This is a look into being an illustrator. I know many people think, “Gee, coloring for a living is so easy, I would love to sit around and do nothing all day but color and create!”
Okay folks, wake up. It does NOT work that way. In fact, if it did, don’t you think EVERYONE would be doing it???? I mean, let’s face it, art is interpretive, so you would not even have to be good at art to do it. Eventually, someone likes something about everyone’s art. I hear many people question abstract art or the beauty in pieces by Dali. Art is objective, and beauty lies in the beholder.
At times, it seems everyone is suddenly an artist. I have heard so many people say, “Oh, I left art for a time, but came back to it.” I did not know you could leave art. For me, art has ALWAYS been a passion. I could never stop, not even if I wanted to. When I see someone suddenly call themselves an artist when they have neither put the time or pain into it, well, I do get extremely annoyed. Especially if they charge prices for their work as though they have been established for years. Suddenly, with the digital age, everyone believes they are an artist or a photographer. This is paramount to auto-tune making everyone a great singer. Having said that, I will now become a complete hypocrite and say this…. I am glad that people are showing an interest in art. It seems as though art has become a dying form. Suddenly, families having wine and painting with complete strangers is a cool and hip thing to do. I actually love this. What I do not love, though, is when established artists are taken for granted because novices are unbalancing the playing field. Imagine that you are at work. Now, I want you to imagine that you have been doing this job your ENTIRE life. One day, a new person is hired. This person has a few years of part-time experience in the profession. This new hire does not know everything about your industry. This new hire is not proficient at their job description, and although their work is decent, it is up to interpretation. Imagine you see their work as lazy and sub par. Now imagine that they are getting paid MORE than you but they work less hours. They do less, make more, and what they do isn’t even remotely comparable to what you do. I know, it sounds petty and extremely immature. Yet, this is how I feel some days. I am starting to see why they say artists are sociopaths. I am not mercenary. I actually love creating art and watching my creations evoke emotions in others, especially children. A smile is the best payment for my work.
Having said all this, there comes a point when you must know when to say when.
As an illustrator, I have been quite fortunate and have had a steady flow of work. Hardly lucrative, but work nonetheless. A couple of years ago, I was approached about illustrating a series. At the time, this sounded like a wonderful adventure to me. The sample story I was provided was simple. The author wanted a simplistic 80’s style cartoon type illustration. In other words, the easiest art form of all. The basics. It seemed too good to be true, to have my name associated with a series! I had worked with the company producing the series previously. Although a new company, they seemed to have great potential. Sadly, the two works I had done with this company before had lack luster sales. I attributed it to the editing, and, moving forward, ensured any books I worked on after were as perfectly edited as possible. As a home school educator, I know how important editing is. What parent wants an erroneous book for their child? Plus, no libraries would even accept the books because of the horrific mistakes. It served as a valuable lesson. I learned early on that there was a bit more than just illustrating involved in what I could allow my name to be associated with. Tied to the hopes that this company had a new editor, I was excited. Then the first proof came. Nothing had changed; the errors were unsurmountable. Due to an illness of the author, however, I was in charge of approving the edits. I submitted my editing concerns and believed they would be rectified. Sadly, the book itself, post production, was never properly edited. Now here is a little tid-bit I forgot to share: my contract stated I was to have the illustrations for the first two books of this series to be submitted no later than November 2016. I not only met that deadline, but exceeded it. I submitted both fully by August 2016. Flash forward to today. One of the two titles was published. As I stated, it was horribly edited. It is now MARCH 2018 and I was still amidst a battle with the editors and formatters. The errors were many. The biggest issues were oxford commas. It seemed that no commas were being used, and especially not the oxford comma. Add to this “their” was spelled wrong, as were other words. When I addressed these issues and the fact that one specific illustration was shown several times, when it was not supposed to be, as well as many being out of order, I was told the editor was fired and a new one was being trained. I was also told all issues would be addressed to my satisfaction. The new editor/formatter kept constant email contact. This was quite rare, as, previously, months would pass before my messages were responded to. It seemed I was the only one on a deadline. It was a refreshing change. It left me feeling hopeful that maybe this time around something different would happen. Then, when it came time to receive word, I was told their was an problem with production. It was late as they had computer issues. This was nothing new; this actually was the same exact reason I was given previously about the first story. So, an app had an update and the app was no longer usable or something line that. Okay, so I do book editing and formatting for a company I work for. I am proud to say that on many books I have illustrated, I have also served as the formatter and editor. Keep this in mind. So when I was told it was an app, I was confused. There is an app for that? I use programs on my computer, not apps. I also do not worry about updates because I always have backups of my original software. I honestly felt old and stupid. I was unaware people who were professionals used apps. I always use professional software. Nonetheless, I gave them the benefit of the doubt again…..on this editing……that they had been working on…..since AUGUST OF 2016. This 25 paged picture book with 283 words. By way of comparison, within the time frame of them trying to sort the editing and formatting of this story, I fully formatted, edited, and illustrated 3 other books all by myself. One was even during a hurricane, when I had no electricity and had to use a generator for my computer and use my cellphone to upload the book to the printers. I do understand that their company had other books they may have been working on. Yet, I did 3 by myself, and they have a full staff? My patience was wearing thin, to say the least. The new editor/formatter spent hours trying to send me the newest proof. Evidently One Drive was giving her problems. After half a day, finally someone else within the company managed to get this proof to me. When it arrived, it had not addressed any of my concerns. I was told it was the app’s fault. They were using unfamiliar programs now. I asked why one of my illustrations appeared to be scribbled on and was told they did that to stretch the image. I have NO clue what that even means! So not only were there errors, now my art was, in my eyes, contaminated. I am a stickler for English. When someone says, I gets mad instead of I get mad, or I will get mad…..well, I do get mad. It is improper. There is no verb subject agreement. It is WRONG. Their is their. It is NOT thier! Even as I type this it keeps changing the spelling of it AUTOMATICALLY. Then yowled, it is spelled yowled not yowelled. I asked how the app messed these issues up yet again. My response came swiftly and rudely. I was suddenly informed this was to be a Canadian edit. And in Canada they spell things that way. Oh, and Yowelled was recently changed in the dictionary. Wait, what?????? Okay, doubting myself, I went and grabbed a dictionary from 1960. Nope, no yowelled in there. The chief editor stated verb subject agreement is not an issue in Canada! How can I argue with a chief editor on Canadian linguistics or grammar?
But HOLD ON A SECOND! It is March 2018. I was told to address my concerns and that if there were issues I must let them know, or I could not complain once it was produced. I had been addressing these issues since the previous book was in the stages prior to publishing. Yet, only NOW in 2018, two years later, I am being told this is a Canadian Edit? I suddenly understood why they were having zero sales and why the CEO was considering closing the company completely. How could you not inform me of this before? And how low on that totem pole am I? I mean, you cannot add a comma but you can scribble on my art? This went from a letter that stipulated I was fully in charge of decisions and the only one receiving royalties to this? Some one somewhere was either wanting me out or these people are trying to run a production company all wrong. Either way, I decided it was time to politely walk away. Thank GOD my contract allowed me to do so. To make matters worse, I had just sent them the illustrations for the third title in the series. That made three full books of illustrations all for not. Back to the beginning of this, and coloring all day. I have neuropathy, arthritis and fibromyalgia. These three ailments combined make being an artist extremely difficult. I also have glaucoma, retinopathy and cataracts. I have had one eye operated on for cataracts but it sadly is worse post op. Seeing is hard. This makes doing what I love EXTREMELY difficult as I am not on pain medicine. I am one of those (we are rare) who pain medicine does not work on. Not kidding, they have tried everything on me. I manage my pain by managing my time doing my job as best I can. So, you can certainly realize that these three books of illustrations not only cost me time but a LOT of pain. I have made ZERO from this production company on the book that was published. As a matter of fact, in all the years (5 years) that I have been doing work for this company, I have made a grand total of, are you ready? $58.44 That includes the two books that are still in circulation. For the record, a bulk of that came from the company’s owner who purchases copies to bring to trade shows. I make more on one commission than I have from them in 5 years. So, as you see, I do it for the love, not the money.
I have been told for years now to not accept work from this company. It was actually a very hard decision for me to walk away from this project. There are other factors and things that have transpired that I have not mentioned as I do not wish to insult this company publicly in any way. Amidst the proofing of the first title of the series, the production company actually asked me if I would be willing to publish the series or if the other company I work with would. I guess that was my first indication that things were amiss. My husband and daughter are extremely grateful that I have stopped working on this project. I had high hopes for the series, actually. It is a shame that the author would not allow an edit to include all readers…if that is even true. It seemed so….well, odd. I will believe that they just wanted me out, as I am too picky on spelling and grammar and maybe my art is just not what they like. I know it wasn’t because my price was too high! I now have three books worth of illustrations that I own the copyright to. I plan on making good use of them too…..maybe.
I started art before I could hold a crayon. Without going into graphic detail, as an infant in diapers, I would scribble on walls using what ever I could find, much to my Mother’s dismay. I am passionate about what I do and I take it seriously. I can do hyper realism and make something look like a photograph, but I choose not to. I like to create, not recreate. Perhaps that is why I fell into illustrating children’s books in the first place. I am forever grateful to the two school classmates who pushed me into illustrating. They kept telling me I should get paid for what I was doing all of the time anyway. The pay meant nothing; however. seeing people enjoy my art, that means everything. Over the years, I have been hurt many times with art. Everyone is a critic! I have had beautiful compliments paid about my work and then the same one who complimented my work turn around and insult it. Perhaps the best thing about being an artist is this, it allows you to learn and grow continually. There is never a peak to learning in art. There is always opportunity to see more, learn more, and grow.