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I was doing some analytics this morning and I noticed that the last few days I had been getting “hits” on my post back in November of 2011 of What’s It Going To Take: Part One. I realized there was some interest in this subject and perhaps I should follow it up. So here is Part Two.
The painting above is from the first book I illustrated. It’s called The Small Potatoes Club written by Harriet Ziefert. The book was a re-issue of her original book which came out in the early 1980’s. As I mentioned in the original post I did an ok job but without a strong and good art director to help me I was overburdened with decisions in very little time to finish the work itself. I also had to deal with a very disgruntled Ms.Ziefert, who at one point told me “No one cares about Lon Levin, just finish the work!” I believe I was two weeks late on delivery of thirty or more illustrations and was bad rapped by Ms. Ziefert thereafter. Suffice to say Ms. Ziefert is no Maurice Sendak. All I can say about her is quantity is not quality. Such is life.
The point is know who you are dealing with. Don’t take a project just to be working, choose wisely or you can do harm to yourself. I was to learn this lesson a few times when I first started illustrating children’s books. Take into account who you are dealing with, the project, the deadlines, the publisher. Ask yourself how is this project going to help me reach my goal. Now you would think a seasoned pro like me, who has been an art director and a creative director would be able to know all these things when I made a decision. But, each area you work in is new if you’ve never done it before so it is necessary for the artist to know his or her limits and only take projects you know you can do. That doesn’t mean be safe, it means make your decision based on careful evaluation and honesty with yourself. I regularly take projects that challenge me and push me farther than I have pushed before, but I do that knowing I have the skills sets to solve issues that may come up.
At the same time that I took on Ms. Ziefert’s project I had another project given to me that offered more latitude and control with a smaller publisher. The problem with that project was it didn’t pay up front and I would have to wait for residuals to get any money. However, the book was written by the wonderful Lisa Willever (Franklin Mason Press) who wrote the project to match my skills and interests. The final deal was I would provide all the illustrations in my own timeframe and I owned all the rights other than printing rights. The book took me two years to complete in between other projects and I got to design the book as well as illustrate it. I was happy with it but I realized doing work over such a long period of time tends to make the artwork inconsistent at times. Again, art directing myself was hard. The book called ‘There’s A Kid Under My Bed” has sold relatively well and Lisa has paid me residuals and I never have to ask for an accounting. She is one of the best and most honest people I’ve met in the business of children’s books. In 2010, a wealthy Canadian art enthusiast and lover of the book bought all the original art from me and while I miss the art I am glad that it was appreciated enough to be acquired. I didn’t mind the extra cash as well.
Now here’s where the synergy started to take place…Based on my work on ‘There’s A Kid Under My Bed’ I was offered another book.
A project was brought to me called “Monster Boy” a six part book series about a boy who has monster parents even though he looks normal. Only when he loses his temper does he become a monster. I liked the books and the concept and the idea of doing multiple books. I accepted a price that was too low per book and a schedule that was almost impossible to meet. But at that moment, it was about the “body count” to me. I was late into the children’s book world and my thinking was the more books I have to my credit, the easier it will be to get better book projects with better money. This was a double edged sword which would come back to haunt me later. The series of “Monster Boy” books was written by Carl Emerson. I never spoke with Mr. Emerson about the book and his vision. All my direction came from an art director, who was very specific about what she wanted. I was actually pleased with her approach and I think she got the best out of me (at the time). The only rub was I proposed a style of working that was expedient but not my first choice. I went whole in digital with an airbrush licensing look rather than a painterly look which would have been a lot better. But I didn’t have the time to do the book traditionally and I didn’t know enough about digital painting at the time to commit to a painterly digital approach. So I proposed the airbrush style because I knew I could do it and do it quicker than any other way. The problem was I made all the creative choices based on money and not what would serve me and the project best. Another live and learn situation.
I finished the first six books and decided I didn’t want to do any more work on Monster Boy because it didn’t align with my goals as artist. But, I put good sense aside later on when I was offered six more books to do at the same price. For me it was still about the “body count”. I thought to myself ” How impressive am I? After this project I will have illustrated 25 books in three years!” And to tell the truth some people were impressed but in the long run it didn’t matter, because it took me down a path I didn’t want to end up on. All the work I had done was for trade books not the high brow Maurice Sendak, Marla Frazee type books I wanted to do. So now what, where do I go from here, I thought.
The answer came from my agent, Ronnie Herman. Write your own book and illustrate it. Below is a piece of artwork from my book “PT and the Little General”
I will follow up sooner this time with what happened next..