Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ninja Mountain 48-Back to the Bull Session.

Hey there, folks.
It is a small gathering around Ninja Mountain's water cooler this week as Drew, Socar, and Jeremy hang out and discuss a medley of various topics. This week, the Ninjas discuss regrets, personal growth, geography, watercolors, digital art, questions from a new publisher, the delicate balance between art and illustration ( with our usual ham-fisted grace) , and even make a DVD recommendation!
A little something for every sensibility! :)

Subscribe on iTunes, for free. Or we'll throw a scalpel at your cuirass.

Links of note:

Automated Painting
In answer to Socar's last question...

Question for our fellow Ninjas---
What regrets do you have from your past in relation to your artwork and what are you doing to correct it? Open them closets and let us watch the dessicated skeletons tumble out!
Also---What are your goals for the year ahead? C'mon, folks! The year is still young! :)


Jan said...

I haven't used watercolour since highschool and I really want to. Not doing more traditional media is my regret I suppose. Also not working enough. Damn.

Anyway, @Socar, if you feel like reading some tips from a watercolour pro, John Howe has quite a few threads about it on his forums:

John Howe's Forums

His books are very good too.

Pity Alan Lee doesn't have a website. :/

Gordon Napier said...

Thanks folks. Another entertaining show (to listen to while rendering a demon for Jon Schinderhetti's latest challenge, which I might even enter).

Speaking of regrets and watercolours, the last time I tried to use these paints I destroyed a reasonably presentable drawing. May as well have poured acid on it. (Scanning the drawing first may be a wise precaution, or maybe even painting over a print out, rather than risking the original).

Nick Egberts said...

Regrets? mostly not staying in school :) While it didnt teach me anything really useful artwise (though some more maya and max skills would have been useful). It would at least have supplied me with a more interesting day job, while I worked on my freelance career.

My other regret is only growing a spine last year. My drawing and paintings skills have really improved since I have started painting every day.

Christopher Burdett said...

Well, if anyone has missed it, I talk at length about my work, regrets, and what I did to fix it during all of last year over on my blog in two posts entitled, "2009 - The year I got serious"

Part one:

Part two:

...if any one is interested ;)

Nick Egberts said...

Yeah mr Burdett that was a really interesting and useful post, cheers for that.

Also the goal this year is being commisioned for a cover (love you mongoose p. wink wink), that and maybe cutting a few hours o the day job.

Tommi said...

Hi Ninjas
Interesting to hear Drew's comments on career lethargy especially with little one's running around the house. I only started Illustrating as a career a few years ago and freelance a couple of years ago and also got 'distracted' with family responsibilities.
I related to the guys comments last time about the transition from drawing to painting and making that work somehow- I think I am in good drawer-crap painter category at the moment. If I can get in on the next NM review here is the link:

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

I love that this ninja trio was so forthcoming. Socar even admitted the details, successes and failures, even payrates that led up to her current situation. My wife and I felt that you have all of our problems combined (with your heaped jobs-split between dayjob and freelance, monies being owed to you). My heart truly goes out to you. Your work is singular on the planet. It's important that you keep going, balls to the wall. :) Honestly, I don't know what I would do without my wife and partner. Right now I am owed $ XX,XXX and have been for 6 months and it's criminal but it's nothing new. Socar, I think you might want to hunt down a significant other that is also an illustrator. Two is better than one against the perils of illustration for a living. Plus, we lightly compete with each other and push and inspire.

You guys mentioned that bit about the older masters being "media-whores" but you forgot to mention (and this goes well with the Gurney Algorithm talk) that they were also manical "cheaters." One example was Maxfield Parish having a secret wall panel with cameras and projectors. Of course, being a digital artist, I don't see any of that as cheating but some folks equate technical hand skills [with realism] as the only sign of mastercraft.

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

Speaking of said talented significant other. Her and I were going into this question tonight: "With only Wizards of the Coast and a handful of others in the classic RPG publishers market able to pay competitive rates,(and knowing that it's nigh impossible to break in and get consistent work from them) is it even worth pursuing the grail anymore?"

Are we entering into an age where the only recourse is to set up satellite productions and learn to market them ourselves? I think we are all going to become self-publishers to some capacity. If, for no other reason than there is more actual good fantasy talent right now than there are outlets. Several of you have argued this point before, but, keeping one toe in the biz, I simply count you lucky or mega-talented. There are only so many teets on the cow.

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

Lastly, and I cannot believe I'm actually asking for this, but you guys have been putting out such a consistently good podcast that perhaps you should list ways to support the show somewhere on the site, or occassionally, even during the show. You know, the books you get royalties on, etc. (maybe that already exists and my tiny, tiny attention span has overlooked it).

Jan said...

I don't know, is it really impossible to get jobs with those big dogs? Probably depends on your definition of impossible.

To me it seems simple - either you work hard like mad, or you're very talented. Luck has little to do with it I think. I've read a blog post by a writer who was quite enraged by some idiot commenting on his blog. Basically he said that anyone published is just lucky and/or has connections with publishers.

The writers response seems reasonable to me:
Would a sane publisher give work to someone who'd be a rubbish artist and do a poor job? I don't think so, the publisher/AD would get the boot pretty soon.

So, is it impossible? Nope. Hard? Well...yes. We can't be all equally good and awesome and these people will hire the awesome ones, it's simple. If you can get the awesome through talent or hard work, you'll get the jobs.

Jon Schindehette posted his reasons for looking for new aritsts recently, it's an interesting read.

As you say, there are only so many teeth on a cow. I suppose it depends on how much you really want those teeth. Choosing illustration for a living pretty much decides that for you - you definitely want those teeth.

Be it WoC teeth, Paizo teeth or some editorial teeth.

Ralph Horsley said...


I just wanted to respond to Hydesite's comment

"Speaking of said talented significant other. Her and I were going into this question tonight: "With only Wizards of the Coast and a handful of others in the classic RPG publishers market able to pay competitive rates,(and knowing that it's nigh impossible to break in and get consistent work from them) is it even worth pursuing the grail anymore?"

I think it is unhealthy to set any job or company up as a 'holy grail'. I think that is a way to blinker yourself from other opportunities, and also invariably be disappointed if the Grail is seized. It is like saying everything will be okay when I get that one special job - life aint like that.

Further I'm not sure why you perceive Wizards, or any other company, as being nigh impossible to get work with, nor consistent work. If anything Jon Schindehette has made it clear in his blog that he is actively seeking to recruit new artists, and it is common to see fresh names pop up on the roster of credited WotC artists. Similarly if you do good work why wouldn't you get repeat assignments?

Expanding one's client base and getting regular well paid work is a challenge for any freelancer, but I do believe that it is tied in with professionalism and quality, nail those and you'll see a tipping point come about.

Good Luck.

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

First off, Ralph, you are an awesome and success-worthy fantasy artist and someone I respect and appreciate listening to. When I look at your portfolio, I see an artist who worked his butt off while continually being hired to do tough "crowd scenes." Great stuff, obviously.

"...It is like saying everything will be okay when I get that one special job - life aint like that."

That's what I was trying to say actually.

..."If anything Jon Schindehette has made it clear in his blog that he is actively seeking to recruit new artists, and it is common to see fresh names pop up on the roster of credited WotC artists. Similarly if you do good work why wouldn't you get repeat assignments?"

You would have a clearer picture of this than I, but, I'm looking at the stack of 4th edition D&D manuals right now (yes, I've been playing around with 4th ed. occassionally-geek alert!) I see a handful of hard-working and lucky artists who are continually hired for a few years and then...what? Doesn't it seem like a lot of them fall off the radar? What about those interviews from my childhood heroes with Easley and Elmore? They are now doing private commissions and a mishmash of things (and no one would say they still don't command tremendous respect) but there really doesn't seem to be lifelong dependable commissions in fantasy art even if you're an "Elvis" like yourself. The way I see it, I need to bring in at least 2500.00 per month to have a halfway decent existence and cover the mortgage, etc. Are we saying that WOTC keeps all or even most of their artists busy enough to cover that for even 1/3 of the year? I'm not saying that they SHOULD-I'm just saying that I doubt they COULD. There are only so many art needs for them (so many teets *not teeth* :D on the cow)-and they probably have the highest continual demand out of all of them.

Now, I realize, the only way one can survive as a freelancer is to line up "a little of this" and "a little of that." All I was saying is that I'm not sure it's really worth yearning for. Maybe what we should yearn for is for 5 other competitors to reach their status in art needs-also pay their level of rates. Ya gotta admit, the ninjas throw WOTC around as the grail a lot too. It's something everyone does. 'Kinda reminds me of how folks used to line up for Disney and later Pixar. Now there are horror stories and "beware" signs up around them for artists. 'Same thing with video game studios. All the more reason not to put companies on a pedestal.

It's kinda funny how secretive we all are about freelance fantasy art commissions, book covers etc. Most common reason given: "You'll get $ what you're worth." How many artists are really comfortable with that being decided anew per job per art director? I know on one job I'll feel lucky and the next I'll have to go 3 rounds to get my piddly correction fees. The truth is we are not going to get the whole picture of how fantasy artists do either poorly or well until some are willing to discuss fees openly. I wish for the day when we can throw all of that out there and figure out who is paying fair rates-who to court for hire and who to shun.

I think most of the ninjas are more talented than I at fantasy, but I've heard rates being thrown around that I would not work for unless very hungry. So, I have to assume not everyone is getting fed lots of commissions.

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

We need more data on this topic to really get anywhere.

I'll be forthcoming: I bring in roughly 400.00 per image (per page) (averaged) for picturebooks and fantasy covers have been between 600.00 and 1200.00 (honestly, depending on the size of the company and scope of the job). If I do not have two projects to juggle per month, I am behind in income and most of my clients assume that they are the center of my universe and sponge my time as such (piddly corrections, sloppy direction that leads to working on weekends and holidays, OVERTIME in other words, that is not paid like overtime, etc).

I should probably mention the 25% that my agent takes for writing emails-gosh, the pain she endures!

So, my sad universe is on the table-anyone else? Ralph? Socar has mentioned, I think between 500.00 and what was it, 150.00 for an ink spot? I know it seems tacky, but to really understand the business, we need to know the pay expectations.

Ralph Horsley said...

Hi HydeSite,

You make a number of points, which I will try to address, but apologies if I miss some.

Thanks for the kind words about my work (though I'm not sure about the 'Elvis' reference!).You might be interested to know that I have specifically asked for the crowd scenes. I like working with multiple figures, feel it is something I can do well, and potentially shine at. In the short term they may present more work, but I think they can allow me to stand out in a way that a single figure, with simple background doesn't.

Likewise I favour chapter starts over 1/4 pagers for similar reasons. I enjoy working on the fuller images, but also feel they do me more favours career-wise. Conversely I know artists who only want 1/4 pagers because they can produce a 'page' of art more quickly, thus earning more.

As to working with WotC, or any company,`you are right in saying that it would be wrong to think they should be expected to provide lifelong employment. Indeed this is true whether you are freelance or a full-time employee.

However whilst you might see artists 'fall off the radar' I think it is erroneous to believe that they have simply been superceded by a fresh wave of artists. Instead the vast majority either shift their emphasis to products outside of gaming and/or climb further up the career greasy pole.

Whilst WotC may be the pinnacle of RPG employment they don't hold the same position within fantasy illustration as a whole. Easley & Elmore may no longer be working on DnD, but this doesn't mean they have dropped back down the career ladder!

As you have brought up figures I guess I need to introduce some of my own, oh, and I have never felt especially secretive about pay rates. I have shared them in both public and private correspondance.

In your proposition you aim to earn $30,000 a year, WotC pay $800 a page for internals, $2000 for Dungeon/Dragon covers, $3000 for print covers. That means to get your 1/3 year, $10,000, income you need to produce about 12 pages of artwork.

They publish, on average, a couple of supplements a month, plus the online Mags. Internal commissions can easily run to a couple of pages if you want that much. Indeed a single chapter start qualifies as a page and a half, and there are half a dozen of those per book.

Of course this doesn't include novel covers, miniature designs, any of their other game lines, or even Magic ($850-$1000 per card).

Now your target, set against the sheer amount of work commissioned by them (just think of what a single Monster Manual entails), looks a lot more achievable. Especially when you further factor in the time/money ratio.; a week for a single chapter start ($1200) leaving three weeks to earn a little over $400 each week.

Anyway I feel somewhat side-tracked by that. Clearly it would be great if there were lots of parallel companies offering the same work and similar product, but that is a pipedream, and why not yearn for something that's aaaavailable and desirable? Basing all your hopes and expectations upon it is foolish, sure, but that doesn't invalidate the general aspiration.

I am sure various NMers, do doubt myself included, have expressed the desirability of working for WotC, but I am not sure that amounts to holding it up as a panacea for all our freelancer ills.

Incidentally I clicked on your profile to check out your work, but sadly no profile is available. I would recommend publicising yourself and your work as much as possible. It seems a missed opportunity to come to a public forum like this, speak at length about wanting better work, then effectively keep yourself anonymous!

Jan said...

Oh, this is going to sound really lame, but I could live for a month from one page WoTC payment. O_o

Thank you for posting that, Ralph! I thought even WoTC rates were like half or third of the real number.

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

Wow. Fantastic that you would be so kind. This really is food for thought. It might take me ages to

consider all of this properly. Illumination on the business is something we can all use, yet it leaves me

wondering many things. Let me attempt to put all of this in perspective, bit by bit, in my own muddled way.

One thing that stuck out sorely from all, for some reason was the part on Magic.

"Of course this doesn't include novel covers, miniature designs, any of their other game lines, or even Magic ($850-$1000 per card)."

Gosh, when one ponders the sales factors (presumably decent to nice for them, consistently (the game has endured over a decade) and the low production cost overall (c'mon, its 4-color card printing, probably in China) then I am left aghast that they don't compensate higher. They have commented over time that the art sells the cards. And we have all seen the effort and competitive edge become a razor, yet, it would seem as most other facets of illustration, the rates have stagnated instead of our (at least) cost of living raises for the last two decades. I guess I am naive, but when I look at the fine work on a Magic card, I imagined that they would compensate for 1 months work since most of those cards look like they take up nearly a month of time, counting sketch phase and corrections.

I met ______ (I don't know whether he would want to be mentioned) at Origins and he was kind enough to talk about the business of Magic card art. He has had about 200 over time. He said that if you are a repeat artist, your ceiling raises to 2500.00 per card (which is better, especially if you can do two per month).

There are never reprint checks written according to him. I'd say WOTC is getting the best of both worlds on all of this.

As I said long ago, the chip on my shoulder started one fateful day when I was sent accidentally, the
"Pricing and Ethical Guidelines" for 1985 instead of 2005 (incidentally about the same time the dreaded Orphan Works went on a campaign to wreck the business). I was so livid, that I had to sit down and consider my entire life. We-all of us, were once compensated fairly and could look forward to a decent life for all our swollen, red-eyed efforts. Reprint rights were once taken seriously and it was understood that this was a small recompense for talent that sold books and cards, etc.

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...
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HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

As for D&D, I'd say that they are paying about half of what they should, down the line. If illustrators had bigger balls/vaginas, companies would pony up, reduce the total number of pieces per publication and pay double-which is NEAR where we should be at this point. As for the space left for more, more more art, well, edit it out-NOT OUR PROBLEM. How can I say these horrible things about our grail company?

Because I've worked graphic design 1998-2004 and 2007, and my wife does currently, and exhaustively on the side. In one effortless month, without red, swollen eyes, you can get paid 2700.00-ish (not talking about NY or LA obviously).

In a graphic design position, your style and efforts are neutered-true-your voice is lessened but the level at which the art sells the product is also lessened. Shouldn't supreme fantasy artists be recognized as creators of something unique and valuable, like jewelry for the eyes and mind, and be compensated higher for a months work? How can I be alone in these thoughts? It's not wrong to say the whole thing is f***ed up and we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.

Now, there is the polymorphus issue of how fast an artist can be and still make the quality cut. There's the magic-the real grail for today, unfortunately. I am slow to produce even for a digital artist-sometimes because of tech issues, or fussy clients but sometimes because I refuse to turn in sh** that I don't think is decent or refreshing. I compete with myself, I guess.

3000.00 for print covers is alright. At first glance it seemed good. Except that McGraw/Hill paid 4000.00 for a SERIES of 8 full color covers for textbooks in 2008 that all went to one artist and were completed in 2 months. Two more things to consider:

1) Not many really see the covers to buy them "based on the cover art" (they were nice for kids art, but they were not "Horsely nice," if you get my drift-I know apples vs oranges, but quality is quality and it speaks out from all genres).

2) McGraw/Hill is not considered generous-though they are the top producer of text books

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

If you (whoever is reading this) are right now thinking..."Well, go work for them then." My answer for you is please stay out of illustration. You are a rapist and an arsonist to the last hope of illustrators. You should want better for your art. You should be helping to "nudge" upwards when possible.

The bad news is that McGraw has since REDUCED further their pay rates due to the great collapse of the economy. When asked if they will be returning to higher fees when we are all "better" they say "no comment." That is because they will NOT. Companies have found that artists secretly fear NOT BEING ARTISTS more than they fear a life of near poverty and toil.

I did not ask for $ figures to "compare penis sizes" but it does blow my mind that on a month I have scored a precious picturebook (albeit they are rare these days-no one is buying them anymore) I am a king compared to a newly hired MAGIC artist doing 1 - 3 cards, or even a WOTC cover artist doing 2 print covers. This should not be. The skills for really great fantasy art, like yours, Ralph, are greater and need be recognized monetarily.

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

(Whoo!) Sorry about the length of my thoughts on this. Had to get it all out I guess. Also, the spacing in a text file doesn't match online so I had to delete posts and do them again.

Lastly, 2 things:

I remain anonymous because it makes me feel like I can truly speak my mind. Also, I am marked as a villain here because I am STILL wholeheartedly AGAINST IlloDeli, which I find to be traitorous, cheap and unworthy of the ninjas.

Also, @Jan: You are licking your chops because you could do well on that sum in your country. Ok, fine, but understand that sentiment is riding the demise of viable incomes for artists HERE, where the books are being created and ultimately sold mostly HERE. It's like salt in the wounds. If you are so damn good at art that you get hired on merit then great! But if you are ultimately hired because you are cheaper than a US
or UK artist, then crap! And it's been happening A LOT.

UNDERSTAND: This post has nothing to do with you or your art PERSONALLY-it's a general comment and I like your posts very much, usually. I don not know what your art looks like, etc.

Jon Hodgson said...

I'm not going to comment on anything posted but I need to let everyone know that every comment made on this blog is emailed to the person blogger regards as the blog owner (me) and kept on file.

I say that not as some kind of bizarre warning, but so that people can think carefully before posting, with full knowledge of where their posts go should they post in error or the heat of the moment.

I'll chat to the other guys and gals and we'll perhaps discuss some moderation guidelines too, and make a more prominent post to the effect of this one.

Ralph Horsley said...

Seems like I opened a can of worms I wasn't even aware of.

I am sorry that you feel so angry about the unfair compensation you believe illustrators, especially fantasy genre ones, receive, and the exploitative treatment we allegedly suffer at the hands of our employers.

I personally feel angry at your attack upon Jan, and I don't why the UK qualifies for any exceptionalism under your logic.

I hadn't realised that you have deliberately remained anonymous, nor that you considered yourself to be perceived as a 'villain'. That a shame.

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

Cryptic warning aside...btw what could we possibly have said that is in violation? Are we not able to speak openly? Please elaborate. I am not being a smarta** but I am perplexed.

I guess in theory, we should say that ALL facts and figures are ALLEGED and not accusations.

Ralph, respectfully, how is this an attack on Jan? I said that I do not hold him personally in contempt, but I am being honest and ADMITTING that it hurts to see someone drooling at the prospect of the financial woes of another. I am the one being attacked in this instance. It's not wrong, racist, overly country-centric or whatever to point out that perhaps HIS comment seemed "vulturey."

The US and the UK were only listed that way because I am familiar with their respective economies. That was the only reason.

Ahh, once again, misunderstood. This is why I do not post here often anymore. Go to sleep illustrators...when you wake again, you'll find that you are paid $5.00 per image and if you ask for $10.00 they just send the work to India.

Jon Hodgson said...

You're not in violation of anything.

I saw that you had deleted several posts very soon after posting them which I had already read in my email.

I thought it fair to mention that we do get to read deleted posts. Nothing cryptic about it. It's just a FYI that is meant for everyone.

As I was posting you reposted them.

Anonymous said...

I can't address any of the WOTC vs. graphic design vs. other fantasy venues discussion, as it's not really my market.

But, yes, it's true that my usual rates are between $300-$1,500. That is roughly based on size and complexity. Those are goodish rates for B&W, to the best of my knowledge--not the highest, but respectable.

I should point out that those rates are NOT, as suggested, for spot illustrations. Spots would be based on a per-page rate, so you could get a few (how many would depend on exact size) for $300 or $500.

I prefer not to be overly specific on my price list, because I sometimes adjust rates to fit clients' budgets. I don't want anyone feeling ripped off, if they learn that somebody else paid $50 less for the same thing. I certainly don't set out to cheat anybody, but I do negotiate, for the right project. :-)

It's a hard truth, that rates for illustrations haven't progressed too far, in recent years. But, speaking from second-hand knowledge (that is, things I've heard from folks who work for Wizards), Magic cards tend to be turned out a lot faster than 1/month. So, the figures you see aren't so bad as they might seem.

It would take ME about a month to do a colour piece of that quality, but people like Patrick and Ralph seem to turn 'em out like nobody's business. Especially Patrick. That guy's a machine. ;-)

HydeSite_Is_2020 said...

@Jon, I went back and read your post one last time:


"I need to let everyone know that every comment made on this blog is emailed to the person blogger regards as the blog owner (me) and kept on file.

I say that not as some kind of bizarre warning, but so that people can think carefully before posting,"


In what way can that statement be construed except as some sort of threat? What would you be willing to use those "filed posts" for in the future? I'm sorry if you see my comments as adversarial, and actually I hoped it wasn't that way, but if you are threatening to make a case of some sort, I'm a little taken aback.

I don't know you personally...I like your contribution to the show and your artwork-I just happen to dislike your pet project. That's where it ends. But if you are harboring serious issues toward me, then I'll do the honorable thing and stop posting here. It's no big deal. I'm plenty busy.

Incidentally, I don't haunt other podcasts, or blogs at all. Since I try to be intellectually honest and am passionate about illustration, I wouldn't have time anyway.

@Socar. I just hope you can bring in the rates that you need when you go back to full freelance. It pains me to think of all of the unique artists out there that might be stamped as "overly stylized" (something I've been hit with a few times) for commercial work while they should be recognized for a unique flare (something I'm suggesting more for you than I).

Anyway, good luck and stay busy, artists.