Posted on

Working for Free and Clearing the Air

This topic seems to be floating around a fair bit lately and that’s a great thing.  Too many artists are doing work for free because many companies expect them to.  While I could write a long post about this, and I have in the past, Stephen Silver says it best in this video below.  If you are a freelance artist and aren’t yet aware of Stephen’s work, I would suggest you follow him.  He is respected for good reason.  He has great advice, is very inspirational and has been working in the animation and design business for a long time.  I’ve even taken an online character design course from him years ago and learned a lot.  While I don’t consider myself as accomplished a cartoonist or character designer as he is, my work is definitely better from having learned from him.  Now this video below is an angry rant, and this is out of character for Stephen, but he’s passionate about protecting artists from being taken advantage of, and you can see that in the video.  If you’re easily offended…well you wouldn’t be here, so never mind.

Before I get to the video, however, I’d like to address something I’ve been taking a bit of flack for the past couple of months, something that has direct bearing on this topic, and that’s the fact that I gave Emilio Estevez the painting of his father for free.  While I could easily dismiss the criticism as ‘some people are just angry at everything,’ I feel it’s important to address this because it’s not just me being slighted in the criticism, it’s Estevez as well.  While I’m sure he has thick skin and is used to being criticized for anything and everything in his profession, it bothers me that some think he got the painting for free because he expected it for free, simply because he’s a celebrity.  That’s not the case.

Throughout our correspondence, he was always offering to buy the painting.  He never expected me to give it to him.  When I explained that I couldn’t sell it because of why I painted it (you can read about that here), he then offered me other incentives from which I could make money from the print and I still declined.  My decision to give the painting was always mine.   I make a good living as a commercial artist, I do not do commission work for free, and nobody is taking advantage of me.  I wasn’t asked to do the painting.  That would have been something entirely different and I would have charged appropriately for my time and effort, just as I would have if the painting was going to be used commercially.

Let’s say that I had been in the same head space I was in when I painted that image of Martin Sheen, but had instead been inspired to paint somebody on the street in Calgary.  Let’s say I took a photo, and painted that person for my own enjoyment.   Let’s also say that person’s son or daughter saw the image and wanted to give that image to their father, the subject of the painting.   I can honestly say that I would have done the same thing, charged them only the printing and shipping and given them the painting, the same arrangement I made with Estevez.  The decision was not about celebrity.  It was about me, where I was at a couple of months ago, and what my instinct told me at the time.  The difference was that the inspiration came from a film, so the painting ended up being a character played by a well known actor.

Estevez was nothing but gracious and genuine throughout the experience and in addition to the signed prints I requested, and paying for the shipping and printing,  he even gave me a copy of the memoir written by him and his father, signed personally to me by both.  Some have suggested I should have gone for the big money grab because he was a celebrity.  That’s just not me.  While the story did get a fair bit of press in Canada and a little bit in the U.S., the experience doesn’t mean anything in the long run to anybody but me and the recipients of the painting.   It’s already long over, as most stories of this nature so quickly are.  To do it all again, I would change nothing.  While I have some very nice souvenirs of the experience,  I’m back to doing what I do best, drawing cartoons, illustrations, and painting funny looking animals for a living.  Throw in the odd portrait for fun and inspiration and that’s where I want to be.

Hopefully that clears a few things up for a few angry people out there.  If not, feel free to continue to wallow in it.  It’s your problem.  For the rest of you, take a look at this video by Stephen Silver.  If you’re an artist, it might inspire you to believe in your own worth.  If you’re not an artist, but someone who might hire one, perhaps this will enlighten you as to the struggles being faced in the industry.  We’re all building our own individual careers, but we also need to look out for one another as well.

Posted on 8 Comments

Martin Sheen and The Way

You could never consider me a film snob and I’ve never wanted to be a filmmaker or an actor, but I love movies.  Great stories told on the screen by talented storytellers, always a collaboration between the writers, directors, actors and all of the other professional creatives and technicians that make up the industry.    I just know what I like, regardless of critical acclaim or popular opinion.

Earlier this year, I watched the movie, ‘The Way’ and it had a profound affect on me.  Written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen, it tells the story of a father and son and their experiences on the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James.  I’m not ruining the movie for you to tell you that the son (Estevez) dies early in the film at the beginning of his own pilgrimage and the father travels to Spain to retrieve the body.  Despite it seeming to be against his nature, Sheen’s character, Tom, decides to walk the Camino, and in doing so discovers his son and himself.

My wife and I rented this movie and I really enjoyed it.  Likely because I’m now in my early 40’s, dealing with my own evaluation of life and meaning, and realizing that there is probably less time ahead than behind me.  There’s a reason they call it a midlife crisis.  Had I watched this movie in my twenties, I doubt it would have affected me as much.

Shortly after seeing the movie, I found myself browsing in a bookstore and noticed the book, “Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son.”  Written by Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen, it’s a memoir of their perspectives in life,  Sheen growing up and becoming the father while going through his own trials of life, and Estevez seeing many of the same events from the son’s perspective and his thoughts about his own life and career.  It was a truly enjoyable read and one I’d recommend, but as the book references the making of The Way, I’d see the movie first.

I’ve always felt a connection to Martin Sheen, not because I know the man, but because of my own father’s resemblance to him.  Not just their looks, but some of their mannerisms as well.  My Dad’s about the same age, and while he isn’t the spitting image of Sheen, at certain times in their lives he looks remarkably similar.  So much so, in fact, that when we were stationed in Germany, a woman in Brussels insisted that my father was Sheen, even though he denied it.  I always thought that was cool, so naturally I gravitated toward Sheen’s movies.  While watching The Way for the first time, there was one scene where I paused the film and said to my wife, “Holy cow, does he ever look like my Dad.”

As it is a movie about fathers and sons and I’ve always had a great relationship with my Dad, I bought him a copy of the DVD and then sent him my copy of the book as well.  After watching the movie, he called me and asked, “So, when are we going?”

Pretty sure my Mom and my wife would have serious concerns about he and I taking off to Spain for a couple of months to walk the Camino de Santiago.  But I was pleased that he enjoyed the movie and book.

So why the painting?  Well, first of all, I’m more inclined to paint characters, not the actors themselves.  In our society where the privacy of celebrities is almost non-existent when they’re out of their homes, people seem to think they know them from what they read in gossip rags and see on trashy shows like Entertainment Tonight and Inside Hollywood.  I’m under no such illusion.  Simply because I watch their movies and read their memoir, I wouldn’t dare assume I know Martin Sheen or Emilio Estevez.  The book only shares what they wanted to share, and the movie, while infused with their own experiences I’m sure, is about characters Estevez wrote, not the actors themselves.  But good storytelling can make those characters seem real, and in this case, it was Sheen’s character, Tom, for whom I felt a connection.

Having bought my own copy, I’ve now seen the movie a few times, the last time with the purpose of gathering reference.  You may not see in the painting what I see in it, because it’s a scene that, to me, said so much about the journey the character was taking.  This image of Tom looking up and what he was seeing, was brief, but his expression spoke volumes, given what he’d been through.  The scenes that follow really get to me each time I see the movie, and I don’t mind admitting that.  It’s a wonderful story with rich characters, played by a very talented cast.

Lately, all of my work has been product driven.  Editorial cartoons on deadline, illustration commissions, painting commissions, even my Totem paintings have become about prints, licensing and always selling the end product.  As a result, it’s been awhile since I’ve truly enjoyed a painting from start to finish.  One of the reasons I painted this portrait was that it had no deadline and has no commercial value, other than that it will find a place in my portfolio.  I painted it for myself, simply to paint something personal, and I’m pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was a bit like a vacation from the work of being an artist for a living, and I wanted to find the joy in it again.  There is a balance to be found there and I’m still working on it.  This painting was a good start.

For more on the technical details of this painting, click on this link.