Selkie in Multimedia
Do I Really Paint Like That? The Artistic Post-mortem
Plays Well With Others -- Not!
EMG News for March
Salvador Dali (1904 - 1989)
Plays Well With Others -- Not!Wombat Droppings
by Ursula Vernon
I don't play well with others.
Well, no, scratch that. I play well with others just fine. Board games and whatnot, anyway. I'm even reasonably competent at multiplayer games, provided I have a clear goal of What Ursula Is Supposed To Do During This Fight and people scream helpful advice like 'For the love of god, stay away from the lever!'
I don't work well with others.
It's not in my nature. I can bounce ideas off my friends with the best of 'em, but you get me a project where I absolutely have to work together with somebody, and I chafe. It is just plain not in my nature. I don't know why. There is something about having to please another party that means that I dither and sweat and generally end up producing something that pleases no one.
Fortunately, being an artist and writer, I don't have to collaborate much. I work with my editor, to whom I am generally terribly grateful (the editor is not the mangler of your precious prose, gang, the editor is the person who keeps you from looking like an idiot in front of the readers) but I don't... y'know... co-create with anybody.
When I do, it rarely goes well.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am in awe of those who CAN work together to make art. My parents, Tom and Margo McCafferty-Rudd, do collaborate, and they do fabulously. They work together making reduction prints, a complicated kamikaze sort of lino-block print, where you carve each color out of the block in order, so if you screw up, you can't go back, and the number of prints you start with is the most you will ever have. It is a terrifying process. I don't know how my stepfather manages to keep all the colors and layouts in his head, and I don't know how they work together well enough to do it at all. I certainly couldn't.
In the course of my varied and erratic career, I have had to work with multiple art directors -- the Good, the Bad, the ones who should maybe have considered a career in accounting. And the best art I've produced for art directors has generally been when they gave me carte blanche to come up with something to fit a certain theme. "Fantasy vs. science fiction." "We need a cover for a sourcebook on the Yakuza." I have done good art for those people.
The ones where they micromanaged, or had a set image already and I needed to paint it, they generally get competent but uninspired art. Of course, it's a sad truth that a reliable mediocre artist is far more valuable to an art director than an erratic genius, so I kept getting work, and it was all competent, but it just didn't have that... spark.
Working directly with writers is also generally a mixed bag, for the same reason. Some of them have been unbelievably fantastic, a joy to work with -- I've had fabulous luck, particularly with comic book writers, whose worst flaw tends to be a desire to pack too much into a single panel. ("You can have a fight or a monologue. Not both. And not in that size box.") Possibly the easy-going nature of comic writers is that there are pages and pages worth of stuff, and they're not going to nit-pick each individual panel, so long as the designs are right, because hell, who has time? But others... well, many years ago, I had a writer decide they hated a cover design two days before the deadline, and demand that we scrap the whole thing and start from the ground up. The art director interceded, but there was some hair-tearing on this end.
Commissions have a similar problem -- generally my commissioners are fantastic, and very VERY patient. They have to be, because the commissions take about twenty times as long as my usual art, just because I sit and dither like crazy over the fact that I have to please somebody other than myself. (And lord, are they ever patient...)
So what I learned eventually was that micromanaging the artist led to bad art, at least from me. And I'm proud to say I did manage to apply this. Once upon a time, I published a book (through Sofawolf Press) and they wanted interior illustrations. I named an artist I liked, whose style was nothing like mine, and that was the extent of my involvement. They offered me more -- did I have any thoughts? Did I want any changes? -- but as far as I'm concerned, if I like the artist's work and trust their competence, this is my cue to butt the hell out. If I didn't think they'd do a good job, I wouldn't have asked for them.
And that leads me back to my initial point... I do my best work alone. But there are artists I know who NEED some kind of structure along the way, or else the field is too wide open and they freeze up. And there are artists who LOVE working with other people, and I sort of envy them, because it seems like they enjoy it.
For quite a while I felt like there must be some basic character flaw in me that I couldn't collaborate gracefully with others. But as with many things, I've accepted it. I think it's a knack, like anything else -- like being good with color, like being able to eyeball compositions, like having perfect pitch. Plays well with others. Or not.
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