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June 2007

June 2007 - Sun



  • Healthy Green Artists:
    Going Green for Art Show Season
  • Wombat Droppings:
    Yet More Dealing with Art Directors
  • Behind the Art:
    Your Workspace and Work Habits
  • Myths and Symbols:
    Creator and Destroyer
  • EMG News:
    June News


  • So You Want to Take Commissions
  • Painting Sunspot - A Watercolor Tutorial


  • Fiction: The Sun, The Moon, and The Nothing
  • Fiction: Coaxing the Sun
  • Fiction: Globally Dim, or Sultry Afternoon in the Dome
  • Fiction: In The Light of Einstein
  • Comic: Selling to the Sun


  • Book: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

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  • Yet More Dealing with Art Directors
    Wombat Droppings
    by Ursula Vernon

    Okay, boys and girls, let's finish up last month's talk about what you send to the art director, shall we?

    Now, the first thing to say is that this is a guideline, not a rule. Your art director may have different requirements, and if so, for the love of little green apples, use those. Don't do this just because Ursula's telling you to. Such a thing would drive me heavily to the bottle.

    Let us say that your art director has given you the sizes he wants, the bleed he wants, and a general idea, whether it's "The main character, Bob, with his bloody sword in his hand, " or "a huge epic battle scene, " or "a quiet landscape with a giant snail burning in the background." (Okay, I'd like to read that book . . .) And you take this idea, and using the size he has given you, you are gonna sketch out two or three rough compositions (and by rough I mean don't bother with facial features unless it's a close-up portrait kinda rough) and send them back. Some artists do insanely elaborate work-up sketches here. Most of the time the art director really doesn't need that—they want an idea more than anything else. Make sure your sketch is clear and easy to understand, but generally it doesn't have to be too crazy detailed.

    The art director will usually write back saying "Okay, I like sketch #2, but can we do X to the background?" And you will do that, or whatever else he wants, and then you'll move to the next stage, wherein you do a completed sketch. It will never be the composition you thought was strongest. This is a law of nature. Sigh heavily, rail briefly against the Philistines of the industry, move on.

    Sometimes it takes awhile to arrive at this stage. Sometimes they want you to be a telepath instead of an artist. This is all part of the process. Do your best. If you find you can't stand to work with a particular art director, make a note of it, but see the project through to the end if it is humanly possible.

    Now is the time to be detailed! Get that pencil goin'. Give 'em faces, give 'em hair, give 'em whatever. Don't kill yourself drawing every leaf on a tree, mind you, but detailed enough that the AD can see exactly what he's getting into.

    And you send that off. And you wait.

    And you wait.

    Okay, this is why we do a couple of projects at the same time, because generally waiting to hear back is the longest part of the process.

    While we're waiting, let's address one point. Sometimes, rumor has it, you will read the book in question and pick the scenes you think would make the best cover painting and work from there.

    I, too, have heard this rumor. I have never worked for these people. It is undoubtedly possible that this happens. Different publishers have different methods. Do what they tell you.

    Has the art director gotten back to us yet? Excellent! Our sketch is approved, except he wants the fire-breathing quail to be bigger. Okay, we scale that up and send it back. "Great!" he says. On to the next step!

    Generally speaking, I stay in touch with the AD a lot, which means that I paint the background first, send that in for approval, and then the foreground, and send that in. You may or may not need to do that, depending on how rapidly you work and your AD's preference. Still, a lot of them like that, just because it lets 'em know that yeah, you're working on it, and they don't need to worry about the art being done. This makes them happy. It also means that you're in communication with them, and that makes you happy. There is nothing more unsettling than sudden radio silence. People occasionally ask if you'll be working with the writer. Generally you won't be. The writer very rarely gets anything more than a commentary on the piece. (Sorry, writers. You don't get to pick your title half the time, either. Yes, really.)

    So let's say you've sent your art off, and they love it, or they wanted changes and now they love it. Great! Fabulous! (You did send it off a week before the deadline so that you had a chance to MAKE those changes, didn't you? Of course you did. You're on the ball.)

    Now you want your money.

    Most of the time you get it. However—and this is a fact of life, campers—sometimes you don't. Often times it's not malice. Usually it's forgetfulness. Send polite notes. I cannot stress this enough—stay polite. Once you escalate to things like 'Are you planning on ever paying me?' it gets all awkward. Be professional. Do not sound bitter. Phrases like "Just writing to check up on the payment on this account," are much happier than "Hey bitch, where's my money?" People do forget. I've sent nice notes and had checks arrive by next day air, generally with apologies.

    Depending on what industry you're illustrating for, you are going to get screwed occasionally. I think in RPG illustration, I generally had about one in five bail on me. A lot of times they went bankrupt. (It's a small industry, start-ups fail constantly.) Sigh. Curse the gods a bit. Move on. It is generally not worth getting a lawyer to try and get blood from a turnip, particularly a turnip that's declared bankruptcy and didn't get their last book printed. It'll almost always cost you more than the coupla hundred you got screwed out of. Yes, it sucks, yes standing on principle would be nice, but principle doesn't pay the bills. That's why, on really big jobs, you ask for money up front. You don't want to do a hundred illustrations and have the company fold. This will make you weep.

    Likewise, I advise you don't do royalties unless the company is seriously well established. Cash up front is almost always the way to go unless you have absolute faith in the business acumen of the company.

    Figure nothing into your financial planning until the check arrives. I cannot stress this enough.

    All this sounds kinda scary, I realize, but the fact is, once you've done it a couple of times, you get really comfortable with it. You know the process. It's all doable. Plenty of people make a living at this, and there's no reason you can't be one of 'em. Heck, make your deadlines and keep in touch with your art director, and you'll be a hot commodity. Reliability is a thousand times rarer in this field than talent, and if art directors find that you are reliable, they will love and cherish you and send you Christmas cards and tell their friends. And that's a good thing.


    Ursula Vernon

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