Creative Review for Thursday 29/03/12
Escape from Illustration Island Podcast, episode 72
Interview with Charles Hively, creative director of 3x3 publication
Creative Review magazine article by Lawrence Zeegen
Where is the Content?
This podcast interview with Charles Hively focuses on his thoughts on self-promotion, competitions and the virtues of running an effective creative business. I have picked out relevant quotes from Hively that I think resonate well with my current practice and have expanded on them with my own thoughts.
‘I can draw faces and trees very well’, I focus on natural elements a lot, I think it is mainly their symmetrical quality that makes them work so well with my technique. However, it is funny how he should put trees and faces in the same sentence as they are the complete opposites. Faces, although natural in that they are not man-made but just are, are nothing like trees in that they grow from the ground and could potentially last hundreds if not thousands of years. I cannot draw faces for the life of me, I struggle a lot with anything related to the human anatomy. It too is symmetrical in theory but because it has a set personality and set of characteristics it cannot be replicated in different way like a tree can.
‘You can’t work from back to back to back’, this I my favourite quote. I can relate to this point well as I don’t produce my best work when my battery is running on low, it is essential to have a break in between projects and divide your time up proportionally so that you still get some down time too. Compared to my recent visit to the Times newspaper this has become particularly prevalent to me as the offices there are relentless, the job is never finished because there is always something else to follow it up immediately.
‘You can’t afford to starve, just draw how they want you to draw’, I stand divided on this one. I agree that it is all about money at the end of the day, being an illustrator is a career to be able to make money and survive. If somebody is commissioning you for a job take it and be grateful that they are the ones going to be putting food in your mouth this week. At the same time you cannot afford to be a push-over. Remember to do things for your own passion too whether that be personal projects or send over a few roughs to the commissioning body and explain why your idea is better but you have to be able to back it up properly. If you start to take less money than is needed for a job you also risk collapsing you business as commissioners will start to take their business to other people if you don’t accept their low offer.
It was interesting to see how Chively makes comparisons of illustrators to photographers. When he is in the office he will receive 10 mail shots from different photographers per day to just 1 illustrator getting in touch. Illustrators need to be able to promote themselves more and this has been pushed particularly in this final year at our university with the introduction of the PDP module setting us up with this expectation that work will not come looking for me, rather I have to go and look for it. You need to keep on promoting yourself too and not stop once a bit of work starts to come in, you should be sending out mailings at least once per month in some respect. It people don’t promote themselves illustration won’t progress past where it is at currently so self-promotion is an investment that an illustrator must make. When sending mailings make sure you send an image that solves a visual problem – photography looks pretty much the same these days and because of this it is becoming ever more difficult to establish the photographer like in previous years. Every illustration however is totally unique. Hand written or singular one off pieces get more attention from an art director because they want to save and cherish that piece, make it highly personal.
Out of 200 illustrators surveyed only 1 sent a promotional piece and that was a Christmas card. To be effective and consistent you need to be sending 3 mailings, Christmas cards is too advertisey and corporate there is the feeling that not much thought has gone into it. Photographers have invited him to lunch but by contrast no illustrators ever have, be more approachable.
Photographers are much more business minded than illustrators, a lot of the time they’ve had to invest in expensive equipment and so they need to make that return to make a success of their investment. Artists need to be more business minded in order to be more successful like their photographer counterparts. The bulk of illustration websites are not easy enough to navigate around and it needs to be new stuff and concise NOT your entire lifes work. There is no need for more than 15 images for thumbnails and ‘bullshit’ about sections are not required art directors don’t care, if they are looking to commission you it will be on the merit of your work, and your work only. Contact details need to be clearer than the majority of them are, most miss out important information such as a contact telephone number which is vital for the commission body. The images are the hero – don’t let anything get in the way of these, Chively looks at you the same as he would a plumber.
Chively says that he always looks for the weakest piece of work, because if he is happy with that then he knows that this is the least he will get, it sets a benchmark for him. Of course he would always like to get your best work, but should he get some of the weaker stuff if it passes his benchmark then he has some kind of safeguard by vetting that part of your portfolio too.
The online environment will be difficult for illustrators and art directors to navigate. This problem is caused mainly due to the longevity of the images online, do they eventually come down or does the commissioner need exclusive rights etc? Also, illustrators are used to charging a set fee for a spot illustration, a half page or full page etc in a newspaper for example, so how now do illustrators charge for online work?
The Creative Review article ‘Where is the content?’ by
Zeegen basically slates the world of illustration for being exclusive, ‘it’s time for the profession to stop pleasing itself and engage with the world outside’. For me this statement is comparable to more exclusive and upper class institutions such as classical music and opera. These institutions require money to be able to attend and training etc to be involved, yet anybody can pick up a paintbrush as many children do, it is not an exclusive institution, rather the opposite, anybody can get involved it’s just a case of whether they want to or not. Exclusivity is where other people and classes cannot engage with the institution, a paintbrush and paint is not expensive equipment. It takes a certain skill and lessons to learn how to play an instrument, painting and art is in all of us. Lawrence
He also refers to the Pick me Up event happening in
London, on the Strand currently showcasing new art talent and how nobody else other than graphic artists and illustrators go to visit such events. True, graphic artists and illustrators do go to these events to integrate further in their practice but professional bodies looking to commission artists attend to see the fresh face of art. ‘The allure of the digital row over, the discipline has seemingly retreated into an analogue world of craft-drive aesthetics’, if indeed Lawrence had been to Pick me Up he would have witnessed first hand that digital illustration is in fact very much in full swing with artists such as Andy Smith still working this way. ‘So where does illustration go next? How does the discipline move forward?’, the Charles Hively interview with Illustration Island sums this up pretty well; people need to stop criticising illustration and embrace them more and to help the stark situation illustrators need to take more responsibility and promote themselves and their cause in a positive fashion. Staying quiet and conforming to the reclusive hide-away preconception that people have does not help this impression of art being an exclusive institution, they are not seen to integrate with the rest of society, self-promotion will certainly help, take note peers!