There’s a scene in The Famous Nini when the king declares National Nini Day and everyone celebrates.
Kerry Martin, the senior design editor, wasn’t happy with the scene as I’d depicted it in the thumbnail sketch with crowds on a bridge over a canal (p 17). I worked up 3 rough alternative sketches—where we see Nonna & Nini through the crowd, where the crowd is seen from inside the caffè, where Nonna & Nini are out among the crowd—and then did a tight version of the winner.
I see that Despicable Me has a tie-in with IHOP—some kind of merchandise giveaway thing. Toy Story 3 has all kinds of merchandise and tie-ins at Walmart: from T shirts to action figures to characters’ images on boxes of crackers. All that’s to be expected. Hollywood long ago figured out how to promote and merchandise its movies for kids.
How come the kids’ book industry never does any of that? I realize the budgets are much smaller and the average print run of a book is a mere 10,000. Even so, wouldn’t those numbers increase if there were more aggressive marketing? Off the top of my head, the most successful kids’ book franchise lately has been Harry Potter. The HP promotion didn’t really get going, however, til the books got made into movies. The books had a huge following before the movies, but how did that happen? Captain Underpants, Walter the Farting Dog, Diary of A Wimpy Kid, Judy Moody—all the promotion for those successful titles seems to be internal, through point-of-purchase displays, in-store posters, or ads in Publishers’ Weekly or New York Review of Books. In other words, the promotion is aimed at people who already buy books, are inside the bookstore, or are in the book business. I don’t recall seeing those characters on snack food packages in Walmart.
I realize kids’ book budgets are small. But how much would it cost to insert a sticker or a temporary tattoo into a cereal box? How much to put a downloadable coloring sheet onto a kid-oriented website? How much to put a character on a T shirt or a mug and sell it on Cafè Press or Etsy?
A former student of mine wrote:
I am having an issue with people thinking just because they know me I should paint portraits of their kids and do graphic design work for them for nothing—or next to it. I have gotten five demands this week (worse yet, 3 of those were rather rude).
I politely sent back a note explaining that I freelance—accompanying a cost sheet for the work, hours involved in the job requested. And a link to my site, also thanking them for being interested. This has not won me upbeat feedback. Or just sheer astonishment that I would ask $300.00 down to begin a medium-sized oil portrait.
What are some suggestions you may have so that I could further appear more professional? I wish I had limitless time and a money tree in the back yard to just make work and give it away to people who love what I do. Unfortunately this is not the case. Any advice would be appreciated.
I wrote back:
Sounds like you’re doing it the right way—professional-looking estimates remind people that you’re in business and can’t afford to give away free samples. I doubt your friends would consider giving up a paycheck for whatever work they do. Moreover, it’s fatal to cultivate the perception that your work isn’t worth anything.
I’ve done the occasional freebie for friends who’ve been kind to me and I wanted to reciprocate—but that’s my decision. Because I’m established, these friends understand and appreciate what they’re being given (if you’re one of those friends reading this right now, I want to underscore that I enjoyed sharing my talent with you). It’s harder for a young artist starting out.
Stick to your guns. The friends who are astonished that you charge for your skills or are outright rude will either come around to respect your talent or they’ll drift away.
Some shots of the image I’ve been working on for the Wizards’ reunion. The Wizards were a bunch of us callow art students who formed a club for the express purpose of throwing parties. This image will get put on a T shirt for the big weekend. I’ll also be offering prints of it on my website (look for that in about a week).
Down at the bottom is the sketch I did for this project back in the 1980s. I’m deeply ashamed to admit that the spelling and punctuation mistakes are all mine.
Characters from a canceled storybook project. The doorman was sort of Mephistopheles and Dream Mom Helen of Troy.
Dream Mom is supposed to be the ideal of a six-year-old boy. I tried to blend aspects of the dream girls from my earliest youth—Julie Newmar; Julie Andrews; Betty/Veronica; the girls’ gym teacher at my elementary school.
Rollie Ivers, my high school art teacher, passed on this week. I haven’t seen him for many years, but we exchanged news at Christmastime somewhat regularly.
Mr Ivers taught me to consider a painting as a design. He always had us students draw at least 10 thumbnail sketches for every project—of course we hated doing them. When I got to art school, though, I found that thumbnail sketches were part of every instructor’s requirements and I was already an old pro at generating them. I was ahead of the game. Thanks, Mr Ivers.
Mr Ivers did an art history segment once a week, which focused on ecclesiastical architecture, as I remember it. We got a lot of mimeographed floor plans of churches which were three-hole punched and inserted into our bulging art history binders. I’m sure there must have been more to Mr Ivers’ art history lectures than church architecture, but that’s what I remember. It must have been a passion with him. I have a fondness for Gothic architecture, architecture generally and art history that he must have instilled in me.
Mr Ivers’ greatest talent was his skill as a watercolorist. He painted en plein air landscapes around Syracuse and Watertown. These were big, bold compositions masterfully carried off with dash and brio. His rigorously designed paintings looked like he knocked them out with hardly a care. That’s no easy stunt.
A month or so ago I sent Rollie one of my books to show him how I was coming along, and he sent me a note in return. That was our last correspondence. How our teachers influence us, shape our lives! I’ll bet that every time I sit down to draw thumbnail sketches, I think of Rollie, if only for a moment. I’ll continue to do that til the day I finally lay down my own pencil.
Thank you, thank you, Mr Ivers.
Way back when I was a student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, a bunch of us got together and founded a society devoted to nothing more than throwing parties. This was back before cable tv, gameboys, x-boxes, iPods—so we had to amuse ourselves. Back in these primitive times, when boys and girls wanted to meet, we’d go to parties and dance around and listen to music—which had been recorded on records, and played on a turntable. We hosted these parties on the Duquesne University campus, at the Pittsburgh Elks Club (a beautiful beaux-arts building now demolished), aboard a riverboat, or anywhere else that would have us.
Anyway, being art students and crazy for anything that smacked of sword ‘n’ sorcery, we called ourselves the Wizards. We’re having a reunion in August, and I’m putting together an illustration to commemorate the event. Here’s the sketch.
John Manders Illustration
Caricatures, Comic Strips
School Assembly Visits