Q&A from Watkins College Visit

This past Friday I had the pleasure of talking to two Illustration classes at Watkins College in Nashville. Of course, I thought it would be fun to post some of the questions that came my way and give my answers!

Have you ever had to deal with a company or individual stealing your art after posting it on Facebook (or online in general)? 

No. I'm very lucky to say this hasn't happened to me (yet). It use to be that you could post low-res images with a watermark and your work would be relatively safe online. Unfortunately, there are now programs out there that can reverse watermarks, graphic images are being crudely traced into knock-off versions in Illustrator, and sometimes shady individuals are just using the low-res image anyway. You are always putting yourself at some risk when you post online- the internet has been a blessing when it comes to exposure but a curse when it comes to theft. 

A few points I told students:

  • Even though it's not fool proof, still keep images low res and add watermarks or copyright info to images. It may not stop someone from taking it, but it might persuade them to look for an easier target.
  • All styles and mediums are vulnerable to theft, but I find that graphic styles are especially vulnerable (because companies are able to take a small image and remake it in illustrator, usually very poorly and maybe even making a few changes to suit their needs.) 
  • More and more artists are doing what I call the "instagram shot", which means a more natural photograph of a piece from your viewpoint at a desk (or framed on a wall, the screen of your computer, etc). These images are much less appealing to thieves, especially if they are at an angle. 
  • I think one thing that has helped is removing my artwork from any online venue that is known as a "hot spot" for thieves. For example, in the last few years the majority of fellow artist friends who have reported stolen art usually mention that it was taken from their society6 account. It was an easy decision to close my account because I really wasn't focusing on it that much, but in addition I felt like I was taking my art out of major thief territory as well.

Of course, this also led to the topic of posting art online and risking other people copying it. Many artists know this tends to be a more subtle, grey area. What is the difference between being "inspired" by a piece of art you see versus just straight up ripping it off? Sometimes trends catch on and no one really owns it (like moustaches), but when does it cross into "copy cat" territory? There is no perfect answer, and copy cats are harder to prevent than thieves in my opinion. All I can say is be yourself and always three steps ahead. While someone is chewing on your leftovers, be busy making the next best thing.

Do you think there is still a need/want for traditionally made illustrations?

Oh yes, definitely. Did you know that when cameras came out some people thought that paintings would just go way? It sounds silly to think about that now, right? Computers have not replaced traditional media. What they HAVE done is given artists some pretty cool tools at their finger tips. I myself have developed a way of working with my Wacom table that replicates my painting style, but sometimes I still just paint!  Many fellow artists I know have also combined the handiness of the computer with their hand done work, whether it be collage or ink drawings. Some very prominent illustrators still create 100% of their work in traditional medium, only using the computer to make small edits in color and such if needed for a project. I think the trick isn't to completely change your work because of computers, but to adapt it. In some markets this is needed more than others. In art licensing, layered photoshop files and vector art make pieces flexible (and much more marketable). But if you're working on, say, a magazine article, it doesn't matter as much how you make the finished art. You're given the size of the image beforehand, sketches work through the composition early on in the process, and most of the details are settled on before you ever work on the final piece. So if you wanted to use traditional media for that assignment, it's not as big of a deal because a lot of the guesswork should be gone at that point. Obviously, this process is stream-lined when you have an artist and art director who are both communicating well! Since I work both ways, sometimes it just depends on the project. If I know something is going to be more of a puzzle, like complex album art, I go into it knowing that my paintings/drawings will be set up in photoshop layers to allow flexibility down the line. If I'm making an illustration for a 5"x7" greeting card, than that's something I could paint and I'm probably gonna be ok.

What does your agent do?

In my situation, my agent handles all the business responsibilities for a variety of markets including editorial, licensing, advertising, and publishing. The agency promotes my artwork, handles contract negotiations, billing, and basically any other miscellaneous needs that fall under the category of "business". This not only gives me more time to make art, but the agency has great relationships with many clients that otherwise would be difficult for me to obtain on my own (or in some cases, I have been introduced to new clients that I never knew existed!)

All agents are different. Some only handle certain markets, like agents who specifically represent illustrators for children's books. Some let you keep your copyright while others ask you to give it up. If you are interested in getting an agent, pay close attention to the finer details of their contract and policies.

It was great to visit the school again and meet more Watkins students. I have the semester off but look forward to teaching adult classes again this summer! Hope you got something out of this summary. Thanks for reading!