Buying Art in the OSR

I wanted to continue the conversation that developed in the comments portion of my last post because I think it’s worth talking about. One set of comments that struck me were from Jim of LotFP and B. Portly Esquire:

JimLotFP said…
>>The thing that irks me about Raggi’s
attitude is that claims to be an “art director” and knows best.

What’s the alternative? One thing that
is totally escaping me in this conversation is how I’m to get the right
look and feel if I take a hands-off approach.

More than anything else in
this whole publishing thing, dealing with artists is the big thing that I’m
still largely in the dark about.

I’m not going to call anyone out on this one, because I think the positions of both people have merit. But I hope that a majority of problems can be avoided if expectations and the philosophy that drives them are made clear up front. Maybe that’s just the optimist in me talking because I seem to have had more than my fair share of misunderstandings and fuck-ups.

As an artist and photographer, there are actually only a few things have really made me want to put a bullet in a project in my past work, but they all seem to boil down to actions or events that cause me to feel as though my time and efforts are not valued or are taken for granted by the client. I don’t know if that makes me ‘uppity’ or not. But maybe I can start the conversation by talking about what I want as an OSR artist.

It drives me insane when someone comes to me asking that I do work that I am obviously not suited for. I don’t draw with a computer tablet. I don’t paint like Larry Elmore. I don’t do anything in an ‘Anime’ style. I’ve never drawn something “furry” or “Toonish.” There is nothing like that in my samples or on my website. So I guess I don’t understand why some people seem to keep asking me for that… especially when portfolio sites like ‘Elfwood’ or whatever all over the web are bursting with people who do that kind of stuff. This is especially galling when the requester only gradually reveals that this is what they want… when, three or four emails into the conversation and I’ve been sending them sketches and trying to pin down what they want, they finally say, “Can’t you do more of an anime style?” Motherfucker. If you could strangle people via email I would be a murderer several times over.

If, as a client, you have a laundry list of requirements, deliver them in advance. If you are the client, realize that you may not always get 100% of what you want (especially if you think of it late in the process). Over on Dragonsfoot I remember reading some dick ranting on and on about how the picture of the mindflayer in the original Monster Manual had little pupils and the description said that the mind flayer didn’t have pupils. What a dicksack. If, as a client, you can’t handle the occassional discrepency between what you wanted and what you got, then go to art school and learn how to draw because that is the only way that you are going to get 100% of what you want 100% of the time. If, as an artist, you absolutely can’t stand to make any changes ever, then illustration (where you illustrate someone else’s book or idea or whatever) may not be for you.

My time is valuable to me. I get resentful when someone sends me a big manuscript and says, “You are the artist… read this over and pick out a dozen different illustrations that you would like to do, then do sketches of them and send them to me for approval and I’ll tell you what changes to make.” Honestly, I do not want to read your manuscript or be your unpaid art director or layout artist. My one-time usage price assumes that I can just sit down and draw the thing and send it to you and be done with it.

Obviously, my loyalties are on the ‘artist’ side of things… but I want to work in illustration and I want people to be happy with my work so I try to understand the client point of view. And I’m trying to teach myself how to avoid problems and identify clients that I may not be able to have a productive relationship with. So part of what I want to tell Jim of LotFP is that he should try to find artists he can work with who can consistently deliver the ‘look and feel’ that you want and allow that it isn’t brain surgery — occassionally, the artist might draw pupils on the mind flayer(whether because you forgot to tell him or he didn’t read your art direction)… but if you get most of what you want most of the time, you are doing pretty well in the grand scheme of things.

I don’t know if what I have written here is helpful or not — I hope it is. I think it’s a conversation that the members of the “OSR” publishing community need to keep having. From my own experience in the world of commercial print production, the problems of the OSR artists and OSR art directors are not unique to the OSR — they are just part and parcel of the collaborative process of getting something to print. Personally, I like the D.I.Y. aesthetic of the punk-era ‘zine and think too many OSR publishers are hung up on making their product look like it was published by TSR circa 1985… I wonder if OSR publishers would do better to celebrate the “warts and all” aesthetic of the small press… but that’s just one opinion.

7 Comments on “Buying Art in the OSR”

  1. limpey says:

    Geoffrey — perhaps I didn't express myself clearly. I'd love to be a 'collaborator' as opposed to a 'hired hand' whenever possible, but my recent experience with being handed a manuscript and being asked to generate drawings from it is that it always involved me then submitting the drawings to the client for an approval process — which means that usually a percentage of what I had come up with would be substantially revised or thrown out (i.e.: a portion of the time spent reading the manuscript and coming up with the drawings would be wasted because the client wouldn't want to use what I came up with). In one case, the client took me to task because he had requested the first and second round of revisions and I said, “OK, no problem…” but by the time we were coming around to the 3rd+ revision I felt like I was playing a guessing game with this guy, so I said I wanted out. He later castigated me for being too hard to work with because when I said, “OK, no problem” I guess it led him to believe that I would just keep redoing the work again and again and again ad infinitum.
    So, to clarify, I'd love to be a treated as a collaborator and be allowed freedom to do what I want… but if doing what I want means I have to revise again and again and again while the customer is trying to make up their mind and what we eventually end up with looks NOTHING like what I originally wanted to do anyway, then I would prefer to just cut to the chase and get some concise instructions and that's it.

    It's also a problem because sometimes I don't want to read 50+ pages of someone's D&D adventure just to earn a few hundred bucks. I know that sounds mercenary… but I just don't find every 'adventure' I get emailed to be good reading… plus it's very frustrating to be told after the fact that when they said “dragons” in the manuscript they REALLY meant purple dragons with green feet and NOT red dragons with yellow eyes for example.

    I can go either way — and given my druthers, I'd do Zak's way every time. But if the client is unwilling to accept what I come up with, then I don't want to waste my time (and my money — because I don't get paid for all the research and scanning and back-and-forth emailing) and frustrate myself by doing “whatever I want” and then being told it's not right.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    Stefan, that makes sense. I didn't give enough emphasis to your words when you wrote “then do sketches of them and send them to me for approval and I'll tell you what changes to make.”

    Do you think something like this would be fair?

    “Mr. Artist, here's my RPG book. I love your style, and I think it would work well with my book. I'll pay you $X for an illustration of this monster on page 52. If I like the way it turns out, I'll pay you $Y to read the whole book and do a dozen pieces based on anything you like from the book.”

  3. limpey says:

    Geoffrey— Sounds great to me…

    I also think I would be happy if both publishers and purchasers thought of RPG artwork more as artwork and less as 'visual aids.' The drawing might just be a possible interpretation or possible version of events or the scene… it does not have to be a part of 'canon.'
    One of my favorite classic bits of D&D art is the original Trampier cover of the AD&D Player's Handbook. I don't know what led to that illustration being made… if Trampier was given specific instructions or he just invented the whole scene… but I like everything about it. And I'm actually glad that I don't know what evil demon is supposed to be represented by the statue or if the player characters are Bigby, Tenser, etc., because then it allows me to make up my own stories.

  4. Tim Shorts says:

    Great blog and one I am glad to have read. I'm just starting to get involved with my own adventures and I know very little to nothing of the art side of things. It's good to have a glimpse.

    The few experience I've had with some of the more established companies was depending on the size of the project they would ask the writer to list a number of pictures they would like to see. I think nearly 95% of the time the artists were spot on or did a better job of realizing the scene than I did. On those few occasions where it wasn't what I or the other writer expected the artist was very cool about making changes.

  5. cetriya says:

    “”You are the artist… read this over and pick out a dozen different illustrations that you would like to do, then do sketches of them and send them to me for approval and I'll tell you what changes to make.”

    God I hate this… I dont have time for this unless they'd like to pay me more.

    Or the unpaid 'sample' really? just look over my portfolio.

    by the way if any one is asking of anime style, send them over my site

  6. Zak S says:

    Here's the ideal for me (“the ideal”–not what I expect, but–hey, we're DIYing this OSR thing so why not start doing things a different way?)…

    Rather than a writer going “Hey, I'm gonna write an adventure about Giant Worms From Space, then once it's done I'll send it to this artist that I think would draw awesome worms and see if I can get him/her to illustrate it”

    Maybe try…”Hey I'm gonna write an adventure about Giant Worms from Space. I'm gonna tell this artist who would draw awesome worms -right now- and have him/her send me a picture of what Giant Worms From Space means to him/her and then maybe I'll get some ideas, and I'll use the picture in the adventure.”

    All OSR writers are DMs, most artists are, too. If their work seems interesting, maybe they have some ideas for the project.

    Yeah, that's harder, you have to commission the picture before you're even sure the thing's written, but we should be trying new crazy ways of doing things.

  7. limpey says:

    Hello Zak;
    That sounds like a 'collaborative' approach, which, especially if I enjoyed working with the writer, would be the ideal. Probably unrealistic unless you and the writer are working closely… but could be an insane amount of fun… especially if you are bouncing ideas back and forth, i.e.: artist draws a monster and what the artist draws the writer stats up. Sort of like your Gygaxian Democracy I guess.
    TSR had staff artists so I suppose there might have been some contact between artists and writers. With the current OSR model, I suppose that might be harder.

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