Monday, November 27, 2006

This is What a Bad Day Looks Like

About a year and half ago I commissioned a painting for a book cover. The book was not scheduled but, why not get something done early, right? Wrong.

About two weeks ago I was just two days from going to press on the jacket.
By odd chance I was procrastinating...I mean, doing "important research" online and I came across a cover that was practically the exact same image on an upcoming book -- revamped slightly, the colors shifted a little...but ultimately, the same image. On a book in the same market. Releasing around the same time as ours...Soooo not good.

I spent the day trying to contact the artist, thinking that perhaps someone
copied their work. As the day went on, and I looked at it a few more times, it became clear that both versions really were...well....the same and must have come from one artist.

Even though I had commissioned the piece over a year ago, I had to pull
the plug on our jacket. Of course, at that point it had already been approved by the editor, publisher, and sales department, the author had it for months, it was too late to change our catalog, and I needed to scramble around to create a new cover in two days. Really, not good.

Latter that day....

By odd chance (again) I was attending an annual cocktail party for
publishing art directors held at the Type Directors Club. I ran into a friend and started describing what a dreadful day I was having. I didn't name names, I just started describing the painting a bit. They stopped me in mid sentence, realizing that I was describing their cover! They weren't much happier about the situation than I was. They were in better shape, even though I had commissioned the art first, since their book is releasing two months before ours and their jacket has already been making the rounds. Still, they were livid, understanding that it could easily have happened the other way.

The next day the artist was highly apologetic (working too hard, didn't
realize, etc.) and everything worked out. The second cover might be as good as the first...I've kinda lost perspective on it. The worst part of it was that, as it gets harder and harder for art directors to work with artists, two of us sat at that TDC party complaining about an illustrator rather than be excited by them.


stanko said...

Yikes that is a bad day!

Kudos to you for taking the high road on your post, but imho that is not simply a "mistake." A mistake is using the same model, or even same color scheme, etc. The worst part is, so much of what we do is based on rep. and it takes a long time to fix an error in judgment like that. Although it's hard to do on days like this, remember some of us can still hit a deadline, answer the phone/emails in a timely manner, etc.

Lou Anders said...

re: "The worst part of it was that, as it gets harder and harder for art directors to work with artists, two of us sat at that TDC party complaining about an illustrator rather than be excited by them."

Amen. I am always amazed by people who behave as though their actions don't have repercussions and AREN'T being talked about by their peers (and employers) with other potential employers too.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's a horrible/good story. As our place in the market shrinks it's more important than ever to remember that each of us illustrators represents the notion that commissioning original art is a good idea, not a pain in the ass. Each of us represents the other, like it or not. So on behalf of those of us who work hard at maintaining good karma as well as a good product, I apologize for this artist.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's a horrible/good story. As our place in the market shrinks it's more important than ever to remember that each of us illustrators represents the notion that commissioning original art is a good idea, not a pain in the ass. Each of us represents the other, like it or not. So on behalf of those of us who work hard at maintaining good karma as well as a good product, I apologize for this artist.

Jeff Doten said...

I just can't image how this arist could have thought this was 'okay' - Jeff Doten

Irene Gallo said...

I should say that this is pretty extreme. I've had a number artists have melt-downs on me, and I know that I've flaked out on projects throughout the years, but, by and large, I really do love working with illustrators.

But ya'll are right: Once an art director has had a few bad experiences than they tend to rather rely on stock images, or images that they montage together, since they will have complete control of it. It's a shame since I think they are missing out on half the fun and so many possibilities, but then I am in an industry with some give built into the system. If I worked in advertising I don't think I'd be half as forgiving.

Anonymous said...

hope it *was* a mistake.. that's a bad move to make on purpose.

why is it getting "harder" to work with artists? i figured that web and email/ftp etc. makes it easier to work on something like this. it has made a huge difference in the way i work...

Anonymous said...

That sounds bizarre! Granted there can sometimes be only so many compositions one can do for that upstanding rectangle format and make everyone happy but an exact likeness? A long time ago, I was asked once to basically *rip off* another artist's piece "because the client likes THIS alot" and, I refused on ethical grounds.(One of the many reasons I got out of advertising.) I would wonder how one artist could do the same exact thing, twice and not think about it? Generally speaking, it's good to approach each job with something totally different from what you last did. Recently, I have supplied covers to books that aren't even completed or edited. Sometimes not even written. In one case, I got a book of short stories and the author is "BIG NAME classic SF" and fortunately I'd read the story back in the day, so it was easy to make an image for it, with the only art direction being "Just do something you've wanted to do, and have fun with it" and I did a cool piece. I recently did a cover for a re-issue of a Mike Resnick book, and I wanted to do something that was A) completely a 180 from the first issue of the book in 1989, and B)have some fun and do a bit of a different style. Everyone was happy,including me and that's the best it gets

Anonymous said...

A lot of illustrators re-use parts of images they made for other clients. Nothing wrong with that. Some artists put a bird in each of their pictures. And Normann Rockwell used the same model over and over again, and people noticed that.
But this is simply unacceptable. I can't image doing a cover that is practically the same as one I did before for another client. Simply not done.

Big respect Irene for letting him correct the mistake and produce another cover. It better be good, very good. I know for sure that if it had been another AD he would have lost a client.

Tracy Flynn Art said...

That is a bad day, and a lot of respect for you to let the guy correct the mistakes and keep the client.

A real bad day is like my friend whose sister accidently ran over and killed another of our friends mom who was trying to cross the road.

Jack Ruttan said...

I don't know what it was like in the "golden age," apart from what I can glean from my vintage Andrew Loomis "How to be an illustrator" books, but I think that because the market was bigger, there was probably more room for a variety of approaches, and, maybe, skill levels.

These days, it's so concentrated and competitive, there's no apprenticeship (outside of what you can practice on your own, in fanzines and on the web, on such sites as ",") so every working illustrator is expected to turn out perfect, highly-polished images at the highest level, in as little time as possible (illustrator mags often have little time indicators beside sample works of art. I wonder how they can manage it.)

I think even highly-regarded illustrators must sometimes feel the pinch to produce, and turning down work, even when you're squeezed, or not feeling at the top of your game is never a good idea.

Then there's an ethic of getting an image down through any means possible, and even artists I respect sometimes trace a photo when time doesn't allow more respectable means (drawing from a pose, for instance). I think this approach can go a bit too far, though the illustrator might not realise it.

There was the case of this European illustrator, a cult figure in the 1970s, who for some reason had thought he could get away with a photoshopped version of the skull from the poster of "Pirates of the Caribbean" for a book cover commission.

I, of course, support none of this activity, and am not really defending it. Just noting it as how a situation might come about.

Jack Ruttan said...

Short version of the above:

People panic, and do stupid things.

Irene Gallo said...

Hi Bob - Thanks for stopping by! You're right about there only be so many compositions. There has been a number of times where I've had an idea for a cover, only to see the same idea on another book. Maybe I had seen it and had forgotten about it, or maybe two people had the same idea. Happens all the time. And every publisher likes to echo the big bestsellers out there.

Jack, I agree with your summation "People panic and do stupid things." That's why I made a point of not mentioning the name of the artist when I was talking to my AD friend at the party...I was shocked to hear that they were the other publisher, I really didn't know who published the book.

As I say, this was an extreme case. People use the same models (usually themselves) all the time. Hell, it's akin to using the same actors in different movies. People reuse reference shots in different compositions. I don't even have a problem with tracing*, but that's a whole other topic that needs some careful definitions to discuss. It's all good, as long as the new work is appreciatively different.


*My favorite quote about tracing came from Tristan Elwell. "Those that can't draw, can't trace. And by that, I don't mean 'shouldn't trace'. "

Anonymous said...

Wow, I had no idea a professional would stoop to such an idea.

Maybe he was strapped for cash and took that extra commission on when he didn't really have the time.

Still, as a person hoping to someday get into this field, it's isn't very heartening to learn that stuff like this happens and that AD's might look with a jaundiced eye down the road because of things like this.

Anonymous said...

At first, sorry for our english, although we are not living in US, but here are same problems. We think an artist must handle their paintings as they would his/her own children. We remember all strokes of our paintings (even our 20 years old compositions) so we think it was a weak excuse what your artist said that he "worked too hard, didn't realized". All of our paintings are a piece from our substance, so primary we paint it for our own fun and just secondary for a publisher or an art director. We owe it to ourself to make our best, even if it is the 1000th artwork what we did. It couldn't became a daily routine, or a soulless job. It is not about the money, but it is about our loyalty for creation. Every single painting is a line of problems what you have to solve. Creating becomes meaningless if you solve these problems in same way. Artists are creative persons, and art is about creativity, so you can't skip any phase of creating for the easier way.

David Apatoff said...

Irene, if I am ever indicted for robbing a bank, I want you on my jury. You are a soft touch!

Lux said...

Irene that story is stupifying! How could the artist have done that!? You are a good soul to be so merciful. Things like this make it so much harder for the rest of us artists out there. To have a job working for people such as yourself is a privilige not some enshrined right and for the artist to flout this trust is unethical. Good on ya again for your mercy.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, this artist invoiced two companies for the same painting, got paid, sent the painting/image to two different ADs, and, unless he was Alberto Gonzales, did it knowingly. Then he got caught, lucky for both of you. If you hadn't noticed, hadn't gone to this party, figured it out, your reputation would have been compromised. Soft touch? Why would you hire him again?

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