14 September 2010

A Thorny Problem

Some time ago I mentioned that my experience of book illustration was not a great commercial success, or, to put it another way, it was, commercially, a failure. However the experience was useful and the actual work on drawing and painting was an enjoyable challenge, so, although it could have been a disaster financially and "morally", thanks to the excellent advice I was given by: 

all was fairly well that ended as well as could be expected.

Of course I should have gone to them first!

The following is my version of what happened, and it is meant as a warning to anyone who, like me enters into a "friendly” agreement to do some work, without first having taken the precaution of a drawing up a proper contract.

Warning !
Doing work without a Contract can damage your health.

As always the dilemma is, what guidelines should be established, what questions should you ask, and what precautions should you take when you start a project on a friendly basis? At that stage you don't realise that there are questions that should be asked, or precautions you should take.......all of that comes with EXPERIENCE! To get the experience I was about to make some serious mistakes.......

The brief originally was to do one illustration for a poem in a book which was to be published privately. What is called, rather unkindly perhaps, vanity publishing. The Poet liked my interpretation of her words into pictures and thus ended up asking me to do ten in total. Here is one of them.

That poem was about moving house, "Making a Nest".
(My research showed that the female starling has pink on her beak and the male blue!)

I had to make all the pictures up as I went along, of course. With this one there were no starlings to be seen, and certainly no way to peer into a nest.

At this stage we reached an agreement on remuneration. A sum of money for the work, and a small share of any profits if someone wanted to publish it commercially. Given the nature of the book and the state of the publishing business, the latter seemed very unlikely to happen. We exchanged e.mails about the work and I showed every change and idea to my client The Poet. She told me she was delighted with my interpretations of her ideas.

It was all going well.....or so I thought....

There was a deadline for the book, the famous Frankfurt Book Fair 2 months later. I set to work straight away, as, once all the poems and illustrations were ready, it had to be set up graphically. This was to be done professionally by someone who was paid by the page for her work, The Graphics Designer. She would do it in her leisure hours.

If you refer back to previous blogs you will see that I painted an enormous (7 metres by 3) back-cloth for the Music Hall, to be performed in the local village as part of the summer festivities,

This is part of the backcloth, painted on shiny plastic.

and in between these two projects I was given a commission to paint a picture of a house for a birthday surprise. With this extra project, pressure was building fast.

Well it is often no bad thing to have a bit of pressure and stress, it gets the stream of creative "juices flowing".


As I finished each piece I would show it to The Poet and then it would go to The Graphics Designer to be set up. The deadline was moved closer several times by The Publisher (who was rather inexperienced in this field, as were The Poet and I).


I managed to finish all the work (plus a couple of extras for which I would not charge) with a couple of days to spare. At this stage, much too late in the day, it occurred to me that a contract dealing with Copyright and Fees would be a good idea. The Publisher had told me quite firmly as she handed me a paper to sign renouncing my entitlement to Copyright, that the Copyright on my work belonged to her. I was sure she was wrong, but...we can all make mistakes, thus........I told her i would need to check on this.

And so it started to get a little rough........

Fortunately it was suggested to me by one of my collaborators

that I should contact The Association of Illustrators who specialise in such matters.

They were so helpful, I joined on the spot and was given PROFESSIONAL advice. It seems that I had not asked for a sufficiently generous fee, (too late to do anything about that), and that The Publisher was in error in thinking that the Copyright belonged to her.

Unless subject to a special contract the Copyright always belongs to the artist.

Once they were finished, I had given the final pieces to The Graphics Designer, but requested that the work not be handed over to The Publisher untill the Contract and Copyright issues had been settled.

But by the time I got back to The Publisher with the information that she was in error...........without telling me, she had already withdrawn all my work, and then refused to pay me anything on the grounds that I had not delivered it in time. I was stranded.......

The AOI advised that I had every reason to take the case to court........

But, for various reasons I decided not to. My Client The Poet was not well. I had had enough of the whole thing and had learnt my lesson the hard way. 

Time to Move On

I have recently been approached to do some more illustrations for another book, and some other work for an e.book publisher, blackbirdebooks.

This time I shall approach matters differently!

P.S. All but 2 of the illustrations in this blog were originally for the book.

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