Monday, October 28, 2013

Saying No

One of my favorite movies is ‘Yes Man’, the one with Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel.  I’ve always been a fan of Jim Carrey’s humor and the idea of saying "yes" to everything was framed in the best light.  Say “yes” and you go on adventures, find the perfect girlfriend, make a ton of people happy, and your life turns fantastic.  While it can obviously never happen, I still think the core takeaway is an important lesson to learn.  Say “yes” more often, and things will happen.  They might not always be bad, they might not always be good, but good can usually come out of it.  I’ve written about opportunity before and how opportunity comes with saying “yes.”  Unfortunately, this post is about saying “no.”

Life has changed a lot for me since I started this blog in January.   I have a portfolio website, my art has gotten better (and my confidence has skyrocketed), and I’m finding my voice in art.  In non-art life, I’ve now two part-time jobs (more than zero), I wrote and starred in a short play and a short film (hoping to write another soon) and, to be honest, I’m finding less time for my art than what I have had a few months ago.  That being said, I’ve had two clients, and it feels amazing to have had those opportunities (even though I haven’t spoken too well about the last one). 

Most recently, I was contacted by the same person whom I wrote about in my last blog post.  To clarify from that post, the client is not a bad person, just difficult to work with and many of the complaints and problems were things I need to foresee in advance and ensure the damage is minimized rather than expecting things to proceed without difficulty.  About a week ago the same client spoke to me about another project related to the illustration I created.  My client was having a book released and offered me the opportunity to illustrate the book cover.  I was excited.  I was just waiting for the client to finish so I could say yes already.  Then I heard the phrase “I can’t offer you payment but this will give you great exposure.”  Sigh.  I had to respectfully decline.  Again, I don’t want this to be a criticism or bashing of this client.  I’m sure this client meant well, felt it was a fair offer, and didn’t even think of the word “exploitation” when offering this deal. 

I think at an earlier point in my illustration endeavor, I would’ve jumped to make an illustration for a book cover, payment or not.  But I don’t think I can ever take such a deal now.  In my effort to become an illustrator, I try to be connected to the illustration industry – and I love illustrators.  They’re nice, surprisingly attractive, willing to help, and always offering advice.  One thing I constantly hear from the artists I both admire and respect is: don’t work for free.  The main problem with working “for exposure” is that it’s an exploitative practice that usually preys on the illustrators that don’t know any better or are desperate to show work.  Again, I’m not accusing of everyone who offers to pay artists with “exposure” as all being malicious.  But many do know what they’re doing.  For me to accept such a deal is to perpetuate it.  If I were to say yes, the person offering this deal is then encouraged to practice this behavior and think it is okay precisely because an illustrator took the offer without a problem.  Furthermore, my (and any illustrator’s) time is worth something.  It’s not worth exposure.  As an illustrator, I should have a plan for exposure that doesn’t include working for free.  

As I’m now writing about this, I feel more confident in my decision.  When I first said no and hung up the phone, I questioned myself.  Did I just do something extremely stupid?  What if this was my way to other connections?  What if the right people would’ve seen the illustration and steady work would’ve came?  All these questions swirled in my minds and I didn’t have an answer.  Regret was creeping in and I was very close to returning the call to the client and saying “actually I will do this.”  But I didn’t, and I’m glad.   I don’t want to say I’ll ever work for free, things can always change, and favors can always be done.  But mention working for “exposure” and you can be pretty sure I’ll say no. I thank the illustrators I follow and connect with for giving me the knowledge to make, what I think was, a good decision.

Most recently, I was contacted by a local creative agency.  The creative director was a high school friend of mine and knowing I had Photoshop skills, brought me in for an interview.  I was pretty excited.  It was a start-up creative agency and they showed me their work.  It was very impressive.  The environment was friendly, fun, and it looked like a great place I would like to work with.  They were also pretty impressed with my resume, my work, and my skillset.  They offered me pay on a per-project basis.  It wasn’t much, but seemed fair, and it wasn’t a dealbreaker by any means.  As I left, I had some trepidation as to whether or not I’d be working with them.  See, the thing was, they wanted me to create flyers.  As a start-up, money was needed and the bulk of revenue would come from nearby clients who needed flyers, whether for auto shows, club events, parties, etc.  I’m sure you’ve seen them.  They’re a common sight among larger cities.  Lots of text, dates, images.  I was to make a sample flyer, send it to them, and then we’d finalize the terms of a working relationship with the possibility of working in other aspects I was more interested.

I saw down in front of my computer, flyer in hand (I had to remake an existing flyer with the same information).  I opened up Adobe Illustrator and stared at my screen for twenty minutes.  There was zero desire in making this flyer.  I just had no interest at all.  I didn’t feel creative, I wasn’t really making anything – all I was doing was moving text around, making shapes, and ensuring the layout of it all was well-designed and pleasing to the eyes.  This is my personal feelings; I don’t want to belittle the process.  What I was doing was graphic design, which is an art in and of itself, but it wasn’t my art.  It wasn’t something I wanted to do or enjoyed doing.  I wrote an email to the creative agency apologizing for being unable to fulfill my duty.  I felt bad because we were mutually excited to work with each other.  But if my heart’s not in it, then I don’t feel right working for someone.  The work is creative, there is no doubt about that, but it’s not my kind of creativity, and I didn’t feel comfortable doing the work.  It might sound spoiled for me to ruin a potential opportunity because I basically "didn't feel like doing it" but for the almost-four years, that's been my plan and it's been working for me.  I felt like dropping out of school so I did.  Then I was accepted into my dream school.  I wanted to create my own curriculum so I did.  I wanted to become an illustrator after graduation despite my education being rooted in creative writing.  So I started drawing.  I am where I am because I wanted to make it so.  Even my jobs, which, in the basest of terms are glorified data entry jobs (an exaggeration but it still holds), aren't the most exciting but I do want to do them in terms of knowing the reward.  

It's unfortunate that I had to say no to two different opportunities, but as always, these are experiences that I will learn from.  I’m pretty happy that I can be in a position to say no to these things.  I’m no longer desperate for work, “exposure” is not a reason for me to work for free, and I’m also comfortable enough to know where I belong.  I think it’s a pretty good position to be in.

I was originally going to talk about how this illustration took me a lot less time than most.  But actually, that’s not necessarily true.  This image was something I had in my head a long time agoIt just took a long time for me to actually make it, mostly because I kept having changing what I wanted.  The word in my head with every image that came up was “awe” and “epic.”  A lot of the elements stayed true to the final image.  This child in the middle, the trees being blown away.  But what kept changing was the element of awe.  I first wanted it to be some kind of creature or monster with a strong light somewhere (oh yeah, that element was also a constant, the blinding light thing).  I sketched various designs and tried to make a few concepts but nothing concrete or good enough came out.  I still need work in my design/concepting skills. 

For a while, I was stuck on the image and worked on other things.  Then I bought a small sketchbook with the aim to bring it with me and try to draw in it everyday.  Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve been too consistent, but there was a day where I tried to fix that image.  Then I thought – maybe it doesn’t have to necessarily be a monster, but still a thing of awe.  So I started sketching.  I liked it, and then worked on the kid.  I went through various iterations, poses as you can see in the two images below (apologies for the cruddy quality).  

To be honest, I had a little inspiration from another source.  While I originally had a different kind of kid in mind when I first thought of the image, I wanted a really fun, wild kid that was almost androgynous – it didn’t matter whether the child was a boy or girl.  Just fun.  I was reminded of this anime I (currently) watch – Naruto.  Somewhat recently, there was a little three-episode arc where a little kid was the focus.  Without spending too much time on the topic, I took a lot of inspiration from that character, giving him a cape, skinny limbs, and shorts (the original character has a poncho kind of garment, held in the middle by a belt.  Also, a hat).  I lengthened the hair and removed the cap because I knew longer hair would make the action in the scene feel stronger.
Once I started painting on Photoshop, things moved quickly.  I had the almost everything but the kid down very quickly and was toying with the idea of setting the trees on fire.  Ultimately, I wasn’t able to get the right look without ruining the painting’s consistent style so I dropped it.  Days later, I went and fixed the kid up, giving him fingers, hair, and proper clothes.  I didn’t have a lot of time, so I stopped again and would work on it another time.  A few days later I went back to it and I started brushing a bit, but realized I didn’t know what else to do.  Anything I’d add would just be extraneous and the look of the painting was specific.  Refining/rendering could ruin that.

I let it be and that’s what you see here.I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on the image and I didn’t notice this until later but I used zero outlines, something I don’t think I’ve ever done.  I love outlines, I love the color black, or a very dark variant of a color.  But here I didn’t need it.  I didn’t even think about it.  I think it shows a flexibility in my process and a bit more confidence as I always felt I needed an outline to make the painting look good.  I’m hoping to make more time for my art than I’ve had in recent weeks.  I just can’t wait to make more paintings.

As always, thanks for reading.