Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Oil and Water

The last time I was compelled to work closely with an author was a few years ago while designing a book. The author told me that she had experience in designing. She told me that she had sat on a carpet with a couple of her friends and decided, ‘Let’s put this here!’ and ‘Let’s put that there!’ She thought it amusing to relate this to me. I won't even waste my words mentioning what the book looked like. The printed book deluded the author into thinking she could design, after all that was what designing was all about - Sitting on a carpet and deciding let’s put this here and that there.Eventually the author overrode my work with her suggestions since she was the experienced designer.People love that, waving their arms at a person sitting in front of a comp and saying: 'Change the font! Move this that side!' It gives them a sense of power and control. Needless to say we parted ways very soon. No self-respecting illustrator can work with a control freak.

Now once more I have to deal with an author and ‘his baby'. While most authors and illustrators are kept apart by editors and art-directors, this one managed to ferret his way in to give me ‘his vision’ for the illustrations. This consisted of first complimenting me on my portfolio and then systematically shooting down how I said I would be going about illustrating the book and then bombarding me with a barrage of his suggestions and reference material, none of which work for my style, the subject at hand or the composition space (43 emails and 4 phone calls lasting at least an hour, all in the space of 3 weeks for one illustration). Like the author who tried her hand at designing on the carpet, illustration is considered easy, as easy as all creative work is usually considered to be, as easy as: ‘Why don’t you show it from this angle like this other illustrator has done this in this picture here?' and the grand decision, 'Don't show the faces of any of the characters!' Then at the end of it all incredulously, the magnanimous permission: Please feel free to do what you like! 

Oh thank you, thank you,if you would please f*** off, let go and allow me to do just that it would save us all a lot of time not to mention the acute stress of having to justify every single thing within the illustration to you. 

An illustrator who has had award after award after award showered on him for his extraordinary illustrations and writing is far more scathing with his criticism of authors who want to interfere in every aspect of making a book. He had this to say about my predicament:
The author’s suggestions are in fact expressions of his dissatisfaction with an illustration which is not what he wants and which by the way can’t be because he doesn’t really know what he wants. And for that very reason you can comply with the punctilious cretin's suggestions until the cows come home and he will still not be satisfied.



priya vadhyar said...

I feel your pain. That's why I'm never keen to do commissioned work. I've done a few. But the gap between what the client wants and what you do is usually too wide. And of course sometimes people want a painting to 'decorate' their living room. I shudder at the thought. I get that a lay person suggests ideas out of a naive idea about what artists actually do, but it's still a dangerous path to go on. If someone wants to buy work from me, I just tell them to come look at what I have and then select a work with which they feel a connection.

pRiyA said...

Thanks for your comment Priya. My main source of work is commissioned work and I've never had any problems thanks to the professionalism of the art-directors I've worked with. This is the first time I've gone through such a situation in 20 years as an illustrator thanks to the author bull dozing his way in. This was about control which ended up exposing his naivete on the matter. You are right, it is a dangerous path to go on. The stress of knowing you will have to justify every line you draw ends up leeching out the energy and enjoyment of making a good illustration. Imagine having to go through this seven times.