Well, it’s that time again. Creative Futures has passed like a lumpy stool… it may have been hard work at times, but now it’s time to explore my leavings and see what I digested. Hmm, a rather unpleasant analogy perhaps, but as everyone knows and very few people admit, there are few things more satisfying than taking a big dump, and Creative Futures is the same – on the hole, an intense learning experience. Well, that’s enough poop talk, let’s get stuck in shall we?
The week started off in an unusual fashion with a
brief summary of the life of William Shakespeare… the eventual moral of the story being that while famous as a creative type, old Wills was also a ruthless business man – and so should we be. Afterwards we had a talk by the editor of Design Week Angus Montgomery, who among other cool stuff, showed us these alternative energy saving light bulb designs by UK design company Plumen – I think they’re beautiful, and the concept is brilliant – I’ve never been a fan of energy saving light bulbs, but I never realised just how boring their design was until I saw these, which I suppose is the key concept of a great business idea – finding something people didn’t know they wanted, and capitalising on it.
Next up was cheeky chappie Mr John Allison, web comic illustrator extraordinaire and all-round nice guy who we decided might make quite a good Doctor Who Doctor. Look, here he is:
John’s talk ‘Building an audience’ was all about knowing your audience, and by that I mean the audience of fans you gather as people start to take an interest in your work. John’s most popular comic thus far has been Scary Go Round, featuring tales of bizarre happenings in the fictional town of Tackleford. When he brought Scary Go Round to a close, he said that he lost a large chunk of his fan-base, and when he started his new project Bad Machinery which is aimed at a younger audience, he lost even more. His advice was simply to treat your audience with respect – yes you might loose people on the way, but at the same time you can’t just pamper to the fans, as your work will never develop in new ways/you’ll never have chance to explore new ideas – as long as you don’t end a loved series with a big ‘fuck you’, the fans will come back eventually (note: this is a summary of John’s words as interpreted by my notebook, and is not in anyway a word for word transcript!)
John showed us some of his older work, and it was interesting to see his transition from traditional, to digital, and then back to traditional again (well, a combination of the two really) – in my opinion his more recent work, with the hand drawn lines is the best he’s done so far, but it was encouraging to hear that it took him a long time to find his feet with it, especially as this exact medium-style issue is something I’ve been wrestling with recently. One thing I did pick up on though was just how much effort he put in with the sheer amount of comics he was drawing – as much as I love drawing, it’s a level of dogged determination and commitment I’ve yet to find
I made quite a few scribbled notes on John’s talk, so I’ll summarise via the ancient art of bulletpoints:
- Put the hard work in and it’ll pay for itself in the end
- Respect your audience
- Be consistent with your artwork – if you alter your style too much, you may alienate those that were attracted to the old style in the first place
- Don’t be shy – sell your stuff at conventions
- Be confident – believe that people want to buy your comics
- Make contacts – email people who do similar work to your own, get feedback/advice
- Study Successful people – learn from them
- Be Enthusiastic about learning – you’re doing something you enjoy, it should be fun, but don’t believe you know it all yet
- Fund yourself through Marketing – sell your designs on merchandise (t-shirts etc) to help pay the bills
He also had some trade secrets about jobs and how to handle clients – but they wouldn’t be secrets if I blurted them out here, so tough! But he did say that business cards are things that get picked up… and thrown away – it’s best to explore other, more attention grabbing options – something I plan to work on over easter.
(interesting, John was saying how the panel layout for Bad Machinery was designed with tablets in mind )
And finally just this, as I thought it was awesome:
The illustrator/animator Karen Cheung followed, and was one of the first speakers I’ve heard at Creative Futures that actually said she used an agent (Jelly) something which I’ve considered, but not explored yet. Karen said that her agent charges 30% commission, which has been a controversial subject in class, as some people think it’s too much, whereas others think it’s reasonable… I’m not sure yet. Some of the client’s Karen has worked with through Jelly seem to make the larger commission worth it (Peugeot, Virgin Media and Paramount Comedy) so I guess perhaps it’s the old student thing of not wanting to part with any money. The thought of having someone else deal with all the clients and haggle for money is appealing, but then there’s a part of me that thinks it’s something I need to experience to grow as a professional. Karen said that she prefers it that way, as she’s very shy, but I could help but feel that if she had to deal with these demanding people herself, maybe she would be a little more confident? I don’t know, but she was lovely anyway 🙂
Karen used to be a zoologist, so many of her illustrations feature animals. In 2006 she won the MacMillan Prize for her book ‘Sheepless’, a quirky little tale about a small boys journey into his own body to find all the missing sheep he’s failing to count late at night. Despite winning, her book wasn’t actually published due to the slightly graphic content (by which I mean detailed drawings of inner body parts) which I find a bit strange – why would her entry win if they didn’t want to publish it? Food for thought considering my current project…
Karen’s most famous for her animation work, which includes two short films (Headache Hotel and Welcome to the Zoo) and animations done for the Paramount Comedy channel (which I think is now Comedy Central). Here’s her showreel:
I also popped along to Jonathan Edwards‘ talk as I always do, as I think his work is great, but I also follow him on twitter where he posts a LOT of his recent illustrations/character designs, so I didn’t make a whole heap of notes. Good news though! According to his tweets he’s decided to make an Inspector Cumulus comic! For those of you unfamiliar with the character here’s a toy Jonathan had made:
I’ve emailed Jonathan about the best way for me to go about making a toy of one of my own characters, and annoyingly haven’t had time to follow his advice since the semesters (and therefore my projects) changed – but it’s on the checklist dammit! Not long ago there was a competition to win one of these little beauties called ‘Draw Cumulus’ which I entered… but unfortunately I entered it too late – I hadn’t realised the timezone difference!! Missed it by a few hours! ARGH – not a mistake I’ll be making twice anyway. As I don’t think I’ve posted it up yet, here’s my entry:
A repeating pattern called Inspector Cumulus: Hard Case (little pun there) – it’s a bit messy now I look back on it, and it’s much more Jonathan’s style than my own, but I think it still works really well, and I enjoy the colours I used for this piece. Of course, it doesn’t hold a candle to this one, which if it didn’t win, it really bloody well should have done!
Jonathan also told us that the next character in this series is also up for the toy treatment; Private Detective Hopton Moss – can’t wait to see it 🙂 The rest of his talk was about the work that he and his partner Louise Evans (AKA the Felt Mistress) have been doing in Tokyo recently, including helping to design rather stylish looking Kimono’s…
all based on this one repeated illustration…
…pretty clever huh?
But seriously, the best way to see what Jonathan is up to to to follow him on twitter. Or if you’re American: “twitTOR” – do it now!!
Creative Futures was wrapped up for me with a video conference call between Dan and his friend Martin Steenton, publicist at Blank Slate Books which I’m sure to them was a very casual affair, with jokes and japes and Martin looking like he was just relaxing at home waiting for the kettle to boil, but it was a first for me, and made me feel like a proper professional (not that ACTUAL professionals would have got that excited over it of course) and was overall a pretty surreal experience! But that aside, I think I found it to be the most useful and informative of all the talks. As much as I enjoyed the visual side of the illustrators talks, the interesting thing about the video call with Martin was that he was speaking to us from the other side of the fence – the client side; he knows what he, and other publishers are looking for in artists such as myself and did his best to summarise it in an hours talk. Suffice to say, I made a great many notes, so I’ll do my best to wrap them up in a cohesive manner…
Ways to get noticed
- Get your name out there – use social networks such as Twitter to help spread your work around – a retweet by the right person can share your work with thousands of people with similar interests
- Pitch to publishers – email or just mail them, get their attention
- Make your work visible – use blogging, website promotion and the right tagging to score higher google search results
What Publishers are actually looking for
- Some publishers will be looking for finished, polished work ready for publishing… but not all
- Blank Slate are generally looking for more of a ‘concept’ – if you can show that you have the necessary skills and can explain throughly where a project will go and what it’s target audience/market value would be, it might be enough to get published
- KNOW how to sell your work – be enthusiastic about the project, present it in a well informed manner – KNOW your audience
- Prior Contact – having already contacted people who work for publishers (such as through twitter) can be a great way to break the ice
- Research the Publisher – if you’re work is in the style of Indie comics, approaching a superhero-centric publisher such as Marvel would greatly reduce your chance of getting publisher. See who they are already publishing – is it similar to your own work?
- Be Persistent – don’t give up, sometimes it takes artists an age to get noticed, but even if it does, continual posting on the internet will give you a strong web presence, as well as a larger online portfolio
- Tailor your work to the publisher you want
- Sell YOURSELF, not just your work
- If you can get recommendations/quotes from established artists it’s a great way to get a publishers attention – don’t be shy, just ask them, most are happy to help if they can
- Some publishers such as ‘No-Brow’ are looking for particular styles – often craft-based in No-Brow’s case
- Others, such as Blank Slate, are more general – increasing your chances if your work doesn’t easily fall into one particular catagory
- Foreign markets may require different approaches – European comics are very traditional-media based, whereas the flooded comic market of the US and Canada might require a more ‘fresh’ approach in order to get noticed
- Artist approaches publisher
- Publisher buys work for an advance
- At Blank Slate you keep the character rights, but Blank Slate gains the publishing rights for a limited period
- A Publisher can buy rights to one of your characters off you, but you then lose the rights to this character and any further success it might have in the future
- As you become better known in the illustrator community, you can ask for more money
- Publishers are after direct sales rather than through stores such as Amazon, as that’s where the higher profits are made, but this limits your exposure somewhat, so don’t expect big royalties straight away
- Digital Publishing has become much more popular in recent years, but is vulnerable to piracy
Do’s and Don’ts
Publicity and Marketing
- When pitching to a publisher DO have as much work to show them as possible, even roughs – anything to help show where the project is going
- DO explain why it will work, who it appeals to
- DO include emails, quotes or reviews if you have them from fellow artists
- DO email publishers before hand asking them if you can send them work to look at – if you have more than one contact at the same publisher, email them both – double your chances and create a talking point between these two colleagues
- DO approach publishers tables at conventions – show them a short, concise portfolio
- DO print things yourself in small quantities if you are able, and send them to publishers so they can SEE the project as it will appear finished
- DON’T be arrogant, be confident
- DON’T be unfocused about your work – make it coherent
- DON’T send someone your work if it’s clear from the outset they’re not going to like it (see ‘House Styles’)
- DON’T ask for ‘honest feedback’ unless you REALLY want it!
- DO make your table look nice – put a bit of effort in – if it looks like a miniature shop, people will be more encouraged to buy things
- DO be friendly, charming and polite – no publisher wants a Diva on their rota
- DO bring only your BEST work with you
- DO make friends at these events, with publishers and fellow illustrators alike – you’re all like-minded people
- DON’T bring every piece of work you’ve ever drawn – keep your portfolio up to date and concise
For those of you wondering where Back To The Creative Future’s Part I and Part II are, bravo for getting this far down the page! The links are below, but they are only from last year, and are in nowhere near this amount of detail – some of the artists featured are still amazing though, so feel free to snoop 🙂
Last week Printer John (this is his actual name) came in and set those of us that were interested a short brief; to create an illustration to go on the front of some new Glyndwr book bags for the university. The design he showed us as an example was just a simple ‘g’ from the Glyndwr logo, but as it inspired a similar idea of my own, I thought I’d give it a go…
Glyndwr University logo
The black was meant to make it clearer that the shape the books make is a ‘g’ but the image loses a lot of the finer detail – of course, this is meant to be a screen-print design, so it could be that even now the linework is too fine, but as I’ve only ever screen-printed on paper, I’m not sure how well it comes across on material… or come to think of it, exactly what material the book bags will be made of! I thought maybe they might be Canvas bags, so I knocked up a few prototypes, this time in red…
Finished Product Mock-Up (Canvas bag photo found here)
Looking at it from a distance like that, I’m quite pleased with the finished design, it’s simple, but links with the University as a brand, and the books are an indication of both education in general, and the actual contents. It’s not particularly imaginative, but it does the job.
John never set a deadline for this project, so if I have time, maybe I’ll try a more… alternative design. We’ll see.