Ownership, Licensing and Creative Control

Picasso in the Park

Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.

“It’s you, Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”

So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the woman his work of art.

“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”

“Five thousand dollars*” the artist replied.

“B-b-but, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”

Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”**

I’m not quite sure where I first heard this – nor am I sure if this incident actually ever occurred – but as a parable it serves an important purpose to illustrate a few key points about commissioning creative content, whether dealing with artists, writers, actors, or musicians. As an illustrator, I will not profess to speak for other professions in which I am not qualified, but this tale indicates that the fee for a commission should reflect its value, and this is not solely based on the working time of a project. In this blog entry, I will discuss intellectual property and licensing, as these are often subjects I have to tackle with first-time commissioners or people who are unaware of the position of an artist.

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From digital to tangible

Digital drawing software can be a great tool, allowing an artist to produce and edit work in a way that has transformed the capabilities of a freelance creative.

But it’s not all gravy…

Working digitally has taken away the tactile interaction with one’s work, acting as a buffer between hand and art. This can be frustrating and create a sense of disassociation. Bits of kit are available that help to reduce this boundary, allowing the user to manipulate pixels and vectors with a tablet by mimicking the motions of hand drawing but it’s not that same as the intimate process of getting down-and-dirty with a clump of clay or paintbrush. Regardless of the cuts, grazes and splinters, there is something that is missing from digital techniques that can be quite rewarding when working with your hands.

In this blog post, I will briefly document the production of my ‘Monkey Balls’ illustration (on display in the ‘Monkey Room’ at the Mile End Climbing Wall – London) as a way to engage with a piece that was exclusively conceived in the computer.

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Focused brief for specific clients

'Sustainable Design' editorial illustration

In what often feels like an over saturated market with feral illustrators stalking every corner, it can be difficult to cut through the noise and attain the attention of those who wield the power to commission your next project. With a growing population of aspiring freelancers, it has become more and more difficult to make contact with increasingly shy art buyers. Creative directors and art directors have plenty of other obligations to busy the day, so wading the flood of phone calls, emails and mailers may be quite an inconvenience. This means submission requirements can be strict while opportunities to sit down to discuss one’s work in person are becoming rarer.

For a fledgling freelancer, this can make it tough to catch a break. Without any pre-existing relationships within the industry, it can be onerous to secure that first project and begin to build a portfolio of commercial experience that demonstrates one’s talent in a realistic context. But even with the portfolio and experience behind you, self-promotion is key for a sustainable career.

Admittedly this sounds bleak and can be a kick in the morale for an isolated illustrator. With opportunities limited it means that every lead is of great value, and care should be made to maximize the chances of standing out from the crowd. In this blog entry, I will use a case study to discuss the importance of being specific when approaching a potential client and how to best demonstrate your value to increase the chances of securing a commission.

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Capturing the creative monsters

It is a well-known anecdote. Archimedes, an ancient Greek scholar is struggling with the problem of calculating the gold content of a votive crown. Taking a break from his work he climbs into the bathtub and ‘Bam!’ – a solution hits him. Realising the principle of displacement to measure irregular volumes – the key to his task – Archimedes famously jumped out of the bath and ran down the street naked exclaiming ‘Eureka!’.

Creative block is a common problem and a situation every designer is faced with at some point. With clients demanding results and deadlines looming, it is the job of a designer to overcome these problems regularly. So what is creative thought and how do we address the issue of writers block?

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