Thursday, July 18, 2013

You win some

After all these years, my first kill fee!

Not that illustration jobs haven't ended awkwardly before, or disappeared without a trace. They merit their own posts someday.

But this is the first time a project ended prematurely in a purely professional manner — with the client calling it off and paying a fee for services up to that point.

The so-called kill fee! Sounds tough.

Funny thing is, I hadn't stipulated a kill fee. I stopped stipulating long ago because it never happened and clients don't profess to read the paperwork anyway. Which is obvious because my paperwork also stipulates a third of project costs before work begins, then a third midway, and the final third on delivery.
How many have paid that way in nearly 20 years? I can count them on one hand. I have long learned to live by 30 days net. Hurry up with the illustration, wait on payment.

(I know, I besmirch the professional standards for all illustrators by my actions. Or lake thereof. Branded. Break my pencils across your knee, kick me out of the club.)

This kill fee was happenstance, the client being one of the few to read and honor the third-third-third stipulation. A stand-up gesture.

No names here. It's a startup venture and the business partners want a mid-Century pinup girl to augment their ancillary promotions, tying into an overarching theme.

I had provided work before to Partner A in another venture, and this partner called me in to work on the new project.

Red flags flew from the start.

Partner A: This is a startup operation and budget is critical was the first red flag. Though frank and upfront, it's also code for "I'd like more than I can really pay you for." Better a client lays out a number at the start, and we figure out how to fit illustration services to it.

Next was when Partner 1 summoned me for an appointment on site to explain the scope of the project.

Except Partner 1 was late. And Partner 2 had never heard of me, didn't know why I was there. A sign painter? No. Partner 2's eyes clouded slightly when I explained. When Partner 1 finally arrived to reiterate this unilateral decision, Partner 2 shot Partner 1 sly sidelong glances while keeping composure with me.

Sexy redhead cartoonish character is how Partner 1 described the project to me at first contact. A vixen delivered from a Vargas or Elvgren painting is the way Partner 2 wanted it. In an illustration likely to be printed in two colors. I could feel the continents drifting apart.

A realistic digital line-art woman, with proportions edging toward Jessica Rabbit, and a few color options depending on budget — that's the project we talked out on the spot, the project we agreed to, the project I quoted in the paperwork.

A bit Scarlett Johansson. I'm never entirely sure
how drawings will turn out …
Proceed, said Partner 1.

So began a flurry of sketches. Though I proposed a short series of very quick poses for the first round of the project, I sent instead more developed drawings, fleshed out, you might say. It isn't really a matter of under-promising and over-delivering — a practice I endorse. It was more like me trying to prove to myself I can do the job.

I've done that before, told a client, "I can do that!" and once off the phone, "Can I do that!?" and proceeded immediately to sketch, full of furious hope.

To the Internet! That's my morgue now. Time was I used to collect all kinds of photo scrap as drawing reference, and put them into manila folders and into a four-drawer file cabinet, the "morgue." But the vast array of visual art available at my fingertips is breathtaking.

After looking over pinup art to see what I've gotten into, I found photos that inspired some of the pinup art. I even came across what appears to be a fetish site, of women appearing to have been x-rayed in softcore poses. Don't know nothin' 'bout fluoroscopy, but I'm gonna guess these skeletal images, with the faint outline of the body, are digitally rendered instead.

Nonetheless, I took the images as a challenge and drew a few of them.

Though no longer self-conscious about drawing in public, I was skittish again drawing half-naked
women, people looking over my shoulder or ask what I was drawing.

More than a dozen sketches later, I sent the first round to Partner 1. Partner 1 sent screen captures of pinup girls that Partner 2 likes. A day later, Partner 2 sent the same samples. Left hand, right hand, moving autonomously.

No comment, just the samples. OK … so I drew variations on those samples, cladding them faintly.
How's the logo coming? Partner 2 asks. We need it for the Website ASAP.

I need the logo so I can fit the girl to it.

You don't have the logo?

No.So it went.
A cell phone picture of a photograph of the logo painted on a wall appeared, and I drew seven more quick poses incorporating the logo.

Partner 2 picked a pose. After prompting, Partner 2 also sent a sample of hair and clothes to emulate.

I drew a tighter sketch, sent it, and waited.

Tighter sketch, version 1 … strange hand corrected …
It needs to be closer to the Vargas and Elvgren girls, said Partner 2.

Tighter sketch, version 2 …
By this point I had over-delivered, even for me. I asked politely for more direction, sent another sample of the same pose trying to hit the mark, and said I'd proceed with a new round after the first third of payment promised.

A day passes. Partner 1: We do not feel we are on the same track with this project. Kill fee to come.
Tighter sketch, version 3, never sent, post kill fee …

Forensics are futile. I don't think I'll really know why this job didn't finish. Opaque communication didn't help. I'll accept I need to attend anatomy class and hone my drawing. My gut tells me I didn't present my profession well, nor describe the process as clearly, that sketches would start rough, become refined and eventually lead to final art.

I think Partner 2 was counting on Varga paintings from the get-go.

Back to the drawing board. These sketches would otherwise go unseen …

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