Monday, July 17, 2006

"How do I get my work in front of an art director?"

In an earlier post, I was asked, "What's the best way to get your work in front of an art director?" This is a question that I get at just about every convention and school lecture. I wish I had a concise answer but I’m afraid that the truth is annoyingly vague.

Much of my time at work and after hours is spent thinking about who should do what covers. If I make the right match between artist and book, then the months ahead of me are smooth sailing. If I make the wrong can be months of wrestling with the artist, killing a budget on a book by having to create a second cover, or, worst of all, letting a book go out into the world to limp along with an inappropriate cover.

Note, inappropriate does not mean that the cover is just means that it is not the right cover for that particular book. There are plenty of covers that are not my favorites but they are right for that book, just as there are plenty of beautiful covers that may not suit a particular book.

These are hugely important to me -- mostly Spectrum and the Society of Illustrators. I keep stacks of them at my feet, within arm’s reach. I flip through them all the time -- to find new artists, to remind me of artists that I've wanted to work with but haven't yet, and to remind myself to look up new work from people I already know. (Keep website updated!) Annuals are juried, cleanly designed, neatly bound, and have all the contact information I need. Can't beat all that. The trouble for the artist is that they do not have control over whether they get into them or not.

I spend tons of time in bookstores. I flip open every book if I can’t tell artist by their style. I'm always curious who’s out there and who’s new. I also subscribe to Realms of Fantasy and Communication Arts. "Realms" not only uses lots of illustration throughout but they also have a feature on an artist in each issue.

I go to four or five conventions a year. Sometimes I'll find new talent there or I get to watch a young artist’s abilities grow throughout the years. I find it really helps the process when you actually get to meet the people you work with. Not essential by any means, but it's nice when there is some kind of connection. For the same reason, I go to all the Society of Illustrators openings.

I get tons of these every day. To be honest, most do end up in the garbage — they are either inappropriate for what we publish or they are not of the quality that we need. I do, however, keep files on the ones that I like.

Since websites and good quality home printers have taken over, I don't see many portfolios delivered to our office. However, we still get them from time to time, and we still look through them. Be sure include promo cards that the AD can keep. (Do not include original paintings.)


Talking to other artists or art directors will tip me off to people I have not worked with. Illustrators are a great lot, they always seem quick to point out other artists that they admire without feeling threatened.


They can help get your foot in the door but they are, by no means, necessary. There are a number of agents that I very much enjoy working with. Whenever they call, I'll look at what they have to show. But then easily half the people I work with don't have agents. Here you are better off talking to other artists to see if this is something you want to pursue.


These are costly and I'm not sure how effective they are for book cover

work. I do enjoy going through them but I tend to clip out the pages I like
and then trash the rest. (The annuals stay in tact.) However, I've heard that source books are good for getting some higher paying advertising jobs.


Increasingly, online communities have been a great place to discover artists. I most enjoy Drawn! and Concept Art.

Unfortunately, none of the above will work by itself. I usually come across someone's work and think, "interesting." Maybe six months later I'll see that artist in Spectrum....six months later I might see them at ComicCon...and six months after that I get a book that I haven't a clue what to do with and then suddenly I remember, "Wasn't there some new artist whose work looked rather interesting?" Then I go dig through all my resources and and decide whether it's a good match or not.

I picked a few random artists and tried to remember how I heard of them. (Hopefully they wont mind me sharing.) Some are new to me, others I've worked with for years. This is all very simplified. In all cases I looked up a ton of work once I thought I had a particular project that they might be right for.

Jon Foster: I met at a World Fantasy Convention and then saw his work in Spectrum and at the Society.

Dan Dos Santos: I met at Society of Illustrators and then he sent me a collection of promo cards.

Eric Fortune: I was following in Spectrum and received promo cards.

Donato Giancola: Donato had been working with Tor before I came along. I know he credits his agent for helping in the early years. (He has long since moved on from the agent.) His great work will keep him working for Tor as long as he's willing, but meeting him at conventions and at the Society has made it all the more fun to work with each other.

David Grove: Recommended by Greg Manchess. Then I looked up his work on the web.

Jason Chan: I saw him on ConceptArt. I was also reminded to keep looking at his stuff by Dos Santos. His new website helped a lot too.....I was able to pass that on to our editor.

David Bowers: Was following through Society annuals and then received promo card.

Stephan Martiniere: Met through an agent, although he quickly left that firm. It's fun to hang out with Stephan at ComicCon, but, of course, it's his mazing work that keeps me coming back for more.

Greg Manchess: Spectrum and the Society. Greg has also lead me to many other great artists.


Tanja said...

Good information to know! Thanks much for posting this. As it is, your blog is practically a daily read since I found out about it. :)


Jack Ruttan said...

Very enlightening.

stanko said...

Thank you so much! This should be a required read for hopeful young illustrators. IMHO it applies to all forms of illustration, not just fantasy. Thanks again for writting this up.


Randolphio said...

Wow, great info on all your posts Irene! It is like a window into a so far pretty mysterious world.

One thing I have been absolutely DYING to know is how long an artist has to finish a Tor book cover. I've only done a few illustration pieces (mostly for magazines) and so far, for the most part, the deadlines have been from two days to a week. Is there a norm or fuzzy standard with large professional publishers like Tor?

I think it would really help people to better gauge and hone their skill sets/portfolio if they had a sense of the times involved on a cover.

When I finish a portfolio piece I often think two things... "Hey I should be spending longer on this, I would have more time on a real book cover, lets not cut ourself short here." but then at the same time I also think "But what if this is as much time as the pros (with a publisher like Tor) get? I have to learn to work within this time frame..." This has been one factor driving me a little nutty and I don't even know if I am luke warm in my 'industry simulation' time estimates. Too much time or too little time? I am guessing there is a range... (?)

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