Thursday, April 23, 2009

By way of explanation, in essay form...

Hey Gentle Readers, its Jon here using the ninjatextophone over the interwebs.

I wanted to take time out of the regular glee surrounding the podcast to offer some explanations of a fairly weighty nature. Weighty to me at least.

So, over on iTunes we've been receiving week on week some really great reviews and feedback, which is just wonderful, and warms the cockles of my cold black flinty heart. Seriously, hearing that people are getting something out of our larking about and rambling story telling is really great. Just this week though the inevitable happened. We got our first negative review. Now this in itself is not a problem. I (and the other guys) actively encourage people to express any concerns they have about the show and offer any tips on how people think we can improve what we're doing here. And heck, everyone has an opinion and I think that's really important. I'd hate to feel we had some kind of happy bandwagon and no one dare say anything negative. Anyone who knows me will be well aware I'm far too bloody awkward to hold that kind of position!

So we got a negative review. It had to happen. But in this review there were a couple of points that I personally felt needed to be addressed. I would have been content to just pass it by without comment, but a regular listener had emailed me last night expressing concerns. So I felt the need to make some comment here. Not to engage in some battle of wits over the Internet with a stranger who doesn't like our podcast, but rather to reassure our regular band of listeners about a few things. Since we can't actually discuss via the medium of iTunes - negative reviews just stay there, unfiltered and undiscussed I've brought it here to the Scrolls. I'm at something of a disadvantage too, since the review was posted on iTunes US store, and I can't see it, being in the UK. Luckily I have been sent a copy. Using this format of the blog at least allows some two way communication.

Firstly the topic of was mentioned as a very negative thing. And that since three of our panelists are owner/investors/exhibitors in Illodeli that makes us hypocrites for suggesting working for very low wages is a bad thing, since the prices for work on Illodeli are low. For those of you out there blissfully unaware of what is, let me explain. Myself and a few other artists noted that we had a growing collection of work we owned the rights to, either from negotiating first rights deals with our clients, or by virtue of it being old practice work, or new experiments. Or just things we painted for the heck of it. At the same time we were all aware that there is a segment of the gaming and novel publishing world which has incredibly low budgets, and relies on paying freelancers very low rates or uses clip art. Also we noted there's a growing-pains area for such small publishers where they have a modest budget to spend but not enough to really pay for pro level cover work, for example.

So these two things dovetail together very nicely. Through much wrangling of code, huge amounts of testing and general toil we set up A site where publishers with low budgets can go and pick up non-exclusive, one time usage rights to these pieces, for a suitable low budget price.

Now in the review I'm addressing we have been accused of being part of the general downturn in illustration rates (which I'm personally not seeing by the way, but we'll accept that point for a moment) and worse that every time we sell non-exclusive one time usage to our existing work we do a freelancer out of a commission. To me this is not an accurate observation, though I do understand the concern. Firstly as a ground rule of the site we have never advertised directly where freelancers go to get work. That would not be ethical in my mind, since Illodeli is a very different animal to freelance. Secondly, and this is where I am at something of an unfair advantage having access to our customer records at Illodeli, our customers I can categorically state are not choosing between spending $600 to $1600 for a cover commission and Illodeli. People with that kind of money are my customers in my freelance capacity, and I certainly wouldn't want to compete with my own core business. There is no overlap.

Illodeli provides a place where I can point those publishers who frequently offer me very small amounts for illustration work. This has been an on going issue for me - getting offered $100 for cover work, or $100 a page for internals. Those rates aren't ones I can consider, and its been really nice to say "Hey, you don't quite have the budget to get me bespoke and exclusive, but check out this other work at prices which matches your budget". Rather than just "No".

That low budget market isn't going away. Its well established. Personally I'm not a huge fan of clip art for a variety of reasons, so we don't do that at Illodeli. I'm even less a fan of freelancers working to very low rates for bespoke illustration on a work for hire basis. I think its pretty distasteful and unnecessary for more reasons than I have space to go into here. So at Illodeli we're strictly non-exclusive, one time usage. And that doesn't suit anyone with significant budget to spend. If you have the quoted $600 to $1600 then you want bespoke work, you want at the very least first rights, if not all rights or work for hire. Illodeli doesn't provide that, and so doesn't compete in those markets.

I'm sorry that was so lengthy, but this is something we spent a great deal of time discussing at the project's inception, and continue to position in the most ethical way we feel we can. As professionals the market is important to us, and after much consideration we do not feel we are damaging it by offering what we offer. Rather it is a totally distinct business strand for a pretty distinct section of the market. Those publishers publishing on a shoe-string are not going away. And if we can both make a little coin from the work that would otherwise sit idle on our hard drives, and offer an alternative to employing freelancers on an utter pittance then we figure that is a good thing.

With that in mind it was probably a mistake for me to have ever mentioned it on a freelancing podcast. The context it came up in was the insight it has given to me with regard to the nature of unsolicited submissions to art directors. Rather than any kind of advert for the site. Seen in those terms I think it was a useful thing to talk about.

The second issue which I wanted to address, and congratulations to anyone still reading, is that we make the podcast to advertise ourselves. Now I can't entirely dismiss this. Of course getting your name "out there", and finding an audience as we have with some of the top ADs in the field is no bad thing. And of course the beauty of the net is that anyone can do the same should they feel the need. Its not like we're using up all the Internet doing this. Feel strongly that we're hogging the fantasy freelance airwaves with our misguided babble? Do your own one! That would be very very cool! That said, I can think of far far better, less labour intensive ways to advertise ourselves as artists. Primarily what we all as individuals do - send ADs submissions. I'd far rather write an email in ten minutes and send it to an AD I would like to work for than spend two hours recording, and three editing material which is arguably helping out our future competition. Really the podcast has a negligible impact as direct marketing. Sure, all these things add up - taking an active part in any community on-line increases your profile tiny notch by tiny notch. We're all making connections here. So I can't completely refute that we're loving the fame riches and numerous groupies that we have attracted over these 12 weeks. But come on. To suggest we only do this to cynically promote ourselves is way wide of the mark, and considerably unfair to boot.

Speaking for myself (and I know the other panelists feel the same, but I'll let them speak for themselves), I do the podcast out of sheer enjoyment. Its fun, its something of a hobby. I like goofing off with the guys and gals on the little stage we've built. None of us had come across anything like what we're doing for our little niche, and its fun. It is enjoyable to connect with all you listeners out there, its nice to feel like we're offering some insights, and maybe some help to our contemporaries and indeed neophytes. We have repeatedly mentioned how hard the market is, what a competitive field this is, and how some of us struggle. I don't think we're tricking anyone into becoming an illustrator, or thinking its an easy ride. Far from it. And this certainly accounts for our overwhelmingly positive response thus far.

Now those points addressed, I'm more than happy to accept criticism of the content, our voices, our opinions, the sound quality or anything else our listeners feel unhappy with! Engaging in this kind of endeavour is a two way process, and we want to know what you guys out there think, whether it is a positive or negative thing. I want to be very clear here that I'm addressing just the two points which I felt stepped into unfair territory, or general misunderstanding of what we're doing. I'm also motivated to take this up here where we can all have some input, rather than in the one way setting of iTunes reviews.

Ok, thanks for reading if you managed to find the necessary three hours to get through all that. This stuff is very important to me and the other guys and gals on the 'cast. I wish I could write with more brevity. And I'm sure you guys out there listening feel much the same when I'm speaking. Seriously though, this is important stuff, and I've chosen my words with care rather than to avoid verbosity.

Right off to edit the second half of the mighty Episode 13! "Ninja Acockalypse"!


Joe Wilson said...

I think it's easy for some people to fall into cynical thought processes. "Everyone is out to take advantage of us, or has selfish motivations," they seem to think. I see it in the employment forums occasionally too. While it's sometimes easy to fall into that trap, the truth is 95% or more of the artists I speak to are incredibly generous and forthcoming. You guys, and most artists I am acquainted with, are incredibly giving of experiences and knowledge to help those coming up behind us. I think it would be a sad state of things if pro artists stopped giving advice for fear of being accused of doing it for self promotion. How twisted is it to accuse those who are giving freely, of doing it for diabolically selfish reasons?

As for the the Illodeli stuff, I think at worst it can be said that it takes opportunities away from developing artists who can't demand higher pay, yet still need job experiences to develop. However, the flip side to that is that there is no shortage of poorly paying jobs out there. Can anyone honestly complain about losing out on low budget offers, when there are soooooo many people out there that want to pay next to nothing? It seems silly. It certainly has no impact on better paying jobs, because those jobs have such specific needs that they NEED new art produced to fill it.

Best of luck guys! I've been following you since podcast 7 or 8, and you can count me as another positive review!

Griffin said...

I have to admit, the concerns that your naysayer had are ones that had crossed my mind in listening to the podcast. However, given that I function on reason, I quickly dismissed such concerns since the content of your show and the direction you're going with it (being helping us newbs in the field navigate a touch more efficiently) would be in direct opposition to the concerns making them moot.

In any event... very eloquently replied to. :-)

AD Studio said...

It never crossed my mind that you would be doing the podcast strictly for self-promotion... sure every little bit of exposure helps but I'm sure putting together your podcast, especially as often as you do, must be a great effort and commitment.

As far as the low-paying jobs go, I think it's just the nature of the gaming industry as a whole... simply because, let's face it, the subject matter is generally fun and there is no shortage of artists willing to work within the money and rights constraints. And as others have said, it's a great place to hone your skills.

My thoughts are that you can choose to enter the gaming arena or not... even within the gaming market, there's good money to be made, you just have to raise your game to earn it.

Love the podcast... I feel like I'm taking shop while I work.

Cacodaemonia said...

Well-written, Jon. I read the review in question just now, and I suppose I can see where the writer may have gotten those ideas. As you pointed out, however, since Illodeli doesn't really serve the same market that pro freelancers do, that argument is something of a moot point.

Like AD Studios said, I never thought that the motivation behind the podcast was self-serving. Just the amount of time it would take out of your schedules each week could easily negate any small benefit you might get in publicity. Besides, it's not us newb freelancers who will be hiring you all for your next big gig, now is it? ;)

That said, this dialog has got me thinking about something that has been niggling at the back of my mind. I assume that you Ninja all charge fairly similar rates for similar types of work - cover, interior illustration, etc. From a newcomer's perspective, what price ranges should we be looking at for jobs? Obviously it would depend on the quality of our work to some degree, but I think it would be helpful if you guys could point out some ballpark figures.

Thanks again, and I'm looking forward to episode 13. :)

ATOM said...

Its exactly like that old tale Jon related about the guy at the convention watching him recieve lots of well earned praise & attention, and getting upset & jealous about it!He then launched into a negative tirade, basically because of his own narrow minded issues! This is the exact same! You guys are getting positive and well deserved attention, and it has upset some little side-liner!
From the outset you lot set this entire project up with Altruistic thoughts in mind.Anyone starting out and working in the Freelance field have you fine guys to thank for all your help and wisdom freely given!There will always be one or two nay-sayers!

Jaybird said...

I'll never forgive you for using up my whole internet, Jon. YOU BASTARD! *sob*

Even if you WERE doing it entirely for self-promotion (or even to promote Illodeli), so what? As you say, anyone else is free to do likewise.

I wonder if the "embittered veteran" is a mainstream illustrator or someone in the RPG field? He doesn't quite specify. And how can he accuse you (collectively) of not warning the doe-eyed hopefuls about the pitfalls? Each episode is about the trials and tribulations of the lifestyle - perhaps it's the fact that you sweeten it with plausible *solutions* and humorous anecdotes that makes the dire situation seem bearable.


dave said...

I have been listening to your podcast since episode one and I would say the main thing that stands out is that you are all such genuine guys. There's a good mix of personalities (and accents :))and your views are free flowing and honest. Keep it up :)

Patrick said...

Hey all!
Of course I'll let Jon respond if he wishes to the matters of substance, but I just wanted to give a big THANKS to all of you for your kind compliments, good wishes and support. It's great to have such really cool listeners!


Jon said...

I think I've probably said more than enough, but it seems right to come back to say thank you for all the support. It is appreciated.

I don't have any ill will over what was said in the review, and I encourage all you guys to be cool about it too. Everyone has the right to their opinion and perspective on things. I do however, as you may have noted (!), reserve the right to respond at enormous length. :)

Jon said...

Cacodaemonia said: I assume that you Ninja all charge fairly similar rates for similar types of work - cover, interior illustration, etc. From a newcomer's perspective, what price ranges should we be looking at for jobsYou'd perhaps be surprised at the range of rates charged just amongst our core panel. Just the other night we were recording and one of our ninja's expressed surprise and disbelief at the rates that are available within gaming art, so we all have our differing experiences.

As ever really it falls back to what we said back in episode one or two - you have to work out what your time is worth to you, what a particular gig is worth in terms of intangibles like connections, and go from there. There are few hard standards in this niche market to be honest. You'll hear $100 per page for black and white mooted a lot, but I find it all a little meaningless. Some people pay that, a lot of people pay more, a lot pay less.

A beginner with the right work can go straight into those top jobs. Less fortunate folks place themselves according to their ability. If your work is very poor you may be looking at very low rates. Which may mean its time to knuckle down and improve before you start charging, or take on those low rates and use the experience to build a better folio. There's no clear single answer I can give on that one really. Artists, client budgets and individual jobs vary so wildly.

Sorry to be so vague! Perhaps another ninja buddy can help out?

Meredith said...

I definitely agree there a good size market of RPG publishers with budgets so small they do not warrant work for hire terms. Often these people are start ups who ask for free work or extremely low pay. So it's good you are nudging them in the right direction and I hope publishers who can afford freelancers won't choose to save a few bucks.

Ninja Mountain said...

Well-written, Jon.
I feel that what you are doing at Illodeli is nothing more than licensing. Licensing is an important income stream for working illustrators and I don't feel it needs defending. In this instance, you are offering low-cost licensing options for small publishers and vanity presses. As you point out, the art buyers who purchase these limited licenses, are not the type who are able or willing to pay for custom artwork.

I would like to say that, while the listener's comments were welcome and we encourage such, I just wish they had truly and more carefully listened to the show.

I feel we've made it clear that this can be a challenging industry in which to make a living--much like any industry, but we've also pointed out that one can indeed make a living.
In the last episode, I was quite honest about my own occasionally dire situation. I also pointed out that it is improving.
We maintain a balanced view on the topic.

Is there a measure of self-promotion?
Having my name and work in the minds of listeners is beneficial in its way, but our audience is composed primarily of freelancers like myself.
Do I get jobs from it? No artist has yet approached me with an attractive offer...not even a marriage proposal ( which is much comfort to my wife).

We want to build an audience of informed listeners. The show is as much built around our respective personalities as our experiences. Like us or not, we have opinions and advice that we are willing to share. The show is as much for our own enjoyment as for yours. I learn a great deal from it as a panelist. In this way, I can say that it is self-serving for me.

I started doing panels on performing as a freelance illustrator a number of years ago at Origins. They were enjoyable and did some good. This show has been a terrific extension of that. In many ways, it serves those artists who may never go to a big convention and enjoy those types of seminars.

Another manner in which this show serves my own interests is in how it may help to improve the industry at large. The more informed my fellow illustrators and I are, the better the industry will be as a whole ( in theory).

I would like to once again thank the hard-working gentlemen that make this show what it is. They put so much work into it--far more than the benefits they reap and I am so glad that the overwhelming majority of our listeners recognize it.

Onwards we plow!

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

Wow...or maybe whoa...never in my wildest dreams (or nightmares) did I think that a simple differing opinion would elicit such a response.

Before I begin, let's clarify now because I doubt I will post again, no matter what follows (and I have suspicion that what will follow will be an emotional outpouring and a bit of a sycophantic denouncing, perhaps and most likely a little trollish bashing of me to boot).

1) The Podcast - I listened to all of them and I thank you for the effort. I can't imagine how you guys find the time to pull it together. It's fantastic when you guys talk inspiration, books, tools of the trade and interview the big dogs of the industry. There really should be a record of this stuff and you guys have done it and for that, we (any illustrator) owe you thanks and gratitude. I have to ask, though, is it really damaging, amongst all of those glowing reviews, to have an alternate expression? I bet it will draw people in even more...I think it has already, right? Or am I mistaken about the right to post my opinion as a review on itunes? Maybe there should be only 5 stars available for every indie podcast so that fragile egos remain intact. You know as artists, that when you put something "on the board," a teacher just might come by and throw it on the floor to make a point (and no, I'm not thinking of myself as your teacher, merely relating this to one of your episodes). The truth is, if not for the association with illo-deli or the like, I would have rated it 11-ty hundred stars +. Also, I believe in the least that you guys are entitled to any work commissions that you get from this sort of promotion. That would be a modicum of pay for such a good job on the podcast, I wish you all well, I also wish for illustration stock sites (especially fantasy ones) to die, flaming in the night, in a fiery combustion.

2) Why I am concerned about Illustration as a whole - I am a nearly middle-aged, degree holding illustrator who has stayed afloat in the industry for nearly a decade and freelance illustration is my only income. When I say that I have love and admiration for the field, my resilience through the hard years can prove it. Most of you will, at this point, attempt to categorize me as a perennial sideliner or the like. That's fine, but I call myself an embittered veteran not because of my levels of success or failure (that fluctuates monthly - we all know it can go like that) but because I view the field itself as constantly under attack, literally being pulled apart before our eyes, and to ignore that elephant in the room while we chat about wacom pens and lego blocks makes the podcast a little less genuine than all of you seem to be as individual personalities. To illustrate the point, could there be a podcast about WWII that remains only fluffy and positive? Not a relevant one, nor a truthful one. I would have kept my observation to myself if not for the advertisements for illo-deli, for which I attempt once again, to
call a spade a spade:

A) illo-deli offers stock illustration for one-time use in publications. This has been rationalized as good because "shoe-string budgets are not going away." This argument is rife with irony, since many of you remember doing those crazy low-paying jobs when you first started out. Those jobs are terrible and demoralizing, but they cut teeth and teach lessons. There have been low budget productions since RPG's began, and the correct path is that each company should work to create the very best games that they can for the money that they can raise, and the artwork reflects that budget. The companies should be nudged into raising enough money to pay artists the minimum to make a living, or they simply should not get full-color, time intensive work. You are raising a generation of (perhaps) future art directors coming from these companies who think that they can squeeze art from artists for next to nothing, or in the very least confusing enough people into believing that illustration has become so devalued as to be available for 45.00 a pop, regardless of what's in the frame and how detailed it is...etc. Even pricing fantasy art at one level priceline reflects a destructive attitude toward the industry.

I argue that illo-deli offers an attractive way to side-step the very artists you say you want to help get into the business. Shoe-string publishers should not get highly finished color work for 45.00 under any circumstances. Those of you who admit that your consciences are at least "bothered" are correct to question the ethics here.

B) "illo-deli is right because we could all step up and do the same/the web is a big place." Words fail me here. I would like to sit back and watch how funny (actually sad) it will be when that happens. How long do you think your frankenstein will take to mutate? Until the level 45.00 price for everyone's "extra" fantasy art drops to 30.00 and then 15.00, then when India, the Ukraine etc, drop it to 3.00.

You are thumbing your nose at global competition without the thought of consequence to the field. What happens when thousands of fantasy subjects are covered by all of these stock sites and there is barely a reason for even medium tier companies to pay more than a pitance for work?

3) Why I think the whole entire field is in decline - It all started when I was accidentally shipped the wrong "Pricing and Ethical Guidelines" from Amazon a few years back. It was suppossed to be for 2005 but ended up being a tattered 1987 edition. I thumbed through it and nearly feinted on the spot. Since 1987, fees for illustrators have been in decline. That is not a healthy field, that's a business in distress and should be addressed as such. I will hit some highlights [low points] just from 08 - 09:

A) Orphan Works - An outright attack on U.S. copyright law to move intellectual property into a free-for-all. Or in the very least, to force database collection of all independently produced artwork, forcing more fees and middlemen on an already impoverished field.

B) Drastic rate reductions - The big publishers are using the economy as an excuse to push rates down to humiliating levels. I have it on solid authority (physical evidence) that a major publisher of textbooks has reduced the rate for simple illustration to nearly 5.00. Simple illustration [in this case] can include figures and
objects. We are not talking beach balls and tea pots here. Other companies will follow.

C) Attack of the Middlemen - Unnecessary design "studios" have seen an opportunity to pop up and get between artists and commissions and it's worked. They tell companies that they are a "one-stop shop" and then turn around and hire out everything that takes talent or creativity while scooping out 30% or more.

Agents (yes, I have one) are allowing all of this to go on, citing the poor economy and asking
illustrators to work for less, but have they reduced their % down from 25%? No.

You may be asking yourself what some of this has to do with the simple yearning to produce fantasy artwork for the (few) ethically sound companies like WOTC? Well, all I'm saying is that it's not that simple anymore and I think that at least one podcast could address the writing on the wall, pulling back the sheet to reveal that there is a gross tentacled underbelly to all of this that is
scarier than anything I've seen in the Monster Manuals, driven by greed and an irreverence to what we hold dear as illustrators.

Ninja Mountain said...

Hyde - I'll let Jon speak for himself (because it's his site, and his post you are railing against), but really I have to ask... where has anything on this site or our podcast led you to believe that anyone here (us or our listeners) would engage in either "trollish bashing" or "sycophantic denouncing"?? I mean, even on the newest podcast we thanked you for your feedback on iTunes along with the other commenters. Did that sound "trollish" to you?

Come on, cut us just a LITTLE slack. Just because we disagree doesn't mean we hate you, nor (I'm sure) do our listeners. I hope you do come back for more discussion in the future.


Ninja Mountain said...

Hello Hydesite_2020,

Jeremy here--

Please do not feel attacked.
You raise good points here and your passion is commendable.
That you enjoy the show and its goals is heartening to me. Your review suggested otherwise, but your comments here in this forum clarify things considerably.
Dissenting opinions are indeed valuable and I doubt anyone here would engage in " sycophantic denouncing" or "trollish" behavior ( as Patrick points out).

I certainly hope I haven't come across as such.

Disagreement can be the germ of excellent conversation.

My question to you is:

In what way is the licensing of artwork to low-paying publishers any different from offering artwork for license to -say- a puzzle manufacturer?

In each instance, a price is set and a single usage is prescribed.
There is no guarantee to either the artist or to the publisher that a desired image will be found in the existing portfolio or that they will be the sole licensee of the image.
If a new image is required, then a fair price for the work and usage will be negotiated. A different animal entirely and one that all at IlloDeli are quite savvy about.

The problem with "stock houses" is that they remove that level of control from the originating author of the work. The author is signing away the maintenance of their licenses and that has proven to be damaging on a variety of levels as trends in the industry have shown.

IlloDeli is a group of artists offering single-use licenses to their own work. Not a stock house. Not clip art. Merely artists offering licenses to their work for prices they themselves set and to a particular demographic..

In practice, it is no different than what guest artist and fellow Ninja, Anne Stokes, does as a licensing artist.

Now, if the price is what you take exception to, then that is a different can of worms and whose discussion is more easily and fairly couched in the language of personal opinion.

Your thoughts on the subject of stock art and the illustration marketplace are valid and have been the topic of much worthy discussion by those in the illustration field, but I feel you have mis-categorized IlloDeli.
A simple misunderstanding.

No one here would bash a conscientious individual such as yourself for this.
In fact you are to be respected for coming forward with your concerns, even if they seem misplaced.

Please do come back, Hydesite. Your recent post here has provided some excellent topics for the show and I don't doubt your continued input would be valuable.


Jon said...

I'm really glad you came over this way to post Hydesight. Any chance of a name? It's just weird talking to a handle.

I think there's a couple of things going on here.

One is your concern that we don't want a dissenting opinion. I covered that several times. That absolutely is not my issue with what you had to say. I was concerned by the insuation our panel were doing this out of cynical motives, and a mischaracterisation of what Illodeli does. I absolutely welcome your review, and we thanked you on the show for posting it. You should have used a real name, and maybe we could have given your business the teeny bit of extra exposure we give all our reviewers. You are absolutely correct, we expect some criticism, and this discussion is all part of that very healthy process.

Ok, to discuss a little, you seem very sure of the one correct way to deal with issues of low pay, stock art, the state of the industry and what we should be discussing on the podcast. Whereas in fact we just have the differing opinions you're quite rightly keen on. I just don't see industry issues in quite such a black and white context.

I didn't refer to anyone starting their own stock art site. I was talking about their own podcast. Quite a different thing. We haven't yet felt the need to tackle the issues you raise. I don't know if we will, but there's certainly no agenda to ignore those more negative and weighty things. Most of our content is quite light. Yup, guilty as charged, that strikes me as a fair critcism of the show, but equally a matter of taste and "art direction", if you will. This is something that would need serious discussion with the other guys in the core team, but do you want to come on the show? Me and you could record a segment about some of these issues.

Illodeli has never been advertised on the podcast. I repeat, it was brought up in the context of my experiences in the role of "art director". And as mentioned that was probably inappropriate to the show. I wouldn't consider it an appropriate venue to advertise in anyway! Our listeners ate not illodeli customers.

Illodeli is not as simple as a stock art site, but I think it's likely that the best course on that topic is to agree to differ. I simply don't see the closed shop approach where anyone not meeting certain budgetary requirements is denied artwork as remotely workable or realistic. But I certainly used to think along those lines. Certainly it is an issue ripe for discussion.

Before I get too long winded I just want to add to everyone reading this this discussion that I absolutely do not want to see any attacks on Hydesight's character or working experience or anything like that. Feel free to express your opinions of all our respective views and comments, but my whole issue here is about respecting people's motives and good character. Let's keep it on a professional level.


Jon said...

Oh! Apologies for mispelling you handle, Hydesite! I'm foolishly typing this on my iPod touch, and it's murder. It also explains some of the typos in my last post! Sorry about those!

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

Patrick, (btw, I think you are the best host on the show and your work is looking great-wry wit is what the show needs imho) I found it funny that you and some others were so hung up on my idea that there might be some emotionally charged comments in response to all of this. Instead, this post might be down to only us, which is even better. The reason I am taking time to write this, is that I hope so much that you guys will address some of the dark forces complicating what should be a wonderfully simple field. I found it curious that you have the notion that "all illustrators are basically amiable, warm and generous." The first thing I learned in art school was that there were angry jock illustrators, bat-shit crazy illustrators, elitists and ass kissers in every class. The only unifying principles of illustrators are what we do and how we do it, not who we are as personalities. Largely the idea of the "brotherhood" exists due to the two extreme sides of the coin: the hateful all-nighters where we just about swear it off forever, and the high that we get when the work looks good and we get paid for it. It's a naive notion from a set of smart guys.

Which brings me to Jeremy, (also good on the show; keep the clunky jokes coming; you actually do seem like a nice guy and your work has a unique vein) how can price be a matter of only opinion? This is really the core of the problem. Until illustrators start laying their prices out on the table in forums and on podcasts, we will remain under this blanket of uncertainty. The idea that there is a simple way to determine what we are all worth based on mystical self-examination is garbage. The reality is that most of our outlets are setting up budgets and we take on the work if our schedule permits and we feel we are doing "ok" because most of us are terrified that there is a month around the corner without work. It's this kind of uncertainty that has made illustration one of the only jobs on the planet that has not had a cost of living raise (see Pricing and Ethical Guidelines over the years) in 20 years and in most cases has slid downward. Becoming a valued "brand based on skill" is a nice little idea too, but will only happen to a handful of illustrators, ever. I set my prices by the highest commissions offered to me thus far, round up for every award that I win and I flat-out (politely) argue up all of my commissions. That's right. I have fought for an extra couple hundred almost every time I've been hired in that past several years and it's worked every time because they KNOW they are low balling us constantly. And yes, I have return work from those low-ballers. Reminding them that they are screwing us out of doing this full-time is a good thing because if we all sent that message simultaneously, we would not be in strife as an industry.

Jon, if you are saying that you have not felt the pinch on paid work, then good for you. The sun does shine out of some illustrator's asses-I saw Cliff Neilson speak one time and he said that he was just lucky! I have to ask though, if things are going so well, why would you give "extra" art away for a few dollars? That shouldn't be worth the trouble for a super star who is above the abusive line. But saying that shows your ignorance of the history of the field. We produce a unique product that (most times) is nearly the sole draw to these magazines, games and books. We should all be living a dignified existence, not eating cheese wiz on white rice like poor Socar was back in the day. It would appear that most of us, even mid-tier types were making a better than decent living in days past.

...and as for you, scarecrow....(sorry but I'm beginning to feel like Oz here).

I think artists are simply ill-equiped to deal with the business side of illustration (even with all the training and guidebooks in the world) and the company heads have basically become masachists, torturing and learning new ways to abuse us. This can only go on as long as we put up with it. Like I say to my illustration pals, "There seem to be no lines in the sand." The practice of giving away full-color, finished paintings to shoestring-budget companies is bad business. At its worst, it's a further erosion of the entire field of illustration, to which the fantasy/sci-fi has so far been in a slightly safe bubble. At it's best, it's "selling out" for pennies in the guise of feeling like you have a novel idea for a online shop. By the way, I saw that there actually are some black-and-white illustrations on there for 3.00 and I really have to ask what the point is at that price? And there's no way you are policing usage for that money. Are you going to fly across the pond and sue an indie game company for using it more than once? I'd honestly rather go downtown, setup my laptop at a coffee shop and put a tip jar beside me.

Jon said...

It is interesting how slowly I think we're boiling down the the real issues.

I've always said I'm very lucky, and have done so on the show, its hard to think otherwise.

I'm still looking for a real name here, given that in this discussion you seem to be asking for a high level of a certain kind of integrity from all illustrators. Its a shame to have what could be a decent debate mired in John Gabriel's greater theory.That aside, and also putting aside the hilarious divide and conquer (ooh Patrick I love you, Jeremy you're great, Jon you stink) which I genuinely "lolled" at, to coin a phrase, I think we have an interesting discussion underneath all that.

Now here's my issue with the kind of protectionism you seem to be advocating here Hydesite. We could look at somewhere like Germany, where if memory serves, all construction work has to be charged at fixed rate, with given rates for each kind of job. A few years back I really advocated this kind of thing in illustration. But then something occured to me. Whilst it would suit me personally, and in Germany all builders have to train to an excellent standard or they just can't work, that kind of protectionism would actually completely cut the guys you're looking to protect right out of the market. If every company had to pay (let's say) GAG rates for every illustration job, then suddenly 75% of working illustrators don't make the grade and a much higher number of companies in rpgs suddenly can't hire anyone at all. They can't magically boost their budgets because they are told to. Now, much as I really wish some companies aimed a bit higher in terms of generating sales, and thereby pay us all a little more, such a move would simply push most companies to stock art sites and photography as we have seen in so many other markets. Mid tier folks like yourself (if I'm reading right) would be left with the option to work for stock sites or find other employment. Or more realistically work "off list" in some kind of black market which would ironically closely resemble what we see now.

Now when I used to believe in that kind of thing I, probably much like you, envisaged setting the minimum rates at just below where I was. And you know what? That's what everyone out there working in illustration already does.

I recall a conversation with a Magic Artist at UK Gencon many years back. He was looking over my folio, and asked how much I was getting paid for my AEG ccg work. A couple of hundred bucks a card. He was appalled, and gave me a lecture about working on such low pay. And in many ways he had a point. If no one accepted that work then companies couldn't pay that "low". In others he didn't. Back then if I could do 5 or 6 such cards a month I could pay my bills and make more than I had done in any other job. I could do 2 cards in a day (heh, I since have improved my own standards a little!) so was actually earning pretty good money on an hourly basis. I was young, had no dependants, lived in a really rough area in rented accomodation, so I was able to work at, what seemed to a Magic artist, cheaply and make good money at it by my own measure. And that "low paid" gig really helped me work towards bigger things. But in a protectionist market those gigs go to the wall.

Now I've picked a specific line in the sand, but it holds true where ever you draw it. Should $100 per page be a minimum rate for greyscale artwork? A whole bunch of quite reputable reliable small presses go out of business, a whole bunch of my friends in illustration who are still building their folios go out of business too.

How do we integrate stuff like work for hire into this equation? A lot of people do work for hire on low, dare I say mid tier rates? Those rates are arguably too low to make a full time living on, and thus hurt the market. One could argue they have done more to harm the trade of illustration than the existence of all stock art combined.

In that sense we're all guilty of falling short of the glory, if you will. We all take on less than ideal jobs as part of being jobbing illustrators.

Now, just thinking about it we have actually tackled this stuff several times on the cast. And we all agreed if I remember rightly that there are certain practical minimums at which you are just kidding yourself. I'm sure we agree on that point? Ironically enough it was me who came out with some of the most honest and hard hitting stuff on that topic. Whilst I have reservations about an entirely free market, I do think the benefits of such outweigh the negatives.

Certainly if I believed it were possible to change the market I would be all for it. I would also like a pony.

For me, realistically it falls to individuals to police themselves, rather than look to some greater power to provide better pay and conditions. People need to look to their own needs, and be trusted to hold the illustration market in respect, because it simply cannot be enforced. And people can have very divergent views on what harms the market. We could so easily slip into a poop flinging contest where I say "you low paid middle tier people wages down, wise up!" and you continue to fling poop at me about Illodeli. But I do not see things the same way as you and vice versa. Actually both positions have merit when equitably laid out sans accompanying poop.

I'm somewhat confused by your mention of haggling. Doesn't everyone do that? They should, and I certainly do. And I think your obvious bitterness betrays you here. Companies aren't all lowballing (though hey, sure, some certainly are!), they're just doing business. You offer low initially - that's just widespread and standard practice - its not a personal slight. It is, as you rightly say, up to us as individuals to stand firm and ask for what we're worth. People who meekly accept what is offered are doing it wrong. However, you cannot in any realistic way expect companies to offer the highest level of pay they can possibly afford from the get go? Everyone is looking to make money here, and there are arguments to suggest in the long term companies being run with hard views on these things do better. Which means continued work for the people they employ.

I don't know, I too have been down this route of feeling constantly undervalued, underpaid and overworked. And it made me very bitter indeed. I still feel those things to an extent, but in earlier days I saw that there was something wrong with the whole business, that everything was going to hell in a handbasket and there was nothing to be done. And so I would externalise that by attacking people who didn't meet my vision of how things should be. Long term that wasn't working for me.

But somehow I got through that. I don't honestly know what happened - I think I just recognised this anger and resentment was affecting my work, my business relationships and my personal life.

I see it going on here. You have interesting points to make, under the ad hominem, and I think by the NM hosts working hard to remain dignified in the face of what really is now shit-flinging, we've wrestled a decent conversation out of it. But its a shame because if you weren't so bitter in your approach you could have gone about things very differently and made much more ground in discussion on these issues.

Anonymous said...

Hi Hydesite! Scarecrow here... erm, I mean Andy here, finally getting around to posting up on the NMS blog (I wish I had scarecrow hair!). Its really interesting to hear your views and opinions about the industry and some of what you say I have heard corroborated elsewhere, such as the slow upwards movement of illustration rates.

However I simply don't share your grim outlook on the nature of the industry at all - I think (and of course, it is MY opinion) that there have never been so many opportunities for illustrators out there. But it may simply be a case of agreeing to disagree. There's more than enough space for everyone's views out there.

As an exhibitor on Illodeli I also disagree with your views expressed. Its cheap. Yup. It sells work cheaper than I'd take a commission for? Oh lord, yes!! But it does not cater to that market, and it never will. I'll eat Jon's hat the day Illodeli impacts on my everyday illustration business, and I'll eat my own hat the day small press publishers stop asking for work for hire full page illos for $10. Not going to happen. But again, I'm happy to shrug, fill our glasses and appreciate the lens you've brought to my views on the subjects raised. I questioned myself, which is no bad thing.

I think it would make an excellent discussion for a future podcast - and in the way of face to face discussion (rather than the very imperfect beast which is forums/blogs) we'd probably find that we're not so far apart after all.

Thanks again, and thanks to everyone who has taken the time to comment on the Podcast. Cheers all :)

Cacodaemonia said...

Hm, fascinating discussion going on here. I honestly would like to see Hydesite on the show so you could all has this out and express your opinions in a more flame-retardant setting. ;)

P.J. Magalhães said...

Jon - you want a pony? Really? That's just disturbing in so many many ways... and yet cool at the same time! :D :D

Absolutely awesome conduct on your part guys, always respectful, thoughtful and considerate. You handle yourselves really well and i appreciate it immensely.

Keep up the great work.