need to have their gallery represent the type of work they are looking for. If you want to get into sequential arts, then you must have samples of that work in your gallery. I also look for the volume, history, sustained quality of art and completed projects. An artist without a single completed project tells the prospective employer a lot.

So take a lot of care in your gallery – it is a huge factor in how some publishers and commissioners will choose artists. A gallery that gets neglected or ignored will also work against you. I’ve personally learned to study the gallery with more than just an eye towards art quality after dozens of failed attempts with talented artists. Talent is not everything – and often becomes secondary to other traits.

5 – Contracts, commitments

Any deal should be defined up front and both parties on board. I highly recommend a contract or at least an email agreement. Payment terms need to be spelled out as well as delivery estimates, deadlines or other things important to the project.

I originally started DarkBrain by paying artists 100% up front. My goal was to establish trust and a long-term relationship. However, I’ve had to adjust and adopt a 50% up front and 50% upon completion model.

I’ve had a dozen or so complete failures and lost considerable monies. Some have taken the money then never delivered while still posting new commissions in their galleries… for nearly two years… and never feeling like I even deserved an answer. The reality is that they cut themselves out of a longer deal – I’ve had many artists working with me for multiple years now – shortsighted thinking does end up hurting them more than me in the end. Think of the lost opportunities with me, but also the lost exposure as I do not promote their art to our 60,000+ fans and they also don’t have published work they can use in their galleries and resume.

For artists, I think working without any pay up front is very risky. Obviously your time and effort are at risk. So study your publisher/commissioner. You can learn just as much about them as they can about you. Have they commissioned in the past? Is there good feedback from other artists they hired? Etc.

6 – Professionalism

Once you start a deal, either artist or commissioner/publisher, you need to stick to that deal. I’ve had many artists try to ransom me for a pay raise after the project was well underway. I couldn’t help but think of how they would have felt if half-way in the project I cut their rate in half – they would be outraged. As reasonable as it may seem to either side to try to change a deal, just don’t – ever – it will ruin the relationship for good. Continued practice like that is likely to ruin an art career as well.

As the artist, if things are going badly, taking longer than you thought, etc – you need to communicate to the publisher/commissioner. Lack of communication builds up mistrust. A surprise “oh, I didn’t get back to you for 3 months because of X event in my life” is still better than no communication… but not by much. When that happens with me, I generally look to find a new artist on future projects. I can be very flexible, but after-the-fact means that my options were taken away. If my project was delayed too long and it harms the property, perhaps I could have fixed it with earlier notice. (This has happened to me way too many times – I attribute it to the artist not knowing my perspective and what it means to miss a publishing date).

Above all – treat everyone with respect, be clear with each other, and stick to your deals. It will lead to more work, more respect, and people who promote you and your efforts.

Till next time,

Andrew Zar

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