Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Potential WIP #6

Back to work. This short is officially the longest haul I have ever long-hauled.

Friday, December 16, 2011


I was honored to be asked by the good folks at The Mill to participate in Posterity, a collection of limited-edition prints by artists to benefit those affected by the truly horrific famine in East Africa. There are some really amazing prints available done by artists far more talented and skilled than I.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I MADE A MIXTAPE FOR YOU, just in time for holiday traveling. I did it because I like you.

It will be available for as long as Mediafire decides. So grab it now.

And then you can rock out. Also, you can judge my music taste, but I can spoil the ending for you: MY TASTE IS FANTASTIC. I also drew a fun cover for it while watching shit get real on Boardwalk Empire. Enjoy!

I had initially written a long post detailing my thoughts on every song. Yes. I did that. But then I thought "Hey, that's a little weird and obsessive. I should delete that". And so I did. Now you'll simply have to enjoy the tracks completely without context. I'm sure you'll make it through. I have faith in you.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Indecent Exposure

Exposure as payment. Lord have mercy.

If you're a freelancer in a creative industry, you doubtless have repeatedly gone over this same song and dance. In fact, it's such a played out topic that it seems just as stale to rehash it again. But I've been giving the issue some thought tonight, and want to explore the concept of "exposure" as currency a bit more closely.

Warning: I am about to use the word "exposure" so many times that it will cease to have any meaning to you.

The case that inspired this post, scrubbed of all identifying info:

A client approached me to animate a video for a well-known band. It would involve several weeks/months of full-time work for $500. The client pointed to the fact that the last animator who worked with him did it for this amount, and now that person was receiving a great deal of exposure. When my producer declined (with my approval), the client then emailed me directly. In this email, he mentioned that the producer had possibly declined because he was only interested in the short-term benefits of monetary payment, whereas I might be more enlightened - preferring the "long-term benefits of exposure".

Let's break down what's happening here. A client wants me to make something for them. In return, he is primarily offering exposure. That is, once I complete this project to their specifications, I will have the opportunity to have it viewed by many people. Now, in some ideal world, what does that mean?

Ideally, exposure will bring you new "fans" (I'm still weird about that word)- Twitter followers, Vimeo contacts/likes, readers of your blog and followers of your future work. This last one is extremely important for independent artists. I've been fortunate enough in the past couple of years that my work has garnered a tiny audience, moving me from "unknown guy in his apartment" to "marginally appreciated artist in his apartment". I couldn't have done this without exposure. I post my work to different sites, send emails to people I think might like it, keep my blogging and twittering regular, and participate in a larger online community of artists, animators and designers. I also do one more important thing, but we'll come back to that. Now, I don't do all of these things just to gain exposure. My online colleagues are very valuable to me. They provide me with inspiration, criticism, camaraderie and an ever-increasing standard to compete with (in a friendly way, of course). No one creates in a vacuum, and I am pleased to know some wonderful and talented people online. Beyond that, I very much enjoy talking to people and helping out other independent artists (or aspiring ones) when I can. It's quite fulfilling. But a happy offshoot of this is also the fact that I can now reasonably expect that the next time I put out a big new project, at least a few people online will take notice. And that is gratifying.

Of course this is how every artist survives online. Because among those people who take notice will be a small number of clients (or customers, depending upon your business). And these are the people that enable people like me to keep making things. I very much need to pay bills, and when I'm done with a project and don't have another on the horizon, there is a very real gnawing in my stomach. There is this creeping dread that I will never find another project. I sometimes lay awake at night afraid that I will have to go back to working 50 hours a week at the grocery store. Not that working at the grocery store is "below me" or anything to be ashamed about, but it would mean giving up my livelihood, my art, and my life as I know it. This fear is common among freelancers. I've never met one who doesn't think this way at some point or another. Thankfully, I worry about this less than I used to but it is always there, lurking somewhere in the distance. This is why clients are so sought after: they pay money, which in turn pays bills and buys food, which means I don't have to go back to work at the service desk at Giant Eagle. The checks I get from clients mean I can go on animating, drawing, writing and otherwise creating for a living. They mean survival.

And so when a client offers exposure as payment, I get this little twinge of proletariat rage. If you're a client, take note: offering exposure in lieu of payment is simply promising that, someday, someone will pay the artist to do what you want him or her to do now for free. If you're a freelancer, take note: in a very real sense, this enables the client to directly profit while leaving you to fend for yourself, waiting for another client to treat you like a professional. You can see why this is so attractive to some clients, and why spec work and crowdsourcing are so ubiquitous and maligned. It enables a buyer's market of obscene proportions. The deck is now so tilted against the sellers (the actual workers in this scenario) that many will forgo any payment, just as long as they receive exposure. If they could only get some exposure, then maybe someone will pay them. Maybe they can still have a career. If only they just do this one project for free, they'll cross some magic line and start receiving calls from clients who are only too happy to pay them. But this doesn't work, because the word is out: freelancers will work for free. And if you're a known artist, have no doubt that clients will use your name on the next kid. "Oh, you need to charge a day rate for this? Well, you should know that so-and-so did our last one and they were perfectly happy..." I might laugh at such a statement, but I'm not a hungry kid fresh out of the Art Institute with nothing but a diploma and portfolio full of assignments. Your name means something. And the more of us that succumb to the insecurity that comes with the freelance territory, the more insecure we make it for ourselves and the people coming after us. You may not care about that. I do.

It's been said before, but I'll say it again: You cannot eat exposure, nor pay your rent with it, nor buy health insurance with it, nor put it in an exposure bank for a rainy day. You need money for all of that. That is the trade - you trade your time and work for the client's money. You both need something from the other. Exposure can be a byproduct of this transaction, but it should NEVER be the basis for it.

There's an added bit of absurdity here, and this is primarily what I've been thinking about over the past couple of days. So let's say you want to get your hands on some exposure. Since when is exposure a finite resource that must be earned from clients? I imagine this comes from a time decades gone, where play on television or coverage in magazines and trade annuals were the biggest ways to "make it". But this is the age of THE INTERNET. And in the age of the internet, exposure is a currency that can minted by the artist. And this brings me back to the most important thing one can do to gain exposure, and the thing that I spend so much of my time working my hardest on: making really good work.

The client that started this whole post off mentioned that the artist who did the previous video was getting a lot of great exposure. Implied in this was the idea that the exposure was due to the client. This is true in part, because of the band the video was for. But this alone isn't the kind of exposure the artist needs. Thousands of fans will watch the video regardless of its quality. But very few clients are going to contact this artist for paying jobs simply because he made a crappy video for a known band. This is not exposure an artist can use. No, the video is going to be valuable for this artist because they did a FANTASTIC JOB on it. This will cause future clients to notice, and call with paying jobs that will enable this artist to keep going. It was not the band name that will primarily help the artist - it's the quality of the work. And that type of exposure, the best kind, cannot be given by a client, paying or not. If you want to garner some exposure that is actually useful, you have one reliable method available to you: DO EXCELLENT WORK. Your excellent work can then be shown to the massive and very responsive online community through any number of channels. If it's great work, it will be reblogged, retweeted, embedded and emailed. This will help to bring you work from clients who respect you enough to pay you as a professional, as an artist, as a worker. Of course, this puts a great deal of pressure upon you to do good work, but that's the kind of pressure you should be under. That's the pressure that makes you better, instead of making you desperate. The more work you do for low/no pay, the less secure your job will be. You will be spending your time banging out work for clients who won't compensate you properly. You'll fill up that portfolio, sure, but you had better be doing something else to pay the bills.

So you might be thinking that this all sounds very mercenary. "Scott," you may be saying out loud right now, "so this is all about the money for you?" By no means. I lower my rates for bands and cool people sometimes. I donate a good deal of work to causes I believe in. I help out friends. And of course I make a ton of things just because I love making things. But all of that is done because I want to do it. When I give something to someone because I want to help, that is being charitable. When a client wants me to give something to them so that they can profit off of it, that's not charity at all. And when they recognize the inherent insecurity of the freelance life and wave "exposure" around above my head, that's an attempt at exploitation. As always, Jess Hische says it better and more beautifully than I could. Bookmark that site or or buy the print and hang it over your desk until you know it by heart.

"BUT SCOTT!" you cry "who are you to tell ME what to do?" No one, that's who. I learned about everything I just wrote through making my own mistakes. If you are going to work for no money, I certainly won't stop you. But please make sure you aren't making the decision out of fear, or out of some delusional notion that this is the path to paying work. And remember that these clients aren't going to suddenly decide that your work is worth paying for. After all, they can always move on to the next person, and the cycle will begin again. In fact, the client referenced at the beginning of the post informed me that they immediately found another animator to do the job I turned down. There is always another crowd to be sourced. We have taught them that this is how we will do business. It will keep going for you personally until you stop it, and it will keep going in general until we stop it.

"SCOTT! SCOTT!" you scream "WON'T THE INVISIBLE HAND OF THE MARKET JUST SORT THIS OUT IF EVERYONE MINDS THEIR OWN BUSINESS?" Why would it? Really, I would love someone to explain to me how this would work. The exposure-as-payment scam takes the labor of artists and converts it into profit for the client, without returning any profit to the artists. The money flows upward. It's work for the promise that someone else will eventually pay. There's no market forces to work with here. One party has all the power because the other party has decided to do whatever the first party says to do. It's the guy selling magic beans in a market. Sure, once in a blue moon a bean grows a beanstalk atop which sits a golden goose or a singing harp or whatever the hell. But the overwhelming majority of the time you end up back at the farm. With no cow. Because you traded it for beans. Which was stupid.

"SCOOOOOOTT!" you shriek "BUT I NEED EXPOSURE AND HAVE LOTS OF TIME BECAUSE I STOPPED DOING WORK FOR CLIENTS WHO DON'T PAY ME! WHAT DO I DOOOOO?" Firstly, calm down. We're almost at the end here, and here is where it gets better. Take a deep breath. Ok, so remember how I said that the biggest key to exposure was doing good work and sharing it online? Well, start doing that. Make something great and show it to others. Really, that's how you get started. But it means you have to be good at what you do. Good enough to make the rest of us go "Holy crap, did you see that? I need to see it again and then show it to some friends!" Get to know other artists who will give you good feedback, criticism and occasionally promotion. I know I promote my online colleagues quite a bit, and am super thankful when others do so for me. I've gotten several jobs from other people having tipped me to them or tipped clients to me. Almost all of my work now comes from clients who saw my work online and emailed me. I do some applying as well, but it's all built around things I made when no one was paying me. Things I made for myself, or for a friend, or for something I cared about. Want to do a commercial or PSA? Make one. Donate a spot to a charity or cause you believe in that would never think of contracting a spot because they're so busy spending all possible funds on doing something awesome for the world. Offer to those who wouldn't ask. There is no shortage of worthy concepts waiting to be promoted by savvy communicators and artists. Want to do something more complicated? Get together with some people and collaborate on a project. Really want to make a music video? Then make one. No one is stopping you. If it's a self-initiated project, it'll be all the better a platform to show how boundless your creativity and ingenuity can be. Do a good enough job and this will garner you EXPOSURE. I'll personally email you to congratulate you on a job well done. We'll all see your skills, your ideas, and your crazy talent. And so will clients. CLIENTS THAT PAY ACTUAL MONEY. And so will clients that pay in exposure. They will email you, but you can ignore them. Or, if you're feeling saucy, you can write them a polite note explaining your position and telling them, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off.


Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Squidtivity

My wife works in the same room as me. Our desks face opposite walls and the cat sleeps in between us. When we want to collaborate on something, we just turn our chairs around. The cat keeps on sleeping.

For a half-decade now, my wife has been making handmade plush squid. No machines are involved - it's all cut, embroidered and sewn by hand. Every holiday season, she rolls out the annual Squidtivity set. I remember the first year she made it, both of us worried that no one in their right minds would buy one. We were very, very wrong. The response we get every year is incredible, ranging from audible delight to absolute horror. Atheists love it. Devout believers love it (most of the time). Unaffiliated fans of squid love it. It certainly makes shows interesting.

I tend to do the design-related work for her business. If you ever see us at a show, you'll get a look at the tags and copious amount of signs I've made over the years. This year we thought we should do something to more widely introduce the internet masses to the wonder that is The Squidtivity. A couple late nights later, and this video was born.


Check out Bethany's shop here, and her blog here. Both come highly recommended, and I am nothing if not impartial.

I should mention that the music in this video is a from an album that gets a lot of play around here during the season. It's a dirgey collection of carols played by a creaky old organ and chimes. It's credited to "Godfrey Malcom & Federico". I got it years ago from one of those blogs that rips obscure, ancient vinyl to mp3s. I love how terrible the sound quality is and how out of tune it gets at times. And not for irony - I actually really like it. It has this wonderful sense of atmosphere about it.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

I accidentally made a christmas wallpaper.

Rudolph leads the procession of reindeer through the darkness and fog.

This was almost a print. Now it's a wallpaper. Funny how that happens.
I hate how Blogger shrinks images. It looks much nicer up close and non-fuzzy.