A Successful Mistake – When an Illustration Project Fails and It All Works Out
I am typically a really intense, anal retentive perfectionist. So, when I make dumb mistakes I am usually especially frustrated by them. But, every once-in-awhile I make a dumb mistake that I am happy to have made because a part of me was starting to wish for a different outcome anyway.
I recently misunderstood a commission request for a t-shirt design and completed a full concept drawing for it that cannot be used for its intended purpose! This probably sounds like a really bad mistake and a great waste of my time and efforts (especially given the fact that I spent 4 days planning and executing the drawing and it took two weekends to accomplish), but I have my reasons for feeling relieved…
While I was working on this piece I felt especially strongly about the concept, and as it progressed I KNEW with absolute certainty that this was going to be a very strong design, that it would translate really well onto a shirt, and that there would be a lot of people who would love to wear that shirt. I’m not being cocky about this either. Honestly, I entered into this project feeling a lot of uncertainty, but sometimes magic happens and you can’t really take credit for it, but you can’t deny that you had something to do with making it happen. As I shaded-in the last puff of smoke, I couldn’t help but think, “Man, I wish this design was actually for me because I think this would be one of my better sellers, and I like this.”
In the end, I felt a mild sense of disappointment when I realized my mistake, but right now I feel a lot of excitement about finishing this project and putting my own logo on it. The initial drawing has been getting more feedback and interest online than anything I have posted to-date, so, I know I need to see this piece through to the end and get some prints, shirts and other products put up online (who knows, it’s possible that someone might be interested in purchasing licensing in the future too).
I generally put a lot of time into each individual piece of art, and it may not seem like the initial payout is all that great, but when I maintain my own ownership and rights to use the piece, it is more valuable to me in the long-term because I can continue to sell prints and merchandise over a long period of time. With a single illustration, I am able to collect the commission or licensing fee, sell the original artwork itself and (assuming the original licensing agreement allows for it) I will have a never-ending stream of prints and merchandise to sell online and at events.
Of course, there will be times as an artist where you will want to take commissions that are a one-time deal and probably aren’t initially very lucrative because there are lots of other reasons to do illustration work… You might do something because the potential exposure is more valuable than the going price, or you might choose to do the work pro bono for a good cause, or you might be doing work for close friends out of love. I’ve also done work for free just because I REALLY love the project and want to be a part of it.
In the future, I’d love to blog more about the long term value of artwork and how to build your portfolio, but for now, I have to get back to my day job!