I Have Work! (or, Spotlighting Differences Between Writers and Illustrators)

I have been commissioned to illustrate a story in an upcoming semi-pro anthology.  I won’t give any details at the moment, since I haven’t signed a contract yet, but I’m already through the concept art stage, have refined my line art, and any minute now should be starting on my shading.

As I said, it’s semi-pro, which means I’m not getting paid much (if you’re at all familiar with artist’s rates you know semi-pro pay is pretty much the equivalent of writer’s token pay), but I’m cool with that.  Because what I’m really getting out of this is work experience.  I get to see what it’s like to work with an art director, and learn to blend several visions (mine, the writer’s, and the director’s) into one.  I also have to push myself to make the deadline– I had about 11 days starting when I got the assignment (really 13, but I’d rather finish before my father comes to visit), which means I’ve got, hmm, just over a week to get the finished product in.

Unlike with writing, I knew I wanted to start at the semi-pro level with my art.  The rule with writing is always top-down.  It’s not as simple with illustrations.

I’ve only submitted samples at the semi-pro level because I want to make sure I can work up to professional standards before applying for pro work.  Unlike with writing, in which you send in your finished product before you are considered, with illustrations the work doesn’t even begin until you get an acceptance. 

With shorts we often get to set out own deadlines.  Even when we have anthology deadlines to fill we’ve usually got a couple of months to come up with something.  Not so with art.  I’ve heard of ridiculous turn-around times, down to only a couple of days from job offer to completed product.

I’ve got to dog paddle before I do the butterfly stroke. 

Now, some people might protest and say, “Well, couldn’t you learn the same things while getting paid a professional rate?”

To that I say, “Sure!  But what if I fail?” 

As writers we can send any number of bad stories to an editor, and they won’t remember.  They read so much mediocre-to-horrible stuff it all blurs together.  As a critter and a reader I know this to be true.  So, I can send out bad product after bad product and not fear that my subsequently good products will suffer for it.

Not so with art.  When an editor looks at your samples he can throw them out the window and not remember you the next time you send better samples, sure.  But what happens when you get the job based on samples that took months each to create, and are then given two weeks to come through with your commissioned illustrations?  Maybe it turns out well… but what if it doesn’t?  You think that magazine/anthology/webzine will hire you again if you turn in a bad illustration?  No way.  You’ve burned a bridge.

I don’t have enough bridges to lose one to a blaze, thank you.

So, that’s why I started with semi-pro.  I feel confident I can do the work, but I want the real life experience to prove it.  I want to finish this illustration in a week, hand it in, and finally see it in print and be proud.  I want to be happy with the work and happy with myself, knowing I can meet the demands of the industry.  That’s worth way more than money on the art side right now.

I’ll let you all know when the anthology comes out.  Looking forward to it!

~Marina

P.S.  What do you think?  Is there some experience you think valuable enough to your career that you’d be willing to accept lower fiscal compensation for your work to get it?

60/100

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10 thoughts on “I Have Work! (or, Spotlighting Differences Between Writers and Illustrators)

  1. Congratulations, Marina! Wow!

    I’ve long said that if Hella Haasse (one of the ‘greats’ of Dutch fiction) asked me to translate a book of hers into English, I’d do it for free, just for the immense honor. (Sadly, that will never happen; she passed away recently.)

  2. Laurie Tom says:

    Congrats, Marina! It’s wonderful to have a commission. That’s one nice thing beginning writers don’t get, but artists can… not having to do the work until you already know someone wants it.

  3. Congrats! The illustration biz works so differently, I think it’s super smart of you to compartmentalize it away from the writing biz. If you’re effectively getting free professional training out of the experience, that sounds like a win to me.

  4. Woot! Marina!

    I don’t have the nerve yet to tread in those waters. Please keep us updated on your progress and the whole experience. BTW: Is this going to be a color or a b&w illustration?

    • It’s going to be B&W. The art director really likes traditional art.

      And Pat, I think you totally have the chops for illustration jobs. I don’t know if you do color, but your black and whites are awesome. The biggest possible obstacles are time management and team work (that I’ve encountered). If you’re good at those, you should have no problem.

  5. Tom Wells says:

    When I started out in Architecture more years ago than it seems, it was pretty much expected that a college student entry position would go unpaid until the architecture firm had some idea you were worth paying. I had been paid for my own independent home designs a few times and resisted this and got turned down for a lot of jobs until after I finally did do a little volunteer work.

    Personally I don’t see token art pay or writing pay as such a negative as others will say. I think building up a resume is good as long as you are choosing to submit your best effort no matter what level of pay.

    • I didn’t originally see a negative side to token pay, other than it just wasn’t (isn’t) a level of publication I’d be personally happy with. But then I started reading editor blogs and such. I was surprised at how many pro editors view a list of token publications as a red flag. After that I decided it truly wasn’t an avenue I wanted to pursue. We certainly don’t want to put anything negative in our cover letters, and if they see it as a bad thing that’s enough to steer me clear.

      But art and writing appear to be of two different schools of thought there. The samples are truly all that matters. If you’ve been paid $20 bucks or $200 bucks it doesn’t matter–the art director won’t look at your samples with any preconceived ideas about your skill set just because of your cover letter.

      Of course the work is what matters in writing as well, but whereas an entire picture can be judged as fit or unfit in seconds, a story can’t. And editors look for any way they can save time.

      In writing we’re lucky if a few paragraphs get read before an editor’s mind is made up. That’s like if the art director decided to only look at a one centimeter by one centimeter sample of a drawing. Artists and writers aren’t exactly on equal ground there.

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