An email comes into your inbox and it’s a magazine or book publisher (or any number of places that wants to ask for your availability). How you reply, move forward with the job, and follow up afterwards could make the difference between a one-time tango and a long term relationship. I’ve had many good experiences with Art Directors that never worked with me ever again after our first job together. I’ve also had experiences where I thought I did a terrible job under the gun but have since done five or six jobs for them. Each experience is a little different from the other. Below is some advice and things to think about when it comes to business practices and maintaining relationships with potential clients.
Never give an Art Director a bad attitude and turn in a low quality piece of work. I have a couple of peers who have gotten emails from clients with a budget that was well below the standard and/or had a questionably ethical clause in a contract. The worst thing you can do in this instance is give a condescending response; you should respond professionally instead of getting up in arms about your issues with the budget or contract. You can either politely ask for more money or to make a change in the terms, or simply not accept the job by respectfully declining. You might feel tempted to sound like you’re flipping the bird on the other end of the computer screen, but try to resist! Also, if you accept a job where the budget is great but the concept is not as pleasant, you should always perform at 100%. Turning in a piece of art that is low quality makes you look bad, the client look bad and the industry look bad. Your job is to make a great piece of art and turn it in on time. If everything seems good at the end of a project, you’ll most likely get a call back from that client.
I’ve had the opportunity a few times to be working on an illustration job with an Art Director where I was then be referred to another Art Director who was looking for an illustrator. When I was in art school, the idea of Art Directors chatting amongst one another about illustrators sounded frightening. What if I did a terrible job or was having a bad day?! Since then I’ve actually had a chance to sit down with a few of them. Every Art Director I’ve talked to basically said that they only talk about illustrators who do good work, and never talk about the ones who underperformed. It’s not worth their time to gossip unless they were being a grade-A jerk. Also, I should add that most Art Directors I’ve spoken with have said they have had few experiences where a job had gone south anyhow.
My second illustration job for a magazine was a spot illustration for a sustainable living digital publication. That gig priced out at $150. I know — it was a terrible budget. But the article was great! In the beginning of my career I took on everything I could handle. Eventually I evolved a personal rule when considering a low budget magazine article: If the article is interesting and I have the time, I will take it. So I did the job, knocked it out of the park and that Art Director hired me again for the same column a few months later and again and again for two years. After that I hadn’t worked with him in a while but still continued to send postcards and emails to catch up and see how he was doing. A few weeks ago, I got an email from him saying that he was now working at a regional magazine and wanted to see if I could take on an illustration assignment for $1000. It’s pretty cool to look back at some of the earlier work you did with an Art Director and see how your work has evolved, how you’ve helped them with their magazine over the years, and how they have taken you with them along the way to continue to make great art for cool articles.
So be sure to always be respectful and polite no matter if the job’s budget, contract, or assignment is less than ideal. You always have the option of declining the job. As my friend Dasha Tolstikova has told me in the past, “Learn to say ‘yes’ to ‘no’.” Be sure to follow up two or three months after an assignment to see how everything is going on their end and be sure to continue to send postcard mailers their way. If you and the Art Director hit it off, you gain an awesome internet pen pal at worst. If you live in or are visiting the city they work in, you could always take them out to brunch or dinner. Never forget that being positive and staying in touch goes a heck of a long way in this business.
Image credit: Illustration by Daniel Fishel
Daniel Fishel is an illustrator and hand letterer who originally hails from the Keystone state but resides in Queens, NY. Daniel's has worked with a range of clients such as The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Nylon Guys Magazine, Arizona Iced Tea, Lands End, No Sleep Records and many others. His work has been recognized by American Illustration, the Society of illustrators and 3x3 Magazine.
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