Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Ready Defense (Contracts 101)

Being able to afford food is nice.
This is a handy guide on how not to get screwed by contracts and how to actually bend them to your advantage!

The importance of having a signed and agreed upon contract before actually starting work on commissioned art cannot be understated. This document allows everyone involved to fully understand what they are getting into before, you know, getting into it. It also means that you are infinitely more likely to actually get recognition, (deleted repetition) payment in the amount expected, and at the time it was expected. Make sure that in your contract, it states any and all details concerning the job and therefore, any later additions to terms must be added to this contract and signed by both parties. This way, if the check arrives with additional obligations and claims to rights, there is a legal precedent that you can fall back on.

Here's a checklist by the Graphic Artist Guild for things to consider when forming a contract!

It may be handy to bring along a printed copy of industry standard prices for similar work. It not only establishes a basis for pricing, but it also establishes a high level of professionalism. Standards for current (similar) work can be found in the 13th edition of the Graphic Artist's Guilds' Hand Book: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. This book sets the standard for commercial artists, it will become your most valuable possession.

Explaining industry standards to clients.

When negotiating the terms of a contract, always discuss money last. This will give some time to get the details nailed out before coming up with a number. It also allows time to establish your professional credibility and knowledge within your given field. When money does comes up, you can (deleted more) easily point to where the costs are coming from and why they are justified, or what might be done to adjust them. Options for lowering a clients fee can include restricting usage rights or simplifying the design or colors used. One could even request a larger number of tear sheets (samples of one's work how it would appear in the final format) or an advertisement within the final publication.

The idea is to negotiate something that leaves both parties happy.
Returning clients are one's that have been treated fairly.

When given a contract, take it home and read it over. Makes notes (removed “next to”) and cross out parts that you don't agree with. Talk over all suggested changes with the client.

Always try to find a better option than work for hire. Often this is a line put in contracts by lawyers who want to avoid any and all legal complications. However, they do this by stripping a commercial artist of any and all rights. Many times, negotiations can give the clients the rights they want without resorting to such drastic measures.

More on The Graphic Artists Guild's handbook.
and where you can buy the book cheap.

Sample contracts (1, 2, and 3)

Further Resources on Contracts:

The Graphic Artist Guild will help you rework your terrible contract!

Get a free PDF on Copyright Myths from the Guild (by giving them your email address)

Escape from Illustration Island on contracts and pricing!

Good luck guys, in the future, look forward to Invoices 101 AKA. Getting Paid!
Also, Happy Holidays!

Hoping your Christmas was Merry and your New Year will be...Conscious! 
-Josh's Several Cents

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lair of the Artist

Regardless as to whether you will have a cubicle in an office or a freelance work-from-home sort of a job, setting up an efficient personal studio is of the utmost importance. As you will be spending quite a bit of time in this space, it will have to be pretty comfortable as well.

The sanctity of the studio is a very important aspect of its existence. It helps to have your studio in a room that has no other purpose, when you walk into your studio it will be for creation intentions only. Making the studio a sacred place helps with time management as you will be less distracted; humans are creatures of habit. The office is for work and the home is for play.

A Fine Art Studio 
Drafting Table:

It’s important to find a table with an adjustable angle in order to get that perfect drawing surface. Clipping large sheets of paper to the surface of this table will give you a scratch pad to test out paint dabs, colored pencil lines, etc.

Can’t afford an expensive drafting table?

Here are several tutorials on how to build your own table (1, 2, 3, and 4)!


The light in a studio can make or break a work of art as some bulbs have different color temperatures than others. The best solution I have found is to have both an incandescent bulb and a fluorescent bulb shining on my workspace in even amounts. Have just one or the other will change the look of your work as incandescent bulbs produce yellow-orange wavelengths and the standard fluorescent bulb overemphasizes the color green.

If you can get your hands on some color-corrected light bulbs I would recommend using those; check your work periodically with the incandescent and fluorescent as an added precaution. You will not always be able to control how your art is displayed, so having it look good under most lighting circumstances will only help you in the long run.

Natural light is also great to work by, just keep in mind that every source of light has a distinct color temperature.

Handy chart about color temperatures and light bulbs.
More information about how color correct light bulbs work.


As a drafting table is typically slanted, having a secondary table or shelving unit in reach can be a lifesaver when it comes to supplies. The organization portion of setting up a studio does not have to be expensive, I personally use a shelving unit made of milk crates and storage segments made from coffee tins and canning jars. Use your imagination when setting up. You must know where everything is located and be able to reach it from your chair in order to further streamline the process.

Bridget's notes: 
If working with multiple types of physical media, its best to separate each medium into its own compartment. I mark acrylics with a smear of the color inside across the top to easily see the internal color when reaching for a tube. Clean constantly as paint gets everywhere, its is infinitely healthier to have a clean studio and really sucks to work in to a room reeking of solvent.

Still get everything messy? I have painting clothes, paper towels, and cleaner in an easy to reach place at all times. Dish soap and a sponge clean most things. If they don't work, open the window and try some mildew remover.


If you work with organic solvents (turpentine, etc.) it is especially important to keep a fan and open window handy. A closed off room can be a very dangerous place to paint! I would absolutely recommend wearing rubber gloves with cross ventilation (a fan pointed towards an open window). Oil solvents over a long period of time and in very rare cases can cause anemia of the bone marrow which can be deadly. Turpentine and acetone are the most dangerous, odorless mineral spirits and Gamsol the safest. However, by limiting your exposure in this way, this possibility is all but removed. If this freaks you out, use linseed oil instead. However, this extends the drying process immensely, as in weeks to months.

When using sanding paint, spraying aerosol, and dealing with possibly noxious powders, if you can, go outside. In large amounts, use an airbrush mask or bandana. Some inks and pens have been known to cause extreme nausea and fainting. An easy way to tell if precautions should be taken with materials is on the back. If there is a logo that says "ACMI" which means that the health implications are listed or "AP" which means non-toxic.

Finally, don't drink, eat or smoke anywhere near your art. This is the most important thing one can do to stay healthy when working with physical mediums. Paints can contain lead cadmium and other goodies, soldering has lead gas, and most mediums either end up on one's hands or in the air. Ingesting anything near chemicals allows much greater absorption as well as the risk of ingesting the medium on accident.

(This section is also written by Bridget, if you have any questions or concerns about this topic, contact her. She's sort of a geek about it and will talk your ear off.)

What does an ACMI label mean?

Fine Art Studio Setup Walkthrough by Stanislav Prokopenko!

The Digital Studio
The Computer:

Mac or PC? Tablet or Cyntiq? There is a ton to choose from in this arena so be sure to fully research your options. I personally use a PC that dual boots Windows and Linux in order to better run and implement various CG programs. I recommend getting an additional hard drive to back-up the contents of your regular drive onto at least once a week.

Don’t want carpal tunnel or back problems for the rest of your life? Invest in an ergonomic keyboard, mouse, and chair. Be sure to get up every once and a while and stretch, go for a walk when you feel you have been staring at the screen for too long.

Spend less money for more power by building your own computer. You can order the various parts from web sites like NewEgg or Tiger Direct.

The Screen:

My setup consists of a 1080p color corrected widescreen monitor as well as a smaller, older, and un-corrected screen. The main screen I use is for the various views in 3D modeling programs or the canvas in painting programs. All of my sculpting tools or paint brushes are on the secondary screen, alongside my music or whatever television show/movie I have running as well. Having a secondary, uncalibrated screen is also nice for previewing your artwork as it will be seen by most viewers.

Computer Monitor Calibration Tool

60 Digital Art Studio Setups

In closing, I will now mention the most important part of any artist’s studio…I cannot overstate it’s importance. The CoffeeMaker.

Good luck setting up,
Josh Evans

Bonus Links:  
Free Art Software:

(Like Photoshop)

(Like Illustrator)

(Like Corel Painter)
(Free Image Editor)

(Like Indesign or Publisher)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Checklist for Crazy People

At the moment my hair is standing on end from all the work I have to accomplish before the end of winter break and before I graduate. But really, many of you I'm sure, are bored of hearing about this phenomenon because you are in the midst of a similar situation.

So I thought, maybe we could help each other out?

Below I have compiled links and advice on all of the things that I, and a possibly a few of you, have yet to accomplish. Do any of you have any tips for achieving meteoric success?
Please leave a comment below.

Not running around frantically trying to break into the professional art world by the end of the year?
Quite a few of these links are helpful for literally any artist looking to up their game.

 Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the "Checklist for Crazy People".

Design Professional Stationary and Business Cards

An entire youtube channel devoted to making you better at photoshop basics!
The videos are both hilarious and educational, highly recommend.
You Suck at Photoshop: The Tutorials

More Photoshop Tutorials

Turn your sketches into vector shapes in Illustrator

Update the Website

Improve your web design and typography with these beauties:

The basics of web design

Making your type look more interesting

I use wordpress for my personal site, so I will be checking this out as well.

Josh uses a combination of Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and GoDaddy (although he has personal issues with their "tasteless" advertisements).

Start Networking Online
It is not necessary (or even recommended) to throw yourself into every one of the networking sites mentioned below, click around and see where you would be a good fit. The idea is that you expand your level of exposure, feel free to mix and match!

Tumblr (great for a work-in-progress style picture blog)

Twitter (build a fanbase and barrage them with links of your latest and greatest!)

BeHance (good utility for display many parts of a complicated project)

LinkedIn (sort of like Facebook for professionals without all the spam)

Facebook Fanpage (article on why you as an artist need to have one)

DeviantArt (believe it or not, this is still used widely by many professional artists, just avoid the furries)

The ArtOrder (excellent community for professional artists made by the Art Director of D&D) (the original professional art networking site)

CGHub (not just for 3D but it is mostly used for digital painting as well) (do you want to draw girls for a living?) (they send you job openings for free in a monthly e-mail)

Josh's 3.14 Cents (Awesome Related Articles):
But I’m an artist, and marketing is lame!

How to Create (and destroy) your Reputation Online as an Artist!

Update Art Director/Design Firm list:
Keep a list of Art Directors that terrify you to contact.
The time has come to actually contact them, or just hang out in record stores thinking about it!

Book/Editorial Illustration:
Has anyone noticed that independent bookstores tend to have better and more illustrated books and magazines?  Find these resources near you!

Band posters, CD's, Shirts and things:
I tend to take pictures on my phone of covers or posters and then check to see if the band/organization/corporation used a design agency or has an in house Art Director that chose the illustrator. Also, you could (I am working on doing this) email the band or their agent your portfolio or a piece you think would work on their gear personally.

Graphic Design Annuals are especially helpful for finding art directors but Illustration Annuals can allow you to backtrack and see what similar artists are working on.
Look for:
and the Society of Illustrators annual

A word on contacting an Art Director:

Being that it is so easy to find and a way to contact an Art Director these days, it can seem like a great idea to send every art director whose contact information you find your bio, portfolio, and a message about how much you love them and need work immediately. But in general, it is better to ask them if they want to be contacted or what format they'd like your portfolio in before sending everything and waiting. They get hundreds of emails, not to mention postcards etc, everyday and a little courtesy might just be the thing that makes you stand out.  Including a link to your portfolio beneath your name in the e-mail is acceptable, but don't push anything without asking first.

Advice: Build a relationship before asking favors on social networking sites, and in the case of email, ask them what format they would like to view your portfolio (a link to your website, a pdf, printed, a link the gallery of your images you put together specifically for them?) and let them have a voice in it.

Expand Portfolio/Hone Skillset
Anything you ever wanted to know about Adobe products!
Tutorials covering nearly every design-related topic imaginable
A free internet education in Illustration.
Overview of Art Education Institutions as well as tons of Free Tutorials (tutorials sections is at the bottom)

Josh's 3.14 Cents:
9 Warning Signs of an Amateur Artist

Enter Illustration Competitions
Society of illustrators 2012 Student Competition

Get a Job/Commission.
An entire post about this subject in detail?
 We update every Wednesday!
Stay tuned.

Good Luck Everyone!
-Bridget Beorse

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Commission Survival Guide

The transition from Student to Professional Artist can often be a painful process, full of missteps and difficult lessons learned. I'm still deeply within the learning portion of this journey and continually growing with every falter, but here are some things that would have made the start considerably easier!

Get a Contract.
As a gullible Sophomore during my Winter Break, a friend of a friend offered me the opportunity to design an entire line of advertising for a spinoff company funded by a major corporation. The mix of wanting to please my friend, the prospect of possible connections, and the decent payment offered by my contact at this new business, all were exciting beyond belief. I felt very professional and creative, being offered such an important freelance job like that!

To shorten a lengthy tale of harsh deadlines and waves of critique, I have yet to see a single penny of the agreed upon payment. As soon as the job was complete my phone calls and e-mails were no longer returned. I worried that the company may have gone under but, upon further investigation, they were doing quite well and using the fliers I had made for them. To this day the company in question has continued to grow and excel, thus pounding home my message.

Don't be a chump. 

Get a contract. 
Until you have their signature, your pen does not touch the paper.


Become Psychic.  
I have had clients who know exactly what they want out of a project and clients who will give you complete freedom, both are dangerous in their own way. As an artist it is extremely important to get inside the head of the person or organization that commissions you. The best way to do this, for me, is a Skype conversation. This allows me to ask them on the spot questions about the material and receive their immediate reactions; sometimes their perspective on the project is slightly different from what they may write in an e-mail.

A client who knows exactly what they want can produce a difficult situation as what they see in their head may not be actually aesthetically pleasing. A commission is as much your work as it is theirs and your input and inspiration is essentially what they are paying you for. With clients like these it is important to inform them of issues you have with the design in the very early stages. Supplement the issues with fixes; bring many sketches to the table that offer solutions in your trademark style while still remaining true to their basic vision. What they want may not be any good and it is your job to use your psychic art powers to show them an alternative that strikes the same pleasing chords to them.

When dealing with a client who seems to not have an opinion, you may have to spend extra time with them. Present more sketches in a variety more diverse than you would usually. Once they settle on a sketch be sure they understand that backtracking will take time and money. Check in every once in a while with a progress report that details the project so far. Use your artistic intuition to determine how to proceed. Over time, your conceptual thinking will become more refined and you will be able to latch onto fresh concepts quickly, but until then I recommend a thorough Skype interrogation!

Know the Value of Your Time.

How long will it take you to do a professional level black and white sketch?

What about a full color illustration?

Does style and subject matter factor into the amount of time it will take?

Figuring these things out ahead of time will save you all-nighters of despair as you will be able to accurately give the customer an estimated time of arrival as well as an accurate bill. Does this mean the quicker you work, the less you'll have to charge? Not in my view of it. If anything your rates will raise as the continual work will drive your skill level'll just have more free time to attain more commissions!

What have you learned the hard way through your professional art pursuits?

Please feel free to leave a comment!

Links of the Week: