Goldengate: Professional Artists Replies

No pretty pictures, or otherwise in this entry, but I do have something different. I've noticed with the whole Goldengate situation that a few professionals have put their opinions forward, if only a select few. The views of all the parties involved in this whole sorry affair are different, with some overlapping, which lends me to believe what my mother used to say about there being three sides to the truth, yours, mine and the middle ground.

It has, at least for me, raised some interesting points of discussions, so I decided to find a new angle on things. Certain aspects of both Golden and Witterstaetters reply got me - chiefly being their claims of repeated harassment, claims which have been strongly denied by the other parties. I also couldn't help but think if this affair has altered the way Golden will now approach commissions in the future, but then his views are now public, as is the warnings about his overall behavior. I thought it'd be interesting to seek out the views of other professional artists, so what I did was send out an email to a number of artists who are active in the field of commissions - I've promised them all anonymity and the replies I've received thus far are most enlightening. Without any further comment from myself, here's the questions and the answers so far. As more answers come in I'll follow it up, and if any artist who undertakes commissions out there wishes to post a reply, then certainly go for it.

QUESTION 1] Do you feel what Michael Golden did with the commissions in question to be unprofessional, and why?

ARTIST A: Yes, of course. There's no excuse for insulting the client by writing a comment on the art. Beyond that, the quality of the art was clearly and deliberately below the artist's usual standards, certainly not worth $500 (however, the value of art is subjective and I see a lot of art that sells far beyond the amount I would judge it to be worth). But in my opinion he was purposely not trying to give the client his money's worth.

ARTIST B: I don't know the Michael Golden story and probably don't want to.

ARTIST C: Yes. If he was going to be late, or felt harassed by the customer, refund the money, or keep the customer informed as to the status. A gray area comes up with the customer not being happy with the art he got back. How far is too far when doing commissions? Should the artist submit endless roughs, like in a "real" job? Yes, there are some customers who will ride that for everything they can get, and make an artist miserable. Does the amount of money paid for the art factor into that?

ARTIST D: I feel that sending out a piece with an obvious misspelling is not very professional.

While artwork is a subjective experience for both the maker and the viewer, spelling is not. This bespeaks either ignorance or sloth. And I don’t know why an artist would send out a piece that reveals either one of these things about themselves. Which all begs the question. If the artist is paid for an illustration, why deliver 33% lettering? And misspelled lettering that delivers a snide dig, at that.

To argue that an 11x17 commission did not specify how much of the area is to be occupied by the drawing is childish. I don’t believe the commissioner paid for air. This was not, in my opinion, negative space within a design. It resembled the space left on a cover illustration to accommodate a logo. With a few additional pencil and pen strokes the artist could have created a context for this piece and used the space paid for.

I believe that citing the commissioner’s use of the word “sketch” in his request may also take advantage of carelessness on the part of the buyer. “Civilians” almost always refer to my pencil and/or ink illustrations as “sketches.” I’ve heard that for fifty years. When confronted with such a request, I feel it is incumbent upon the artist to seek clarification, instead of seizing on a colloquialism in order to do a lesser work.

I feel that the final bit of sophistry involves the artist’s argument about the cape. The commission, I believe, was for a drawing of Doctor Strange. Not Doctor Strange’s cape.

But if the piece HAD to be drawn that way, couldn’t it have been drawn well? Is the cape made of heavy-duty aluminum foil? But you know, the artist could have achieved the same effect he cited and still have given the buyer more. But that would have required the artist extending himself. But why? The artist had already cashed the check. And if the customer protests? The artist can deign to don his snooty “artiste” hat and condescend to give his customer an art lesson. A glib, self serving art lesson, to boot.

ARTIST E: Somewhat. But he's right; the artist can indeed provide whatever he wants, as long as it sits withing the parameters of a verbal or written contract. If he disappoints too often, obviously word would get around, and he'd hurt his market value.

But art quality is arguably quite subjective.

QUESTION 2] If you felt you were being harassed by someone who has commissioned art what would you do? (Refund and walk away, send out a similar piece of art, etc etc)

ARTIST A: I have been in that situation before, and I first immediately offered to refund the money, but when that was repeatedly refused, I made time and did the art to the best of my ability, then again offered the art or a refund.

ARTIST B: I have never really been harassed by someone who has commissioned art except for one client who had described his own scene and characters to me. What I sent him, in spite of a thumbnail was not what he had in mind and he was convinced that I had purposely ignored his intent. I no longer take on such commissions unless I have a clear understanding with the client that we are not in the realm of commercial art -- that preliminary sketches are required and must be paid for, and that even then they will inevitably be getting my interpretation of their concept. In the case of the unsatisfied client I offered a refund -- which somehow he took as an insult -- so I kept it.

I always worry that someone will hate what I have sent them -- but with the exception stated, it hasn't happened yet.

ARTIST C: I try to make the customer as happy as I can, get him his desired art, then remember to never take an order from that guy again!

ARTIST D: Refund and walk away.

ARTIST E: Depends on the nature of the harassment.

QUESTION 3] Do you take full payment up front, before you start?

ARTIST A: Sometimes people thrust the money at me, even though I tell them it may take months before I can do it. But I don't ask for any money until I'm ready to begin, and then they may pay only half up front if they wish. I much prefer not to be paid until I start the commission.

ARTIST B: I always take full payment up front. I have enough trouble collecting from some independent companies let alone individuals. Because I'm a lousy negotiator, I work through an agent whenever possible which solves a lot of problems including my tendency to say yes for too little money.

ARTIST C: Up front.



QUESTION 4] Do you give set deadlines?

ARTIST A: I usually make an effort not to, because I can't afford to give commissions priority over commercial work. I always tell the client it may be weeks or months before I can do the art.

ARTIST B: I try to avoid exact deadlines for commissions but I try to give clients a ballpark idea of when to expect the work. If a deadline is suggested I either agree to meet it, as with any other job, or suggest a new deadline, or turn the job down.

ARTIST C: No, but it's odd if I take over a month to get a commission back to the customer. I take them seriously!

ARTIST D: I ask the customer what they want. Most people want it within two or three months. I’ve been slow on some commissions and apologetic. But I’ve never received any complaints about a final result as delivered. I gladly offer references.

ARTIST E: Not generally, no, but if a client asks for it, I do.

QUESTION 5] If you're unable to meet a deadline for a commission what action(s) do you take?

ARTIST A: I don't usually give a due date, but if the client feels it's taking longer than expected, I offer a refund. I've given three refunds in five years. Two of those were for very large commissions I just couldn't fit in to my schedule. I spent many hours on the art but couldn't get it finished and still gave them a full refund. In one case, I also gave them a free sketch.

ARTIST B: If I can't make a deadline, I inform the client and we see what can be worked out. As I said, I avoid deadlines when possible, but if the client had been specific and I couldn't make a deadline to which I had agreed, I would, as the last resort, offer to return the money. Commissions are just one more kind of job and the fans who request them are clients. You agree to something and you do it. On the other hand. clients shouldn't make assumptions about things they didn't request and everything requested should be in writing.

ARTIST C: Keep the customer informed, and see if they're OK with that.

ARTIST D: I humbly grovel and ask the person whose money I have already spent, to forgive me. Then I get busy and do a good job for the customer! I send him a scan. I WAIT FOR AN APPROVAL, and then I ship it out.

ARTIST E: I apologize and offer refund or further waiting.

QUESTION 6] People are clearly talking about bad stories from the buyers viewpoint, as someone who takes on commissions, have you had a bad experience with a buyer that has nearly turned you off doing commissions?

ARTIST A: No. My clients have almost all been very patient and pleasant to deal with. In the one instance I mentioned above about being harassed, I just resolved never again to "promise" to do a commission.

ARTIST B: A bad experience probably wouldn't put me off commissions any more than bad experiences at Marvel or DC kept me from working there. There are of course individual clients both professional and fan based I would never work with again.

ARTIST C: Sure. I did a group scene for a customer, who was never happy. Again, I sent him pencil roughs first. Mistake. He keep re-arranging figures, etc..How far is too far? It really got ridiculous.

ARTIST D: Not really. Most people are very kind, whether we come to terms, or not.

Some commissions I’ve done have been the most satisfying illustrative experiences in my career.

However there have been requests for large project commissions, such as illustrating a person’s book. I was asked, simply, “How much do you charge for a page?” A page of what? And how many? Who writes? Color? Who owns what on the finished publication? I spent an hour or two composing a list of facts I’d need answered before I could give a realistic answer. Basically, I wrote a primer on graphic novel production and self-publication. I never received the kindness of a reply. Not the best use of my time, ultimately.

ARTIST E: Not ... really. No.

And, in closing, any other views that we haven't covered with the above questions?

ARTIST A: I think we artists are fortunate that people want to buy our art, and I don't take it for granted. Some people can easily afford to blow off $500, but to others even $50 is a lot of money, and I try to respect that and always do my best to give them their money's worth.

ARTIST B: All work is best based on mutual respect. There have been some months when commissions were all my income and I am thankful.

ARTIST C: I can see how the customer would be unhappy with his experience in the Golden matter, but keep in mind that artist can be put off by customers, too...There is rudeness on both sides at times! There have been occasions where the tone on the ComicArt list is one of "here's how to treat these artist bums to get what ya want...Ya gotta play them like THIS..."as if taking the artist's considerations and feelings are not to be considered!

So there you have it. A cross-section of professional artists, all active in the commission world, all have worked for the major companies, all are 'name' artists. All are very interesting responses, if you ask me and if more arrive then I'll post them up here for everyone to see.


Craig Zablo said…
I'm curious as to why the artist's weren't named. They weren't saying anything controversial
Daniel Best said…
It was by their own choice. I offered anonymity and the artists accepted - none asked me to revoke that anonymity. If any of them do then I'll insert some names.

I guess you have to remember that they are talking about a fellow professional here...
Anonymous said…
Excellent discussion. I myself have only gone through one artist for commissions, and he's been great each time. Once he was a little late with it and offered to discount my next order.

Funny story, though: once I asked for a sketch from this artist at a convention, and he got the exact opposite of what I specified. I wanted to say something, but I just couldn't; my mind was thinking, "Dude, how dare you? He spent 90 minutes drawing this!"

I always try to be specific, but really, kids, BE SPECIFIC.

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