SELLING IDEAS INSTEAD OF ART…

…my brief spell “DESIGNING” JOKES FOR A top GREETINGS CARD COMPAny.

In previous posts I have described the frustrations I often experienced at the hands of unscrupulous greetings cards companies (of which there were a surprisingly large number), who would reject my artwork but then use my jokes and ideas without paying me. As described, I would submit a folio of cards designs; the company would sit on them for several weeks (sometimes months) and then return them with barely an acknowledgement (sometimes none); and then, a month or two later, cards with my jokes and ideas would suddenly appear on the shop-shelves made by different (presumably in-house, and thus far cheaper) artists.

“Love skiing”

I don’t know if things have changed since, but the problem back in the late 80’s, early 90’s, was that, unlike in almost all other areas of commercial art/illustration, there was no formal contract system in place for freelance artists doing work for greetings cards companies. Normally, you sent in your work on “spec”, and took a chance on the integrity, or otherwise of the company.

“Mernaught”

Thus it happened, that around 1990, I found myself with a pile of ideas and jokes, but wary of being stung yet again, I decided to try a different tack.

“Ashes to… ashes” (This could be a touch oblique for non-cricket lovers, however for those in the know, the bowler is of course the one and only Jeff “Thommo” Thomson.)

I telephoned the-then biggest card firm in the UK (they might still be, for all I know now) and asked to speak to their art director. I had never approached them before because I knew they only used in-house artists for their finished cards, but as I’d now reached the point where I would be content with at least earning something for my ideas, I guessed I had nothing much to loose.

I was put straight through to the lady in question, and told her of what I had experienced at the hands of several of her rival companies, and asked her frankly if I would be taking the same risk sending my material in to her for consideration.

When I told her of my “Polar” series of Christmas card designs she said she knew of them, and from then on took me very seriously.

My guess was, perhaps naively, that such a large company would be more straightforward to deal with, for the sake of their professional reputation if not for their innate honesty. However, she explained that they could not enter in contractual arrangements with freelancers as this undermined the morale of their in-house artists. Nevertheless, she offered to put a non-binding assurance in a hand written letter that her firm would definitely pay me a fair price for each and every idea of mine they liked.

(There’s a cereal ad currently on UK TV which tells a similar joke…I wonder?)

Good to her word, the letter arrived a day or two later, containing her assurance, and a request for sketched roughs of my jokes and ideas – about 12 of which I duly dispatched to her, albeit on a wing and a prayer.

“Birdy – no birdie”

After hearing nothing for weeks I began to think the worst, but about two months later I was pleasantly surprised to not only receive back my roughs, but also a cheque for the half-dozen or so ideas they had decided to use.

Wrong ball!

Several of those roughs are displayed here, and I wonder which, if any ring a bell…?

2 thoughts on “SELLING IDEAS INSTEAD OF ART…

  1. I recall your previous post on your experience, and the theft of your ideas and work was an eye-opener.
    On another topic, I have always had doubts about what makes “art.” Why is an original work by an excellent forger that sits in museums for years valued less as art than a piece by the old master whose technique the forger used? Why is an illustrator’s work worth less than an “artist’s.”
    When very young, I had an opportunity to buy a painting by the illustrator Norman Rockwell for a thousand dollars, a sum far beyond my means. That same piece by the artist Norman Rockwell would now sell for a million or more.
    We bought a cartoon with our last $70 the evening before I left for Vietnam simply because we both liked it and it was our last evening. As we are packing to move, I searched for the artist on Google and found they are now asking $300 to $500 for the same cartoons by that artist. I still like it, but it is still a cartoon, and really no better than your cards above.
    For me, your “illustrations” evoke a response in the viewer,and that is art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Could not agree more. I’m planning a post on film music covering parallel ground – i.e. great, original film scores are somehow less art-worthy than music – great or otherwise – written for the concert hall. There is snobbery in all fields of art, alas.

      Liked by 1 person

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